The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s094g05 Lockleys Advent 3 11/12/2005
"among you stands one whom you do not know" John 1.27
As I read these words, of the authorities interrogating John, asking: "are you the prophet?" I thought of the saying of Jesus: "We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn." Matthew 11.17 There are just some situations where you cannot win. Here was John the Baptist, being questioned by the authorities, and one can "feel the venom" in their interrogation. Why was he baptising? Was he suggesting that there was something deficient about their religion? "Who are you?" Are you daring to question our monopoly on the truth? "Let us have an answer for those who sent us!" In other words, don't blame us; it is others who are angry! Nevertheless he must justify himself and his actions.
Again we see the paradigm of the religious to denigrate anyone who is different. And it is not just the hierarchy. Those who thought that they had some special status in life are put out when Jesus considers people other than themselves.
So the orthodox crowd is scandalized that Jesus decided to eat at the house of Nicodemus. Those who grew up with Jesus, those could name his family and worshipped in the same synagogue of Jesus, wanted to kill him because he mentioned that God cured the foreign Naaman the leper rather than those in Israel. The synagogue leader wanted the crowds to bring their sick to Jesus on a day other than the Sabbath. The Jewish faith did not permit Jesus to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well. It was the Samaritan who helped the Jew who fell among the thieves, not his fellow countryman. And the leaders of the Church are not immune. The disciples wanted to turn away the parents bringing the children for Jesus to touch.
The consistent reason given by those responsible for Jesus being killed was a charge of blasphemy, (Matthew 26.65, Mark 14.64, Luke 22.71 & John 19.7) and I am not suggesting that the words of scripture are incorrect here. I would simply say that this is their excuse for having Jesus killed. Most often Jesus was silent before his accusers, he was put into a situation where he could not win. The outcome was predetermined, because they were scandalized that Jesus associated with people other than themselves.
It happened to Jesus and it happened to John the Baptist. The charge of being someone great gave them a convenient excuse to dismiss him as irrelevant. John, in his answer, points away from himself to someone else, Jesus. He knows the trap being set for him.
But what I want to say today is that among us as well, stands someone we do not know, someone of God. I am not actually talking about myself, as the priest in this place. God has not and does not leave us without people to show us the way, and that way curiously is towards other people. Since I have begun seeking to move to another parish or position, I have also started some writing, based on the premise that our atonement with God has always been, is, and always will be intimately related to our atonement with other people. When I get further down the track, perhaps this might form the basis of a thesis or a book.
If we actually believe that we are the body of Christ, then we can expect that we and all people will find encouragement in this place.
I invite us all to look around us and see in the other people here, people who can encourage us, people who can make a positive contribution in our lives, people who can contribute to our perception of truth. I know this as I have been among you. I know that some here have found encouragement from me, and that has certainly been reciprocal.
At this stage in the gospel account John the Baptist hadn't met Jesus; that came later. Yet still he points those who question to look around them. If they care to take his advise, they will not be disappointed.
John the Baptist invites us to look at the people God has put around us, not accidentally, but quite deliberately, that we might be encouraged, that we might learn, that we might come to the fullness of life. We too are invited to look around us and in our personal relationships find the risen Christ and God's blessing.
The invitation to look is the invitation to be a disciple; for we will only follow where Christ has gone before.
This very act of looking brings peace because we are seeing others appreciatively rather than critically.
By contrast, the people who interrogated John the Baptist and later Jesus, looked at those around them critically. They actually cut themselves off from the mass of humanity who they considered were beneath them, and so failed to see and find Jesus who was there among that mass of ordinary humanity.
Their refusal to look beyond themselves brings anything but peace.
So the invitation to seek the Christ in the people around us, is to us as well. Do we want life in all its fullness, or do we think that we've got it all already? It might seem that those who interrogated John the Baptist and later Jesus ought to have been content with what they had. After all it was they who were in the positions of power and authority in the pecking order of the society of the day. It was they who thought that they had it all. But their anger reveals the truth of their very real discontent, their actual poverty and insecurity.
The invitation to look for the risen Christ among us therefore has both personal and corporate benefits, and when one realizes that both of these are true, we can be fairly certain this is of God.
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