Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 11, 2021
Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-20
Context: The Word of God often stands in stark contradiction to the rules of polite society or the transitory whims of human nature, not to mention the insistent rebellion of outright evil. Speaking the Word of God faithfully has more often than not been fraught with danger throughout human history. The Message cannot be killed – woven as it is into the very fabric of creation and our own hearts (Romans 2:12-16). But messengers can – and often are – killed. Sometimes outright and violently. Sometimes in the gossip and innuendo and disrespect that undermine the messenger’s efforts. Greater familiarity with the Word of God prepares even our sinful hearts for the painful truth spoken by a faithful messenger, and should lead us to recognize that what God says is always best and best for us, even if it isn’t what we want to hear.
Amos 7:7-15 – Amos is a Judean, from the southern and smaller kingdom that resulted from the split of the single Israel after Solomon’s death. And Amos does not come from a priestly or prophetic line, as he himself admits. Yet he is Called by God not only to be his messenger, but more unusual still to be his messenger to the northern, larger kingdom of Israel. Amos is given God’s Word of warning and judgment to the northern kingdom, but the word and the messenger are rejected by the priestly class serving at Bethel (a site sacred to God’s people since Jacob’s dream back in Genesis 28). It’s interesting that Amaziah’s complaint against Amos is that “the land is not able to bear all his words” (v.10). But the measure of God’s Word is not how easy it is to bear, but how true it is. Unfortunately, sometimes the truth of his Word is only recognized in hindsight. But if we rely on the faithfulness of God’s Word, showing us the power and truth of his Word at play through the roughly 2000 years of Biblical history, we should be prepared to accept that his Word is truth in our lives even when we’d rather not see it that way, and we needn’t await hindsight for God’s Word to be proven best and true.
Psalm 85 – Its interesting the first seven verses of the psalm are optional. Perhaps we shy away from what seems an overly simplistic understanding of God’s workings in the world, that his good favor could be tied to our faithfulness and obedience. And surely, it isn’t that simple (just look at Job!). But it is also true that a life lived in obedience to God’s Word is a blessed life as the psalmist regularly attests. While God’s relationship to his covenant people Israel in the Old Testament is singular and unique in all of human history, we as his people the Church today inherit similar promises. We need to be careful in applying geographical interpretations applicable to a theocratic nation (Old Testament Israel) to our current geo-political situation, but we as the faithful people of God should experience his blessing as we live in obedience to his Word. This blessing is real and true even if it does not match cultural definitions of blessedness, and despite the fact we are not immune to the effects of our own personal as well as communal sinfulness (just as God’s Old Testament people were not). We do not live under God’s anger as his forgiven people. Our baptism wipes our sin away from God’s sight, yet we remember that our continued sinfulness can cause problems in our relationship with him, with ourselves, and with the world around us. New Testament warnings to this end (Ephesians 4:30) should be paid attention to!
Ephesians 1:3-14 – Speaking of Ephesians, we move from 2 Corinthians on into Ephesians, bypassing the greeting verses of Chapter 1. But Paul’s words remind us of the blessedness we actually have here and now in Jesus Christ. Our blessings are not simply someday in the future, or when our Lord returns. We have them now in a very real and present way, even if they are not completely manifest. Here we should be careful not to add words to what Paul says. Are we chosen in Jesus Christ? Did not God the Father from before the beginning of time and creation intend that all should hear the Good News of Christ crucified and resurrected and come to saving faith in him? Of course! Did he predestine us towards this end, paving the way of salvation through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments? Of course! We in faith realize this is God’s desire for all of creation, that none have been willfully excluded by him. So when we hear language of being chosen and predestined we can ascribe to God all the praise and glory and honor for this truth. And we do not presume to say what Paul does not – that if we have been chosen and predestined there must be others not chosen and not predestined. Paul does not say this! He simply emphasizes the blessedness of those who have received faith in Jesus Christ. And we would better focus our attention on rendering him the praise and honor He deserves for this!
Mark 6:14-20 – In the Gospel today the situation of Jesus and his disciples (recently sent out on their first mission work in the opening section of Mark 6) is contextualized. One who dares to speak the Word of God openly and boldly does so at considerable risk. Despite Jesus’ ineffectual visit to Nazareth earlier in the Chapter, it is clear from his words and work that He is at least on the level of the Old Testament prophets. And just in case we’ve forgotten how those prophets were often treated, we are provided with backstory on John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament style prophets, and a foreshadowing of what awaits Jesus in a few short chapters. The Word of God is power, but it is not the kind of power that wields the sword and determines life and death in this world. Not yet. There will come a time for that, and it will be a terrible time indeed for those who scoffed at God’s Word when it appeared to be weak and uncompelling by the world’s standards, and when its messengers like Amos and John the Baptist could be ridiculed or arrested or killed with apparent impunity. Jesus, who embodies in himself the distinct Old Testament roles of prophet, priest and king is therefore going to be resisted by the powers of the world, and will suffer the same fate as God’s faithful messengers of old. The difference being that Jesus is not merely a prophet or a priest or a king or a combination of all three, but the incarnate Son of God who will lay his life down of his own volition rather than having it taken from him by force. And this Good Shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep (John 10) has the power and authority to take it up again from God the Father as demonstration and vindication of his Word, his works, and his identity.
John the Baptist – as well as Amos – is faithful to God’s calling. It earns him an early death, but his place in the kingdom of God is secure.