Sermon for July 12, 2015

Sermon for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 12, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Mark 6:14-29

Sermon Theme:  “Christians Decapitated”

(Sources:  Anderson’s, Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Online Stewardship of Life Jokes; original ideas; Online Bad Women of the Bible; Online All the Women of the Bible: Herodias; Safe Horizon “Child Abuse Facts”; Operation Rescue  “Abortion”)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           An insurance agent once stopped by a nearby church in hopes of selling some insurance.  He greeted the head usher at the door and asked to talk to whoever was in charge.

“Not me,” said the usher, “I only hand out the bulletins.  Let me take you to the pastor.”

The insurance agent then asked the pastor if he was in charge, and the pastor replied, “Not me!  I only preach and teach.  Let me take you to the president of the congregation.

The insurance agent then asked the congregational president if he were in charge.  “Not me,” he said, “I only conduct meetings and hear complaints.  Let me take you to the head elder.”

The insurance agent asked the head elder if he were in charge, and he retorted, “Not me, I just take care of the building.”

By this time, the insurance agent was quite frustrated and muttered aloud, “Well, who IS in charge around here anyway?”

The lady who made and served the coffee every Sunday piped up and stated loudly   , “That’s me!  NOTHING happens around here until I make the coffee!”

That sounds like me every morning at home.  My wife says, “Today is garbage pickup.”

I say, “I can’t do anything until I have a cup of coffee.”

One hour later, after I’ve read my newspaper and had my second cup of coffee, I say, “Good grief!  I have a lot to do today, — send stuff to the website, write a sermon, write a sermonette, pray for folks on the prayer list, run off pages for my Sunday School class . . . (pause) . . . I think I need another cup of coffee!”

Today’s sermon text from Mark is so packed with messages that even some of the important ones get overlooked.  We find so many levels of sin in the text, we might overlook our own if we’re not careful.  We see the terrible sins of bad leaders, despicable sins of bad women, as well as the less offensive sin of apathy.  Yet sin is sin.

The story in our sermon text begins in the palace and with King Herod Antipas (he was actually more like a prince or a duke rather than a king).  He was one of the sons of Herod the Great who was given Galilee and Perea as his third of his father’s kingdom (I guess you could call him a third of a king).

Herod Antipas was wondering who Jesus was, thinking maybe he was John the Baptist come back to life, or Elijah.  Then we have a flashback to John’s murder.

Herod and John first encountered one another when the prophet challenged Herod’s marriage to his brother Philip’s wife.  In the light of the Law, the marriage would have been deemed incestuous, since Herodias was Herod Antipas’ niece.  However, she and Antipas had become interested in one another, and she divorced Philip to marry her brother-in-law.  John the Baptist had boldly condemned the marriage as a violation of the Law (according Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21).

This embarrassed and angered Herodias.  She was so angry at John that she could not (or would not) let go of her “grudge against him” and sought to get rid of him.  Herodias’ opportunity came with the famous dance of Salome (                )          on the occasion of a birthday party for the King.

Impressed by her dance, Herod offers to give his daughter anything she should want, and – influenced by her mother’s advice – she asks for John’s head.  And it is done, though, reluctantly, by Herod.

Well, when we talk about apathy, it’s not John we’re talking about, is it?  But when we talk about “bad leaders,” certainly Herod Antipas would fit the bill.  And when we talk about “bad women,” Herodias and Salome would certainly qualify.  In fact, according to one resource, entitled Bad Women of the Bible, Salome is Number Two on the list and Herodias is Number 9, both making the top Ten.  I’m sure you can guess who’s Number One – Jezebel.  But she’s another story.

Where do we see the apathy in the text?  We need to know, because that’s where we see ourselves.  At the end of our text, after John’s decapitated head is brought on a platter before Herod, Salome and Herodias, the text says, “When his (John’s) disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”  And then John’s disciples sort of disappear from history.  At least Jesus’ disciples, at first apathetic, were filled with the zeal and energy of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost!

The story in our sermon text is as modern as today’s headlines, isn’t it?  Syria’s bad leader, President Bashar Assad, had thousands of citizens slaughtered in 2011, he silenced writers and others who were his critics, his violation of human rights is well known.

Idi Amin, who ruled Urganda from 1971-1979, expelled all Asians from the country and ordered the murder of 100,000 to 300,000 Urgandans.

Until recently, I would not have thought John the Baptist’s story was as modern as today’s headlines, because beheadings were pretty much unheard of.  But in recent times, the radical ISIS group has literally decapitated Christians.  With an intentionally dull knife, ISIS behead 15 Ethopian Christians on the beach in Libya.  In recent times, ISIS members have been seen playing soccer with severed human heads.  So, yes, the grotesque evil we have seen in Biblical times, we now are seeing in our day.

Not only was John decapitated literally, but his followers were decapitated figuratively.  John’s followers didn’t have a leader anymore; apparently John had not prepared any of his disciples to succeed him in leadership.  Their apathy kept them on a perpetual coffee break.

Today, Christians and Christian congregations can be decapitated figuratively in a number of ways:  by not following Christ, by not obeying God’s commandments, and by the sheer apathy of doing nothing at a time when everything is called for.

In America today, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.  According to a Gallup Poll, 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of American husbands have engaged in extramarital affairs.  According to Operations Rescue, half of all pregnancies in the U. S. are unintended; of all unintended pregnancies, 4 in 10 are aborted.  And 21 percent of ALL pregnancies in America end in abortion.

According to Safe Horizon, there are 2.9 million reports of child abuse every year in the United States, 1 in 10 children suffer from child maltreatment, and 1 in 16 children suffer from sexual abuse.

The Federal Reserve reports that 40 percent of American households spend more than they earn.  And 49 percent of all Americans approve of same-sex marriage.  Where has the church been?  What have we been doing?  Drinking coffee instead of witnessing God’s truth and writing our congressmen?  Why have denominational groups waited until this year to open an Office of Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.?  Serious questions to raise.

As our Synod President said recently, “We Christians are a people of joy.”  And I would add that we Christians are a people of peace.  We are a people of good will.  We don’t want to argue or fight; we want you to sit down and have a cup of coffee with us.  That’s part of our Christ-like nature.  I know that’s not an excuse for apathy, for figurative decapitation, — but it explains why we are slow to act.  And then came Pentecost, and God’s power and strength, working through His people, changed the world.  There is hope.  It can happen again.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.