Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Pentecost
Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:(1-7) 8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand.

Some people will do anything to get their way. Take Herodias, for example. She hated John the Baptist. John pointed out that Herod and Herodias should not be together because Herodias was his brother Philip's wife. Philip was not dead; Herod convinced Herodias to leave Philip for a life with him. This was against Mosaic Law. John spoke truth and Herodias did not like it.

Herod was torn. He liked to listen to John and he was certain that John was someone special. Herod was even a little afraid of John; he protected John because he knew John was a righteous and holy man. Perhaps John's words were having an impact on him, causing him to think twice about his relationship with Herodias. She had a pretty tight hold on him; he put John in prison for her sake. He continued to listen, however. Herodias knew that she had to deal with the problem.

At Herod's birthday party with his high officials and military commanders, Herodias' daughter Salome danced for him and his friends. Herod who was probably pretty happy and wanted to make a huge impression on those powerful people in his presence, so he made an outlandish offer to give Salome anything she wanted, "Up to half my kingdom." This was a boast to amaze his guests. Can you imagine what an girl like Salome would want? She was of marriageable age; she could have asked for enough land or money to assure herself an excellent life. She could have been dripping with jewels and silks, hosted a lavish event for her friends. She probably had a million ideas running through her head. She went to her mother to ask for advice.

Herodias took advantage of the situation, telling her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Herodias must have had a pretty tight hold on her daughter, too, because what young woman would ask for such a thing? They left Herod without a choice; he had to give them John's head on a platter because of the vows he made at his party. He could not go back on his word in front of those who rely on him for leadership, even if the request was horrific.

That's the way the world thinks, they think that their own reputation is more important than life. See, Herod could have told Salome that it is ridiculous to think that he would kill a righteous and holy man because she danced. This is not how we should think, however. Sometimes we have to stand up against those who would use us for their own selfish desires, even if it has a negative impact on us.

John's story is ugly. He was not what we would describe as a superstar. He was rough, wild and probably not beautiful. He preached wrath. He talked about sin. In his story, the truth is ugly. The truth is also ugly in Amos's story. Amos had no desire to be a prophet. He was a shepherd and just wanted to shepherd his flock. But God spoke and Amos responded. The message he took to that king was not beautiful, either. It was ugly. He warned the people that their sacred places would be destroyed and that the king would die by the sword. He also warned that the people would be sent into exile.

Despite the harsh messages of John and Amos there is peace in them. How much better is our life when we live within the grace of God? John and Amos called God's people back into a relationship with Him. Exile might seem harsh, but during that time God's people remembered and returned to Him. John's baptism might have seemed harsh, but he was preparing the people for God's grace to truly change the world. There is peace on the other side of repentance, because there we stand once again in the presence of God. Herod's actions led him to fear not joy. When he heard about Jesus, he thought that John had come back from the dead, so Jesus' message would never make its way into Herod's heart.

Of course, we know that God can make good happen, and John's death was necessary for the rise of Jesus.

We find this story bookmarked by the sending of the disciples we heard last week and their return to Jesus with news of their ministry (Mark 6:30.) We are reminded by this juxtaposition that the work we are called to do will not always have the outcome we want or expect. There are those, who like Herodias, will do whatever they can to stand in the way of our ministry. And there are those, like Herod and Salome, who will do whatever they ask for their own selfish or foolish reasons.

Quite frankly, we deserve to hear the words of Amos and John because we are no different than the people in their days. If God held a plum line to our lives, He would find us crooked. A plum line is a string with a weight at the bottom. When held above the ground, the plumb line will show you if something is straight. It is often used when building a brick wall; the bricks are lined up along the line so that the wall will go up straight. Unfortunately, the bricks of our life our not always placed along the plum line of Godís Word. We make decisions based on our own agenda or opinion. We follow our hearts rather than the reality of God's Word. We ignore the ugly truth and seek after the things that make us feel good. I am not sure any of us could say without doubt that we would have saved John the Baptist if we had been in Herod's place.

