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St Mark 6:14-29

Pastor Dean M. Bell

6th S. a. Pentecost
Unknown Location  

Sun, Jul 12, 2009
6th S. a. Pentecost

Standard LSB B Readings:
First: Amos 7:7-15
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
Psalm: Psalm 85:(1-7) 8-13 7

 

+In Nomine Iesu+

+In Nomine Iesu+

Pentecost 6

St Mark 6:14-29

12 July 2009

Last Sunday our closing hymn was "God Bless Our Native Land."  The last verse of that hymn concludes with this phrase, "God save the State."  The Church prays for the "state" (our government), and our leaders.  It's right to do so.  Government can be a great blessing to the Church.  But it can also do great harm.  What the government gives with one hand, it can just as easily take away with the other.

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What we see in today's gospel is the "other."  The Church, then, ought not hitch her wagon too closely to the government.  Patriotism is fine, but when the state takes to lopping off the heads of the Church's prophets - then there's a problem.  For the Church to remain salt within the world she needs to remain distinct from the world.  To cozy up to the world - the government - will result in her being diluted.  And if the Church looses her saltiness she becomes useless both to the faithful, and to the world at large.

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John had proclaimed clearly the sin of king Herod.  Adultery.  This is bad - even for a king (or a president).  Kings, princes, lords, presidents - all will answer to the highest authority - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Word of the Lord had stung King Herod.  The salt had entered the open sin and the king recoiled.  He responded by seizing John, having him bound, and putting him in prison.  And all this for the sake of Herodias - his brother Philip's wife - whom he had improperly married.

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The state will always try to use the Church for its advantage.  As long as the Church is compliant and falls into line, fine.  In the case before us, the Sixth Commandment was violated by the king.  It was not right for him to marry his brother's wife.  The Church has every right - and responsibility - to preach against the sins of government leaders based on the Word of God.  But the government of Herod would soon break another commandment - the Fifth.  The government would commit murder by taking John's life.  So much for tolerance.

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The Church of today - her people, her pastors - is going to find living in this country to be more problematic in the future.  Currently proposed legislation in two areas is most significant.  The so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and the Hate Speech Act.  Each one impacts the country and the Church in dramatic fashion.  The FOCA will effectively strip all current laws that protect a mother and the child in her womb.  To say this is good legislation is like saying that Stalin, Lenin and Hitler were good leaders.  But our president has promised to sign this bill when it reaches him.

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The Hate Speech Act will eventually be used to silence churches.  The Church will no longer - for instance - be able to speak of sodomy as a sin.  A matter of the Fourth Commandment, and the Sixth.  The Church that wishes to be faithful to Holy Scripture will find her pastors and laity either in deep financial peril (fines), or even jail.  This has already happened in Canada.  Yet in the face of this the Church does - and will continue to - pray for the government that its leaders rule in all wisdom and integrity.

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It is interesting that St Mark describes Herod as both greatly perplexed regarding John, and also that he heard John gladly.  He was perplexed in that John honored his leaders - yet spoke truthfully regarding what Scripture taught.  We do well to note that combination.  John honored his leaders - but never compromised the teaching of the Bible.  He would rather suffer than give in to the state.  The Fifth Commandment would soon become an issue for Herod - and certainly for John.  But before we get to that point we first need a party - a banquet.  Nothing like a good banquet to lift the spirits of those convicted of sin.

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And now you must pay very careful attention.  This event - the king giving a banquet - must be seen in parallel with next Sunday's gospel - Jesus' feeding of the 5,000.  Today's text is really the anti-banquet, the anti-feeding, the anti-Supper.  In other words, when the state or the world celebrates, it will always mimic the Church.  The world's "banquet" mimic's the Church's true banquet.  But more about that next Sunday.

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To the untrained eye, what the state does far surpasses the Church.  Invited - we are told - were the nobles, military commanders, and leading men of government.  Here were all the movers and shakers of society.  Such power and wealth gathered in one place.  What could possibly be better?  The entertainment could be no less grand than the guests.  An absolutely captivating dancer was available.  Herod was swept along by the seductiveness of it all.  So much so that he rashly vowed to give the young dancer whatever she wanted - up to half his kingdom.

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For her part, the Church is not immune to seduction, to temptation.  We can easily be pulled in by enticements of power, or money or entertainment.  Some churches try to imitate what the world does.  Just cleaning it up a bit.  They'll add some Bible verses and a nice prayer or two and call the whole thing a "Worship Service."

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The banquet in our text featured all the best - the finest food and wine.  Nothing was too good for these guests.  Everything in abundance, passed among the guests on great platters.

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Then the king - within the hearing of his guests - made a vow.  What harm could there be in that?  Filled with good wine and food - and now with lust - the dancer had the king right where she wanted him.  A vow that he could not retract - at least not without great embarrassment to himself - was made.  The dancer rushed to her mother.  "What should I ask for?" Mom's reply?  "John the Baptist's head on a platter."  Not only would Herod's feast be one for the belly - a feast for the flesh - it would now become a feast for the eyes.  Just as the platters of food had been passed from hand to hand, now the platter holding John's head would also be passed round.

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A gruesome and twisted meal to satisfy the lusts of the flesh.  All under the sanction and outward trappings of the state.  The world celebrates sin while deriding holiness, righteousness, purity.  A Church that desires to be accepted by the world and imbibe its ways will find her existence in the world quite pleasurable.  She will lack nothing of the world's honor.  She will be accepted.  Even loved - sought out.  Jesus puts the matter this way, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15)

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The government hated John the Baptist.  He was seized, bound, put in prison.  Eventually he was beheaded.  His head passed round for all to laugh at - jeer at.  Jesus says again, "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father, nor Me." (John 16)

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Sin is rarely a singular event affecting only a single person.  One small pebble hits one windshield and the thing shatters into a million pieces.  Such is the nature of sin.  We see this in our text.  From adultery, to murder, to improper vows, all from not wanting a bad reputation before the world.  See how many of the Commandments are involved?

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Jesus says, "A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."  (John 15) John suffers first.  Eventually it will be Jesus' turn.  He will be seized, bound, beaten, put to death.  He will be laughed at, scorned.  We, in our day, can expect similar treatment.  We are not above our master.  Get used to it!

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But Jesus' suffering and death are different.  His death and resurrection save.  Jesus saves.  His suffering and death were for you.  His blood cleanses and purifies you.  Your sins have been forgiven.  By His death you are declared righteous and holy.  For the time being, you live in this world.  Here you live as salt and light to a world that is darkness.  You stand in the face of the decomposing rot of sin.  This world is dying, never to be reborn.  When Jesus returns, all that you see here will be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth.  Now, we wait.  When the Church gathers to lay you in your grave two things will be set in motion.  First, the body of sin in which you lived this life will be left behind - destroyed.  And, secondly, your eternity - with your new, perfect body - will begin.  In the blink of an eye this life will be over, and your new life will begin.  We have a very hard time with this idea of instancy.  Thus, we put things into a time sequence.  Death.  Burial.  Resurrection.  Life eternal.  Never mind, it's the same thing.  And it is all yours because you belong to Jesus.  He is your Master.  And His life He gives to you.  In a few moments - at the altar - you will taste that life.  But that's just the beginning.  Greater - indeed, the best - is yet to come!

Amen

+Consummatun est, in omne tempus+





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