Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 10)

July 12, 2015
Text: Mark 6:14-29

            St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the government for preaching traditional marriage.  Let’s not mince words on this.  Herodias was offended by John’s preaching, because he declared it unlawful, ungodly, for Herod to have his brother Philip’s wife while Philip was still alive.  As we all know, hell hath no fury… and Herodias was furious at the scorn and shame brought upon her by John’s preaching.  How dare he make her feel bad about her domestic situation!  How dare he question the sanctity of her love.  How dare he suggest, nay, proclaim, that her marriage to Herod is sinful before God.  And so John finds himself in the dungeon.  Herodias wants him executed, but Herod protects him, if you can call the dungeon protection, because he fears John and knows that he is a righteous and holy man.  Herod even appreciates a good John the Baptist sermon now and then, although he finds John’s message perplexing.  You know how it is when a sermon hits a little too close to home.  The Law of God tears you apart at the seams.  And it hurts.  It’s the crucifixion of the old man, the old sinful nature.  That always hurts.  But it must be done, so that your God can raise you up to new life, a new creation in Christ Jesus.  That preaching hurts, but you love it, because you know it’s true, and you hear in it the voice of the living God.
            But the enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to rob you of such preaching, and Herodias and the demons identified the opportunity to silence John on the occasion of Herod’s birthday.  There was a big bash, a serious feast, a wining and dining of the elite of the elite.  These included Herod’s nobles and his generals and the leading citizens of Galilee.  Such feasts always serve a political purpose.  They offer an occasion for the ruler to show off his wealth and his power.  He shows the leading men a good time and shores up their loyalty.  The free-flow of alcohol looses up the tongues.  Stories are told.  Boasts are made.  And hearts are merry.  And they’re all the merrier if Herod’s pretty step-daughter gives us a dance.  It’s not in the text, but we assume the dance was lewd.  Whether that’s true or not, it was certainly a crowd pleaser, and it exceedingly pleased Herod.  Caught up in the spirit of the moment and the spirits in his cup, Herod makes a rash vow.  “Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you… up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:22-23; ESV).  It has been suggested Herod was offering to trade in the mother for a newer model, make Herodias’ daughter his wife.  It’s hard to say.  But this had been a set-up by Herodias the whole time.  Daughter asks mother, “For what should I ask,” and mother advises daughter, “The head of John the Baptist” (v. 24).  She wouldn’t be the last mother to demand a preacher’s head on a platter.  But she meant this quite literally.  She had trapped the king in his words.  Herod didn’t want to execute John.  But he also didn’t want to be embarrassed in the presence of his prestigious guests.  So rather than do what he knew to be right, he sold his soul for a dance.  Isn’t that the way of the world?  Herod promises to give up to half his kingdom, as if he were a powerful god, but in the end, we see he is nothing but a weak and insecure slave of his subjects.
            Well, John is beheaded.  So it goes.  But there would have been an easier way, you know.  If he had just tolerated the illegitimate marriage, this never would have happened.  He could have done so much more good if he’d just kept his trap shut this one time.  But that wasn’t his office, was it?  He was sent to be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3).  He was sent to proclaim “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4).  To everyone.  Even to sinful kings.  He doesn’t stay out of politics when the Word of the Lord is at stake.  He is not ashamed to proclaim the Lord’s testimony before kings (Psalm 119:46), even if it costs him his life.  Divine truth is worth dying for.  We forget that, living in a society that denies the very existence of objective truth.  But John knew it.  So did the prophets and the apostles and the martyrs of all ages who loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11).  What about you?  Are you afraid to bear witness to Christ?  Do you fear to speak His truth because your friends and family might rebuke you, or think mean thoughts about you, or defriend you on Facebook?  Repent.  It’s getting harder, isn’t it?  The Lord knows your weakness, and has taken your failure into Himself and put it to death in His flesh.  And He gives you His Spirit, to make you bold, that you confess His Name and His Word, even if it means your death.  For you know that whoever lives and believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:25-26).  And you know that whoever confesses Jesus before men, He will also confess before His Father in heaven; but whoever denies Jesus before men, He will also deny before His Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33). 
            But with John there is even more at play.  John is sent to prepare the way of the Lord quite literally.  John’s life, and his death, parallels that of Jesus on every level, except that what happens to Jesus is greater, what happens to John is lesser, just as he said it would be: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  So John’s birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises he will be great before the Lord (Luke 1:15), and Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel Gabriel, who promises the Child to be born is the Son of God (v. 35).  John’s birth is miraculous, born to elderly parents.  Jesus’ birth is even more miraculous, born of a virgin.  John baptizes for repentance, but Jesus offers a greater Baptism that not only washes away sin, but makes you God’s own child.  John has disciples, but he sends them to follow Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  And John prepares the way in suffering and death.  He is arrested and beheaded.  His disciples put his headless body into a tomb (Mark 6:29).  Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.  Joseph and Nicodemus put His pierced Body into a tomb.  And now it is Jesus’ turn to blaze the trail.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and his fear is not completely unfounded.  Because the risen Jesus will raise up John on the Last Day.  And He will raise you.  You’ll see John and Jesus with your very own eyes.  And you’ll praise God for the blood John shed, preparing the way for the Blood of the Savior, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
            So you need not fear the enemies of the Gospel: Not Satan, nor the demons, nor sin, nor death; not Al Qaeda, nor ISIS, nor the abortionists, nor the homosexual marriage crowd.  You need not fear the unfaithful who claim the Name of Christ, nor your own sinful flesh.  Jesus Christ is the end of fear.  The enemies of the Gospel are always watching for an opportune time to get you.  But they can never get to you when you are in Christ Jesus, in His Word, in Your Baptism, in His Supper.  The Lord also gives a Feast, and He outdoes Herod.  He, too, gives Food and Drink.  But He invites the weak of the weak, dying and dead sinners.  His Feast is the medicine that brings the dead to life.  His wine also looses tongues, not for boasting, but for confessing and singing songs of praise.  His wine makes our hearts merry, so that we rejoice, and we’re caught up in the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, who opens our lips to speak His Word with joy.  He makes no rash vow, but He does make a vow: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).  It is the promise that He hears our prayers and answers them.  And unlike Herod, He delivers.  He is not trapped in His Words.  He holds Himself to them.  He is a powerful God, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Though it is true that His Words result in a death: His own on the cross, for the life of the world.  For sinners.  For you. 

            Jesus Christ is crucified by the government that He might form for Himself a Bride, the holy Christian Church.  He sleeps the deep sleep of death, that from His side the Church be formed.  Water and Blood, Font and Chalice, filled with Jesus Christ crucified for you.  You are His beloved.  You are His spotless Bride.  As with any marriage, what is yours is His, and what is His is yours.  What is yours He has taken away: sin and death and condemnation.  What is His He has freely bestowed upon you: righteousness and life and resurrection.  In the Church, we preach traditional marriage, not because we’re ignorant, or prudes, or haters.  We preach it because it is God’s gift for our good: for companionship, and procreation, and holy sexuality.  And we preach it because it is an icon of Christ and the Church, a living picture of the Gospel.  The husband gives himself for his bride.  The bride receives the sacrifice of the husband for her good.  And in this pattern of giving and receiving, husband and wife live together in love and fidelity and so provide a safe haven for the nurture of children.  We all fall short of this in our marriages.  But this is what marriage is designed by God to be.  Until the Day the Lord Jesus comes again and bids us join Him and the wedding Feast of the Lamb that has no end.  Then St. John will have His head again.  And all will be made whole and right and good.  Indeed, come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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