“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” v.17
In the 1970s there was a musical doing the rounds – it came to my town every year for three or four years; and I went at least twice every year.
It was a musical which told the Gospel story and the opening scene began like this
An empty stage
A single spotlight
And a lone voice
“Prepare ye, the way of the Lord,
Prepare ye, the way of the Lord...”
And then the orchestra struck up,
And the players streamed in, down through the audience and up on to the stage – as that opening chorus built, and built.
I loved it!
Now, for those of you still in the dark, this is Godspell we’re talking about. Not Jesus Christ Superstar.
(which always felt wrong to me – it leaves Jesus dead. Godspell brings him back again with the resurrection!)
And it tells the gospel story as it is recorded by Matthew.
I just loved it then, and still love it now. At the time, in my mid teens, it gave me a visual image for my growing faith – my awareness of God was growing, and I needed the tangibility of this interactive musical to help me along.
The gospel reading we have today tells us of two men; cousins; who had most likely grown up together; we know their mothers were close; and each was born in unusual, miraculous circumstances, each with an air of mystery and wonder.
John is a strange man; a maverick; one not worried about niceties or subtlety.
He is a man on a mission
And nothing will stop him.
People are flocking to him
Listening to these harsh words:
And responding with confession and humility.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees approach, John’s words are no less harsh: “you brood of vipers!! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!”
Now – I find this quite heartening!
Even those who at the time were complacent, manipulative, corrupting and unscrupulous were not turned away. They were chastised for sure. But John does not turn them away – he exhorts them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” – show us you’ve really changed. Because everything, everyone will be tested and proved by God, by the One who follows.
There is only one person John tries to deter; only one he is reluctant to hear and minister to – his own cousin, Jesus.
John knows who Jesus is; he has known since he was in his mother’s womb: this is the One, the Messiah, God’s own Son – come to save us all.
How then can he, John, do anything for Jesus?
Jesus is all about the righteousness; all about the grace; all about the chance to show the world what is happening...
Jesus is also all human.
He needs affirmation just as much as the next man; he needs to know that what he is about to set in motion is right, and good and proper, and most of all, he needs to know it is fulfilling God’s plan, just as it should.
I wonder if he knew God would affirm him?
If he knew the Spirit would appear?
Jesus was a man who was fully human; he was subject to doubts and fears and uncertainty, just as we are.
Right now, as it was back then, is indeed a time of great fear and uncertainty in the world.
Fear sits on the doorstep
Uncertainty haunts the corners
And we wait, with baited breath for the next atrocity: in the past few weeks those who seek power through fear and corruption have acted to create mayhem.
Innocent people have died:
Children in a school
Customers in a coffee shop
Journalists in their offices...
And the world has looked on shocked; disbelieving, appalled.
And we ask ourselves, what is going on?
Why is God letting this happen?
How is this going on and nothing seems to be being done about it?
Listen again to those words: you brood of vipers! One is coming
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
I’m sure most of you understand about the wheat and the chaff?
The two coexist, but once grown the wheat needs to be separated out – and the chaff – the leftover, the waste, the unusable part needs to be removed. And is good for nothing other than fuel for the fire.
There are those in the world who are good and faithful people – of many different faiths and none.
And there are those who say they are, but their lives and their actions tell a very different story.
These people who claim to be in a holy war are not following their own faith’s rules – they, like those Pharisees and Sadducees so long ago, are manipulating the law, adding things on, choosing to place their own interpretations for their own agenda.
They are not the only ones
This is not an exclusively Muslim corruption.
There are plenty Christians who choose to corrupt God’s love; to abuse God’s beloved, chosen children for their own means and gratification – to fulfil their own agendas too.
There are no answers - I wish there were
But there are ways to respond.
Hold onto your dove
Now read the title of the sermon: time to know who you are...
Look at the words on your dove....
Listen to those words, whispered in your ear; you!
You are God’s beloved child
You, bring God great joy
God is pleased with you
Hold on to this thought
And, when the world seems to be going mad all around you
When life seems uncertain and frightening
Hold on to that thought – say it to yourself: I know who I am:
“I am God’s child. God loves me. I can make God happy and pleased.”
Now that is something worth shouting about