Sermon July 15, 2018

“God Can See Us Through”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 6:14-29
July 15, 2018

But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”   – Mark 6:16i

This sermon has one central idea – namely, God can see us through. How we all have lived through times when this affirmation was our saving grace – God will see us through. Yet as needed as this affirmation may be, I have some explaining to do. You just heard the words of our text. You know how this ends for John and Mark spares us none of the sordid details – the immorality, deception, fear, and treachery within Herod’s house. Everything in Mark 6:14-29 is bad news for the faithful. So how can I stand here this morning and proclaim “God will see us through?”

It is this – at one of the darkest hours for Jesus’ ministry, a time when the forces of evil had proven their power, when voices of dissent were silenced by fear, when sin was embraced as normal and children were used for the ignoble ends of the state, at precisely a moment not too dissimilar to our own, we know these words to be true – God will see us through.

God saw the faithful through Herod’s treachery. God sees us through our personal times of trial and betrayal. God has promised to see us through any future that awaits us. We cannot affirm the resurrection of Christ and doubt these words – God will see us through. So let us take some time this morning and see where this truth may lead.

First, everyone in this sanctuary is a victor and not a victim. Too much of life is wasted thinking that we are victims of some unfair event, some missed opportunity, come treachery done by those above us or something that was left undone by those we love. If that is the frame we place around the picture of our lives, if we see ourselves as victims, than we will see defeat, despair and despondency. Oh, it is true that many in this place of worship have suffered at the hands of others. There are things that have happened to some of you that were an affront to God. I am not trying to diminish the trauma or excuse those who hurt you. The pain is real and just as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He be spared the cross you have the same right to raise your voice to heaven. But the truth is this: Jesus was no victim. The powers of evil and the principalities of His day thought Jesus was done, buried and silenced – another victim of their lust for power and their fear of change. Good Friday was a battle they had won, but Sunday’s coming and a stone ripped away from the tomb of death becomes the doorway to God final victory. Those who believe in the power of this message are not victims of life’s vicissitudes, but victors who live in triumphant joy. Death itself cannot hold us. There is nothing I need fear. Nothing I cannot dare and though the forces of darkness have had their day, they have lost their power to hold me as their victim. I rise with Christ, a victor and no victim.

Second, I have found this to be one of the most powerful passages in all of scripture: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) But there is a catch. That verse of scripture is powerless to see you through the dark times if you do not believe it. Remember earlier when I talked about needing to reframe the picture of our life? Well, this is the hammer and the wood needed for the frame – “…in everything God works for good…” Everything. How can I be a victim if what was meant to do me harm has been worked by God for the good? This is not meant to deny your pain or to make light of what you have endured. If taken as truth this does not deny the reality of darkness but overcomes it with the light of God. It was Augustine who said, Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” If in everything God works for good, then there can be no victims here. Only victors and as victors God has already seen us through.

If God is to see us through whatever may come our way, then we must live in the confidence of Paul. His words are found in Romans 8

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you believe it? Do I? I have lived a sheltered life. I have not seen the horrors of combat. I have not experienced the betrayal of those I love. I was born into privilege. I know nothing of persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword. It is easy for me to say that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It may not be so easy for you. So for anyone here today who carries the weight of victimhood, who longs for God to see them through, take heed of this. The one who wrote these words was imprisoned and executed by the Roman state. He could write these words because he had lived their truth. And the fact of the matter is none of us has come this far in life without bumps and bruises along life’s way. Family illness, challenges to one’s vision of the Gospel, attempted coups in the church’s I have served – these I have known. And in the midst of these struggles Paul’s words have proven true. Nothing has been able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. I live my life believing in these words and my belief leads me to see their truth.

So life comes to us. Sometimes sublime, sometimes slimy, but believe in God working all things to the good. Believe that no matter what comes your way, God’s love abides. Believe that you are already the victor through Him who proved His love for us on the cross. God will see us through. All we must do is see through the darkness to the light that abides. Thanks be to God. Let us pray….

i Mark 6:14-29

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias 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.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.