WHERE IS GOD IN THIS?

Sermon for Pentecost VIII, 2021, Random Lake                        7/11/21

Theme: WHERE IS GOD IN THIS?

Text: Mark 6:14-29

Introduction          Mark’s Gospel for last week ended with the disciples in the middle of an exciting mission.  Following Jesus’ instructions, they went from town to town doing marvelous work for God. 

                             It must have been a glorious time.  Imagine yourselves in the story.  Thrill to see persons healed.  Enjoy the crowds of admirers.  Sense God’s presence in the disciples’ mission.

                             But Mark breaks away from this scene to show us what was happening in Herod’s palace.  Reports arrived at headquarters about the events in Galilee, Herod’s territory, prompting the question: “Who is this Jesus with the stirring message and acts of healing?” 

                             Herod’s advisors gave various opinions.  Some said, “It’s Elijah come back as Malachi predicted.”  Others said, “No, it’s one of the other prophets.”  Others spoke up: “This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead—that’s why he is able to work miracles!”  Herod agreed, “It’s John, sure enough.  I cut off his head and now he’s back alive.”

                             Then Mark gives us a flashback to the events that led up to John, the Baptizer’s death.  It is a ghastly account of human resistance to God’s will, not unlike the accounts of violence today.  Trying to save face at his birthday party after he was smitten by a provocative dance, King Herod ordered the execution of John, the Baptizer.  It’s very disturbing for us to see this kind of injustice in the world.  We look at such events today and ask, “WHERE IS GOD IN THIS?

I.       I remember when Sharon knelt at the altar rail and received the Holy Communion where I presided.  It was good to have her back.  But that very afternoon, her parents arrived at the parsonage with the shocking news of her death.  Her estranged husband took her life with gun violence in a murder/suicide.  As I ministered to her children, parents, and friends, I couldn’t help but wonder where was God in all of this tragic horror?  The human cause was clear in the history of the couple’s endless conflicts.  But was the Lord of peace and justice there?  Was the crucified and risen Christ present in the event and its aftermath?  I think he was.

          Perhaps you wonder as you read the daily reports of violence in our cities and rural areas.  When I had lunch with Milwaukee fourth graders who were visiting the Riveredge Nature Center, “ one asked me if I heard gunshots in my neighborhood.”  She did not have to read the news to know that we live in a dangerous world.  Does God care? Is he with her?

II.      As I think about these questions, I wonder whether I share a faulty view of the church and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Maybe somewhere along the line we got the idea that following Christ would be easy and fun.  The wonderful adventures of people in the Bible dominated my childhood.  I think we tend to skip over the bad stuff.

          We focus on David’s victory over Goliath rather than his terrible sin and family heartaches that followed.  We glory in Abraham’s faith, but tend to forget that he lied about Sarah being his wife, for fear that the King of Egypt might kill him and take Sarah into the royal harem.  The Bible is full of messy stuff like that.  But what is most disturbing is when good people like Jeremiah, Job, or other faithful servants suffer so much.  And many, like John, end up being killed.

          If this is what happens to people in the Bible, why should we be surprised when, along with the fun and excitement of being God’s people, there are times of stress and strain and real suffering?

III.     One person suggests that we may falsely view the church as a health club.  When you become a member of a health club, you pay your dues [that’s what some church members call their offerings], and expect member services. 

          The exercise equipment, the weight room, aerobic classes, an indoor track, and swimming pool—all are there with a trained staff to see that the members benefit.  If you don’t show up, fine.  But if you do come, you expect to have things your way.  Could it be that some people on the church’s roster share this same notion?  Moreover, they expect God to give them smooth sailing as long as they call themselves Christians.

          It gets very personal when bad things happen to us, especially when we think that we have been doing all the right things.  We may be faithful churchgoers, volunteers, and responsible citizens.  We try to do good work and take care of business.  But we run into some trouble. 

          God does not spare us from the consequences of our sinful world, or from our own mistakes.  Perhaps, we get very disappointed and upset, because we had a faulty idea of discipleship in the first place.

IV.     God has called us to be disciples in a secular and rebellious world.  Some of our leaders seem untroubled by lies.  Black and brown citizens are often treated as less than human.  Unarmed persons of color are shot by police officers.  The law is often massaged or even ignored.  The criminal justice system needs major reform.  Our Creator and Lord is not pleased with the ruin of his plan for a happy and productive life for all people.

          That’s why the Lord entered into the fray in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  As followers of Jesus, we share in his trials and triumphs.  It was exciting for Jesus to be called in baptism the Beloved Son of God.  But then there were forty days in the wilderness.  It was wonderful to preach to multitudes, to heal the sick, stop storms, and bring health and hope for God’s gracious rule.  But, at the same time, Jesus knew Jesus was upset when his disciples missed the point of his mission.

          In Jesus, the Christ, God was, and is, deeply involved in the whole human experience.   He promises rescue in the midst of chaos and the brutal realities of human history.

V.      Paul proclaims God’s blessings with a thunderous outpouring in the second reading for today.  The fourteen verses in our translation cascade the good news of God’s eternal plan for us. 

          In baptismal grace, we are united with the whole life and death of Jesus.  In all circumstances we are marked and sealed to live “for the praise of his glory.”  It’s the mystery of his will to unite all things in Christ.

          Here at St. Paul’s you worship together in Jesus’ name.  You pray for one another and experience physical and spiritual healing.  You see lives changed, people helped, and new experiences, as the Lord works through you.

VI.     But do not suppose that the Lord is confined to the churches.  We still have to deal with the unpleasant, tragic events in our world.  Tyrants, like Herod, still gain and exercise power.  Some have far less conscience than Herod, who at least felt bad about his crime. 

          We still need to deal with people like Herodias, who hold grudges and work to harm and destroy even disciples of Jesus, some of whom are refugees seeking asylum.  We live in a culture where God-given beauty and the ability to dance are used to entice people to make foolish and hurtful decisions.  Herodias and her daughters live among us today, part of our commercial and consumer culture.

          Nevertheless, God in Jesus, the Christ, is in the middle of human history, as well as Lord of all.  Those who do evil are–or will be—held accountable.  The Lord is with the suffering and the dying.  His disciples are on the front lines of those who help in time of need. 

Conclusion           So, do not let news of evil or your personal trials pull you away from a life of discipleship.  God is with you in joys and sorrows.  The Holy Spirit keeps us faithful to the path of deep joy and satisfaction, which will come to full bloom in eternal glory.

                             Therefore, whether you feel like God is working miracles through you now, or you feel more like you are laying John’s body in the tomb, never be afraid to ask the question, “WHERE IS GOD IN THIS?”

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