What an important feast of the nativity of John the Baptist we celebrate today! And what powerful readings! The feast of John the Baptist’s birth is not high on most people’s list for an observance. In fact, it is probably little noticed by most people. But its importance stands nonetheless. It was John who paved the way for his cousin, Jesus, to gather disciples and preach the Gospel. John’s preaching and baptizing became a prophetic symbol of the world to come, the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
As members of the body of Christ, like John WE are endowed with a prophetic calling. We are to proclaim and to show with the way we live our lives that existence has purpose and meaning. In the midst of seeming darkness and desolation, God brought John, the greatest of prophets, to prepare the way of the Lord, and like Saint John, we are to continue announcing the prophetic word, which awakens all people. Like St. John, we are commissioned to lead an anxious and searching humanity to the fullness of a life serving God.
We have been called to be God’s people in tough times of transition. For some reason only known to God, the Father has placed us in a time of upheaval, danger, confusion, conflict, disappointment, and division. Those who are called to lead others to Jesus are often criticized, belittled, and scorned. They feel alone and are often tempted to give up in their long trek to lead God’s people to God’s light. This is where Biblical stories, as well as our own story as a Christian, speak to us and give us strength to carry on our journey.
We are told in Scripture to do what Jesus did:
Prepare a way for the Lord. (Matthew 3:3)
How are we to prepare for the Lord? How do we engage Christians and non-Christians in this preparation for Jesus’ coming again? How do we help those who are currently living in darkness or hopelessly struggling to become communities of Christians who embrace the teachings of Jesus.
As we spend this time together this weekend learning about developing and fostering engaged communities, we have to ask ourselves:
- How has God blessed your life?
How is God transforming your life?
What do you think is God’s desire for your life?
What are the signs of a committed disciple of Jesus Christ?
What are signs of an engaged community?
What can we do to help create those engaged communities?
1. We need to pray.
- Forty-five times the gospels tell us that Jesus went alone to pray. Every aspect of his life and ministry was saturated with prayer. The Bible tells us to
pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
We can receive guidance and assurance by developing a daily routine of prayer.
2. We need to embrace the outcasts, disenfranchised, forgotten, neglected.
- Jesus demonstrated the love of God by accepting all the undesirables of society. We need to prophesy not only to those who profess to be Christians, but to those that society has forgotten or rejected.
3. We need to assure people that God can restore broken lives.
- By the power of God’s Spirit, Jesus cast out demons (Luke 4:36), healed broken bodies (Luke 5:17), raised the dead (John 11:1-44), and forgave the sins of the guilty (Matthew 9:6). Jesus knew we have a wonder-working God who delights in restoring lives that seem irrevocably shattered. Jesus saw the people around him as miracles waiting to happen. Jesus proved that God’s power is sufficient to meet every need. And the Scriptures promise us that the same power will work in and through our lives today (Philippians 2:13).
4. We need to confront hypocrisy.
- Jesus demonstrated the heart of God by standing against lifeless religion, ‘religious’ people in name but not in heart. Jesus rejected those who acted in the name of God to hurt others. We need to speak out against those who claim ‘their God’ is full of compassion but profit from the oppressed or rail in words of hatred and guilt.
5. We need to teach God’s Word.
- Unless we don’t stand in a pulpit on Sunday or lead a study group during the week, Many of us do not consider ourselves teachers. We may be tempted to think this commandment to teach from The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) that we heard last Sunday doesn’t apply to us. But teaching simply requires being so filled with God’s Word that it naturally overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us.
6. We must serve.
- Service marked Jesus’ life from start to finish. He served through sacrifice, putting the needs of others above his own. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t have time for people. But God’s work is people! His business is helping a homeless couple find shelter before nightfall. His business is praying with a child for her sick kitty and reading the Bible with a new Christian. His business is pushing a stalled car through the intersection or taking that midnight phone call from a struggling friend.
7. We must equip leaders
- We must provide the support and love to inspire and foster leaders who continue the Christian mission in the world. Following Jesus means passing on the Scriptures to potential leaders, modeling a Christ-focused life and ministry, and helping people identify and prepare for the mission God has designed for them.
So where do we begin?
We must seek the strength and wisdom from God to help equip those around us to do his work: to restore, confront, teach and serve.
- Could you and your children learn to serve the lonely, elderly man at the end of your block—the one the rest of the neighborhood kids avoid? Maybe your son could cut his lawn and rake his leaves. Maybe your daughter could become friends with someone everyone else isolates. Maybe you could take a dinner to someone who is shut-in. That would be like Jesus.
Could you go and visit a colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer? Would you be willing to brave the hospital with its strange smells and sobering realities? Could you even overcome the discomfort of knowing it will seem odd if you show up there because you’re not close friends? Could you do this because Jesus said that when we visit the sick, we visit him?
Could you invite someone who is not from your church or your family over for a meal? What if they sat at your table and you broke bread together, and you learned about them, you listened to them, and you offered them acceptance—even friendship? If this sounds uncomfortable to you, pursue it. Christ lives there.
Being a community that reflects Jesus means we cross the boundaries between our world and the world of the other, the one who is unlike us. It means we remember that our invitation into the kingdom of God was not a call to elitism or safety. It was, and is, a call to enter into an embrace of those who are the furthest from us.
It’s a call to emulate Jesus in the way he lived His life.
Jesus’ brother, James, reminds us to put our thoughts and good intentions to work:
Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well” — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all — it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds. “I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless? (James 2:14-20)
As children of God we are part of God’s ultimate purposes wherever we are. It is a beautiful thing when we as individuals, like Joseph and Zechariah, catch a glimpse of ourselves in the divine picture, seeing our life experiences as part of God’s plan. This perspective is often encountered when reading the autobiographical accounts of those who have undergone great suffering, such as Nelson Mandela, who endured the struggles of apartheid and imprisonment; Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust; and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who withstood Stalin’s Gulag and exile. Knowing we are involved in God’s purposes enables us to see the deeper meaning of life’s challenges, nurturing a more holistic perspective.
Every one of us is intricately related to the working out of God’s ultimate purposes. And catching an awareness of how our lives are involved in God’s bigger purposes can provide tremendous meaning and hope in the midst of the hardships life presents.
Let us pray:
Father, we know that your Son poured out the Holy Spirit upon us when we became a Christian. We know your Spirit lives in us so we ask that you make us strong in that Spirit. We thank you for choosing every day human beings to be your vessels through whom your work is done. May your will and your character take shape in our lives as the Holy Spirit has more influence and control of our will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Delivered at Ohio Episcopal Celebration @ Kenyon, Gambier, OH 24 June 2011