Sometimes we simply do what we think we have to do for our own selfish reasons. There are times when we do whatever we can to get our way, even if we have to sacrifice something or someone along the way. We throw tantrums, tell little white lies, manipulate the circumstances, and flaunt emotion. We make people feel guilty or try to convince them that our way is the only way and that if they disagree then there must be something wrong. We even hang salvation on our own human desires.

But God is able to use the weak to accomplish great things. He is able to use even us. We might be crooked, but in His kingdom it doesnít matter. Christian faith is not about us. It isn't about our desires. It isn'ít even about our needs. It is about God'ís faithfulness. He has made promises that He will keep. The stories of Amos and John remind us that life in God's kingdom is hard. Yet, there is peace in that harshness, in the ugliness we experience. Despite the ugliness, we live in hope, knowing that God is faithful. We live in peace knowing that God can and will accomplish amazing things even when it does not seem possible to us.

As we read these stories, we really have to wonder, "Where is God's grace?" Amos's message has no promise of forgiveness or salvation. They don't listen to him and try to send him away. John is imprisoned and beheaded for speaking God's Word. It really is not a pleasant thing to be a prophet for God. The only mention of Jesus in today's Gospel lesson is an assumption by Herod that He was someone else.

The Psalmist has an answer to the question. "Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him, that glory may dwell in our land." Israel had no fear of God. Jeroboam had more concern about his false gods and his special city. Amaziah had more fear of Jeroboam and the people who had no interest in hearing things weren't going to go very well for them. Herod had more fear of his wife, her daughter, the opinion of his guests and his superstitions. And then he feared Jesus was a ghost. They did not care what the prophets had to say.

John came to point toward Jesus, and once John was in prison Jesus began to preach the kingdom of God to all who would hear. The Psalm offers hope in the midst of these disturbing stories. God's grace is there for those who will listen, "For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: But let them not turn again to folly."

"Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springeth out of the earth; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven." I love the image we get from these two verses and how they describe our Lord Jesus. The fullness of all the good things in heaven and earth - mercy, truth, righteousness and peace - come together in Him. Some translations use the phrase "love and faithfulness meet together". This is what Paul means in Ephesians 1:10 when he says, "to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth." Jesus is where heaven and earth meet, come together for the sake of those who listen to what He has to say about God. Jesus is God's glory come to earth, to minister to the people - to save them from themselves and give them peace.

Paul tells us that through Jesus we are adopted as sons in the kingdom that He preached, so that we are seen as holy and blameless in the eyes of God. We are given with every spiritual blessing through Jesus so that our lives will glorify God. We are saved, forgiven by the blood of Christ when we hear the words of those who speak the Word of God into our lives. Paul writes, "in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, - in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise..."

If we are honest with ourselves we know that there are things we are willing to do to get what we want from the world. If we are even honest with ourselves, however, we know that we should not sacrifice others for our own sake. Instead of acting like Herod, giving in to a promise that he knew was not right to save face in front of his guests, we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of the King, given everything we need to do His work in the world. It won't be easy; we might end up suffering for His sake. But we can do all things for His glory because we know that God has promised forgiveness and eternal life. And we know He is faithful. So, let us always live in the truth, repent when we fail and stand with God even when it seems we must stand against the rest of the world to do so.

If God held his plumb line against each of us this day He could easily find fault. The fate of the Israelites that refused to listen seemed hopeless; God offered no forgiveness through Amos. The fate of Herod seemed hopeless; he could not imagine forgiveness from John after beheading him. God still has a plumb line - His name is Jesus. God does not see our crooked walls when we dwell in Christ, but rather works at conforming the lives of those who fear Him, hear His Word and trust in Him. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit and guaranteed the inheritance He has promised. In Christ we know God's mercy and truth, for it has been revealed in the One who brought heaven and earth together, redeemed us by His blood and made us sons and heirs to the Kingdom of God.

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