Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ADVENT 2 Sermon

What’s so great about John?

What’s so great about John the Baptizer?
He isn’t rich.
He isn’t powerful.
He wears very weird clothes—scratchy camel hair, probably a little smelly.
John eats strange foods—locusts and wild honey.
(I can go with the honey part, but the locusts!!??)

Yes, John had quite a following for awhile,
but eventually they dumped him.
And then, in his early thirties,
he was executed.

What’s so great about John?

Here’s what Frederick Buechner
writes about John in his book Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who:

“John the Baptist didn’t fool around. He lived in the wilderness around the Dead Sea. He subsisted on a starvation diet, and so did his disciples. He wore clothes that even the rummage sale people wouldn’t have handled. When he preached it was fire and brimstone every time. The kingdom was coming all right, he said, but if you thought it was going to be a pink tea, you’d better think again. If you didn’t shape up, God would give you the axe like an elm with the blight or toss you into the incinerator like what’s left over when you’ve lambasted the good out of the wheat. ”

John sounds like someone we might go to great lengths to avoid.
Yet we hear in Matthew’s gospel today
that the people of Jerusalem and all Judea go out
to find John,
to be baptized by John in the Jordan River.

There is something about John,
something about this prophet crying out in the wilderness.
Even if we don’t really like his fire and brimstone words,
there is definitely something true and real and honest
about this man.

What’s so great about John?
First of all, he is not afraid.
John is not afraid to be an outspoken prophet.
If you’ve ever had to tell someone something
you knew they did not want to hear,
you know that being honest and outspoken is not easy.

John obviously was not raised in a good Southern family
where the mantra was “Now, you be nice.”
That polite “well, bless their little hearts”—
that stance is not John’s style.

John calls the Pharisees and the Sadducees—
a “brood of vipers!”
That’s the equivalent of saying “Your daddy ain’t nothin’ but a snake.”

Most people don’t mess with the Pharisees and the Sadducees--
they are the people with the power and money—
it helps to have them on your side.

But John isn’t impressed with credentials.
He doesn’t care that the Pharisees and Sadducees
boast of being the sons of Abraham.

Oh, yeah? says John.
Well, so what?
God can make a child of Abraham come out of a rock if God chooses.

Maybe this is a reminder to us, as well,
that we are unlikely to impress anyone
with our boasts of being an Episcopalian or a Christian.
Really? John might say.
Is that how you live your life
or just a title you claim?

What’s so great about John?
He tells us the hard truth.
We all should be so blessed to have a friend that tells us the truth.
Too often we like to invent our lives,
create a comfy little fantasy island
and build on that.
We stuff difficult truths, challenging situations and family members,
under our sofa cushions
and we convince ourselves that others—
including God-
are quite convinced
that our lives are nice and neat and holy--
all they are meant to be.

HA! shouts John.

John isn’t working the room
for the Mr. Congeniality vote.
He isn’t afraid to tell the truth.
John sees himself as a prophet
who is coming to give us a message directly from God:

The word we translate as REPENT
is the Greek word metanoia.

Metanoia means change,
go a different direction,
make a U-turn, l
live differently.

John shows up in the wilderness—
the place where we are often wandering—
and bluntly points out that we need to change.
Our spiritual house is a wreck.

John is not just telling us to go through the house
with a light dusting, run the Swifter over the kitchen floor,
turn off the bright overhead lights
so no one notices the mess
we have in the corners or under our bed or
stacked high in our closets.

John is saying
the time is now—right now—
to do a deep cleaning, to give attention and focus
on our spiritual lives, to our relationship with the Church,
to our relationship with God.

It’s Advent.
It’s the season when everything changes.
It’s the beginning of everything new coming into the world.

John knows Jesus is coming
and he doesn’t want us to get caught
with dirty dishes in our spiritual sink.
The kingdom of heaven is near—
are we really ready for Jesus to ring the doorbell?

My husband Tom and I have been in the process
of remodeling our house in Black Mountain.
What we thought was a two week project
has become a 5 month—and longer--project.

There is a giant red metal container sitting in our yard—
about the size of a train boxcar it seems to me—
and that is where they have been throwing all the junk—
the old insulation, the rotted floor beams,
the nasty moldy carpet---
construction trash.

That’s a big part of what remodeling is about—
getting rid of the old yucky stuff,
throwing it out,
parting ways with the trash that is in the way,
making room for the new.

Maybe we need one of those big metal containers
for our spiritual lives as well.
What will we throw into that dumpster?

Any sin will do.
Historically we are told there are seven deadly ones—
a friend taught me a handy way to remember those sins:

There’s room in the dumpster for all those.
We can probably throw in a few less deadly ones as well—
Impatience. Gossip. Self-righteousness. Lying.
Forgetting to pray for someone when we said we would.
Putting our relationship with God last on our to-do lists.

Sin is anything that separates us from deepening our relationship with God.
If you feel like your spiritual life is a mess
or doesn’t even exist,
take an Advent inventory of what needs to go.
What can you toss in the dumpster
to make room for God, for what really matters in your life?


John is saying,
Get real.
Get honest.
Stop right now and do a U-turn.

There’s one more great thing about John.
One more thing.
John is great because he knows how to get out of the way.
He knows how to let someone else’s light shine.
He doesn’t need the spotlight or even want it.

John alerts us, John points the way.
He never pretends that he himself is the way.

There is a reason for the season of Advent.
The season of Advent offers us time.
time to prepare the way in our own hearts, in our own lives.
to tackle the remodeling of our spiritual house.
A time to remember the power of those words
we say in our baptismal covenant: I will. With God’s help.

God is coming. God is coming to be with us.
For the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And everything is about to change.
Get ready.

No comments: