Mark 6:27-29

Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.  Mark 6:27-29

We come to these verses on the heels of the death of one of the most notorious terrorists in the world. As the leader of ISIS, he was directly responsible for thousands of acts of unmentionable cruelty, depravity, and terror. He took his inhumanity to the grave by causing the deaths of three of his own children rather than facing his captors like a man.

The on-going tragedy of his death is that thousands of people will view him as a martyr, a courageous leader, who gave his life for a holy cause. They will view him more like John the Baptizer than a despot like Herod. Regardless of the millions of Muslims who condemn the radical fundamentalist fringes of Islam, there remain thousands of “true believers” out there who project all that is wrong with their lives on those who are different than themselves. Their fight, and the need for courageous, thoughtful, informed, people to resist them, will go on.

The death of John the Baptizer can seem like a small footnote in the Jesus story. It is quickly told and the narrative moves on. But the echo of his needless death hangs over the rest of the story because Jesus is also a truth-teller and an inconvenience to those in powerful positions.

The only time that Jesus got close to violence was knocking over a few vendor tables in the courtyard of the temple. He incited no one to violence. He offered no path to using violence to force his will on anyone. No one who uses violence – either physical force or lies or innuendo – to further the imposition of their beliefs on others can claim the name of a disciple of Jesus.

The raid which ended the life of the leader of ISIS was named after Kayla Mueller, a young woman from Arizona whom he had brutalized and murdered. She was there to do good. She was the martyr. She was following in the footsteps of Jesus.

George Tiller was a doctor in Wichita, Kansas, who, as part of his practice, performed abortions. He was shot twice. First, in 1993, he was shot in both arms. Second, in 2009, on a Sunday morning, in the narthex of his congregation where he was serving that day as an usher, he was shot to death. Both shootings at the hands of activists who were convinced they were doing God’s will. He was the martyr. He was following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Every week it seems I read yet another article telling me that the church is dying. Young people don’t come anymore. More and more people declare their faith as “none of the above.” If the church that is dying is the one that teaches people to hate, to do violence in the name of Jesus, to use shame and fear to propagate the faith, to ignore the shared humanity of all of God’s creation, I think such death is a good thing.

If the church that is dying is one that is afraid to speak the truth in love in confronting evil, including the corporate evils of society and its leadership, then so be it, for such a church has little in common with either John the Baptizer or Jesus.

But the church that is following in the footsteps of Jesus will not die because the grave cannot hold God’s mission of loving the whole world.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we pray for all of those whose lives have been impacted and lost, for the children and loved ones left behind, by those misguided people who use terror and violence to twist the world into their own image. We pray for the soldiers who risk their lives to bring peace. And we pray for those faithful Christians who continue to courageously, sacrificially, and patiently, hold to your gospel of inclusive, unfailing, love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

One Response to “Mark 6:27-29”

  1. William A Decker Says:

    Pastor,

    Your devotionals have pointed me to the person of Christ and helped me continue my journey of faith. Thank you.

    However, your comment that Dr. Tiller was a martyr was a comment that stopped me in my tracks. Because the matter of abortion will always be a matter of debate in society and the church.

    In the church, abortion is an ethical issue first and foremost. I’m sure Dr. Tiller acted ethically according to his own convictions. Ane he did not deserve to die in the way he did. And those who killed him were acting against the laws of the United States and should be treated accordingly.

    However, it is probably fair to say that not every abortion he performed would be considered ethical in the eyes of God, or according to the social statement published and voted on by the ELCA. But that is for God to sort out. I do know that there are people within the ELCA who would believe that his death was a murder and against the will of God yet would also disagree on the basis of Scripture and reason that not all doctors who perform abortions are acting according to the best ethical light.

    If Dr. Tiller is a martyr, could the fetal life that were aborted also be construed as “martyrs?” Couldn’t it be argued that they “gave” up their lives as well for the sake of the parent’s wishes, the doctor’s ethical stance, and the laws of the United States. (I know that fetal life is not considered by some as fully human life but that is another matter.)

    I am not asking you to change your mind on this issue. Maybe he was a martyr. But would it not be proper to recognize, in this very divided political and denominational time we live in, to recognize that others may not agree with your particular ethical viewpoint on this highly divisive issue either?

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