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LSB Proper 10B Sermon – Mark 6:14-29

July 12, 2015

July 12, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“It was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”

“It is not lawful for you….” That is how the LORD’s statements of righteousness are given to His people. When the LORD’s statements of righteousness are applied to individuals, they point out the peoples’ faults. That was the case with Herod. You heard how John the Baptizer, a speaker of the LORD’s word to bring people to repentance, addressed the king: “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” That statement revealed Herod’s act that ran afoul of the LORD’s directives to the Israelites concerning marriage. John’s declaration was rooted in the Levitical Code that the LORD had established and given to His people. When Herod’s marriage to Herodias was compared to that code, it was found to be unlawful.

Amos the prophet had done the same centuries earlier. He was given the task of proclaiming the LORD’s judgment against His people Israel, in particular Jeroboam the king. Using the image of a plumb line which determines what is true and correct, the LORD speaks His condemnation against His people’s guilt: “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac will be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” The Israelites’ acts had been compared to the LORD’s code and were found to be unlawful.

This type of address continues to be given. It takes place among you. When the LORD sends preachers to speak His Law or when that Law which you have previously heard is recalled, the same evaluation is made. Your acts are compared to the LORD’s code. Those which are not in accordance with it are found to be unlawful. This is the Law’s “mirror function” that you might recall from catechism instruction. The Law exposes your fault. The Law shows your sin. The Law reveals your wrongdoing.But how is this received? How do people respond to this message? Today’s Scripture readings provided one reaction from Amaziah, the court chaplain to Jeroboam, and from Herod, the terarch of Galilee. Both of them attempted to prevent that judging message from being spoken. When Amaziah heard Amos’ preaching divine judgment, he said: “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” When Herod heard John’s preaching against his marriage to Herodias, he had the prophet arrested: “It was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.”

Why are those responses given? Amaziah’s statement to Jeroboam begins to reveal the reason: “The land is not able to bear all his words.” So does Mark’s description of Herodias: “Herodias had a grudge against [John] and wanted to put him to death.” Sinners cannot bear to have the LORD’s Law spoken against them. By nature, no one believes that he or she is with error or fault. The LORD’s Law places a constraint on those who want to be free and self-determinative. It establishes a standard and demands that it be met. That becomes unbearable to those who want to establish their own standard of righteousness.

The same response given today. It is seen within the world. It is even seen among those who claim to be a part of Christendom. It can be found in your hearts and minds. The Scriptures are proclaimed, including the parts that say: “It is not lawful for you….” Such preaching of the LORD’s Law receives various replies: “I’m not bound to that; that’s just for you who are Christians…. Those are old standards from a different time; they should be replaced now…. Maybe the LORD said that, but who can live up to it? It’s better to make amendments to those demands…. Those aren’t divine words; they’re just what a community developed for themselves…. No one who speaks this way should be tolerated among us.” The responses vary, but they all fall along the spectrum of rejecting what the LORD has spoken, just as Amaziah and Herod of old.

But Herod’s and Amaziah’s reaction keep themselves from being led to repentance and restoration. The purpose of Amos’ preaching and John’s preaching was to bring their audience to contrition over what they had done and then to be forgiven. It is a call to be reconciled to the LORD. But when those who speak the LORD’s Law are told to be silent or sent away or disregarded or even martyred, then that reconciliation does not occur.

Compare the response of Herod and Amaziah to the psalm that you prayed this morning. Note the beginning of that prayer: “LORD, You were favorable to Your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.” These words came from the time after what Amos prophesied took place among Israel and Judah. The psalmist acknowledges that the LORD’s people had committed wrongdoing. There was no questioning the LORD’s standard of righteousness; its condemnation of the people’s iniquity was correct. But those sins had been forgiven and the LORD’s wrath had been taken away from them.

So the psalmist continues: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us! Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” These are the statements of those who feel the sting of the LORD’s Law. These responses acknowledge that guilt does exist among the people and that the LORD’s standard of righteousness correctly pointed it out. But they don’t try to question the LORD’s judgment. They don’t refuse to accept the verdict spoken against sinful actions.

Then the statement of belief and trust in the LORD’s steadfast love and salvation is made: “Show us Your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us Your salvation. Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.” Just as much as the psalmist receives the validity of the LORD’s condemnation of his and his fellow people’s sin, so he also receives the truth of the LORD’s promise of restoration.

Both of these are necessary. The LORD’s salvation is the granting of forgiveness, as Paul describes to the Ephesians: “In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [God’s] grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” That is a wonderful statement chock full of the gospel promise. But those who do not recognize their guilt will not seek what the LORD gives.

For you within the Church, hearing the LORD’s Law that judges and condemns must not be skipped or rejected. When the LORD’s standards of righteousness declare, “It is not lawful for you to do X…,” such declaration must be received and believed. The LORD establishes what is just and right concerning how you relate to Him and how you relate to humanity. The reaction of Amaziah and Herod must not be found among you. Any response that rejects the LORD’s Law is ultimately harmful to you. It disregards the LORD’s authority. It demonstrates an indifference for what the LORD has spoken. It even begins to undercut the salvation that the LORD has bestowed through Jesus’ work.

Instead, the posture of humility and trust exhibited by the psalmist is what you are called to. That already has been done within our Divine Service during the Preparatory Rite. But this isn’t meant to be shown just at 10:30am on a Sunday morning. No, this posture of humility and trust is meant for all your days. That is done when you confess your wrongdoings and are absolved. It is also done when you hear what the LORD declares as good and right for your actions and you carry that out in your daily living. This is what the psalmist described: “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.”

Now it is true: living in a posture of humility and trust in this world is not an easy task. There are many people like Jeroboam and Herod who do not wish to have any of the LORD’s Law spoken and who have power in this world to try to silence it. Even worse, there have been and continue to be leaders within Christendom like Amaziah the priest who will refuse to have the LORD’s word that establishes righteousness be the standard that governs the Church.

But being led in the ways of the righteousness can be accomplished. So can the speaking of what is good and right as the LORD defines it. This is done by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. Amos and John show the example. That ability to follow their example is what you asked for in the Collect of the Day: “O Lord, You granted Your prophets strength to resist the temptations of the devil and courage to proclaim repentance. Give us pure hearts and minds to follow Your Son faithfully even into suffering and death.” The LORD answers that prayer: “Righteousness will go before Him and His footsteps a way.”

That is the path that you are called to follow. The LORD will lead you as you are humbled, brought to contrition and repentance, and established in faith and trust in both the LORD’s standard righteousness and His steadfast love shown to you through the redemptive work of Jesus. For then you will be reconciled and restored, “according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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