A Sermon on Boy Scout Sunday
Luke brings John the Baptist into his telling of Jesus’ story very early on. In fact, the first time they meet is when Mary visits Elizabeth while both women are pregnant. John leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice and Jesus’ presence nearby.
The next time we meet John, he is a man living at the edge of the wilderness, preaching about repentance and baptizing all who confessed their sins and professed their faith in God.
He spoke of the one who would come after him. The one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. John made clear that he was not the messiah himself, but that the messiah was coming.
Jesus went out to the Jordan to be baptized, but we don’t know if John knew he was there. We do know that following his baptism, Jesus went on into the wilderness where he endured many temptations.
And we know that at some point, Herod took exception to being told by John that he needed to repent as well. That he was taking part in a regime that was not God’s. And eventually John found himself imprisoned.
Meanwhile, Jesus is causing quite a stir in the region. He has been teaching and healing, and even raising the dead son of a widow to life. And that is where we pick up the action in Luke 7, starting at verse 18.
We’ve had annual passes to DisneyWorld for almost as long as we’ve lived here in Orlando. It was a great place for our kiddo to grow up, even with the crowds. It was a great place to practice some life skills – like what to do if you get lost or separated from your group. How do you know who to ask for help?
We talked about what a cast member looks like – what kind of costumes or name tags to look for. And we did the same thing when we would run into a police officer or deputy around town….
Yeah – I know – it’s not foolproof.
Bad people do bad things in uniforms, too.
But… the uniforms and other signifiers can at least be a helpful start in finding the person you are looking for.
That’s one reason I wear one of my collared shirts when I am representing the church at a public function, or leading a funeral or a service like today – when we have more visitors around. If someone who doesn’t know me is looking for the pastor, I’m much easier to find when I am “in uniform”
That’s why our Scouts and their leaders are in uniform today. So that we can easily see and greet them as our special guests.
I suspect there were more than a few people in Jesus’ day who would have appreciated some kind of uniform to tell them he was The One.
You see, the prophets had been talking about the Messiah to come for generations. Including John.In fact, John had been proclaiming for years that the Messiah would come and the Jews would no longer be captives… And here he was… sending messengers out to talk to Jesus, while he was in prison.
The truth is that the political situation in which John and Jesus fund themselves… well, it’s complicated.
Their region of northern Palestine where you would find Galilee – was under occupation by the Roman Empire. Herod Antipas was the Jewish “King” as his father Herod the Great had been before him.
And like his father, Herod had a reputation for assuring that his interests were served first and foremost. The Jewish people might or might not benefit from any decisions he might make, especially in relation to their imperial colonizers.
As we can trace over and over throughout the history of empires and occupied territories, the Jewish people find themselves dealing with horrible social inequity. There was a very small number of Jews with tremendous wealth and stature, while the vast majority were beyond poor. They were destitute.
Their standing as a nation was even more tenuous given the reality that they represented such a tiny and politically inconsequential group among many peoples folded into the Roman empire. Plus, their unique culture and customs were puzzling at best, in the eyes of those who ruled over them.
And like many groups who find themselves in a complex political situation, the Jewish people found themselves divided on what to do… how to respond to the Roman rule and to the Herods as they established a dynasty within the Roman structures.
Not everyone agreed on what it meant to be Jewish, how Jews were to move through the world in light of their oppression, how they were to worship God and even what the Messiah would look like. In other words, the Jewish people of Jesus’ time represented a diversity of beliefs, practices and political views.
We might be able to relate –
If we gathered up someone from all the different churches and places of worship in Apopka, we would likely have a group with a wide variety of beliefs, practices and political views… even as we claimed one common connection- Jesus. We Christians are a diverse bunch.
John, along with many Jews of his time, was waiting and watching for a Jewish Messiah who would redeem Israel from Roman oppression. Someone who would launch a Messianic Era, bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.
All these healing miracles Jesus has done, they’re great, but is that it? Is there more to come?
Because – from John’s vantage point, it still pretty much looked like the Kingdom of Herod.
And beyond Herod, they still had Rome to contend with.
So he wants to know… Are you the one? Or is there someone else to come?
It’s tempting to dig in right there, to assume that John is doubting or backing down. But there is something about John’s willingness to even ask that makes me think it’s not doubt And there is something intriguing about the way Jesus responds to this query.
As is his custom, Jesus answers without answering the question. He gives them a job.
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.
Go and tell him about the ways God’s power is being unleashed in the world.
Go and tell him how the people are experiencing Good News.
And then, when the messengers for John left, he turned to the crowd and began to teach again on the idea of WHO.
Who was John? Not just a prophet, but the forerunner, the one God tasked with preparing the way for the Messiah… for Jesus. Jesus is saying, if you can see John for who he is, then my identity becomes clear, as well.
Who recognized him? The tax collectors, the undesirables, the ones who knew they needed grace, release, healing, wholeness, forgiveness.
Who rejected John’s ministry, thus rejecting God’s purposes? Those who believed they already had what they needed – those with comfort, status, and privilege among the Jews.
This is why I think John’s question may very well have been one of hopeful anticipation…. I am pretty sure you’re the one… Tell me I’ve got this right… Tell me that we are on the cusp of the age for which so many are longing.
The miracles John’s messengers witnessed and then bore witness to – by going and telling – they were the beginning of the Messianic age!
And whenever we see evidence of God’s work in the world – we too are witnessing God’s promises unfolding.
Yes – there were and are still corrupt politicians in the world.
Yes- there were and are church leaders who disappoint us
Yes – the gap between rich and poor continues to be alarminging
So yes – the world is still very very much in need of a savior.
The question is, what does the Messiah look like today? What should we expect when we go looking?
Jesus words to the people were a helpful warning against mis-placed expectations about what the Messiah would be and do.
If we hope that the messiah will sweep in and use the same kind of power and might that we humans have built into our power structures, we will be disappointed…
Jesus came with humility, keeping company with the outcasts instead of the powerful.
And he would be rewarded with a crown of thorns and a criminal’s death, rather than the comfort of a palace and the majesty of a throne.
We must look for a messiah who enters into the pain and suffering of the world,
Who understands that salvation for the hungry sometimes look like bread and water, and not the metaphircal sort.
A messiah who knows that oppression ends where relationships are not hindered by exclusion and fear.
And we must, as the Body of Christ – the ones who represent him in this present age – do likewise. So that any who come looking in hopeful expectation can know God answers prayers and keeps promises.
We don’t have to wear crosses or collars or any sort of uniform to advertise that we belong to Jesus,
Not if we are continuing his work…
not if we make ourselves available… if we willingingly enter into the suffering and pain of others and carry with us the compassionate, healing love of Christ.
That is how they will know us… by our love.
By the fruit born of living in the power of the Holy Spirit
And they will know us by the stories to go and tell as witnesses to the power of God at work in and among us.
Let us pray…
In a world where power and influence reign,
Embolden us to set aside power, set aside wealth.
In a world where we look for quick fixes with little thought for consequences and ripple effects…
Give us the patience and persistence and wisdom
In a world where the pain of others is cause for laughter and derision…
Give us hearts that ooze compassion for the broken hearted and suffering,
hearts that seek to learn about those who are not like us,
hearts that seek community with the very ones you would eat and drink and pray with.
May we be the ones for whom the world has been waiting,
May we be the church for which you have been praying,
Today and every day. Amen.