Sunday, February 22, 2015

Witness This

• 1st Sunday of Lent
with Matthew 14:1-12 and Isaiah 59:15-21
• Once again we are back to the gospel of Matthew with a cheery story of the murder of John the Baptist.
Jesus is mentioned in the first and last verse, only mentioned, and first by mistake:
Could Jesus be John the Baptist, revived? Raised from the dead? (then we get the flashback telling of John’s death).
There are worse things than to be mistaken for JtB.
JtB appeared before Jesus, and by power of his witness, his testimony, his preaching, people flocked to hear him, and religious and political leaders despised him for his following.
Know when the religious leaders in Matthew are happy? And when the political leaders are happy? When they are in control. When the people don’t resist, don’t make a stir. There are worse things than to be mistaken for JtB.
• But JtB is dead, killed senselessly as narrated in today’s reading, in part b/c a macho oath. (by the way, recall Matt 5 in the sermon on the mount when Jesus says not to make foolish oaths, but yes=yes and no=no?)
JtB came before Jesus, preached repentance and KOG before Jesus, now dies before Jesus… In JtB we get a glimpse of what is to come: that Jesus will be senselessly killed because of the fear of the religious and political leaders.
• Also by the way, JtB came before Jesus, we follow Jesus… we can expect the same treatment they received. Recall Jesus says: blessed are you when people persecute you (Mt 5:11) and You will be persecuted and hated and put to death (Mt 24:9) (and other places)
• And we do see it. Don’t have to go more than a few days to see it:
21 Egyptian Christians beheaded by ISIS. Because Christian. Check out persecution dot com for all kinds of updates from around the world. Reports are that some of those men died with the name of Jesus on their lips.
And it’s not just Christians persecuted. Again you don’t have to go far or many days – dozens of anti-Semitic graffitis in Wisconsin this past week, but I want to point out two murders last week in Denmark killed when a man opened fire first on a cafeteria and then on a synagogue, did you hear that?
Did you know what happened yesterday? 1,000 Muslims gathered in nearby Olso, Norway, and formed a ring around the synagogue, a circle of peace so that the Jews could worship. They stood to reclaim the name Muslim from those who have garnered so much bad press. That’s a moving witness.

• That word witness… what’s it mean? Beholder, testifier…One who has seen, one who tells. In Greek the word is μάρτυρας (marturas). Yup. Sounds a lot like our word martyr. (that’s where our word comes from). One who is willing to die for their cause. Like those 1,000 Muslims outside a Norwegian synagogue. Like those Egyptian Christians. Like Jesus, like JtB, like countless others throughout history and across borders…
…and again, like followers of Christ can expect.

• Some will give their lives because Christian.
Others will be witnesses, will stand against unrighteousness, oppression, and violence.
Some will stand with like-minded folks – Christians standing with other Christians,
and some will stand with people who are different – Muslims standing with Jews.

Where will we stand?
And with whom?

(Read again from Isaiah 59…)

And cling to Christ. Stand with, and if necessary die with…

• Hymn 361 Rock of Ages

Matthew 14:1-12        (CEB)       
14 At that time Herod the ruler heard the news about Jesus. 2 He said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He’s been raised from the dead. This is why these miraculous powers are at work through him.” 3 Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip.
4 That’s because John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry her.”
5 Although Herod wanted to kill him, he feared the crowd because they thought John was a prophet. 6 But at Herod’s birthday party Herodias’ daughter danced in front of the guests and thrilled Herod. 7 Then he swore to give her anything she asked.
8 At her mother’s urging, the girl said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a plate.” 9 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests he commanded that they give it to her. 10 Then he had John beheaded in prison. 11 They brought his head on a plate and gave it to the young woman, and she brought it to her mother. 12 But John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.

Isaiah 59:15-21    (Common English Bible)
The LORD looked and was upset at the absence of justice.
16 Seeing that there was no one,
    and astonished that no one would intervene,
    God’s arm brought victory,
    upheld by righteousness,
17     putting on righteousness as armor
    and a helmet of salvation on his head,
    putting on garments of vengeance,
    and wrapping himself in a cloak of zeal.
18 God will repay according to their actions:
    wrath to his foes, retribution to enemies,
    retribution to the coastlands,
19     so those in the west will fear the LORD’s name,
    and those in the east will fear God’s glory.
It will come like a rushing river
    that the LORD’s wind drives on.
20 A redeemer will come to Zion
    and to those in Jacob who stop rebelling,
    says the LORD.
21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD.
    My spirit, which is upon you,
    and my words, which I have placed in your mouth
    won’t depart from your mouth,
    nor from the mouths of your descendants,
    nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children,
    says the LORD,
    forever and always.

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