Wednesday, December 16, 2015

None greater but the least in the Kingdom...

Sermon for Advent 3C, preached on Sunday, December 13, 2015.

    John was more than a prophet but at least a prophet.  He was more than a martyr but at least one.  He was more than all the prophets who went before him... but according to Jesus, he is less than the least in the Kingdom of God.  Now there is a paradox.  John was the greatest of those born of women but those in the kingdom of God are greater.  The contrast here is between those born of flesh and blood and those born of water and the Spirit.  This is the paradox of the righteousness given greater than the righteousness earned.  And it causes us to rejoice as we grow closer to the Manger in Advent.
    John is the most excellent of all those born of a woman but the Kingdom of God is born not of woman or the desire of man.  It is God who makes the Kingdom and who makes us members of that kingdom and who clothes us with Christ’s righteousness so that we might be rightly called holy, blameless, and righteous.  God working through water and the Word gives the new birth that clothes us with Christ's holiness and makes us greater than all born of woman.
    The John we meet today is at the end of his life.  His days of galvanizing the attention of crowds and calling a world to repentance to prepare the way of the Lord had given way to the John in prison, alone, wounded, and wondering.  Is Jesus who He claims to be?  Have you ever noticed this question is seldom asked with life is good, when things are going our way?  But when life breaks, we ask it.
    John’s faith is not perfect.  He is not above the thorns of fear and the anxiety of doubt.  He longs for reassurance.  Just like you and I seek confidence in time of test.  Doubts do not depart this life because we believe.  Doubts grow only where there is faith to feed upon.  Not until death silences the old Adam in us will the voice of doubt be silenced and then once for all.  We daily seek certitude in that which we know by faith -- this is what John seeks.
    So we come here week after week the same way John sent his disciples to Jesus – to be reassured in the things he had been taught, the faith he believed, and the peace that alone can comfort us in our weakness, brokenness, and pain.  And what does Jesus say?  It might seem that Jesus points to Himself.  What do you see and here in Me?  But John knew Isaiah and it is to the Word that Christ fulfills that Jesus points John’s doubts.
    What do you see and hear is the call to faith.  John did not see or hear personally the things of which Jesus speaks.  John was locked up in prison, waiting to die.  He was blinded by his own afflictions, shackled by his chains, an untouchable leper in a world the feared religious zealotry, deaf to the voice of hope, dead already with no way out, and without good news to sing about.  Have you ever felt that way?  Does it seem that God gives to others the very things you seek?  Yet Jesus calls John to see not with eyes but with faith that God has not abandoned him and that his time had come.
    The blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor hear good news, and sinners forgiven are all signs of the Kingdom promised by Isaiah.  Jesus was asking John not simply to see with his eyes but to remember the Word of the Lord that endures forever and to look through the lens of trust in God's promises.  How hard it is when you eyes see only your wounds, your doubts, your pain, and your fears!  Faith sees but not with eyes in the head.  Faith sees by the Spirit given trust in the promises and Word of God, by watching and waiting upon the Lord to deliver what He has promised. 
    John lived not live in the leisure of palaces or finery or riches but in the wreckage of sin and in the shadow of death.  Exactly where you and I live.  On one hand, John is like none of us -  the kinsman of Jesus who baptizes and preaches the preparation of the Lord’s way.  On the other hand he is exactly like us.  He lives with troubles, trials, doubts and fears – hoping against hope for that which he sees all around him and in the mirror of his soul and seeking reassurance when what you see with your eyes and what you believe in your heart conflicts.
    Yet his faith endures.  He is no reed bent by the wind of change but planted in grace.  That is the problem with too many Christians.  We are blown to and fro on the wind of change and the next new thing.  John's call is for something more solid -- the Word that endures forever.  Will you join him?  Will you also trust the wisdom of God, wait for His mercy when your eyes do not see what want, and wait for the Lord when time is ticking away?  Will you look at life through the lens of faith, pray always and give thanks in all circumstances? 
    The least in the Kingdom are greater than John not because of what they have done but because of what Christ has done.   Jesus speaks not to disparage John but to lift us up.  Wearing the clothing of Christ’s righteousness, seeing through the lens of faith, humble and righteous by faith, those born of water and the Spirit are declared greatest of all.  YOU are those of whom Christ speaks, for whom Christ came, and in whom Christ lives.  You are great not because of what you do but because of what Christ did.  You are not afraid to pray, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner,” because you know God loves and forgives sinners.  You are not captive to death; your life is now hidden with God until you shed this flesh and blood and are remade in glory!  This is the joy that carries us to the manger and the cross.  This is the cause of our joy that no terrible circumstance of life can overcome.  We belong to the Lord.  God has esteemed us not according to what our eyes see only too well but according to the righteousness in which we were clothed in our baptism.  Pray, brothers and sisters, that we may also see this even more clearly than the things that test, trouble, and tempt us.  Amen!

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