I meant to post this early, but with the whole National Youth Gathering thing, it didn’t happen. Please forgive. It’s also not Saturday, I realize. Though we can always hope! 😉
Welcome to the 1st episode of the Saturday Sermonette series! I hope this is fairly regular part of the posting sequence, for myself as well as for you. I like to read the lectionary before worship to prime my mind and my spirit for the words to come. But recently, I’ve found that I start developing my own thoughts and questions, and then am excited when the pastor is on the same line of thought. Or want to engage in conversation with him or her after because these texts that we have the honor of reading are just so fascinating. And there are, as they say, so many ways to skin a cat. I may or may not hear the same message. And how COOL is that??
This week’s Gospel about the beheading of John is disturbing at best. The kind of thing that may lead to nightmares for children, and scary art images . I mean, it’s great for artists of old. What a great chance for them to show off and to practice their skills! Blood! Sex! Drama! Yaaaay! I’m sure they were thinking. Exactly like that, no doubt.
But, all joking aside, it’s a scary premise. We’re not exactly sure how the gospels were ordered, and it’s likely that somewhere along the line, someone made the executive and anonymous decision on where to put each narrative. This one is in a rather, well, scary place appropriately enough. The disciples have just been sent out and given their mission. Then, John, one they have followed and respected, despite his strange tendencies to wear camel and eat bugs, is suddenly killed. And not just killed—but killed in a very gruesome, painful way in front of crowds and those who support his killing. If I were a teacher, I’d tell you to remember that because it’s important. So I’ll say it again. John was killed in a very gruesome, painful way in front of crowds and those who support his killing. Keep that in mind.
As they say in Spanish, we’re going to “hacer un parentesis,” make a parenthesis, shift directions just for a moment before returning to the Gospel at hand. When I was first introduced to the oh-so-Lutheran interpretation of law and gospel, I thought that law was usually old testament, gospel the new. This might have gotten me through confirmation and a first draft of a faith statement, but it’s really often more complicated. In this case, our Gospel story seems to contain waay more law than Gospel: stay with the status quo, don’t go ticking off authorities, and you will generally stay alive. Or, at the very least, as the Hunger Games would say, give yourself a better chance that “the odds will be ever in your favor.”
But Amos, for a change, seems to offer more gospel than law. Usually Amos is the doom and gloom poverty prophet. Save the poor! You’re doomed! Change your ways! Repent. I’m oversimplifying it a little to be dramatic, but you get the point. Read Amos if you doubt me. And it still has a little of that tone. But there is also the powerful message that God will rebuild a very lost and broken people, albeit probably not in the way they would have expected or chosen. But God will never abandon them throughout this process. This is good stuff!
And our letter from Ephesians also offers some gospel hope. Paul isn’t yet imprisoned, that comes later, but he basically knows that he’s risking his neck (ha! Like John! Sorry, bad pun.) for the sake of preaching about Christ. Yet he offers praise to God and confidence in these promises. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (verse 3). He mentions the our inheritance in Christ Jesus, the gospel of our salvation, and the seal placed upon us at baptism. THIS is gospel in full glory.
So, speaking of Gospel, let’s go back to our friend the beheaded John. Where is the gospel and the message in this? Remember what I told you to remember earlier? Anyone? Bueller? John did a lot of things that were strange to the world, beyond the camel hair and locusts. He preached about God. He baptized. He spoke of the JOY and promises that we too have in Christ Jesus. Then, John was killed very surprisingly, in front of crowds of people, in a humiliating and very painful way—mainly because of the fear of those in power. The fear of not understanding this Christ and what He could do. The fear that comes of losing ourselves and being called to an amazing transformation.
I feel I also need to acknowledge that today is the day we acknowledge and offer our prayers and blessings to the youth and adults going to the National Youth Gathering. We are sending them forth in His name, praying that they would grow closer to Him, live in His love, and share that message with a world that desperately needs it. As the youth mission statement says: Know Christ, Grow in Faith, Go to Serve.
I also need to reassure parents that despite being in New Orleans and East St. Louis, we make a sincere promise not to return your children beheaded. If it does come to that, feel free to behead me. We ARE sending them toward a chance to live in Christ and to transform their faith and lives. That sounds a little better, yes? And in line with our Gospel and Christian lives.
And now, we return to your previously scheduled programming of our Gospel.
This passage is juxtaposed after the sending of the 12, and before the feeding of the 5,000. It sounds remarkably like foreshadowing of Christ’s death to come, although the disciples, like us, need a lot of repetition to really get things to sink in. It suggests that following Christ is anything but an easy road. There are consequences that we may not exactly like or choose if we had any choice in the matter. But if we choose to stick with it, to keep believing and loving and living our Lord and Savior, the rewards and riches are beyond our wildest imaginations. Thanks be to God. Amen.