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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:14-29

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 42 Sermon for Pent 7.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is from the Gospel for today.

Its midsummer and that means one thing in the Missouri Synod, ordination season.  A whole flock of shepherds newly graduated heading out to their first calls.  I went to one the last Sunday I was here for a new pastor in Kannapolis.  There’s another at the end of the month for new associate pastor at Concordia in Conover.  The district president was there in the room set aside for the pastors to get vested and he asked the new guy, “Are you ready?”  Instead of glibly saying yes, the new guy said earnestly, “I don’t know, am I?”  And he actually looked over my way and I just silently shook my head.  Ah, new pastors.  It can make a pastor a little nostalgic.

One text not read at an ordination is the Gospel reading for today, John the Baptist preaching truth to power as the prophet that he is and getting beheaded for it.  This text probably ought to be a required text at ordinations but I don’t see that coming any time soon.  No, if we’re headed in any direction these days we’re headed in the opposite direction.  The Lord’s call to preach comes through a congregation that is concerned about budgets and pay scales and insurance and it comes to man who is concerned about salary and vacation and retirement and that call is mediated through a church bureaucracy that is concerned about statistics and demographic trends.  “If God Himself Be For me, we May a host (that means an army) we may a host defy;” (LSB, 724:1) “Lord, I believe, help, Thou, my unbelief.”  Where the line is between sanctified wisdom and flat out fear of uncertainty and unbelief, yes let’s call it what it is, unbelief, by all concerned, where that line is no one really knows so there’s enough lack of faith on everyone’s part—Church, congregation, and the pastors who serve in them.  Imagine that!  Unbelievers often cowering fear.  Sinners every one.  The church is full of sinners.  The whole church from the shepherd’s shepherds to the littlest sheep, all of them, all of us, sinners.  “If Christ, my head and master, Befriend me from above, What foe or what disaster Can drive me from His love?”  (LSB, 724:1) “Lord, I believe, help, Thou, my unbelief.”

But that’s just fine, because, dear friends, I have good news for you.  Jesus came to save sinners.  He came to save synods and congregations and the people in them and the pastors that lead them.  He came to die for your sins and to give you a better way.  That better way is the kingdom of heaven.  I know I have preached about the kingdom of heaven before, but I’m not sure we always are hearing what those words mean.  Just very quickly, Jesus coming into the world was about the restoration of God actively governing the world as He once did.  This was John the Baptizer’s message as the forerunner of Christ.  John the Baptizer didn’t just baptize; he preached the coming kingdom of heaven.  God’s rule in the world restored.

Think about that for a minute.  One of the chief reasons I hear for not believing in God is that if there was such a God He would not allow this or that disaster to happen.  If God is truly concerned with each of us on this planet there would be no little children with leukemia or starving.  You know the drill.  Perhaps you even feel that way yourself.  I can’t say the temptation to doubt has never crossed my heart.  So how can we say that coming of Jesus brings about the restoration of God’s rule again?  The answer is in this reading today.

What might not be readily apparent to us as we hear this reading from Mark 6 today is that this is actually a battle royale, a battle between two kings.  The first king is Herod.  What you might not know is that Herod here thought of himself as something of a Messiah figure.  He was the son of Herod the Great, the builder of the great temple in Jerusalem as well as fortresses and palaces and cities and aqueducts to bring them water.  Many of these places still stand today some two thousand years later.  He had labored his whole life, as did his father, for legitimacy as Israel’s true king in the eyes of the Jewish people.   So John was not preaching against Herod because Herod was particularly immoral but because Herod had the whole kingdom of God wrong.  The kingdom of God was not in building palaces finer than Caesar’s in Rome.  The kingdom of God was not in being the richest most powerful nation on the planet.  The kingdom of God had come and it was not symbolized by the temple Herod had built but rather in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.  John the Baptizer was a regal herald for an entirely different kind of kingdom.  John did not baptize at the temple but in the wilderness in the Jordan River.  And it was not a recruitment effort into being better people but a baptism into repentance for sin.

It’s not just that pastors may not have the guts today to preach truth to power like John, all of us have become more like Herod and less like John.  I say that in a pulpit in the richest country in the world.  I say that to a group of people who are at least the five percent.  Did you know that?  By global standards each of you is richer than 95 percent of the rest of the world.  We have bought into the kingdom of Herod and think that bigger is better.  The empire of the United States and the monuments to its greatness are greater than the Pyramids of Egypt, the temple of Marduk in Babylon, and the great coliseum in Rome.  To speak of the kingdom of God then as it is today is to speak of the end of the kingdoms of men and they typically don’t like giving up their kingdoms or being told that the way they’ve sorted life out for themselves is wrong.

And so the argument goes: “If there is a God, He would not allow His messengers to be treated like poor John here, his life as a party favor to satisfy the spite of a queen.”  And yet this is precisely how it goes for John and for those who follow after Jesus.  John’s death is a foreshadowing of what will happen to God’s final messenger, His true Son, Jesus—rejection and violence and cruelty on a man as innocent as any child, as innocent as any disaster victim.

And so I say the answer to this objection to those who do not believe there is a God who cares is this.  There is a God because God hates it when good men like John get murdered.  God hates wars fought solely for the arrogance and caprice of a nation or its leaders.  God hates it when the world is so polluted by our sinfulness that it changes who we are and what we were meant to be in God’s own image.  God hates it when even the landscape around us, cursed because of Adam’s rebellion, works against the people God created to live in it in harmony.  We’re so busy always talking of God’s love that we don’t see what God hates.  He hates it and so He has come to set it right, to fix it.  Jesus came and healed those born blind and lame.  He came and cast out the powers of darkness.  He came and calmed the storms.  He did these things and these things He did were part of setting the world right again.  And don’t listen to anyone who says they like Jesus but can’t quite believe He did these miracles because they do not believe in God setting things right.  They do not believing in the coming kingdom of heaven.

And just when it seemed liked rejection and violence and the powers of hate and evil overcame Jesus on the cross, He was raised from the dead proving that the tyranny of death itself was ended.  Jesus turned defeat into death and the grave into life and salvation for all who will have it.  For you.  For you dear sinner, caught in your worries about the future, stuck in your uncertainty about the government and the election and where the world is going.  For you who would trust more in your own preparations for the future than in God’s ability to provide.  For you, dear sinner.  Jesus came for you and had proven that He is making it all right.  Amen.

Let us pray.

Lord, give us a faith like John’s, especially his integrity and trust. Help us to believe unquestioningly that faithfulness unto death will receive the crown of eternal life. Amen.[1]

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep watch over your hearts through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1667-68.

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