Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 6:14–6:29
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15)
You hear the coughing, moaning, and groaning, but your friend insists that there’s nothing wrong, everything’s just fine. Your friend just keeps on going, and so do the coughing, moaning, and groaning. Everything is not fine, but the only person who’s failing to see that is your friend. You keep on suggesting that they should go talk with their doctor, even though they refuse to acknowledge that they’re not OK. Even if they did go to the doctor’s office, you can pretty much imagine what might happen. The doctor would run some tests, give your friend instructions on what to do or what not to do, and send along any results that come back from the lab. And when that letter from the lab arrived, your friend would refuse to open it. It’s not like the letter is bad; it’s just telling it like it is. But your friend acts like reading those results would change their situation somehow. In a sense, they’re kind of right. That envelope points to what’s really going on. It could shatter your friend’s false sense of security. It might confront them with evidence that everything is not, in fact, fine. If your friend has a good doctor, though, those test results won’t just be hard news; instead, their doctor would be able to take that information and point your friend to a treatment, even a cure for their situation. They news that they’d have once found unwelcome would be the very thing that changed their life for the better.
God’s Word can be like those test results. You’ve heard a couple of situations in the Old Testament and Gospel readings today where people certainly treated it in an unwelcoming way. Take a look at Amos. Most of the first part of that prophet’s book in the Bible is a warning of God’s coming judgment. He’s telling the world that everything is not fine – especially the people to whom Amos was sent, the northern nation of Israel. The people had exploited their poor to further their own prosperity. They thought only of themselves and did what was right in their own eyes. They thought that they were doing OK because they acted like they worshiped the Lord God, checking some imaginary box, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Amos brought God’s message that the nation would be overthrown and the people sent into exile for what they had done. The people didn’t want to hear it! The priest of the land, Amaziah, went to the prophet and told him to go back down south with his doom-and-gloom message. “Get out of town! You’re not welcome here!”
John the Baptizer didn’t really get a welcome wagon, either. Calling the people to repent was a huge part of John’s ministry. As you might suspect, people weren’t all that big on someone confronting them with news that would require them to change the way they lived. Some even hated John and the message that he delivered, and Herodias, was right at the top of that list. John had rightly decried King Herod’s new marriage as adultery: not only did Herod put aside his first wife before marrying Herodias; Herodias was married to his still-living brother, Philip. (The whole situation was pretty messed up!) Herodias wanted John dead, while Herod feared and respected him as a man of God; therefore, he took the middle road and had John imprisoned. She finally got her wish, though, when she sent her daughter (Herod’s stepdaughter) in to dance for the king and his military leaders and noblemen on his birthday. Much to the king’s sorrow, Herod’s pride and wantonness led him to hand John over to the executioner.
Are you or I any better than Herod, Herodias, or Amaziah? We don’t usually welcome the call to repentance. We can be a lot like that friend who avoids the diagnosis of our illness, ignoring unpleasant news in the hopes that it will go away. Or worse, we strike out at the messenger, letting our pride get the better of us. We don’t want to hear it! Even still, God’s Word calls us to recognize our illness and seek treatment, even as the symptoms of our self-centered sickness persist.
Have you been avoiding diagnosis? In what aspects of your life is God calling you to acknowledge that everything is not fine? Have you fallen in to an inappropriate relationship of physical or emotional adultery? Have you focused on your own prosperity and closed your eyes to the needs of others? Do you think that you’re right with God because you’re checking the box by coming to a worship service for an hour once a week? If you should ignore the call to repent from self-serving living, you’ll still feel the pains of the symptoms that come from your illness. Like your friend, you might be afraid that acknowledging your diagnosis would change your situation – it’d make the problem more real, somehow. Here’s the truth, though: acknowledging that everything is not fine is the first step in the treatment that leads to the cure.
In our Confirmation course here at St. John’s, we work with our students to show them how God reaches us through His Word to diagnose us and deliver the cure that we need. As Lutheran Christians, we express that by looking at God’s Word as Law and Gospel. You can use the acronym S.O.S. to remember the Law: it “shows our sins,” giving us God’s instruction and reflecting how we measure up to it. Trouble is, we fall short. Everything is not fine. That does not mean that the Law is bad, though; rather, it’s like those test results that just tell it like it is. We still need it. But the Law can’t cure us. For the cure, we have to hear the Gospel in God’s Word. Christians might use that word “gospel” in a number of different ways, but it primarily refers to the good news of forgiveness and life that comes through Jesus the Messiah, God’s Word made flesh and bone. God’s Gospel is found throughout the Scriptures: it’s everything that points us to Jesus and the life that we have in him. It’s another S.O.S.: the Gospel “shows our Savior.”
God’s Law and Gospel are both gifts that you can indeed welcome as instruments that the Holy Spirit uses in sequence to make you well. They’re not just information for your head. The Law will convict you and confront you, challenge you and call you to repent. As with the rest of life, you can’t hang on to unhealthy behaviors and expect to become healthy. God has something better for you, a life that follows His design, life that comes from Jesus. Jesus himself is the epitome of the Gospel, calling you and me to be transformed by God’s forgiveness and healing love, the cure for our condition and the only way that we can be made well. It’s through Jesus that everything will finally be fine.
As a Christian, you are a messenger of God’s Word. Don’t get me wrong: God’s Word isn’t something of our own making – not something that Pastor Meehan or me or you can invent or tailor to accommodate our desires. God’s Law and Gospel aren’t based in what’s right in our own eyes or the view of the world around us. More often than not, that Word will be unwelcome in the world and you may be treated like Amos and John. Know that you are in good company. It is through people like you – people who have heard the call to repent and who are being made well in Christ Jesus – that God is at work to bring His cure to your family and friends and coworkers and classmates. John was appointed as the herald of the Messiah from before his birth. Amos was called from his everyday life to go and bring God’s Word to Israel in the north. Should the world regard you as unwelcome as you share the life-changing message of God’s love in Jesus, know that the One who sent you has not sent you empty-handed. He will provide strength and courage as you go as His messenger. Even if the world does not welcome you, you can look to your Lord’s cross and know that he has welcomed you with open arms.
God’s cure is here for you. Welcome it into your life, and be well.