Advent 3a, December 15, 2013

December 16, 2013

Prepping For Jesus
Matthew 11:2-11

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

What I’m about to say may fall in to the category of TMI – too much information. Which I’m thinking is an interesting way to start a sermon. I’m guessing some of you are suddenly wishing you had in fact done that other thing you thought about doing this morning instead of coming to church. But TMI is what get’s the attention of other people. The possibility of me sharing too much information will keep some of you from checking your smartphones for a moment. So I’ll try to provide just enough information to keep some of you listening and others from moaning and heading for the door. But the truth is I can’t read this word, prepare, without thinking about the 64oz bottle of medicated Gatorade I had to drink last Wednesday evening in preparation for my first colonoscopy.

Now there’s a line for you tweeters out there. Preacher is moved to reflect on his recent colonoscopy.

I know this is probably not a subject I should address from the pulpit, but I don’t think I can speak for 10 minutes without bringing it up. I was asleep when the doctor actually did the deal, so that was no big deal at all, but preparing for this test had me occupied for a day and a half and preoccupied for several more days. I know I’m not the first person in the room to have undergone this experience, and several people have told me how lucky I am to have gotten to drink the Gatorade cocktail as opposed to the horrible potion of yesteryear, but this was some new territory for me.

I’ll quit talking about it before I really do provide you with too much information, but this was an experience that put me in touch with the concept of preparation. And this is the season of the year we in the church do a lot of talking about getting ourselves prepared. And most of us do engage in a good amount of preparation. We go up in the attic and pull down all sorts of boxes. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time decorating our houses – inside and out! And I love that kind of stuff. I don’t like the trips to the attic, and I’m not the primary decorator in my house, nor am I in competition to see who can add the most light to the universe, but I like the decorations. I like the festive nature of this season.

I don’t care to see Christmas decorations going up the day after Halloween, but I’m not offended by the shops and restaurants and banks and malls getting all done up during this time of the year. I’m not a Black Friday shopping contestant, but I don’t mind a trip to a shopping center during these days. I’m not sure how we’ve come to connect the birth of Jesus at a homeless shelter with material indulgence, but this has become our national tradition, and I’m not one to rail against this. I don’t think it’s so bad to engage in some recreational gift-giving during this time of the year, but I’m sure there are some bad messages in the air.

I must say I am a little put off by the commercial where a boy who looks to be about 10 years old asks Santa for a Ford F-150 Pickup – and not the toy version. Clearly that commercial was designed to be over-the-top, but I’m afraid it’s not very far over the top of our reality. We are a society that is consumed with desire for stuff – big stuff. Maybe I should be railing against this tendency we have to want more and more of the things that money can buy – the things that don’t really matter, but I’m more inclined to try to focus on what it is that really does matter.

And what really matters is a question that we all must answer for ourselves. It’s striking that John the Baptist sent his followers to ask Jesus if he was the One who had been sent from God, or should they be looking for another. This is the same John who so clearly announced who Jesus was when he presented himself for baptism. John had no doubt at that point, but the scene had changed. He had been arrested and imprisoned by Herod, this man who had behaved in all sorts of horrible ways, and this seems to have left John the Baptist wondering what was going on. I think John’s expectation was that Jesus was going to take charge of the world and people like Herod would be the ones behind bars.

This is an interesting situation. What we see here is that Jesus didn’t just disrupt the expectations of the Pharisees and high priests and the other people who were clueless as to the actual nature of God – Jesus didn’t even meet the expectation of the most spiritually authentic man of the day. The greatest prophet of Israel didn’t quite get it.

This is an amazing thing, and actually a somewhat comforting thing to me. Everybody has trouble recognizing Jesus for who he is. John didn’t resist what he came to understand about Jesus, but Jesus didn’t turn out to be the person John expected him to be. Jesus didn’t give the followers of John the Baptist a direct answer, but he told them to tell John what was happening. The lame were being healed, the blind were gaining sight, lepers were being cleansed,good news was being provided for the poor, and those who took no offense at this were being blessed. And with this he left John and the rest of us to draw our own conclusions.

Coming to understand and to embrace Jesus as the one to whom we want to trust is a process for all of us. We can’t make it happen, but I do believe there are some things we can do to prepare ourselves.

Jesus was very clear about the work he was doing. He was touching and healing and providing for those who were in the most desperate circumstances. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the power to do the kinds of things that Jesus did. I’m not here to declare that miraculous healings don’t take place, but these are rare events. Most of us count on the discoveries of modern science to treat our infirmities, but we can be in touch with people who are hurting, and I think this can help us be more prepared to receive Jesus in our own hearts

Being poor in our society is a hard place to be and it seems to be getting harder. We don’t have an economy that is providing much opportunity for people to get out of poverty, and our government is cutting back on the services it provides for poor people. There is a growing sense of need in our nation and in our city, and to look away from this problem is to avoid seeing the kind of people Jesus chose to be near. Serving people who are in need is not an automatic ticket to salvation, but it’s about the best thing we can do to prepare ourselves for it.

Jesus didn’t clear the threshing floor and throw the chaff in to the fire as quickly and as clearly as John the Baptist had hoped he would do. The rise of Jesus didn’t mark the demise of the most evil and greedy and violent people, and I think that came as a disappointment to John the Baptist, but this isn’t all bad news. There are few of us who are as prepared for the arrival of the Holy One of God as John the Baptist was. I think most of us are trying to avoid evil and to do some good, but I don’t think any of us are qualified for membership in the kingdom of heaven

We don’t find our way in to the kingdom of God because we have proven ourselves to be worthy of admission. The only reason we are welcomed in to God’s Holy Kingdom is because Jesus has love in his heart for people who aren’t perfect. And while I believe the welcome is universal, we aren’t all prepared for the experience. And the thing that keeps us from being prepared is our unwillingness to believe that God operates in this purely gracious way.

I don’t believe we can prepare ourselves to receive and to experience the unfathomable love of God by becoming more perfect, but I believe that when we exercise compassion toward others we are more able to understand the compassion God has for us.

Jesus exercised compassion for those who weren’t regarded as eligible for membership in the community of faith, and by doing that he showed us who is in need of our own attention.

I have been reminded of how important it is to be prepared for significant events, and good it is to feel prepared. There are parties and meals and medical procedures and other such events that have their own set of exercises that enable us to be prepared. And while there is a way to get ourselves prepared to encounter God it’s not the kind of preparation that we generally exercise. Preparing ourselves for the grace of God is an exercise in letting go of the illusions we have about ourselves and others. Preparing for the arrival of Christ calls for us to let go of our judgments and to embrace the miracle of God’s love for all of us.

Not even John the Baptist was ready for Jesus, but none of us are excluded from the very same relationship that this perfectly obedient man had with the savior of the world. None of us will ever be ready, but ready or not, Jesus comes to us in ways that we would never expect. And by the grace of God our eyes will be open and our hearts will understand that there isn’t anything that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And thanks be to God for that.

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