A legendary world figure died this week. A man who was both a prophet and a statesman. The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandella. He was able to transition from the voice of oppressed and marginalized to the leader who coalesced an inter-racial nation into being. Most prophets do not have those skills or that opportunity.
Mandella recalled that “As I walked to the gate that would lead to my freedom… I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness & hatred behind… I’d still be in prison”
He also reminded people that “…to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’
Today’s Gospel reading is about another prophet – John – Jesus went to him in the wilderness… where John was teaching and preaching…
I love the play Godspell. I saw the original off-broadway production in NY in the 70s. And have seen it many times since. The play starts in a darkened theater with the blowing of the shofar – the Jewish ceremonial rams horn. That is followed by the John the Baptizer figure coming down the aisle singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
At Trinity Church in Rochester for several years that was the opening hymn for the first Sunday in Advent reminding us that this is a season not of penitence but of preparation.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks the crowds why they went out in the wilderness? What did they go out to see?
They went out to see a prophet not a diplomat. One who spoke the truth for God, not someone looking for votes of approval. John told them very directly what they needed to do to live out the covenant they said they believed in.
John the Baptizer was not someone with whom you could have friendly banter. He was probably not someone you would invite home for dinner. The Gospel portrays him as intense – confrontational – accosting people on their journey. In the wilderness he baptized them and demanded in so doing they recreate the people of Israel crossing the Jordan at the end of the Exodus and thereby reclaim the promised land and the covenant. He didn’t cajole them – he commanded them. A very different style from modern preaching.
Which made me wonder what if John were to approach us outside of Target, Kmart or Kohls this afternoon. What might John the Baptizer say to us?
“You herd of shoppers! You reckless consumers and users of the creation’s precious resources. Who warned you to flee from seeing the real state of God’s people. Who told you to wall yourselves off from the needs of the poor across the world?
You want to escape the judgment of having so much while others have so little.
You work so hard to add a few more things to the stack of stuff you wall up behind locked doors. While children, and elders struggle to simply have shelter and enough food to sustain them another day.”
“Live your life in a way that demonstrates to others what you say you believe. It is not enough just to say the words in worship – or to delude yourself that having the idea is enough – you have to make the hard decisions. You have to live it out day by day, decision by decision.”
“It is not enough to claim membership in a church. You have to claim and internalize the values and responsibility of being a follower of Jesus. If all God wanted was more Episcopalians God would create them out of fundementalists. What God truly wants only you can create
– a heart that cares for all of God’s people.
– A will that can cause you to live for all of God’s people and not yourself alone.
– A fire within you that compels you to work for justice, freedom and peace for ALL created in God’s creation image and not just people you like, agree with, or prefer.
It is the fruit of your life that will show whether or not you are a disciple of Jesus. It is the content of your heart and the actions of your life – not your retirement savings, checking account balance or possessions that impress God.
The Lord doesn’t want to hear you complain – “But I can’t change the world I am only one person.” You need to do what you are able to do – change yourself, really live out your priorities, make the world around you a better place.
You cannot do everything so pick something you can do and change it. You may not be able to end hunger in the world but can you envision helping a community program to feed the hungry in Jeff.
You cannot take care of the needs of all the elders but is there one homebound person you can call or visit once a month?”
Choose what it is you CAN do and do it!”
John the Baptizer then and now tells us that the time to prepare is here. And we prepare not for a holiday but for the coming of the Lord to God’s people.
The Lord is coming not in cloud & majesty
…Not in power and triumph like a king
The Lord has come in Bethlehem, Nazareth Galilee and Jerusalem and called other to follow and to do…
The lord is coming to God’s people… in human flesh
In you and in me… in those who hear and respond to that call to be Gods heart, hands and voice for others.
You can be part of that coming….
By the way in which you live, the ways in which you care for creation and Gods people, and in how you make a difference in the lives of those around you… and our neighbors near, far & around the globe.
As another prophet Nelson Mandella taught us” “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they learn to hate they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human hear than it’s opposite”
Now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord
Prepare the way of the Lord