The Wildman and the Carpenter sermon for 8th January 2017
They were cousins; their mothers were cousins too, and close; close enough that Jesus’ mother had visited her cousin and stayed to help out while she was pregnant.
On that visit, before he was born, Elizabeth’s son had reacted with joy to the presence of his cousin – Mary’s boy, long before anyone knew anything for sure about either one of them.
These two boys were both miracle babies; born in unusual circumstances; their impending births foretold by angels, their lives mapped out for them long before they were born, let alone grown.
John has taken to a life of desert wanderer; he follows God; is inspired by God and seeks to bring God as reality to the people who are wandering in a different sort of desert; alone seeking God in their spiritual wilderness. A feeling that I am sure we can all identify with from time to time.
Into this time of seeking; these wilderness years comes a new teacher; one who is very different; one who does not pander to them but rather tells them a few home truths. This new style of teaching is so dynamic, so attractive that people flock to hear more; and they seek more than just a spectacle, they ask again and again, “what shall we do?”
The teaching pulls no punches:
Do not cheat
Share with others
Be fair in your business dealings
Be satisfied with what you have
And then he called them to repentance, to be ready, to be prepared, and he baptised them.
They sought, they wondered, they hoped – “is this the one?!” “is this the Messiah?!” “Is now the time?!”
And he assured them, no, not yet, but soon, be ready, listen to me, I am making the path clear, I am leading the way forward… one is coming.
John was distinctive; the other gospel writers describe his appearance and clothing, as wild, camel hair, locusts and wild honey – it is a stirring image. Yet, for us so far removed from those events; so far removed from that hand to mouth existence, it is really hard to hear those words and really feel their impact.
We hear those exhortations, do not cheat, share with others, be fair in your business dealings, be satisfied with what you have; and it’s a simple faith-justice mantra, we can identify with it; know it, agree with it.
Of course we will! Of course we don’t cheat; we do our best to share our resources, and be fair; and we try to be satisfied with what we have. So how can we hear these things again and actually have them impact our lives? How do we make a difference?
I am going to leave that question hanging for a moment. And take you to the end of today’s reading. Two short verses to tell us, almost as an afterthought, Jesus was baptised.
It doesn’t even tell us that he was baptised by John – in fact, it almost implies Jesus baptism happened after John was in prison.
The other gospels give us much more information. But I am not going to go explore other gospels today; we are going to be working through Luke’s telling of Jesus story over the next few weeks, and there will be many times we see such contradictions, or differences.
Luke’s portrayal is simple, pared back.
Jesus is baptised; the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my own dear son. I am pleased with you.”
Here is a wonderful commitment from God. Jesus hasn’t actually done anything yet. No healing, no teaching, no miracles… just baptism. His belovedness, like our own, is not a reward for righteous living, it’s simply grace.
There is much we can learn from this. Much we can do. Or try to do. Much we can hope for even when we are
Stuck in a spiritual wilderness
Seeking a right and just way of living faithfully
And feeling that it is all a tall order, beyond our capabilities.
How can we be the difference?
How do we respond today, to John’s exhortations?
All we need to do is remember that John called the people to repent, to turn again, to start over – all good and helpful things, especially at the start of a new year.
And, at the same time remember that Jesus too sough baptism, sought direction, and received much, much more, showing us, reminding us again, that we are God’s beloved children, before we do anything at all.
So we strive to be better, in the full knowledge that God looks at us, knows us, loves us – before we do anything at all.
We strive to be better, because of love.
We are better, because of love.
We are better, because God sees us, knows us, loves us.
You are my own dear child. With you I am pleased.
|The Desert of Judah (c) JRen2012|