Bethany Lutheran Church, Bigfork, MT


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Sermon – 7-15-2018

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Mark 6


Pastor Christopher Miller


The Gospel reading for today is one of those chapters in the Scriptural story that we would rather not talk about. Most of those who proclaimed Christ in the early days of the church met the same or similar fate that John does in this story. According to tradition, every one of the apostles, except John, died for the sake of the proclamation of Christ. This is not just exclusive to the days after Christ, however. Many of the prophets suffered greatly for proclaiming God's inconvenient Word to the people of Israel. They were imprisoned, beaten, and killed, and only later on, when their words were proven true, were they taken as Scripture and celebrated. Also, it wasn't just the early church who was persecuted for the sake of Christ. Burning at the stake was invented for those who were considered to be heretics in the medieval church, and Luther and others had to hide from those in authority in order to avoid being killed. Many did not avoid that fate.

Martyrdom has a long and terrible history in the life of God's people. But the modern church, especially in America, often pushes those stories to the side. We remember them, surely, but we prefer not to understand how their martyrdom happened. And when I say how, I don't mean necessarily the method, be that beheading, stoning, crucifixion, or being fed to the lions. I mean the circumstances surrounding their martyrdom, how they ended up being martyrs. So, we're going to use John's story as a jumping off point, and actually talk about this. And we'll probably find ourselves in these stories in the process.

There are three major qualities of martyrdom that we need to pay attention to. Two of them are ultimately about the ones doing the martyring. The first is that they will not like the word that is being proclaimed to them, because it usually makes them in the wrong. In this case, John had proclaimed to Herod that he should not have married Herodias, who has previously been married to his brother. To us, that may seem a bit weird, but maybe not a big deal. But there are two factors to consider: Herod and Herodias divorced other spouses to marry each other, which was against Jewish law, and both of Herodias' husbands happened to also be her uncles. Now you can understand why John had to speak. There was immorality going on of the highest order. And here's an interesting fact: it was not Herod who held a grudge against John, but Herodias. She was perfectly fine from this situation, and didn't want this interloper ruining the good thing she had. And Herod jailed John because he wanted to do something for Herodias, because if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. It all comes back to the people of God proclaiming the word of God, Law and, yes, Gospel. And even the Gospel can hit people's ears hard. Hearing "I forgive you" when you feel like you haven't done anything wrong can sure increase the anger.

But at the same time, and this is the second point, the evil action of martyring can actually be very banal, very commonplace, very ordinary. There can be so much subtle buildup that like a frog in the pot on the stove, you don't realize things are boiling until it's too late. The actual beheading of John takes less than a verse. He had to have no idea it was coming, even though he was in a jail cell. We have seen things like this over and over in human history. There are many people who have been just claiming to be "doing their jobs" while committing horrible atrocities. There are many priests and pastors who have been celebrated by their congregations, while abusing and harming those within the walls. We want to trust that people have the concerns of others at heart, but that is unfortunately frequently not the case. We as Christians are called to point out the ordinary evils in the world, including in our own lives, ones that we have purposely enacted, and ones that we have unwittingly participated in. We won't like it, and neither will anyone else, but it needs to be done for the sake of our neighbor.

Thirdly, we get back to the one who has been martyred. Ultimately, we do not remember the one who has been martyred for their sake. We do not even necessarily remember their action, and sometimes not even their words. What we remember is who they were proclaiming. John didn't call out Herod and Herodias because he was against them. He didn't call them out because of any public perception. He didn't call them out because he thought he was better than them. He called them out because he had a word from God, found in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and he was called to point out anyone that was doing anything that went contrary to God's will for his world and for his people. Remember, this isn't a new thing for John. Remember the whole "you brood of vipers" bit? But those words don't serve him, they serve what God wants to see in this world.

And we need to hear those words too. Even the ones who know the call of God need to hear God's Word again too. John sends messengers to Jesus before his death, asking if Jesus is the one who is to come, or if we should wait for another. The point of this message is not to make you go out and seek martyrdom. The point of this message is that you may trust the words that God has given to you. The martyrs gave their very lives for the sake of the Gospel. They serve as an example to us that as God has given life to us, we are called to give that life to others. That life is given to us by being joined to Christ's death, in the waters of baptism, as Kali is today. It may lead to some dark places, but it is worth it, because we know who we are and where we are going. And in that Word we will trust, and that Word we will tell. AMEN.



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Audio Sermon - 7-15-2018 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 6

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Audio Sermon - 7-8-2018 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Ezekiel 2

PDF Sermon 7-8-2018 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Ezekiel 2

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Audio Sermon - 7-1-2018 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 5

PDF Sermon - 7-1-2018 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 5

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