Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

St John the Baptist in the Prison
Juan Fernández de Navarrete
Go and tell John what you hear and see:

Last we heard John’s message of what the coming Messiah would be like.

His winnowing-fork is in his hand,
and he will clear his threshing-floor
and will gather his wheat into the granary;
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

John understood the coming one as a great judge who was going to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, the saved from the unsaved.
It was a stark image. He warned:

Bear fruit worthy of repentance

Later, while in prison, he begins to question whether he has gotten it right about the coming one, the one whose sandals he is unworthy to carry.

The world he thought was coming to be was not happening.
There was no winnowing fork.
Everything seemed to be the same.

What was this Messiah actually up to?
Was he going to do the things John said he was going to?
It didn’t look like it, and now John was in prison because he preparing everyone for him.

He sends messengers to ask Jesus

‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 

Jesus doesn’t say yes.
He doesn’t say, Yes, don’t worry about it John, you were right.

Instead he says:

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

Not you were right John, but rather
“Look and listen. Look at what is happening. Hear what is going on.”

Jesus is pointing John to other things.

What John proclaimed and what happened were different.
For John, Jesus was to be judge and sort the whole lot out.

Jesus did sort the whole lot out, but he went about it in a different way.

Jesus showed everyone how God really was.

God was different than they thought, or what they had been led to understand.

Jesus lists all he has been doing.

the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have good news brought to them.

All these doings were spoken by the prophet Isaiah about what the messianic age would look like.

Jesus is using one of the prophets to say
“look John, I may not be going about it as you thought or would like,
but if you think about, I am doing what prophets said would happen.

Jesus revealed the true nature of God that had become hidden.

Jesus, the Son of God,
became human to show us and be with us,
so we could know God, so we could be with God.

the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Jesus did these things to show how God longs for all people to be made whole.

A group of people who had been excluded from God were now included.
A group of people who were thought of as nothing were revealed to be as important as anyone else.

But there is more.
While these things did happen,
and I have no reason to doubt they did,
they also speak of what we are to do and how we are to be.

The blind are those who do not see God working in their lives.
They are surrounded by a darkness that does not allow them to see God.
That darkness can be many things, depression, addiction, violence.
It is often in such darkness that God becomes visible,
but it often takes a caring heart to be there through the hard times.

The lame are those who are stuck, who are trapped by their lives,
who can’t walk away from constant hard times.
They are those whom society entraps in a cycle of debt,
those who do not have the freedom to make any choices,
but only stay still and put up with whatever happens.
To be able to move into a new life can be scary.
It can feel like learning to walk again.
Having someone to hold onto for those new steps can show the love of God.

The lepers are those who no one wants to be with.
Those whose lifestyle, habits, class, or race people find difficult to reconcile with their own way of being.
Jesus included all people to be within God’s love.
Those who no one wanted to be near.
For someone who feels that excluded by everyone and everything,
a kind word or a smile can show them they are not alone at all.

The deaf are those who cannot hear the gospel.
They may have heard it many times,
but they can no longer hear the radical invitation that Jesus is offering.
All they hear is judgement and boredom.
The Gospel can be spoken in many different ways so it can be heard by all.

The poor have good news brought to them.
This is straightforward.
But the significant part for us is “brought to them.”
The good news is taken to the poor, not the poor coming to the good news.
The poor are searched out and helped.
Jesus is speaking in an active sense.

All of these things speak of those who have been excluded now being included.
Jesus is saying to John that God’s plan is bigger than anyone thought it would be.
Jesus is saying to John that God’s love is so big that it includes everyone.
Jesus is saying to John that God desires and will  make everyone whole, not those who believed they were chosen, but those who thought they were rejected.

To live this way, to carry on this work is to bear fruit worthy of repentence.

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