Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 10 and 11, 2021
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Many times the consequences of the right actions are wonderful. This week Denver will be hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. If you are a millionaire you can afford to get a ticket.
But just think what it took those players to become an All-Star. I’ve been told that Nolan Arenado, the former third baseman of the Colorado Rockies, and now playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, fields hundreds of baseballs every day to retain and improve his skill as a third baseman. He already has amazing skills but we are able to see the consequences of his hard work when we see him play ball. The other players on that field have similar stories. The honor of playing in that game certainly came by their skills but also the work of a ton of coaches, the dedication of parents and the encouragement of friends and fans. Good consequences.
But consequences in life are not just positive but they can be painful. Life turns south, it all falls apart, instead of seeing success we see failure. One of the members of the church our family attended when I was a teenager, was a great youth leader, and seemed to be successful in everything he did – he had the Midas touch. But then he didn’t. During a time in the early 70’s he remarked, “Everything I touch turns to crap.”
Sometimes such a way in life is due to rejecting God’s place in our life. Paul in Galatians says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8a) Poor consequences.
But sometimes you get poor consequences for doing the right thing. That is what we see in this account of John the Baptist, of Herod Antipas, his wife Herodias and her daughter Salome. John was a preacher of repentance. He stood for what was right and he condemned what was wrong. And it didn’t make any difference who you were. A sin was a sin if it came from the lowliest person in the country or if it came from the most powerful.
John went after the biggest and the meanest when he spoke against Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias. Herodias had been married before – to Herod’s brother, Philip. But either Herod wanted her, or Herodias thought her brother-in-law would be better, but whatever, he took her and she left her marriage. And John wouldn’t keep his mouth shut about this. He wouldn’t mind his own business. Our reading says, “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to.” (Mark 6:18-19)
In a commentary of this situation, one of my favorite writers, Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, makes a big deal on the verb used in this section for the word “speaking or saying.” He says that John wouldn’t leave the sin and the situation alone. He says that John had a “dogged commitment to proclaiming God’s unpleasant truth.” John didn’t mention this adultery a few times but “he kept on saying” what he said. Gibbs goes on, “Maybe Antipas (and Herodias) could have overlooked one or two denunciations from John, but the Baptizer preached a whole sermon series that called for repentance.” (Gibbs, Matthew 11:2 – 20:34, Page 738)
There are consequences for being so bold. There are consequences for intruding in the private affairs of people. Herod Antipas was celebrating his birthday with some well-heeled friends and evil Herodias (whom I see as the Jezebel of the New Testament), got her chance to exact her revenge. Her daughter, Salome, put on a dance for Antipas and the guests. The dance was not PG-13!! And Antipas, delighted with his friend’s delight, wanted to reward her for her dance, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” (Mark 6:22b) Now, her mother, Jezebel, wasn’t allowed to be in when she danced. Her daughter, went to her and said, “What shall I ask for?” And in a second the response was made, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist.” (See Mark 6:24)
If you stand against something. If you call something, or someone, evil, there are consequences. That is the story of the life of John and that is the story of the life of a follower of Jesus. Three years ago, my son, Danny, a pastor in Phoenix, preached from this pulpit, using this text and he titled the sermon, appropriately, “Headless, not Gutless.”
Jesus addresses the consequences of being one of His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20)
This summer I am doing something I haven’t done for twenty years – I am playing softball on a team. I signed up to play in the Old Person’s League in Lakewood. It wasn’t too hard to get in. The coach wanted to make sure that I was mobile, could throw the ball to first base and could hit a ball out of the infield. When I answered, “Sort of”, and the check for playing cleared, I was in. But then this e-mail came. “John, after we hung up, I thought of one more topic that I should have raised with you. It’s hard to miss that you’re a pastor, and that’s great. But if you’re easily offended by cursing or irreligious comments, our team might not be a good fit for you… Conversely, I don’t want other team members to feel pressured into having religious conversations. I don’t know if you’re an evangelical, and frankly, that’s none of my business. But if you feel compelled to convert unbelievers or even broach religious topics outside the flow of normal conversations we might not be a good fit for you. Sorry if I’m being a bit blunt with this note, but I want to be as honest and transparent as possible. Let me know if this changes your interest in the team.”
I joined the team. I find them to be good guys. And I try to keep my cursing quieter than theirs. But there is a perception that Christians, and pastors, can be a detriment rather than a positive addition to a ball team or a work team or in the neighborhood. I hope and pray the consequence of my witness can be positive.
But there are bigger things that joining a softball team and having someone look at you with some reservation. Some of the biggest issues right now and the consequences that come for holding God’s truth are found in the discussion about abortion and marriage between one man and one woman and the issue of homosexuality. The Bible condemns the taking of human life, inside of the womb and outside of it. Jesus defines marriage as a husband and a wife. And homosexuality is outside the will of God. But speaking such words or holding to such views carry a consequence. Some would say that such word or thought is filled with hate or it is being judgmental. But Paul says that we are able to speak the truth with love.
In this section about the life of John we come face-to-face with the consequences he faced. But St. Mark doesn’t tell us this so we can learn more about John. He tells us this so we can learn more about Jesus. The consequences of speaking against evil and the call for repentance came from Jesus to everyone. Later, on the day of the trial before Caiaphas the high priest, Jesus would be asked, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63b-64) The outcome of that? The consequence? You know. The high priest tore his robe. He said that Jesus had committed the unforgiveable sin of blasphemy. He said that he was worthy of death.
The consequence of Jesus speaking the truth was the most marvelous result – the Lamb of God is sacrificed for the sin of the world. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
The consequences of life can be good and joyful. Some consequences leave us with regret and desiring another chance. Some consequences, like for Jesus and His followers, can be painful. But in Jesus, the consequences that come to us by the sacrificial death of Jesus and His powerful resurrection are life-giving and hope-building.
The Concordia Self-Study has this prayer for this section. I’ll end with these words, “Lord, give us courage to share Your Word to a dying world in these uncertain times. Open hearts to repentance and faith in the Gospel. Amen