Pentecost 8, 2024

What a bizarre Gospel reading this week. Mark recounts for us the story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. Was he, not Stephen the first Christian martyr? Or was he the last of the OT prophets to suffer such an end? Or does he overlap, occupying both first and last status as martyrs. The preacher may want to play that angle this week. We are coming into a period in which the world is more and more apt to consider us an enemy and a threat. Did you know that more people died for their Christian faith in the 20th century than all the prior centuries of Christian history combined?! Most of them were in concentration camps, gulags, and Asian “reeducation” camps. Hitler’s crew in particular had a penchant for sending young Lutheran pastors to the Eastern Front where they were chewed up in the Soviet war machinery. It is arguably the reasons that the German Lutheran church was one of the first to adopt women’s ordination. The Nazi’s had killed an entire generation of young men who had heard the call to be pastor.

John the Baptist’s death seems so random to us. He accused the king and queen of an illicit marriage and ran afoul of them, true, but Herod had no intention of killing him, only of silencing John. But a pretty girl danced and her mother had a grudge. The king was a fool and made a foolish vow. And John was led to the executioner’s blade. Does anyone really make sense of that? Is that the point. Does the affliction of God’s people need to make sense? Does what we are seeing in North American Christian decline make sense? There are countless scholars who are trying to understand it, but is it sometimes just the way it is, and senseless at the same time? Are we called to faith and not understanding this?

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