RSS

Tag Archives: John the Baptist

It’s All About Hope, Even in the Church (Dec 9, 2018)

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “

One thing most all of us have in common, I think, is that we all want to make a difference. We all want to believe we are valued and that what we have to contribute to the world around us is worthwhile.

Which is one reason why we seek some sense of power and influence. Because it’s from those positions that we can have an impact. When we have some authority we can more quickly make changes that we believe will improve things. Sometimes that influence is abused and is used for selfish purposes, but often the intention is good. Make a difference, be the change, improve the world. If you’re not recognized as influential, no one will ever know whether or not what you can contribute would be helpful.

We’ve got in this text a whole line-up of power players. Luke lists a virtual “Who’s who” of authorities and big-time players. Emperors, governors, rulers of various regions, and high priests. Political and religious influencers. Everyone who can have an impact on the world around them is listed.

And then comes John the Baptist. This guy who’s living out in the desert, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs. Pretty significant contrast between the Emperor of the most powerful nation the world had ever known and this “possibly” sane man screaming quotes from old-time prophets out in the wilderness.

And yet, Luke makes clear, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God sent it through wilderness-John, the bug-eater. And I think we would all say that if there’s any hope for the world at all, God would certainly be at the top of the list of providers. And bug-eater John is who and how God brings a word of hope into the world.

One of the things I learned on my “Listening Tour” sabbatical is how lots of people view the church. The church is seen by many (both inside and outside the church) as similar to John the Baptist. Maybe the church used to be influential, but now it’s just kind of quaint. A group of kind of naïve do-gooders who are just a bit out of touch. The church would be a good place, perhaps, to bring your kids so they can learn how to be nice and moral citizens. But not much more. If you are looking for charity, go to the church. But if you’re looking to change the world, you gotta go to the power-players, the influential folks. Go to the people and the institutions that give you the best hope of making a difference. That is not perceived as the church.

And yet, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God has sent it through the church. I think the more the world looks to power for hope, the more important the message of hope from the church becomes. What so many people consider to be the least likely source of life-changing hope becomes an instrument used by God for that very purpose.

Advent is all about hope, and how God reveals it.

Today, Daniel P, from our council’s vision team, will share experiences of God hope revealed in this church.

Next week, Venessa V will share how God’s hope is revealed in our neighborhood.

And two weeks from now, our Bishop, Jim Gonia, will talk about God’s hope being revealed in our world.

Advent is the season of hope. It’s all about hope. And God’s hope is sometimes revealed in the least likely ways through the least likely people. Blessed Advent. May it be filled with renewed hope for you.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , ,

I’m Not God, but I Ain’t Nothing Either (December 10, 2017)

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. . . . 19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Are you one of those people that, when you see something broken, you just want it fixed? That’s me. I’m really bothered by things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Not just mechanical, tangible things, but life things. I want to fix people, I want to fix relationships, I want to fix the world. I want things in the world to work the way they are supposed to—the way God intends, the way God envisions. I’m frustrated when they don’t:

I’m frustrated when families have to struggle just to put food on the table for their children (and the rich tell them it’s their own fault because they’re spending money on the wrong things).

I’m frustrated when those who live in privilege—whether it’s because they’re white, male, straight, wealthy, or connected—take that privilege for granted without using it to raise up those in the low places.

God doesn’t intend God’s own creation to function so selfishly, benefiting some at the expense of those who are most vulnerable. Scripture is clear about painting a picture of God’s reign, of God’s vision, of how God intends the world to work. And the way the world is, isn’t the way God wants it.

So, in my fixation on fixing things, I want to fix what God seems to be ignoring.

True confession? I find myself trying to do God’s job when God doesn’t seem to be doing it. I long for the ability to do what God should be doing!

But I’m not very good at it. I don’t have that ability—no matter how deeply I long for it.

So in this Advent season, I need to hear the voice of John the Baptist. John also longs for the ability to change things according to God’s vision. But John also understands the abilities with which he is gifted.

When asked by the priests and the Levites, John starts out by saying who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not one of the prophets. John knows he isn’t God, and he doesn’t try to be.

Yet this isn’t self-deprecating in any way, because when asked again, he quotes this passage from Isaiah in reference to himself. He says he is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” John knows his identity, his role is part of God’s story. He sees himself within the biblical narrative. He knows who he is, and who he isn’t.

