29 August 2019

The Last Sermon as Chaplain and Director of Worship

Matins, p. 219

Psalm 71:1-8 and Gloria Patri
1In you, O LORD, do I take | refuge;*
let me never be | put to shame!
2In your righteousness deliver me and | rescue me;*
incline your ear to me, and | save me!
3Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may contin- | ually come;*
you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my | fortress.
4Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the | wicked,*
from the grasp of the unjust and | cruel man.
5For you, O Lord, | are my hope,*
my trust, O LORD, | from my youth.
6Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my | mother's womb.*
My praise is continually | of you.
7I have been as a portent to | many,*
but you are my strong | refuge.
8My mouth is filled | with your praise,*
and with your glory | all the day.
Glory be to the Father...

Hymn: 518:1, 24, 3

Reading: Mark 6:1-14

Mark 6:14-29 (ESV) 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." 17 For 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. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." 23 And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." 24 And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. O Lord, have mercy on us. R. 

Responsory: Forever O Lord. Your Word is firmly set in the heavens. R. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. R. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. R. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What do you do when you chop off a man's head and you still can't shut him up? That was poor Herod's dilemma. He was convinced Jesus was John come back from the dead. And well he might think so when he learned what Jesus was up to, and especially when he heard that same "Repent!" come roaring from His mouth. 

Did Herod still hear John's preaching to him in his sleep? The Word John preached, after all, is living and active. It is an eternal Word. It doesn't and can't die just because the one who first spoke it is no longer breathing. It gave St. John a life that never ends, and that Word simply goes on forever. He keeps speaking.

The Smalcald Articles remind us of this in a rather shocking passage on repentance. Luther writes: "But here comes [PRESENT TENSE, note!] the fiery angel of St. John, the true preacher of repentance. With one bolt of lightning, he hurls together both. He says: "Repent!"[ Matthew 3:2].
31 Now one group imagines, "Why, we have repented!" The other says, "We need no repentance."
32 John says, "Repent, both of you. You false penitents and false saints, both of you need the forgiveness of sins. Neither of you know what sin really is. Much less your duty to repent of it and shun it. For no one of you is good. You are full of unbelief, stupidity, and ignorance of God and God's will. But He is present here, of whose 'fullness we have all received, grace upon grace' " [John 1:16]. Without Him, no one can be righteous before God. Therefore, if you want to repent, repent rightly. Your works of penance will accomplish nothing. As for you hypocrites, who do not need repentance, you serpents' brood, who has assured you that you will escape the wrath to come and other judgments?" [Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7].

See, beheaded or not, here comes St. John, the fiery angel, that is, the messenger of the Lord. Like Abel of old, "he being dead yet speaketh." The Word of the Lord endures forever.

So, people loved by God, to the world it is the strangest thing that we Christians should assemble today and hold a holy feast in honor of the martyrdom of that greatest born of women, St. John the Baptist. The world's like: You are actually CELEBRATING his beheading? We answer: Oh, yes, indeed. And we do so in triumph and joy. Despite Herodias and her scheming, despite her daughter's salacious dancing, despite the lecherous King's insatiable lusts, despite his foolish and rash promise and the horrible injustice and wrong inflicted upon the Baptist, despite it all, we are celebrating, people loved by God, that John's voice LIVES. It rings still. Because what John spoke was the Word that does not and cannot perish. 

You might recall how he identified himself out of Isaiah 40 as "A voice sounding in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!" And what else does Isaiah 40 say? "A voice said: Cry out. And I said: What shall I cry out? All flesh is grass and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people is grass. Come the answer from the Lord: The grass does indeed wither. The flower does indeed fade, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER! Get up to a high mountain, Jerusalem, herald of glad tidings! Lift up your voice, be not afraid! Lift it up. Proclaim to the cities of Judah: "Behold, your God!"

The Word of the Lord that endures forever was in John's mouth. So he prepares you to welcome the Lord by summoning you to repent, just as the Smalcald Articles put it so well. And we all get lumped into that; no one gets exempted. And yet John's great work wasn't done with "Repent!" That was his great: "Stop! Quit the excuses! And turn around!" And then his "behold!" "Behold, your God" Isaiah said in chapter 40. John puts it a slightly different: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" John said, jumping from chapter 40 to 53 and picking up all the servant songs along the way. 

And so it's not just that John's voice goes on in Herod's ear and head and heart and makes him think Jesus is John resurrected. It's not even that every Advent the Baptist makes his entrance as he has in the last 2000 years and summons us all to repentance. It is rather that in every Divine Service TWICE the Words of John that endure forever are taken upon our lips: in the Gloria, "Lord God, Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us." And in Agnus: "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world."

Words from the mouth of John. Living and abiding words. Speaking still. And on our lips too and in our hearts! Words that will stand when all else falls. Even if you lose your head. Words that endure forever and when those words hold you, YOU endure forever. 

When John in prison sent his disciples to Jesus, Jesus bore witness to how Isaiah was coming life before their eyes: "the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them." The dead are raised up. Did John hold onto that when the grim soldier walked in, unsheathed sword in hand? John surely already already knew it would end badly. He had foretold that Jesus was the Lamb. You do remember what they did to Lambs, right? Slaughtered for sacrifice! And he knew he had to be the forerunner. He would go before, before the same way that the one he named the Lamb of God would walk. But the Lord who raises the dead was coming after. John held tight to the words that endure, and so we rejoice that John lives, for after all "whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." And we might add: And will never be silent. No, as the Psalm had it: "My mouth is filled with your praise and with Your glory all the day." So as the sword flashes and the blood pours and the head rolls and then is placed on its grizzly platter and paraded to that wretched girl and mother, the Word of the Lord spoken by John endures forever. And John will go on speaking into all the years that are left for this world and when this age is concluded, you shall join him rejoicing in the presence of the Lamb to whom he bore witness, whose blood has blotted out all the world's sin, whose resurrection has dealt death its mortal blow, and whose words give exactly what they promise. Eternal words of eternal life. On John's lips. On yours. And in your heart.  Forever. And so you forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Te Deum Laudamus, p. 223ff.


Our Father

Collect of Day: Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death. Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Blessed Lord, who heals all our diseases and forgives all our sin, have mercy on the sick, the grieving, the wounded, the hospitalized, the homebound, the oppressed, and all who cry to You in hope and need, especially Your servants Doreen, Jimmy, Lauren, Al, Zoey, Kent, Joel, Bonnie, Herb, Gene, Paula, Roger, Allan, Jan, and Al and Karen and all who mourn the passing of Al's father. Lift up their spirits with Your promises, renew their hope, strengthen their patience and grant them relief; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Holy One, we thank You that You continue to send laborers into Your vineyard that Your Word may resound, faith in You be strengthened and love toward others be increased. Sustain Micah and Britt Odebma and all who have gone forth in Your name that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and Your joyful Gospel preached in all the world; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this new day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Let us bless the Lord. R.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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