Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Crimes of lust. . . that lead to death.
Crimes of passion. We are shocked by them but they arouse our curiosity. Jodi Arias took naked pictures of her lover just before she hacked him to death. It reads like a horror movie but it is reality. Sex sells. The dirtier, the more shameless, the more salacious, and the more perverted – yet these stories pique our interest. We call them crimes of passion but they are crimes of lust – ugly, destructive, shameful, and deadly lust.
We live in a vulgar age in which dirty pictures, dirty jokes, dirty movies, dirty lives, and dirty hearts are the norm. Some times we complain about how bad things are getting but it is nothing new. In the Gospel for today we heard of Herod’s lust for his own step-daughter, aroused by her own deliberate erotic dance. But lust never ends there. As we heard in the Gospel, lust led to murder.
Everyone knows that prophets were never loved by the people to whom they were sent. Isaiah and Jeremiah did not want to prophesy. Jonah ran away. Amos was lied about and slandered. They all knew the score. Every 400 years or so God sent a prophet to Israel and they hated him and his message.
The prophet was called to lay the plumb line of God’s law against the lust and lies we tell ourselves, the innocent sins we do not think hurt anyone. No one wanted to hear the prophet. Neither do we today wish to hear God’s law speaking prophetically against our favorite guilty pleasures. We may not kill the prophet but we justify ignoring the prophetic voice by saying who does he think he is; he is no better than I am.
That was what Nazareth said of Jesus so long ago. Then as now, however, it is because we misunderstand God’s purpose that we refuse to hear the prophet’s word. God speaks His Law to us not merely to condemn our sin and reveal its terrible consequences. God speaks the Law to prepare our hearts for the Gospel. God speaks the Law to open our hearts, to lay bear our sins, to call us to repentance, and to forgive us all our sins.
John was not killed on a whim. John’s death was a crime of lust but it was also a rejection of God’s truth. Herod knew he was wrong but he chafed at admitting this guilt. He was moved by lust to marry his brother’s wife and he lusted after his own step-daughter. When you think it cannot get worse, Herodias used her husband’s lust to murder a godly man.
Every time we choose lies over truth, we are like Herod. We may excuse or justify our sin but it does not change what we have done nor does it release us from the downward spiral of its death. Though we think we can deal with a guilty conscience by hiding our sins, we cannot hide the death that lives in us and the death that waits for us under God’s all seeing eye.
We don’t like the prophet or his word but God sends forth the prophet with God’s call to repentance not to judge us or condemn us but to save us. God does not desire the death of the sinner but that the sinner might live through Christ. That is the call of faith and result of grace. God’s mercy is for sinners only and the Law calls us to acknowledge our sin so that we might receive God’s gracious favor and mercy in Christ crucified.
John did not hate Herod or Herodias or even Salome. Jesus did not hate them. God loved them enough to challenge their sin and to call them to account for the lust that held them captive to death. When a pastor or Christian brother or sister speaks to you in this way, it is not for judgement but for salvation, not for condemnation but for redemption. It just does not get better than the love which is strong enough to tell us what nobody wants to say and none of us wants to hear. There is no love in those who would abandon us to our own destruction. That God loves us enough to send us a prophet and that there are those who will speak prophetically to us in God's name the Word of the Lord, this is love.
God does not hate sinners but calls us all to repentance, gives us absolution we do not deserve, and covers our sin with Christ’s righteousness. It does not get better than this! The love that proceeds from the cross is the passion that does not kill but gives life. The passion of our sinful hearts always leads to death but the passion of God always redeems and saves us sinners.
The call of God to those saved is then not to surrender your bodies to sin, your voices to lies, and your hearts to lust. Let us not exchange the gift of salvation for the lust of sin that kills, let us not follow the natural voice of the heart but the voice of God who leads us to everlasting life. As St. Paul says, walk worthy of your calling. Walk worthy! Amen.