JULY 11, 2021
Today’s gospel lesson tells of the brutal and terrible be-heading of John the Baptist.
It is safe to say, that with the possible exception of Jesus’ mother, Mary, John the Baptist is the most important and intriguing of the cast of characters surrounding Jesus.
John is the one who came to make the path straight and to prepare the way for the Lord. He proclaimed Jesus’ identity before Jesus took it on. He was the voice that ‘crieth in the wilderness’ in the second verse of today’s sequence hymn, calling ‘us to new repentance since the kingdom now is here.’
John may have been a cousin to Jesus, since, as Luke implies, John’s mother, Elizabeth, was a kinswoman of Mary’s.
Elizabeth was barren until an Angel came—as an Angel came to Mary—to announce that she would have a son in her old age!
When Mary arrives to visit Elizabeth, John, a six-month-old fetus, ‘lept in Elizabeth’s womb’.
John recognized his Lord before either of them was born!
John was a strange character. He wore camel skin, ate locust and wild honey and lived in the Wilderness until he came out to preach repentance and baptize the those who confessed their sins.
But he always told them he was not ‘the One’, though many thought he might be.
In Luke’s Gospel, John tells his followers, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Sure enough, when John baptizes Jesus, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
John had done his work—the Way was prepared for the Messiah!
But neither of them had a peaceful death.
We all remember how much Jesus suffered before his crucifixion, but there is something horrific about having your head cut off.
Herod had John in prison, but he still feared John because, as the reading tells us, “knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.”
What happens next is a lesson and a warning to all parents.
Never tell your children, no matter how well they dance, that they can have anything they want!
John’s death a burial is a precursor to what will happened to Jesus.
Everyone was always trying to figure out who Jesus WAS.
So after John was dead, some people believed Jesus was John risen from the dead, though others said he was Elijah and others that he was one of the prophets of old.
Herod, in his guilt and fear, said, when he heard of it: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
It’s a grizzly story through and through.
But I don’t want to leave you with horrible images—no matter how important they are to the gospel story.
I want to leave you with the beautiful and hopeful words from today’s Psalm.
It begins like this: “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,/ for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.”
“Peace”—something we all long for and seldom know. But God is speaking ‘peace’ to us, his faithful people.
We must turn our hearts to him.
Later, Psalm 83 says: “Mercy and truth have met together:/ righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Mercy is something we desperately need—for ourselves and for all others.
Truth will lead us to righteousness and peace, which will kiss each other and bring us peace.
After hearing of John the Baptists terrible end, we need peace more than anything.
So listen to what God speaks to us.
God speaks ‘peace’.
And Lord knows, in this time in history, full of division and conflict—what we all need, more than anything, is PEACE.
So, “May God’s Peace descend on you” and may righteousness and peace kiss in your heart.
Shalom and amen.