On the Death of John the Baptist

Mark 6:14-29

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17For 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. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

The High Cost of Speaking Out Mark 6:14-29, July 15, 2018, Pentecost 8

In speaking with our former intern turned camp manager, Andrew Carlson, I was pleased to hear that Hastings Lake did not sign the attestation requirement demanded by our federal government in order to qualify for funding for summer students for this year’s camping program. As with all groups that could not attest to abortion as being a core value, the initial request for funding was denied. Andrew stated that he resent the application along with an accompanying letter, and on the second application, for whatever reason, the application was accepted. Andrew knew of other camps that lost tens of thousands of dollars simply by not checking that attestation box on their application forms. Often (virtually always), taking stands on moral issues can have serious negative consequences.

Most of us who have taken stands on moral issues (especially when in the minority) have experienced consequences as a result. Sometimes relationships are strained because of this (or completely broken). Several years ago, the CEO of a major internet software company Mozilla/Firefox, was forced to resign because of donating money to an organization that upholds the traditional view of marriage. More recently here in Canada we have seen Trinity West University denied access to developing a law school on its campus because it asks/requires its students to state that they will adhere to a Judeo-Christian view of sexual behavior while on campus. A local Christian school was defunded just last month for teaching sexual mores that were not in keeping with an increasingly “progressive” societal worldview. For many who find themselves on the opposite side of moral issues than those in power, retribution can be swift, and often quite severe.

Such was the case in today’s gospel text. This passage is one of the few (perhaps only?) text in the gospel of Mark where Jesus is mentioned only incidentally, and John the Baptist is the central actor. The storyline is one worthy of a Hollywood movie, with the common fare of deceit, debauchery and violence. Unlike most of the movies’ storylines however where good and evil clash, in this account, it appears that evil prevails. Let’s do a quick recap as Mark tells it (for we find this same account in Matthew 14, with a slightly different emphasis, and also in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus). The story is told as a flashback, as we are initially told of John’s arrest in the 14th verse of the first chapter of Mark, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Mark now flashes back to the actual details of this imprisonment.

It all begins when, as most prophets often do, John opens his big mouth and tells the King no less that his marriage to his brother’s (or ½ brother at least) wife, (who btw was also his niece) was not in keeping with the laws of God, “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.” Lev 18:16. The Law of God regarding this particular type of impropriety stated in the book of Leviticus was crystal clear, and as far as John was concerned, even the king was not above the laws of God. His prophetic word however did not cause the king to repent, but rather caused him to be thrown into prison (we’re not sure what the actual charge was, but with most dictatorial styles of governance, such particulars matter little). Unlike this same account recorded in Matthew 14, in Mark, Herold seems somewhat sympathetic to the condemning prophet, and even semi-interested in what he has to say.

The plot thickens however as the adulteress Herodias enters the scene. She is not nearly so sympathetic, and wants John, and his condemning message to simply “disappear”. The opportunity comes at a birthday celebration for Herod, when the daughter of Herodias dances in such as fashion as to cause the king to offer her heart’s desire in payment for the dance (up to half his kingdom). The reckless offer is seized upon by her mother as she sees her opportunity and has her literally ask for John’s head “on a

platter”. With his honour on the line, the immoral, most likely inebriated, boastful, weak, king succeeds, and the prophet speaks no longer. John’s disciples come for what’s left of his body, and take it, and lay it in the tomb. And thus the story ends.

When one looks for the gospel (good news) in this text, I can’t imagine where one could possibly find it. It would seem to me that Mark has inserted this account both as a flashback of what was, and a foreshadow of what is about to transpire in the life of Jesus (and even his disciples). As much as anything, it is Jesus’ words that get him into trouble with the authorities, and those words will ultimately get him killed. Although not officially his disciples, recent converts Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus will ask for his dead body and take it away for burial. As the text ends, it seems very much like evil triumphs over good, and those who stand up for the good/moral, may well lose their heads in the process. This is not however the end of the gospel of Mark, nor the end of end of the life and ministry of Jesus. For today however, we’ll need to look to another text for some good news. Amen

More Valuable than V-bucks

When speaking at camp last week, I asked the campers to think of the best thing they could possibly imagine and hope for. Answers varied from good health or healing from a sickness, to 10,000 vbucks (which I learned later are used in playing video games). You can fill in your own blanks to this question; happy marriage, healthy children, peace on earth…a good rain.

When one reads this section from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus (a place we visited in Turkey back in 2009), its hard to imagine what else one could wish for when they find themselves in the good graces of God. For starters, readers discover they have been “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world”. Although there are times and seasons in life when we recognize this “choosing”, and respond to it, the truth is very plain in Holy Scripture that God does the choosing. Just as adoptive parents choose their infant son or daughter, so too does God choose us. The Lutheran faith does not go so far as to assume that God chooses some, and not others (as some denominations do), but rather simply restates what the Bible states here (and other places), that God chooses the Christians at Ephesus, and chooses us, and did so before the world was even made. It feels good to be chosen by another to be a boyfriend/girlfriend, or spouse, or to be chosen for a sports team…but to be chosen as God’s own child- that’s pretty amazing.

Not only has God adopted us as His sons and daughters, he has redeemed us through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Redemption was a term used in the marketplace, and literally meant “to buy back”. On occasion we have spouses donate items to our garage sale, where their “other half” seem unaware of the donation. Upon seeing their “sacred” items in the sale, we have on occasion actually seen them buy back these items. Sin caused Adam and Eve to be eternally separated from God. God in Christ made a way to “buy back” those who were now in bondage to sin and could not free themselves. Not only were you and I “chosen”, we were “bought back” with the precious blood of Jesus, and as a result, our sins are now forgiven.

And not only were we “bought back” by our Creator, but we have his name etched in our very being. Yesterday morning I performed a baptism for a family that would be gathering later that day for a committal service. In that service this little one was baptized in the name of the eternal Triune God and sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. That child now has the name of God stamped on her very being.

Years ago I had a stamp that I placed in the front jacket of books from my personal library; “if found, please return to Alvin Sorenson”. God has a similar stamp on our lives.

And not only do we have blessings beyond our wildest imagination here in this present life, we have the promise of a future inheritance in the eternal glory of God that we can’t even begin to imagine. Just when we needed to hear a bit of gospel, “good news”, we get the entire “boat load”. As Christians we have been chosen before the creation of the world, bought back from the power of sin, death, and the devil, claimed and named by the Almighty God, not only for our earthly days, but for eternity in the very presence of God. There is lots to be thankful for on this mid-July morning. Certainly more than 10,000 V-bucks. Amen

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