Then, understanding who he is within God’s story, he is able to identify what he actually is called to do: “I baptize with water, but one is coming whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie.” John knows who he is and that living within his God-given identity, his actions will point to Christ.

John trusts God to be God. Which frees him up to be who he was created to be. And calls others to be who they were created to be. John isn’t foolish enough to think he has to do everything.

John the Baptist comes with a message for all of us who think nothing will get done if we don’t do it. John points out to us that the abilities we long for may or may not actually be the abilities God has given us. John lives out a reality within God’s vision that each one of us has a role, each one of us is part of God’s biblical story, each one of us has an identity in God’s reign.

What John reveals to us is that:

  • We’re not God, nor are we Jesus. There are things that belong to God that each of us can’t/shouldn’t be doing. None of us are “all that.”
  • But we’re not off the hook, either. Who we are, however, is part of God’s story. Each one’s role in God’s biblical narrative is different. That is worth discovering. We need to discover who we are in Christ, claim that, and own it. It’s an ongoing process; it keeps unfolding.
  • With what we know right now about who each one of us is, and how we know at this point about how each one of us fits into God’s story for the world, when we live out of that identity, Christ is revealed.

So take a minute and ponder that.

You have a particular role in God’s story—God’s vision— of the world.

You have been created with wonderful and unique gifts that are part of that identity.

When you live out of who you actually are, using those gifts, you do point to Christ.

So, how do we get at that?

Think of a time when God felt particularly close to you (or you felt particularly close to God). Would you be able to tell that story? What did God do? Is there a story or a character in the Bible that’s similar? What might that say about what God is doing in you now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about themselves now? . . .

Think of a time when God seemed particularly active in this congregation. We aren’t everything to everyone, but we are something to someone. How were people’s gifts used at that time? What was God doing? What might that say about what God is calling us into now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about us now? . . .

Now think of what God may be trying to do in the world around you now. . . How might God be envisioning your gifts at work in that? Is anyone willing to share their thoughts on that now?. . .

This Advent, we’re called to consider how God is present in the world, and where God is leading the world. We’re called to consider who we are not; but also to consider who we are. We are part of God’s story for the world.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Longing for God’s Vision (Dec 3, 2017)

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Is it even possible for the nations of our world to ever live in peace? Is there any hope at all of alleviating hunger and poverty in our world? Do we stand a chance of overcoming our cultural obsession with violence? Will we ever see an end to hate, racism, homophobia, or oppression? Is any of this remotely possible, or is it all just pie-in-the-sky and we are wasting our time longing for these things?

Advent is a season of longing. As we begin this season, we need to take time to acknowledge those deep longings of our souls. Because those deep longings are our spirit connecting to God’s Spirit. These longings are real. Where do God’s priorities for the world resonate within us? What are the possibilities of God’s vision that touch you spiritually?

In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah believes that the unrighteous behavior of Israel has been in the way of God’s justice. Now that that unrighteousness has been dealt with, God’s long hoped-for vision can now be revealed. There is one coming, Isaiah cries, who will prepare the way for God’s peace to enter in. One who will point out the rough places in the world that will be smoothed, the low places in our culture that will be raised up.

The promise of a coming one who would prepare the way for God’s vision is made in Isaiah, and is kept in the coming of John the Baptist. John’s message is that God’s vision for the world is coming; what we long for in our spirits is in fact on its way.

So John points out the rough places, the low places, the crooked places. He calls people to help smooth, to lift up, to straighten. John makes clear that God’s vision, God’s justice, God’s peace is on the way. “There is one,” he says, “there is one coming through whom God’s vision will be realized.”

All that we’ve hoped for, says John, all the injustices and the wars and the violence and the hatred that our world has endured for so long will finally be resolved. In the coming of the Christ, we will see God’s reign at last. The possibilities we’ve longed for will finally begin.

So let’s prepare the way for God’s possibilities. Let’s smooth, let’s lift up, let’s straighten out.

In other words, John says, let’s repent.

John means something different by that word than we usually do. We hear “repentance,” and we go straight to how bad we each are and that each of us needs to be sorry for our sins. Usually there’s a hint of punishment involved if we don’t: either hell or God’s disfavor or some other bad thing will happen to the one who doesn’t repent of their sins.

