Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just as I asked the question of you, so John asked the question of Jesus.
It is surprising to hear John asking, after all, this is John the Baptist, the one who said, “but one who is more powerful that I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” (Mt.3:11) and “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt.3:14)
And Jesus has a few things to say about John too. As John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns and asks the crowds, who did you think John was? Why did you go out to see him?
Jesus commends John’s actions, “No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” Yet he turns the world upside down again by saying the LEAST in his Kingdom is greater than John.”
It’s no wonder that John needs some reassurance. Perhaps if John can doubt Jesus, our own doubts are more acceptable? “Are you the one?”
            “This question occurs to just about every person in the church, including the strongest Christians.” (Says Mark Yurs) “Is Jesus the real thing?
 Is there anything to our religion?
Has the church really gotten hold of something that matters, or is this business of Christmas and its Christ only a fanciful tale, charming, but ultimately worthless and powerless against forces that dampen hopes and deaden dreams?”[i]

            We can have questions and doubts at any time, in crisis of self, or after a spouse’s sudden death, or when we look at a world embroiled in conflict. Our doubts mirror John’s question, “Jesus, ARE you the One?”
            John is in crisis when HE asks the question. He’s in prison; his ministry has come to a crashing halt with his arrest. He sits day after day, perhaps reviewing his work and he decides he MUST know if all he believes in is true.
He expected a messiah, one who would judge between the wheat and the chaff to reward the faithful and throw the sinful away. Now John is about to be thrown away, he will never leave prison. The next place we hear of him, his head is served on a platter to Herod’s wife.
            John has to know for sure because – Jesus is NOT the Messiah he expected.

            Jesus is offers compassion, not severe judgment. He walks alongside the people. He’s a healer. John expected someone to come with the baptism of FIRE. He was waiting for everything to be stirred up. Instead we look at what Jesus points out to John’s disciples, and its based on his deeds not his words[ii];
The blind can now see
The lame are walking around
Lepers have been made clean
The deaf, hear
Even the DEAD are raised and
The poor have good news brought to them.

Surely even John can hear the echoes of Isaiah and the prophets who proclaimed God’s priority for the poor and needy. And yet, Jesus isn’t quite what John expected.

The “Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and corruption. The Messiah should be punishing sinners, the criminals of the world.”[iii] Maybe we too would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to our liking.”[iv]

Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop the fighting in Jesus’ birthplace? The insane blowing up of people, suicide bombers, walls and destruction – all in the precious place this all began? Shouldn’t the Messiah bring it to an end? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop children from dying, especially of hunger. How long must people shrivel up and die or watch as their children waste away? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will really bring PEACE ON EARTH once and for all? Jesus’ miraculous curing seems so long ago. Where was he when our mother was diagnosed with cancer? Why did the miracles have to stop in the 1st century? Why is life still so hard, for so many?

It’s ok, we CAN ask, just like John. And what would Jesus answer today?
What do you hear and see around you?

We have to get beyond the REGULAR news for rarely is there ‘good news’ on THE news. But thanks to the internet, we have access to places where people are working alongside of Jesus.
Take the Historic Peace Church Conference in Santa Domingo,
they commended The work of the Brethren in Haiti following the earthquake, where homes are being rebuilt and displaced people are being fed, not just in the church but also neighbors known and unknown....
They lifted up the - many programs for children, adolescents, and families in a variety of countries, ranging from a Brazilian program to prevent the sexual abuse of children, to a project in Venezuela teaching creative play, to those working for healthy families and against domestic violence in Central America, to a Chilean pastoral couple offering counseling to men and women on issues related to gender and sexuality....
Locally right here in Washington, December 10, 2010 -- More than 75 women and men gathered at Wesley Theological Seminary last month to honor the Rev. Drema McAllister-Wilson and other women who have made significant contributions to the ecumenical movement and the many lives of the individuals they encountered.

On the other side of the world in Kottayam, India, December 6, 2010 -- the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary said, "The Indian concept of family sanctity is noble and one that should be emulated throughout the world."

On any issue YOU care to research, there are disciples at work. Faith communities came together to address climate change, poverty and sustainable development in a side event at the Cancun climate summit LAST WEEK (on 7 December.) This was jointly organized by Caritas Internationalis,  ACT Alliance and the World Council of Churches (WCC).  MANY More disciples working in places “so the poor don’t pay the price for climate change.” they said.
What more evidence do we need to hear and see where Jesus is working today?
Even You-Tube videos are used to reach out to the lost. A recent effort had people of all kinds recording videos entitled, “It gets better.” Aimed at the Many Lesbian & Gay BT youth who can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So everyday people and denominational leaders and politicians recorded videos of encouragement to show them what the future may hold in store. Good news IS being brought to many quarters.
And people of faith have goals to work for more; the 2011 vision for the Global AIDS epidemic is zero, new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDs-related deaths.

What do you HEAR and SEE around you? Do you wonder what promises and commitment it takes to be one who works to eliminate AIDs, or spends months in Haiti with no indoor plumbing?
With all the good news around the world and all the efforts for peace, surely we can hear and see Jesus, Immanuel; God WITH us, working alongside of committed people in these places and more.

So then, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? AND for WHOM? What holds you back from participation in Immanuel’s work?

Are you waiting for Jesus to call you individually? Perhaps with a lightening bolt-like strike so that you can’t say no? Maybe you are waiting to ‘fall in love’ with him. That magic, picture-perfect moment, when you are struck with cupid’s arrow and can’t look at anyone else. THEN you will turn your life around and promise to work with Jesus. Maybe we are all waiting for the Messiah of our expectations to break into our every day ordinary life in such a way that everything comes to a halt and we have NO CHOICE but to follow.

But Jesus is the unexpected Messiah.
            He works with people one at a time, in small corners of the world, opening eyes and            Standing up for the poor. He’s not the superhero flying overhead.
He sits in a jail cell next to someone who doesn’t deserve help, but still he sits ready to bring comfort to a child-abuser who is all alone in the world and unable to cope with his affliction.

Jesus isn’t in the popular places making a splash and he isn’t in the news. He is most likely to be found in the places we wouldn’t even go.

When we catch a glimpse of THAT Jesus, we too ask, “Are YOU the one?” and perhaps we walk away before we get an answer sure that the image we see doesn’t meet our expectations. Knowing our days are already full and most of us don’t need to make any more promises. 

Today we are left sitting with John’s question.
We sit with it because we NEED to ask and ENGAGE it. We need to be sure,
before we walk to the river to say, “Jesus, I want to join you, “baptize me.”
We need to be sure, before we make a promise that turns our life upside-down.

We MUST answer THIS QUESTION for ourselves, even Jesus won’t answer it for us, he merely points us back into the world to look, & listen. He would say to each of us, “Nancy, Everett, Andy, you have to decide on your own whether I am for real.”

            And then act accordingly.
- - -

And as we walk away, I wonder what Jesus will say to the crowds about us?

[i] Mark Yurs Feasting On The Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK 2010) p. 69
[ii] Ambrose of Milan.
[iii] Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Yr. A (Louisville: WJK, 1995) p. 27
[iv] ibid

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