Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pentecost 7 - Proper 10

Proper 10
Mark 6:14-29
12 July 2015
Dance, Salome, Dance!

O Lord, You granted Your prophets strength to resist the temptations of the devil and courage to proclaim repentance. Give us pure hearts and minds to follow Your Son faithfully even into suffering and death.

Word about Jesus is spreading fast! And strong! Who is this? Some said, “He is Elijah.” Others said, He is, “a prophet…like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead.”

We prefer our Bible stories to be pristine. We enjoy stories that are, “good for food… pleasant to the eyes… desired to make us wise.” (Genesis 3:6) We favor music and song that lifts us up. We wish to feel good about ourselves after spending an hour in church. That doesn’t always happen. Nor should it. A diet consisting only of sweets is not good for you. Nor is it good for you spiritually if we hear nothing of the consequences of transgression.

The story of the beheading of John the Baptist reminds us that the way of sin always leads to destruction. Offense casts a web for which we cannot easily escape. John’s death speaks about the reality in which we live, a broken and fallen world – outside of Eden.

Herod the Great, who murdered the boys from Bethlehem, had ten wives and many children. His second son, Antipas, governed Galilee for more than forty years. Remember him. He is the one who not only executed John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1; Luke 3:19), he played a crucial role in Jesus' death (Luke 13 & 23).

If loving you is wrong -I don’t want to be right! Antipas married the daughter of the King of Arabia. But later lived with Herodias. The wife of his brother Philip. The New Testament gives the reason why Herodias sought John's head.  She had married Prince Philip — who lived as a private citizen in Rome. By whom she had a daughter, Salome.

Herodias was married to Philip. Antipas took her to be his wife. Yes! He married his sister-in-law! The wife of his brother Philip.  For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. (v.17)

Herodias acted against the law of man and of God. In leaving Philip, to marry Antipas. John rebuked Antipas for this adulterous union.  John called Antipas out. “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias chose vengeance.

Herodias held a grudge against John. And wanted to kill him. But, she could not.  Herod feared John. Knowing that he was a righteous and holy man.  Antipas protected him. When Antipas heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. - I find this powerful - Herod knows he’s clearly in the wrong. Herod calls him out. And, still…Herod listens…

John was a just man. A holy man. A complete, good man.  Herod knew this. What was lacking in his own character he saw in John. And this frightened him. John was a man from God. A man of God. A man for God. Antipas wanted to please his guests. He wanted to please his wife. And he was afraid of this desert preacher. So he locked him up. He shut him down. He attempted to silence him. But John’s words still haunted him. 

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) 

That was Herod’s problem. He had an evil conscience. An evil conscience is a conscience that continues to feel the guilt of sin. An evil conscience is a conscience still burdened. An evil conscience is a troubled conscience. An evil conscience is a conscience diseased by guilt.  Guilt is heavy. And oppressive. By its very nature, it suffocates the soul. Guilt is not outward. It’s inward. Of the heart. It deeply affects us. Even our spirit.[2]

Choose, but choose wisely. An opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his crew, the officers and the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. He solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” Her reply was expected, “The head of John the baptizer.” Deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths, and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.

Weak and wicked Herod, like his father before him, was more afraid of looking bad in front of his dinner guests than he was of God and His wrath. Driven by lust and pride and in the false name of honor, as though he were a man of his word, he unjustly and illegally executed John to please the daughter of a harlot who was not his wife.[3]

That was then. This is now. Do you give a “false witness” when, for example, you compromise clear Biblical principles in order to fit in at work, or at school?  What price will you pay to acquire acceptance and approval?

So, what about you? Do your sins rise up against you? Of what are you afraid?  Do you crave the praise of men? Do you fear the voice of God? Repent! And claim that forgiveness which was won for you by Jesus Christ. This forgiveness has a name. It’s called Absolution.

[Absolution] “Is neither a response to a suitably worthy confession. Nor, is it the acceptance of a reasonable apology. To absolve means not only to loosen, to free, to acquit; it also means to dispose of, to complete, and to finish…

…When God pardons. He does not say He understands your weakness. Or makes allowances for your errors. Rather, He disposes of; He finishes with, the whole of your dead life. And raises you up with a new one. He does not so much deal with your failures as does He drop them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. He forgets your sins in the darkness of the tomb.

He remembers your iniquities no more in the forgetfulness of Jesus’ death. He finds you in the desert of death. Not in the garden of improvement. And in the power of Jesus’ resurrection. He puts you on His shoulders. Rejoicing, He brings you home.”[4]

The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of Salvation.” Isaiah 12:3 – David explains, “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.“ 

God restores the soul. Restoration not of your own making. Restoration that Christ performs for you. Not something you do. Or, can do. Regardless of what you do. You cannot restore yourself. You cannot make atonement for yourself. Jesus is the one who restores. He alone restores you back to God.

He brings you back. From bondage to freedom. And this freedom. Is the deepest level of your being. Outward circumstances may be difficult. But this restoration, which comes from the cross, allows you to live thankfully and joyfully - for your conscience has been cleaned of guilt.

This pure water that cleanses is the work of Christ. His work is a cleansing work. It purifies. It redeems from all sin. It justifies. It sanctifies. It glorifies. Jesus is the pure water who cleanses. His sacrifices frees from the burden of guilt.

The old song sings –

“Would you be free - from your burden of sin. There is power in the blood. Power in the blood.
Would you over evil, a victory win, there’s a wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the Lamb.
There is power, power, wonder working power, in the precious blood of the Lamb!”[5]

If you find yourself burdened under the weight of guilt. Come to the One who alone sprinkled His blood for you. Christ is the one who alone can wash you with pure water. For He takes your guilt upon Himself. And in return, gives you His peace![6]

[1] Baron Julius  Carolsfeld, © WELS Permission to use this copyrighted item is limited to personal and congregational use.
[2] “An Evil Conscience”,
[3] Taken from an 8.29.2002 sermon by Pr. David Peterson, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, IN, which also gave structure to this manuscript.
[4] Robert Farrar Capon, Parables of Grace, p. 39
[6] Words –1,450
Passive Sentences –10%
Readability –80.3%
Reading Level –4.1

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