That’s not really John’s emphasis. He uses the word “repentance” and “forgiveness of sins,” but his reasoning is significantly different than ours. Whereas we are more concerned with our individual salvation and personal righteousness— getting into heaven when we die, John’s concern is with God’s vision of peace and justice restoring all of creation.

For us, confession of sins usually means each person acknowledging their personal list of disobedient behaviors, trusting that God will forgive those who do confess.

But for John, confession of sins means acknowledging the obstacles in the way of God’s vision of justice for the world.

For us, repentance usually means each one of us feeling sorry for those bad things we’ve done and promising not to do them any more.

But for John, repentance means turning our life, our focus, our energy toward God’s vision of peace for the world.

So when John cries for repentance, he’s calling for us to turn away from hopelessness, that the world will never be better. Turn away from giving up on our longings and turn instead toward the realization that in Christ, God’s vision is actually becoming real. Make those paths straight.

He’s calling us to turn away from passively waiting for peace and turn toward making peace happen. Smooth out those rough places.

He’s calling us to turn away from seeking our own personal righteousness and turn toward God’s justice happening in the world. Lift up those low places.

One of the promises of Advent is that God’s justice is coming. God’s vision for peace and the renewal of creation is actually possible. In Christ we can see it. We can again turn our efforts toward being part of God’s vision for the world because Christ is coming. In him it is real.

Those deepest longings of our souls, those parts of God’s vision that are within us, are now possible. So prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight. God’s vision for us and our whole world is happening. Turn toward that. Christ is coming. In him there will be peace. And life. And wholeness. And justice.

As Isaiah reminds us today, “[the Lord] will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” This is God’s vision for the world. Prepare for that. Turn toward that. Work for that. It’s closer now than ever before.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 3, 2017 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Taking Advent Seriously (Mark 1:1-8)

John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance.
• Repentance = ??  Turning around, changing direction, thinking differently. In other words, change from one way to another way. In this case, from sinfulness to the way of God.
John is dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey.
• Why in the world does Mark take the time to describe John’s dress-code and eating habits? He’s described this way not to question his sanity, but to connect him to the Old Testament prophets–who called people to do much the same thing.
The difference is that Jesus, who will show us God’s way, is right there behind him, waiting in line for this baptism. Rather than just tell people what God’s way is, rather than just warn them to follow it, John points to Jesus, who brings God’s way right into our midst. In Jesus, we know most fully what God’s way is, what God’s intentions are, what followers of Jesus are made to be and to do.

2nd Week of Advent:
Review of last week–huge gap between what the world is like now and what God’s final vision is. There is suffering, pain, unfairness, selfishness, violence, and mourning today. The promise from God is that on the last day that will be no more. Moving toward that day is God’s path. That is what Jesus comes to bring among us. That’s what God created the church for: to make clear to the world by our presence that Jesus brings God’s way of peace, forgiveness, love, and mercy right into the midst of a suffering and dark world. God’s grace and hope come into the midst of our own pain.

Repentance:
Since it means turning from sinfulness to God, as John prescribes, that means turning from things that are not part of God’s mission to things that are part of God’s mission. We’re not talking about a moral imperative to say you’re sorry. Mark’s gospel talks about repentance meaning things like turning from self-centeredness to mercy toward others.
What else might turning from our paths to God’s path look like?
• From hoarding money to generosity.
• From resentment to forgiveness.
• From violence to peace.
• From asking “what’s in it for me?” to “how can I show love to you?”

Advent:
Advent is the season to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s call in this gospel is to do that by repenting, by turning from our own paths to God’s path, shown to us in Jesus. We prepare for God’s presence by being part of God’s way, God’s path, God’s mission. That’s what Jesus does. That’s who Jesus is. That’s why Jesus comes: to bring God’s presence and hope and direction and mission—God’s straight path—into our world. Into us. That’s what our baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is about: God brings that path of love, peace, generosity, compassion into us, and invites us and empowers us to be on that path.
What do you think about taking that part of Advent seriously? How about we use this season for repentance? Why don’t we figure out one or two ways that our own attitudes and preferences are off God’s path of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness?  Use the colored sheets in the chair pockets for our repentance. On one side, list a couple of ways you are off God’s path. On the other side, list what you’ll do instead, ways that make God’s path straight.
Then, all during Advent, let’s commit to turning those ways back to God’s path. Together, let’s spend Advent preparing the way of the Lord, making God’s path straight! Let’s see how that changes the way we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: