The United Methodist Church has an amazing document entitled This Holy Mystery that outlines our doctrinal and practical understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Maybe you’ve heard of it or even participated in a class where it was taught. I have the privilege of leading a small group in studying this document over the next six weeks.
One of my initial thoughts in approaching this series with a group of lay people is that it might be helpful to blog about it and share it with the wider United Methodist community. Therefore, I invite you to join me for the next few blogs as I process my experience in both studying anew and teaching this fantastic United Methodist resource on sacramental theology.
Spoiler alert: I think it will have a lot to say not only about how we celebrate Holy Communion, but also how we seek to form and be formed as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Session 1: Hungering for the Mystery
An excerpt from the teaching resource written by Gayle Felton:
The story is told of a little girl whose parents had taken her forward to receive Holy Communion. Disappointed with the small piece of bread she was given to dip in the cup, the child cried loudly, “I want more! I want more!” While embarrassing to her parents and amusing to the pastor and congregation, this little girl’s cry accurately expresses the feelings of many contemporary United Methodist people. We want more! We Want more than we are receiving from the sacrament of Holy Communion as it is practiced in our churches.
The resounding response from our group in hearing this story was, “YES!!!”
We began our session by going around the room and naming 1 or 2 words they think of when participating in the sacrament. Some said, “renewed.” Others said, “forgiven.” Still others said, “strengthened and nourished.” Oddly, no one said, “bored.” I wonder how many lay people are sitting in our pews wishing we could celebrate Holy Communion more often. Where I serve, the Walk to Emmaus has served as a great source for helping people find new love for the Holy Communion. A couple of Emmaus alums in our group noted how let down they were in finding that after a wonderful weekend away where Holy Communion was so prominent, they realized just how much their local church kept it off to the side as though was not central to worship.
Frustration was expressed when clergy rush the liturgy, when the table is not carefully and lovingly prepared, when the theology expressed is questionable, and when clergy do not teach on the rich meaning and mystery in the sacrament. The laity all said they wished they heard more about the sacraments. They wished practices matched the deep meaning the sacrament had in their faith lives.
I wonder, too, if the disconnect felt has more to do with what we see as the primary focus of our worship — do we see the sermon as the primary turning point of worship or do we see the Table? For our Anglican brothers and sisters it’s the Table. Sermons are short and normally lead straight to the Table. But we’re United Methodists (and I’m in the South) so preaching and revival-style worship holds a special place in our cultural imagination. Legends are told of the great preachers of our past. Preaching is viewed as a primary skill for the ministry (and it should be).
I wonder if our emphasis on preaching has come at the expense of emphasizing the importance of the sacrament of Holy Communion?
A couple of years ago I did a very informal, unscientific poll on Facebook asking whether or not Communion would lose its meaning and importance if it were celebrated weekly instead of monthly or quarterly. Interestingly my responses were split into two categories — everyone who voted for celebrating MORE often were laity and everyone who noted the difficulty in celebrating more often were clergy. Now I’m drawing my own conclusions but I wonder if that doesn’t have a little something to do with our emphasis on preaching. In other words, do we preachers secretly enjoy knowing that our sermons are the pinnacle of the worship service? Another thought could be that with more observances comes more planning and responsibilities — is it just easier on preachers and worship teams to stay with fewer observances?
But it’s not just a critique of the place and priority we give preaching. Emphasizing the sacraments calls into question how we view worship as a whole. Giving the sacraments a primary place in worship means not only allowing, but inviting mystery to be primary in our worship. This means we have to be okay with not being able to explain our the0logy and rituals in neat, compact ways. It means being okay with allowing the Spirit to move without our putting a formula on how it moves. And it means seeing worship as something more than just entertainment or comfort where style trumps content and we think we can become full off of a steady diet of thin, shallow meaning.
Don Saliers notes that emphasizing the sacraments in such a way as to make the link between ritual, mission, and discipleship will require some change in how congregations approach the sacraments. First, he says, congregations would be forced to teach and learn more about the sacraments on an ongoing basis. We need to teach worship instead of just doing it and expecting that folks get something out of it. But we cannot marginalize the sacraments just because they’re cloaked in some mystery and not easily understood. We can still teach in the midst of mystery. Secondly, Saliers notes, preaching would need to root itself in a sacramental sense of church and world. We cannot simply preach that salvation is found in Jesus’ death. The entirety of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the foundation for our preaching and worship. The liturgy of Holy Communion covers the spectrum of this foundation, invites us to “taste and see,” and then sends us forth in mission as we participation in the fullness of life in Christ. Thirdly, congregations would have to celebrate the sacraments with more vitality and enthusiasm. Baptisms are not meant to be rote and routine. Holy Communion is not a funeral service. We offer ourselves in thanks and praise as we participate in the very life of God’s redeeming action every time we celebrate one of the sacraments. Why would we not want to do this as often as possible???
Question: How does your congregation celebrate Holy Communion? Do you wish you could celebrate more often? How are the sacraments taught in your congregation? Do you wish they were taught more?
Holy Week has begun. It’s a time where we relive and follow the passion of Jesus from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the agony and despair of his final meal with his friends before his death, and then finally to the miracle of the empty tomb on Easter.
It’s a glorious time in the life of the church. By now plans have been made, bulletins are being printed, and the excitement is building toward what should be one of the biggest weekends of the year in the life of the local church.
It’s also the time of year where a special creature emerges from hibernation — the Chreaster.
UrbanDictionary.com defines Chreaster as: Those Christians who only show up to religious services on Christmas and Easter. Maybe it’s family pressure, maybe it’s out of obligation, maybe it’s just habit, or maybe it’s because it seems like the right thing to do, but these are people who attend church twice a year. And we’re about to embark on the second sighting of Chreasters in the last 4 months (or the last sighting until December?).
I’ve had the opportunity to be in a couple of clergy meetings in the last week or so. As you might expect at this time of year, Chreasters are a featured conversation topic. Usually the conversation moves in a predictable pattern. First we bemoan the existence of Chreasters (“you know those people will actually find their way back to church this Sunday…”). And then we talk about the opportunities, challenges, and possibilities of a Chreaster sighting (“What if they actually heard the Good News this time? What if they were inspired to morph into an actual church member? What if…?). As the conversation moves in this pattern, you can just see the clergy in the room licking their chops. They’ve caught the scent of fresh blood in the waters and they’re already imagining scenarios where possibilities become realities. Sermons are being honed to just the right calibration — when we fire our best shot and cast the net, we’re expecting to real in some Chreasters.
What if this Easter, we concentrated less on our hunting strategy and more on sharing in the good news of resurrection together?
I know that may sound crazy to some. We should always be invitational. We should see every Sunday as an opportunity to invite people to change their lives in light of the good news of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t disagree with any of that. It’s vitally important that we be invitational.
But what if we began our sense of being invitational by viewing Chreasters less as creatures and commodities, and more as people made in the image of God? What if we saw Easter less as a hunting expedition and more as a communal experience of resurrection?
You see, the assumption we make in our talk about Chreasters is that we’re a privileged bunch enlightened in the right ways of believing and living and until they join us, they are not. We can’t imagine Chreasters not wanting to join our tribe once they heard about how great it is. We figure all we need to do is get the message right this time, open the doors, and they’ll come running. The truth is, Chreasters come back on Christmas and Easter year after year, they hear the appeal year after year and they still opt out of becoming “one of us.” Maybe it’s not a sales pitch problem at all, maybe there’s a problem with the product they see?
It’s hard to hear that we don’t have it all together. And it’s hard as Christians who are used to seats of power and esteem to hear that we are still in need of grace. Pastors are also notorious for assuming we are wells of knowledge and insight. In all of our preparing, planning, and preaching we forget that we too need to hear the good news of resurrection. It’s not ours to tell, we need to hear it as well. Our churches need to hear it too. Too often we exist week in and week out in a fog of self-denial while we focus all of our energy on our own self-preservation and success. We desperately need to hear again that life does in fact spring forth from death. We need to hear again that God’s plan for the redemption of this world is on the move despite the fledgeling efforts of the Church. And if we’re honest, we should admit that Chreasters aren’t meant to be creatures we hunt as much as they are eyes and ears and voices of the goodness of God outside of our church walls.
What better day than Easter to gather with insiders and outsiders alike to hear the good news that, by the power of God, there is still hope for us all. God is not finished with any of us. This Sunday, may we listen before we speak, look before we judge, and share in the joy of new life together.
Dr. Fred Craddock tells the story of living in a small town where a particular teenage girl had a proclivity for living the wild life. Mind you this girl was wildly talented – she was smart and she should have been heading in great places. But she also had a wild streak. Once she was caught for underage drinking. Another time she was picked up by police for petty theft. Finally she was arrested for drug possession and sentenced to prison for a few months. What her heartbroken parents did not know was that she was also pregnant. So here was their talented and gifted 19 year old daughter, arrested and imprisoned for drugs and pregnant by way of some wild night she doesn’t even remember.
The day came when she was released from jail. You can imagine the buzz in the cul-de-sac neighborhood where her parents lived. Craddock said it seemed like every neighbor had yard work to do that morning – how else would they hang around outside watching that girl’s house when she returned home.
Finally a car pulled into the driveway and the girl emerged holding her newborn baby. The neighbors tried to act like they weren’t watching but how could they peel themselves away from this scene? As she emerged from the car, her mother came running out of the house and down the driveway. She never broke her stride as she swallowed her daughter into her arms. Tears were streaming down her face as she scooped the baby into her arms. Soon other members of the family came rushing out of the house all wading through the chaos of hugs and tears of joy as the reunion party was in full swing. They were to throw a big party that day to celebrate the return of this wayward girl.
Craddock wondered, shouldn’t this girl have come home, hat in hand, and ready to earn her place back in the family? Shouldn’t her parents have been tougher on her? How else would she learn that wild living is destructive and unacceptable?
And in his judgment of these people he confesses that he and his other neighbors all slinked back into their homes. God forbid that family might invite them to their daughter’s welcome home party.
Every young preacher has their firsts. Today was one for me. We’re in the middle of our annual Stewardship Campaign at the church I serve. In the mix of themes, I drew a theme to preach that I’ve never preached on before — money. You should know that I don’t have a single memory of money being preached on in the church I grew up in. Frankly it was sort of treated like politics or sex — you never talk about it in mixed company. So yesterday I preached on the lectionary text for the day (Mark 10:17-31) and geared toward a message on the importance of financial giving.
In preparing for this sermon, I decided to call a couple of friends. I was really having a hard time with what direction to take with the sermon. The truth is, I was struggling with my own personal discomfort in talking about money. Since this is a growing edge for me as a young pastor, I decided it would be a good idea to seek the counsel of 2 friends who are more seasoned than I am and who also serve larger, more wealthy churches (their contexts mirror the one I preach to in this regard). The advice they gave was invaluable.
Here are a couple of big points of advice I used to guide the construction of the sermon:
This sermon was a true learning experience for me. I’m very much a narrative-style preacher who loves stories and creative twists and turns to make a point. But this sermon turned out to be much more practical and straightforward. No stories — just practical talk about money and generosity. It also took a lot of discipline for me because I always want my sermons to be loved by people. The risk you run in this sort of sermon is the “hard truth” might offend someone. However if you’re being true to the text, Jesus is very offensive to our realities. As preachers we spend a good deal of time wanting to be liked, so sermons on money are great opportunities to set that desire aside for a Sunday. The timing also worked well because pledge cards went out in the mail this past week so they were fresh on the minds of the congregation. They also have 2 weeks to consider what that pledge will be before Commitment Sunday. In the future I think I’ll always design a sermon on money a couple weeks before pledge cards are due that way people have some time to think about their pledge before they turn them in. All in all, it was a great learning experience and one I’ll come back to for years to come.
How do you preach on money? What are your “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to preaching on giving?
How can pastors more effectively speak to younger adults through preaching? I asked myself this question after reading an online conversation early Saturday morning. I happened to find a series of tweets from Carol Howard Merritt:
@CarolHoward: Using a John Hughes sermon illustration. Almost cut it our because half of the congregation wouldn’t relate.
@CarolHoward: Made me realize how much I cut out Gen X references. Meanwhile I almost feel like I was alive in the 60s, I’ve heard so much about it…
@CarolHoward: Made me realize how much I cut out Gen X references. Meanwhile I almost feel like I was alive in the 60s, I’ve heard so much about it…
When it comes to sermon illustrations, you use what speaks most clearly to your audience. And if the average age on a Sunday morning at most churches is any indication, then there’s a good chance references from the culture of younger generations will not speak to a majority of listeners. I’m a preacher born in 1982. And I admit that I’ve struggled at times with this dilemma because I know there’s a reference I could use to make a great point that could get lost with a good number of my listeners.
So how can we broaden our base of cultural references in preaching?
Now before I go on, I do want to offer a couple of caveats along with this post:
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about why it’s important to speak to my generation. There’s a great deal of talk in The United Methodist Church about reaching new generations. But if we’re committed to making young people a priority, then preachers need to become students of that generation.
I made a mass appeal for help with this blog post on Facebook. One of the most common responses was something like:
Don’t just throw references out trying to “be cool” or “relevant.” If pastors want to use references from a younger generation, then those references should come out of relationships with younger people.
Make no mistake, if you want younger people plugging into the life of your congregation, then you better be authentic. These sermon illustrations aren’t meant to be cheap appeals to younger adults in an attempt to seem “hip” or “cool” from the pulpit. They are, however, an attempt to be mindful that some of the people you’re ministering with (or hope to minister with) may not get every song reference or cultural nod to the 1960s and early-70s. If you want the gospel to come alive for them, learn more about them, strike up a relationship with them, and then remember to occasionally use references from “their world” to drive a point home in a sermon.
So without further adieu, here’s a working list of cultural references to begin your education:
(This one is tough because the rise of the Internet has created a huge diversity in popular music. But here are a few artists and why they’re important for my generation)
- Nirvana: This band marked the end of the 80s punk/hair band era many Gen-Xers fondly remember. They ushered in a new genre of music known as alternative/grunge. Besides than, the lyrics are pretty poetic.
- Lilith Fair: For many women of my generation, this solidified the identity of the female artist. Keep in mind that this identity is also in tension to the hyper-sexualized image of many current female pop artists. But nonetheless, it was a powerful breakthrough for women in music.
- Reality Show/YouTube Music Stars: Again, I admit this list was the toughest to compile because of the access to so much music due to downloading. But you should keep abreast of the fact that the hottest new artist in music could come from a reality TV show or a viral video on YouTube (granted the odds are they’re more likely to be a “one-hit wonder”). This is an avenue of being discovered that could seem foreign to folks from previous generations. But in the age of the Internet, this process of becoming a star can happen in a moment’s notice.TV Shows
- How I Met Your Mother: It’s quickly becoming an iconic show on what it means to be a 20/30-something in today’s world. The writers are brilliant and cleverly weave a great deal of contemporary culture into the plot lines.
- The Cosby Show: This was the first sit-com on television that depicted an affluent African-American family. This was huge in shaping the worldview of those of us who grew up watching this show. Many of us never knew how taboo this was — it just became normal for us.
- Reality TV: I know many of us wish this genre never came to be. But a well-timed writers’ strike in Hollywood gave enough time for this to become a new normal. Like it or not, you can’t understate the impact on how folks my age view this as impactful.
- The Daily Show/The Colbert Report: In an age where cable news polarizes reporting based on partisan preferences, many young people have turned to master-satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, to offer perspective on current events. The writing staffs for both shows are truly brilliant. In the case of Stewart, many contributors on his show have gone on to become some of the biggest names in comedic acting. Remember these shows are not the major source of news for young adults — they’re funny because they assume viewers already know the news and are looking for a different perspective.Other noteworthy shows currently breaking barriers and/or shaping the genre of television:
- The Office: One of the earliest breaks from the laugh track sit-com style. Brilliant and it trusted viewers to know the funny parts to laugh at
- Modern Family: Another brilliant “laugh track free” show. It’s also a testimony to the complexity of family and the beauty of families who can function despite their defying the nuclear family image.
- Any Show on HBO or Showtime: Shorter seasons and better writing largely due to a freedom from advertiser dollars influencing decisions
- Parks and Recreation: Brilliant female lead to an ensemble cast.
- 30 Rock: Another brilliant female lead to an ensemble cast.
- Up All Night: We’ll see the longevity of this show but it’s become the hot new show for everyone new to having a baby. It’s a cultural marker for new parents and the beauty of DVR is we can watch whenever we want.
- Forrest Gump (ironic that it was set in an era “before our time” and is still such an influential movie)
- Lord of the Rings Trilogy
- Harry Potter
- Most any Will Ferrell movie
- Judd Apatow is writing iconic films at a similar clip to John Hughes
- Trey Parker and Matt Stone: South Park and the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon — need I say more?
