Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking Forward to January 8, 2017 -- John the Baptist

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion.

From now until Easter the Narrative Lectionary will lead us on a journey through the Gospel according to Luke.

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is Luke 3:1-22.

The Sermon title is Prepare!

Early Thoughts: In chapter 1 Luke tells us about 2 unexpected pregnancies. One or them, of course, is Jesus. The other is John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Now we jump to chapter 3 and find the fully grown John making a bit of a name for himself. He is telling people to prepare for the coming of the Promised One. And he is not pulling any punches.

John is preaching "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins". And to do that means you can not be shy about people's shortcomings.  Not to mention that John apparently never read Miss Manners or "How to Win Friends and Influence People".  No nonsense about winning more flies with honey here. As Luke describes it, John is all about the vinegar.

Is this how we prepare for the coming of the the Kingdom?

In part I think it is. In Scripture, in the words of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus, we find a picture of what the Kingdom of God is/will be. In the Gospels Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom has come to reality in him, but also that it has yet to come in its full glory. And yet I think that if we are really honest with each other we know the may ways that the world shows itself to not be ready for the Kingdom. Equally important, if we are honest with each other (and ourselves), we know that we do not always live as Kingdom people.

Self examination and confession and repentance are a touchy subject with some people. Some parts of the church have, historically and in the present, focused far too much on our sinfulness and brokenness -- to the extent that humanity is seen as beyond redemption, unable on its own accord to live in accordance with The Way of Christ. On the other hand some people are too uncomfortable with self-examination to take a solid look at their behaviour and so remain apparently oblivious to their own mis-steps and shortcomings (there is a potential that this obliviousness is a public face and they are internally wracked by guilt and insecurity). Some parts of the church focus almost exclusively on private/personal morality and miss cultural/social/systemic sinfulness. Some focus almost exclusively on social/cultural/systemic issues and miss out the discussion of private/personal sinfulness. And all parts of the church (and all of us as individuals) tend to rate sins as more or less important.

But to prepare for life in Christ is to look honestly at the issue of sinfulness, of where we (as individuals and as a collective) have missed the mark. This is what John can do for us. This is why it is important to read about John and not jump straight to Jesus (for the record Jesus also calls people to account for their individual and collective behaviour, as does Paul as part of instructing folk how to live as followers of Christ) and talk about God's grace and forgiveness. If the Kingdom is growing within, around, and among us then we are being changed and transformed. To open ourselves to that transformation is to know who we are and look to who we are becoming.

Yes John seems to be missing God's grace. But John is not the Promised One, John points to and prepares the way for the Promised One. Jesus comes to proclaim the Kingdom, to proclaim God's Grace, to invite us to share in the transformation of the world, a transformation that has begun and is continuing. Are we prepared? Are we preparing?

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