My apologies for still being sick and without voice. I hope it clears up soon. In the mean time, here is my sermon for this week. God Bless.
December 7 2014 Sermon 2nd Sunday of Advent Mark 1:1-8
In Search of Peace
How often today do we seemingly long for good news? All around us we seem to be constantly bombarded with doom and gloom, from ISIS to police brutality and riots to government inactivity to the massive and growing gap in wealth distribution. If it is not Ebola it’s the flu, or our food, or this or that new drug that is destroying us. In short, good news is hard to find, and when we do find it, it’s so overshadowed by the destruction we seem determined to bring down on our own heads as a species.
But this passage is one of those good news issues. In fact, the whole beginnings of Matthew, Luke, John and Mark are filled with them. For this reason, the Gospels are called the “Good News”, because they bring a positive message to humanity of God’s infinite love and compassion and forgiveness. It speaks of John’s paving the way for one greater than himself who will bring the Holy Spirit. In short, we should be celebrating this with global love and wellbeing.
But what have we done with this good news? Do we embrace each other in true brotherly love? Do we go that extra mile to help even the stranger? Do we give what we can to raise the lives of the less fortunate? Or have we shot the messenger, and the message?
Remember, John spoke of radical change, and for that, the conservative world of Herod had him beheaded. Likewise, Jesus too faced a hostile conservative ruling elite with the Temple, Pharisees and even Rome, and for all his radical liberalism for humanitarian change, he was put to death. Alas, the list does not stop there. It is a long and very sad list.
Change terrifies people. Even the message of change is enough to have many people entrench themselves, armed and ready to defend their insolated and contained comfort zone, no matter how behind the times it might be, and even unto death of the messenger. But change is exactly what John was bringing; good news of something better. But better or not, it was still change, moving into unfamiliar territory. But while it cost the people “nothing”, they came to John to listen. They did the same for Jesus. But when the bill came, when they learned the cost for that positive change, they scattered.
We are generally afraid to make the sacrifice that change requires. We are afraid to give up something precious for the promise of something better, no matter how much better that promise is. In the end, we can also be afraid of those who do. Today, many strong conservatives had tried to re-write history and theology to make Jesus one of their own, painting him as a strong ultra conservative, in part to sooth their own fears, but also help justify their own behavior.
Such action can never change the fact that Jesus, like John, or Lincoln, or Gandhi or King, were all agents of radical change, each in their own way upsetting the perceived status quo in very profound ways, and through their lives, and also their martyred deaths, helped to bring about such change. It was not radical liberals who opposed these men, and many others like them through history. They were, and still are, opposed by those afraid of change, and who are willing to use whatever means to stop such change.
John came to us at a time when the church had grown stagnant and rigid. It had become a time when power mattered over people, and even any relationship with God was limited to a select few. Even those select few had become corrupt, greedy, detached from the needs of the people they were supposed to be serving. In their own accumulation of power and wealth, they were depriving the people of the basics for life.
John even uses the term “den of vipers”, to describe an elite that was draining the life from everything around them. It is truly sad how, even with the lessons of time, so little really changes in the human heart. We still have our Den of Vipers, or Temple Priests, or Pharisees and Sadducees, and even our Roman Elite. We also have the poor, the hungry, the naked and their suffering.
We also have John though. We still have those brave individuals, crying out in the Wilderness, preaching repentance and compassion, reaching out in open love and mercy, and striving to show humanity a better path. They are also willing to put their own lives on the line for this. They know that the only path forward is just that, forward. They know that only in change can the world improve, because the alternative is stagnation and death.
No culture that becomes frozen in their movement, that stops evolving, can endure. Each such culture, such people, such creature, will surely be passed over and die out. Both history and even science and theology show this. Babylon was unable to adapt to their changing world. Where is it? Even in Egypt’s greatness, and also with Rome, they because lost in selfishness and decadence, shut away from a changing world. All we have now is the corpse of these cultures, with bits and pieces surviving as tidbits for what came afterwards.
Each in turn were lost because they forgot the message of John and the prophecy of Isaiah. “Prepare the way of the Sovereign, make the path of the Sovereign straight–“. We have a job to do. We always have a job to do. We are called to make this world ready for God. After all, isn’t this world God’s garden? Isn’t this, and all of creation, no matter what religion you follow, God’s? We are but tenants in what belongs to God, and it is therefore up to us to keep that creation in order, ready for the landlord to return.
This very theme is one repeated over and over again by Jesus himself in the Gospels. Wait, watch, be ready, and while you wait, tend the garden, protect the flocks, love your neighbor.
Peace, that hope for a better world, is what John was also promising. He was giving us a way, a sign, a means through right living. As he told all who asked, the tax collectors, the soldiers, the wealthy, the religious, what was required, he gave them all a straight path towards God.
John showed all who would listen, how to live in peace. That cry in the wilderness continues also. Even today, people of faith and peace cry out for justice and equality. They cry out for freedom from tyranny and oppression, want and poverty. And people listen.
We all need to be John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, standing up against injustice and inequality. We all need to work for the betterment of all people, everywhere, with dignity and respect. We each need to pave the way for Christ in our hearts by the actions we perform in life. This does not happen through the exercise of greed and avarice, or bigotry and discrimination, of violence and aggression, or of neglect and indifference towards others in the world.
Acting as John the Baptist means giving to those in need, treating others with fairness and equality, justice and mercy. It means helping to uplift the poor rather than to despise them because they are poor. To share what blessings we have in life with others less fortunate is doing the work of Christ in the world. John told people, if you have two coats and you encounter somebody with none, give him one of your coats. While this can be taken literally, there is also a symbolism behind it as well. If you have more money than you could possible spend in a lifetime, you have way too much money. Share that wealth with those who have little or none. If you own a company or corporation, pay a fair and living wage to your employees. Provide a quality of life that you enjoy already for those who work for you. That is Christian compassion and justice at work. To do otherwise is not Christian.
When it comes to social justice, John the Baptist again speaks to those who came to him words that are as timely today. Do not discriminate or show bigotry towards others, but rather treat others as you would want to be treated. This simple theme resounds in the Bible, as well as so many other theologies and philosophies in the world. How can we pave that straight way for God in Christ if we treat others with hate and distain? How can we love the Christ to come if we can’t even love others around us now?
John preached repentance and forgiveness of sins. He did not preach who we should hate or condemn, who we needed to judge and persecute. This is not the way of God’s mercy. John also preached humility, telling others that next to the coming Christ, even John was less than a slave. This is so important to remember, especially with ministers today who claim they speak for God and Christ, but all they preach is bigotry and condemnation and discrimination and hate. This is not being a servant of God, not is it walking humbly with God. This is setting themselves above God.
When you cry out in the wilderness, do so with a clear and just voice, but do with also with love and compassion. Do so with positive alternatives and options to a better way, not one that includes hate and violence and destruction. That only defeats the purpose. Be merciful and loving in your actions, and in doing so, the message you give will be heard, and understood, and found worthy to act upon. Such was John the Baptist. Such are all those who have followed in John’s sandals. Be such a person. Be such a voice for God.
The Reading for today is: Mark 1:1-8
Mark begins the Gospel with the announcement of the coming of John the Baptist.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Child of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who shall prepare your way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Sovereign,
make the paths of the Sovereign straight—”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to John all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes the one who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but the one who comes will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”