Important Historical Events
I got a lot of great feedback on other items as well. For example, many folks mentioned iconic sayings or catch phrases from various television, movie, music, and commercials. All of these things speak to formative pieces of culture that have shaped who we are. If you’re a preacher, then it’s vitally important to be familiar with these things — first for the sake of real relationship, and second in order to connect the gospel to the real lives of younger adults. If we’re serious about reaching out to younger adults in the church, then we better get serious about getting to know them. Otherwise I promise they’ll sniff out the manipulative tactics and do their dead-level best to never, ever grace the doors of our churches.
So why not begin in relationship and allow those relationships to connect in the life of the sermon? You might be surprised what happens when you broaden your base of references, build relationships with new people, and let the gospel speak in new and exciting ways…
Note: This is by no means an exhausted list. Please feel free to add to it in the comment box below!
It’s odd to say, “Thanks be to God,” in response to words like that. You may find it a bit strange that the focus of today’s worship service is about the death of John the Baptist. Maybe it’s odd because in worship we’re used to uplifting messages, soul-inspiring music, and affirming words of faith. God has created, redeemed, and sustained us. Isn’t worship supposed to be a never-ending exercise of praise and warm fuzzies?
Well, we get another perspective today. We gather in this place to worship God and the stench of death is in the air. There’s very little to feel warm and fuzzy about in today’s reading. John the Baptizer is dead. He’s been a pawn in an evil web of manipulation and he’s opened his mouth one time too many. He’s been killed. Not just killed – he’s been beheaded. And we’re left being told that his disciples simply took his body and placed it in a grave. There’s no fanfare. No national day of mourning. Flags will not fly at half-staff. There’s just a tragic death and a quiet burial.
It could be easy to miss the fact that John dies in the Gospels. We’re so quick to want to move forward with the ministry of Jesus that we forget there was one who came before him preaching a message of repentance and healing. In fact, some of John’s disciples would go on to become Jesus’ disciples. Yet we might miss this fact because one of the main points of John’s ministry was to decrease in fame so that Christ might increase. I suppose that’s the way it goes with true prophets.
Mother Teresa was the prophet who served Calcutta – a woman devoted to ministering to the lepers and those forgotten by modern society. Her life was a living testimony to a God who refuses to forget those whom the world might forget about. She died on September 5, 1997. But I’m willing to bet many of you may not remember that because Princess Diana died 6 days earlier. And just like that, the death of this prophetic woman from Calcutta went to the B-section of the newspapers. I’m sure Mother Teresa would have preferred it that way. But that’s just the way it goes for prophets I suppose.
So here we are – gathered to praise God and to witness to our faith as we celebrate the life of John the Baptist. In the midst of death, we gather to celebrate the life and witness of our brother, John.
Maybe you didn’t know John that well? This is common in the church. It’s easy to know someone by reputation. Their story is a part of the greater story of the community. Yet they’re somehow distant from us personally. We know about them but we really don’t know them in an intimate way.
Who was this odd man who lived in the wilderness and preached for crowds on the outskirts of town?
Mark cuts right to the chase and tells us John appeared in the wilderness preaching about baptism, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. Crowds from the whole Judean countryside came to hear this fiery preacher and to be baptized. His liturgical wear was a bit unorthodox for any respectable preacher. He didn’t wear a stately black robe and stole. Instead he wore camel’s hair tied on with a leather belt around his waist. He wasn’t nourished by covered dish suppers. Instead he chose to stay in the wilderness and eat locusts and honey. But he was an amazing preacher – surely a sight to both hear and see.
Matthew tells us John appeared in the wilderness and began to preach a convicting message:
“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”
Luke gives us a little more background on John. He tells us about John’s family of origin. His mother was Elizabeth and his father was Zechariah. You may remember how John’s father was struck mute before John was born. When it came time to name John the family wanted to call him Zechariah. After some discussion the muted father wrote on a tablet – “his name is John.” At that very moment his tongue was loosened and he was able to speak again. The family knew John was something special. Upon being able to speak again, Zechariah began to prophecy about his baby boy:
“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of sins.”
By all accounts, we can agree John was a prophet – a messenger sent by God to proclaim a message. His mission was to come and give a basic sermon to all who would have ears to hear.
