the one about the message surviving...
July 16, 2018, 8:37 AM

Sermon from July 15, 2018

Text - Mark 6:14-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

So, last Sunday, our gospel text ended with Jesus sending his disciples – his friends – out into the world to do ministry in God’s name. They were sent to proclaim the good news that Jesus brings, to ask the people to repent, and to cure and heal those who were in need.

Naturally, they’ve been doing all that. In fact, they’ve been so ‘good’ at that ministry that they have been invited into that others are beginning to talk. News is spreading about this man named Jesus.

This man who brings hope to those in need. This man who offers and bestows forgiveness from God. This man who lifts up the lowly, stands with the oppressed, and gives voice to the voiceless. This man is getting on King Herod’s nerves.

News has traveled to the reigning king of the area in which Jesus and his friends have been doing all this good ministry. And it doesn’t look like he’s very happy about it. In fact, it has been rumored that this man Jesus may in fact be John the Baptist – who Herod killed – returned from the dead!

The message sounds similar. The message still pokes and goads those in power. The message still gives the lowly confidence and makes them think they are more highly regarded than they actually are. This message is still around.

I find this an odd story to place within the greater narrative of Mark’s gospel. It is a little odd because Jesus consistently tells those whom he helps and heals (not to mention those who learn directly from him) that they need to be quiet about the message he proclaims. It isn’t yet time for others to hear this message and truth yet. But, here we are – the great and powerful figures of the area have heard this story too.

It’s an odd story also because just as Jesus sends his friends out to proclaim this good news and do all this wonderful work in God’s name, we hear what happened to the last guy who tried to do that. It didn’t seem to work out very well for him.

He was imprisoned. He was seen as a ‘curiosity.’ He was murdered because of the message he spoke and shared.

Does it seem odd that this would be a story that Mark would want to include immediately after sharing with his readers – sharing with us – about the apostles setting out two by two to share this message of love, grace, and forgiveness to those around them? Would you really want to share the story about what sharing this message of God could and possibly would lead to? Doesn’t seem very smart.

But, I think it does teach us a great truth to the message we share. Nothing can stamp it out. It’s been tried before, and continues to be tried now. Yet, we are here. We are proclaiming. We are spreading the word of God.

When I was serving in Michigan, I was lucky enough to be a part of a pretty neat ministry. It is called the Friendship House of Michigan State. It’s purpose is to help acclimate international students to American culture. Helping to explain the things that we have always taken for granted to those who have no idea what is going on.

The example I usually give is that when you go to the grocery store and the bagger asks, “Paper or plastic?” We immediately know what that means right? But, we forget that in many parts of the world, that question is never asked because they bring their own bags to the store when they go shopping. There are even more scenarios like that. It is a really cool ministry and does a lot of wonderful work in helping, walking with, and being with those who are new to the country who are seeking an education. There is also some Bible study opportunities there as well (though it was never required or forced to be a part of the Friendship House).

One story in particular stood out to me as I talked to a woman there who was in the final stages of earning her doctorate in a medical engineering field. She shared with me that she had to hide her Bible before returning home because in her country she wasn’t allowed to possess one. That if discovered, she would be punished and then barred from returning to MSU to finish her degree.

None of us. NONE OF US – as Christians living in the United States have ever had to live through that type of struggle. None of us – ever – have ever been fearful of being punished by our country for carrying a bible around. Or for that matter any other sacred religious text.

Yet, this woman’s faith compelled her to continue to read and share this message of love, grace, and mercy with her friends and family in spite of the grave consequences for doing so.

There are countless stories of people in power from around the world and even in our own country’s history that would punish people for sharing this truth that Jesus proclaims and invites his followers into.

Joseph Stalin was able to thwart, subvert, and destroy almost every institution as he assumed power in Russia. Yet, the institution that continued to survive? The Russian Orthodox Church and its gospel message.

The Nazi regime in Germany twisted, corrupted, and shouted about a ‘gospel’ that proclaimed that certain types of people were better, more important, and superior to others. A completely false interpretation and contradiction of Jesus’ Word. Yet, many like Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared, instructed, challenged the establishment, and brought hope through the Confessing Church. All the while knowing full well what would happen to them if they were caught doing so.

During the time of slavery in the antebellum south, slave owners would limit what scriptures those under their hand could read. In fact, they barred many if not most from reading at all for fear that they’d read Jesus’ words and think that he was including them in his message. Guess what – the message was shared, and it spread.

Much like John the Baptist, people from each of those moments in history continued to share and spread and live into the message that Jesus proclaimed. Inviting others into this message of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. A message that saw and continues to see value in others because God declared them and all valuable. A message that proclaimed and continues to proclaim a life that is lived for others over ourselves because God has first served the world. A message that speaks truth to power, that calls out those who treat others poorly and view themselves to be superior to others because of their wealth, their status, their position, or their place of birth. A message that cuts through the distortions, the twists, and the lies that are spread about others, about God, about the kingdom of heaven. A message that shines the light of truth and love upon the world.

Those who are in power do not like this message. For it gives hope to the people they don’t believe need it because if they have hope – it can prove dangerous to those in power. Where the fear they might have been able to wield loses its power. The hope and light that it sheds and casts into a person’s life helps them to stand firm against injustice, cruelty, and hate. Even if it means that person might lose their life.

For the promise that this message lifts up – is that God cares. That God thinks this one – all people – are important, loved, welcomed, forgiven, and sent out into the world. A message so important and needed that people are willing to die for it to share it.

A message so important and needed that Jesus was raised from the dead to continue to share this message and power of love.

Like so many others throughout history and today – Herod was an impulsive, power-hungry, and paranoid ruler. He sought to end this message that John the Baptist shared. He sought to end the message of the one that the Baptizer pointed to. He sought to end the message that Jesus proclaimed and shared from God on high.

Even when he thought he was successful in his endeavors – John’s head on a platter, Jesus’ body nailed to a cross – the message survived. The message thrived. It continued to be shared. It continued to bring healing. It continues to bring hope to a world that seems so covered in shadows.

Last week we heard of Jesus sending out his friends to do ministry in God’s name. Today we heard what that message might cost those who dare to share it. The thing we look past as we read this tragic story about John the Baptist, is that we are here; we are listening to and sharing this message still today.

Attempts have been made to squash it, to end it, to alter it, to twist it, to shame it, to do so many things to prevent the world from hearing this message.

Yet, here we are. God’s word continues to be shared. Do not lose hope. For hope is what we preach, share, and invite the world into. Amen.

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