Wednesday, July 15, 2015

John the Baptist and the Voice of God

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
July 12, 2015  Mark 6: 14-29
Tags: Mark 6, Baptist, Sin

John the Baptist and the Voice of God

The beheading of John the Baptist seems preposterous; an extravagant tale that comes to you straight out of Game of Thrones, or Outlanders, or the Mad Max saga.  Except, except you who are wary of the world know better than to think or to say this could never happen today.

Newspaper stories or gossip of love triangles where one rival tries to take out, squeeze out, push out their competition.  Maybe they do not go to the point of death, but of course it has gone that far, and not just in the movies.

Likewise you hear of modern attempts to silence ones biggest critic by various means: scandal, imprisonment, or death.

The story of Herod, and Phillip, and Herodias, and her daughter, and John the Baptist seems exaggerated to the point of grotesque ridicule.   And yet you know, whether or not you are willing to admit it, that you too deal with this crud to some lesser extent.

Maybe you have a rival? If not a rival someone to gets on your nerves, annoys you--maybe at work, maybe a cousin, maybe a boss or someone who became your boss.  Maybe they are confrontational, maybe they are a bit too perfect, or a bit too perky, or a bit too lucky, or a bit too problematic.  Someone you just wish would go away. You don't want to cut off their head, just cut them off or cut them out.  That is what this story is about.

Maybe someone you love and who loves you back, did something for you that they really should never have done?  They did something they didn't have to do, but they did it anyhow because of love.  Maybe they looked the other way.  Maybe they gave something to you on the side.  Maybe they stood up for you even when you were dead wrong.  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you said something you regret?  Maybe even as soon as it was said, you realized this is going to come back to haunt you?  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you have seen your own sin in your children as if they learned it from you?  That is what this story is about.

Maybe you have partied just a little bit too hard.  And maybe in the frivolity or jubilation of the moment, you came this close to doing something you regret.  Or maybe did something that haunts you even today?  That is what this story is about.

This story is about sin.  John the Baptist spoke clearly against sin, and he is dead.  Trust me when I say there are others relieved to not hear him anymore.  They wished him to go away rather than to get killed, but now at least John is no longer confronting them with his righteous way of living.

Remember, John prepared the way.  Remember what John proclaimed, “A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Repentance and also urgency when you remember that he said that “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.”  Preparation, repentance, and urgency, that message was silenced in the death of John the Baptist.  Death silenced John.

Death, however, did not silence God.

Jesus steps forward from the moment of his baptism and proclaims a message of repentance and forgiveness and faith, and does so with power.   People are healed.  The multitude are fed.  The message pours forth throughout Galilee in the proclamation of his followers.  And the voice of God silenced in John by Herod, still reaches his court and his ears.  The voice of God lives on in Jesus and in his ministry.

And more than Herod will hear, and some again will desire the voice to go away.   Again death will rear its ugly head in the form of the cross.  Death, however, does not, will not silence God.  Even Herod knows what is coming, imagine that.  Herod knows someone is going to be raised from the dead.  He guessed wrongly that it was John.  But he knew it was going to happen.  You and I know that Jesus was raised from the dead.  And the voice of God in the Son of God continues in his ministry and this ministry even today.  And, no maybe about it, his voice is in our voice when...

We praise God that God will not be silenced. 
We sing His praises. 
We give thanks with our voices. 
We speak His word, His Holy Word, with care. 
We speak for justice. 
We lift up, encourage and support the poor. 
We forgive sins. 
We ask others to helps us. 
We teach our children the stories and the practice of faith. 

And when we stand together the voice of God will not be silenced so long as there is a church with breath to sing His praises.


Monday, July 6, 2015

So They Will Know God...

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
July 5, 2015
Tags:  Ezekiel 2, Mark 6, Transitions, Evangelism

So They Will Know God...

[Sermon began with some transitions in the lives of congregation members.  Omitted here.]

Transitions happen quite often in our lives.  Some major transitions, like moving out of state.  Some minor transitions.  Some transitions whose significance you are not quite sure of at the time, like starting high school.

Our gospel lesson has a couple of transitions. You hear how the hometown struggles with the transition of Jesus from rabbi or religious teacher, to prophet. If they cannot accept him as prophet how will they ever be able to accept him as Son of God. You also have Jesus' disciples being sent out on their own, without bread or money in their bag, or an extra tunic just in case. They will be the ones casting out demons, and anointing the sick and even healing them.  They will trust in the generosity of people they have yet to meet to provide for them on their journey.

Transition. I want to take just a minute as we prayerfully consider these transitions and consider the book of Ezekiel. Our scripture this morning included a small portion of the call of Ezekiel.

So far in our summer scripture reading program we have had 4 or 5 days of reading Ezekiel. Depending on today's reading you are somewhere around Chapter 7 or 9. Of those of you reading, how many are already tired of Ezekiel?  One of my pastoral colleagues said of reading Ezekiel, "I guess you need to do it once."

Ezekiel begins with 24 Chapters of judgment, 24 chapters of doom followed by 24 chapter of support and hope. And even those first 9 chapter of supposed hope involve oracles of doom against Israel's enemies, which we do not read as all of that hopeful today. The oracles of hope or restoration begin somewhere around Chapter 33 or 36. For those of you reading, they will come. You will get there.

Today's passage from Ezekiel offers just enough of a platform to proclaim the grace of God to a stubborn people. Some times stubborn is a good thing, occasionally. For example if you stubbornly persist in your reading of Ezekiel, that is a good thing. But most of our stubbornness, frankly works against God. When one stubbornly refuses to come to worship in the Lord's house, or read the scripture, or to thoughtfully examine one's behavior and identify what sins truly need to be confessed. God sent Ezekiel to a stubborn people, not just stubborn, but a nation of rebels living in a land of exile. God will place words in Ezekiel's mouth and give him a message to proclaim and many will not listen to him. [But,] But, eventually they will know and come to realize that there has been a prophet among them, a prophet of the most high God.

When they realize that, they will know that God has not forgotten them. Ezekiel is bizarre, but this bizarre prophet with his apocalyptic like imagery, and visionary use of descriptive language stands as a reminder of the love of God for his children.

The same can be said about Nazareth, Jesus hometown, where he grew up and matured from a child to a teenager to an adult. Eventually, they will know that there was a prophet among them, and not only a prophet, but someone who loved them unto death, and brought them into life.  One day, some of them will realize just who Jesus is, and then they will know God and God's love.

The same can be said about the disciples sent out in pairs to neighboring villages and homes. Even those places where they shook the dust of their feet, one day people in those villages might just realize that God sent to them an ambassador of His love.  And then they will know God.

The same is true with your invitations to friends and neighbors to come to worship or to read scripture or to be faithful or to believe in Christ and be baptized. You invite them, not that they will respond right away. You will invite them to be here next week. They may not come. You will lend them a bible, or give them a bible, they may not open it this year. They might not respond even when you are alive. You invite them however, you encourage them, so that when they come to believe then they will know.  When they come to respond, their eyes will open and they will see in you that God has been with them all along.  Then they will know that God has sent messengers to them all along and that God has loved them all along.  Then they will know that God has believed in them always, since that moment you first said a Christian word in their hearing, since the moment they were born.

Ezekiel is worth reading, stick with it, be persistent, a prophet among us even today.