John’s message wasn’t unique. That’s the thing with prophets – they have a way of using the work of prophets who came before them. All 3 of the synoptic gospels report that John’s sermon largely consisted of words from the prophet Isaiah:
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
You’ve probably heard something like that before? These words make up a big part of the first scene in Handel’s Messiah. But they’re also the words that helped frame the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. used the prophetic words of John and Isaiah to proclaim a message of justice for all peoples. The words of the prophet are passed from generation to generation – wherever there’s a need for a prophetic word to be spoken. And these words are etched into the collective memory of the people who hear them.
What is it that makes the poetic words of a prophet so timeless? Theologian Walter Brueggemann refers to this phenomenon as the prophetic imagination. The prophetic imagination is an act of seeing the world as it is now but daring to put words on the world as God would have it.
It’s seeing a world where lepers in Calcutta are impoverished and forgotten by society? But the prophet dares to imagine a world where the love of God is made available to even them.
Or it’s seeing a world where race creates division seemingly impossible to get over. But prophet dares to imagine a world where folks are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Or maybe it’s even more basic than these grand examples?
I was in Columbus a couple weeks ago visiting family. I stopped in to McDonald’s to pick up some breakfast for family members. I know that McDonald’s well and have eaten at it many times over the years. This particular morning was no different than any other morning for that busy place. It was slammed as usual.
However it didn’t take long for me to notice this wasn’t your typical busy McDonald’s morning. The line was long but it wasn’t moving. Orders were getting backed up and the folks behind the counter seemed stressed out. I noticed the manager at the register – she was wearing a blue uniform to set her apart from the others in white. She was carefully instructing what looked like a new employee on how to take orders and run the register. I placed my order and casually sat in a booth nearby to wait.
Not long after I placed my order, a well dressed man dressed like he was heading to a high-level meeting came and placed his order. He seemed in a hurry and stood waiting close to the counter. As the line continued to move slowly and orders continued to be backed up, the man began asking how much longer it would take. He grew more and more aggravated as he stood there. Soon he took a call on his iPhone and began explaining to someone I assume was in his office:
“It’s gonna be awhile. These idiots at McDonald’s can’t seem to get their acts together this morning.”
Now mind you he was standing just 3 feet from the counter where the workers were standing. After he hung up the phone he began telling people new to the order line:
“I hope you’re not in a hurry this morning. They can’t seem to get it together back there.”
He grew louder and more rude with each passing minute. Soon my order number was called and I left hot and bothered after witnessing such rudeness. Who did this guy think he was? Did his red power tie go to his head? Was he that self-important that he didn’t have time to treat workers at McDonald’s with an ounce of respect?
I decided to do what any decent person might do after seeing such an injustice – I fired off an angry status update on Facebook.
As I left, I remember seeing a homeless man sitting on the curb near my car. I had this sermon on John the Baptist in mind and I even thought, “You know, I needed that guy to be my John the Baptist – he needed to come in with his wild clothes ranting and raving about repenting of your sins because the kingdom of God is at hand.”
You know it’s easier sometimes to admire prophets from afar. Their work is so amazing it’s just too much to think we could get close to it. So we admire prophets like Mother Teresa through magazine articles and news coverage. We revere prophets like Martin Luther King through the books of history. And we remember great prophets like John the Baptist around the 2nd Sunday of Advent every year.
But the truth is, the prophetic imagination can be a simple as moving outside of your own comfort zone and speaking up when you see someone in a position of service being abused. I didn’t need a John the Baptist at McDonald’s that morning – I should have been the prophet that morning. My own personal comforts and insecurities drove me to silence when I should have spoken a prophetic word. I didn’t do it because I didn’t have the courage to move out of my own life of comfort and witness to the fact that by the power of the Risen Christ, a different world is actually possible.
John’s words 2000 years ago can ring true for us even today. But we need to be bothered in our places of comfort for this to happen. John was preparing a way for the Christ who empowers us to see the world for what it is right now and dare to say it could be different. We can, by the power of God, imagine a world where valleys are exalted and mountains are made low; a world where rough places are made smooth; where lepers in Calcutta are loved with the very love of Christ and where race no longer has the power to make us hate each other; and yes, a world where powerful people have their hearts filled with compassion and where McDonald’s workers are treated with kindness and respect because they’re children of God too.
Here lies our brother, John the Baptizer – A wild preacher from the wilderness of Judea; A man of little means, but whose words continue to inspire all of us to see the world through the very eyes of God. Thank you, Brother John, may we strive to live by your example. Amen.