Love in Hostility

Pastor Simek

 The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost at Hope, Jerseyville


“Love in Hostility”

Sermon Text: Mark 6:14-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

About three weeks ago, I began planning for this service and this sermon, which is really not unusual for me. My plan then was to preach, in essence, a funeral sermon for John the Baptist as we heard in the Gospel reading about the events surrounding his imprisonment, death, and burial. That was my plan until Wednesday night when I met with our Elders, and overnight my plan changed, so if my sermon today isn’t quite as organized and structured as I usually try to make them, you can blame the Elders. But, the reason my plans changed is because there is something that I want and need to tell you today that I wouldn’t have explicitly done if I had preach a funeral sermon for John the Baptist. The thing that I need to explicitly tell you is this: I love you.

I wrote this sermon on Thursday morning, July 12. This is an important date for me and for us because three years ago, July 12, 2015, I was ordained and installed as your Pastor here at Hope Lutheran Church, Jerseyville. I still remember the first time I visited here, on Mother’s Day, and sat right over there with Nicole and Joel, and after the service I stood up to say a few words. I have no idea what I said, but as I looked out to each of you I remember nearly being brought to tears and I remembered the words of the first President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, C. F. W. Walther in “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel” where he is lecturing to seminary students and he tells them that when a candidate has been assigned a call, “that place ought to be to him the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth. He should be unwilling to exchange it for a kingdom… To him it should be a miniature paradise.” So as I looked out over you then and as I look out over you today, this is my paradise. You are God’s gift to me and I love you.

Over the last three years, we may not have always seen eye to eye. There may have been times or moments or situations where you wished I would have handled something differently or done something or not done something that I did do. There may have been time when we were frustrated or angry with one another. Times when I have not loved you as I should and times you did the same. Times when you felt more like God’s gift to Paul, that thorn in his side, than God’s gift to me, and times when I felt more like an uncaring, unloving, selfish human being than God’s gift of a shepherd and pastor He has given to you, the man that God put before you in His stead and by His command to deliver to you Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins, your eternal life and salvation.

There have been times where I have sinned against you and times when you have sinned against me and times when you have sinned against one another. There may have been times when you’ve wondered if I or anyone at this church really even cares about you at all much less loves you. Today, let there be no doubt. We love you. I love you.

And I expect there are some of you that may be think that it is all well and good that Pastor says he loves me, but he needs to show me he loves me. Actions speak louder than words. And you are probably right, I may not have shown you I love you in the way that you think I should, but love is shown in different ways. Some of us show that we love one another by being explicit: greeting you with a big hug and saying “I love you.” It is wonderful to know and to feel that kind of unapologetic explicit love, and it would probably do us some good to hug one another and tell one another “I love you.”

But that isn’t really quite the old German/Lutheran way of doing things now is it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. By all means hug someone today that you have not hugged before. But if no one gives you a hug, do not think you are unloved. You are loved. I do love you. And you can know that I love you and that my love for you and God’s love for you has not changed not based on whether or not I hug you or wave or smile at you, but by this. This is my goal. This is the way I show you I love you: I preach, I teach, I urge you to come to church, I urge you to come to Bible class, I urge you to be and remain in the Word. The way I show you I love you and I care about you is by pointing you to Jesus, the one whose love for you is the greatest. The way I see it, what more loving thing can I do for you than to show you God’s love for you, show you a Jesus bleeding and dying on the cross for you, show you a Jesus risen from the dead for you for the forgiveness of your sins. When you hear me say “I forgive you all of your sins” or any variation of that whether it is in a sermon or any other point in the service, know and hear I love you, God loves you.

Which will finally bring us back around to our Gospel reading for today. I think Herod loved John the Baptist, and I am certain John the Baptist loved Herod. I know John the Baptist loved Herod because He told him so in our Gospel reading. He told him not by giving him a big hug and saying “I love you,” but by telling him God’s truth. Speaking the truth is the most loving thing we can do. Speaking the truth in love and not being a jerk about it is the hard part about it. John spoke the truth. Even when it cost John his freedom and landed him in prison, John spoke God’s truth and pointed to Jesus.

And Herod, when he heard the truth “was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” Herod loved John the Baptist because he heard him preach and refused to put him to death until he had backed himself in a corner and was forced to do it. But to the very end and even beyond his death, John the Baptist pointed to the truth, to Jesus. Even in a place and a time when the Gospel was not merely without honor, but it was opposed and attacked in a hostile environment and situation that eventually cost John the Baptist his life, John showed love by preaching the truth, preaching Christ.

So that is what you and I ought to do and how we ought to love one another and our neighbor. In a world today where the Gospel is not merely without honor, but where the world, the culture and the people are hostile to the Gospel, say “I love you.” A favorite quote of mine from our Higher Things conference that I am totally stealing from Pastor Riley (since I love him) is the very thing we ought to say to show our neighbor we love them, tell them that “God loves you Jesus much.”

So as long as I continue planning sermons and services two and three weeks in advance and preparing Bible class and catechesis classes, and doing things and issuing challenges to you that you might hate, and pushing you, urging you, and annoying you with my insistence that you should come to worship more often and Bible class more often so that I can give you more Jesus, know that I love you. This is how I show my love for you, that I point you to Jesus. I desire and want nothing more in this world than for you to hear, read, mark, learn, and take to heart Jesus.

And if you are uncomfortable hugging me and telling me “I love you,” you don’t have to, just come. Tell me you love me by hearing more Jesus. Even if we disagree, even if you hate me, even if you want my head served up on a platter, every time I see you here or in Bible class or in the Word, all I am going to see and hear is “Pastor, I love you.” And every time you hear me telling you about God’s love for you, His death for you, His resurrection for you, His Baptism for you, His Word for you, His Supper for you know that God loves you. He loves you Jesus much. I love you Jesus much. Let us love one another Jesus much so that every time the name of Jesus is spoken we hear “God loves you. I love you. God forgives you. I forgive you.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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