John, the Baptist
I have always found John the Baptist intriguing. An eccentric, iterant preacher out in the wilderness. There is something so authentic about this man who seems very unconcerned with material things and conventional life but is steadfast in receiving and sharing the message the Divine has given to him. His focus is laser sharp. His delivery is no-nonsense. His passion is contagious. And his deep belief in what he is preaching is palatable.
This is what draws the crowds to him. They are not drawn to a smooth-talking, polished, glad-handing, man of prestige and power. They are drawn to his deep convictions which causes the people to follow him and to want to know more. They are seeking to believe in what he believes in. They want to experience his certainty and the vision of the Divine he has set before them.
As the Gospel narratives point out, there were many who wondered if the Messiah of which the prophets foretold was John. And here is where I find John the most compelling. John has disciples of his own, in the sense of what that word generally means--someone who sits at the feet of another to learn. Yet, John never lets ego get in the way of his mission. Until the tragic end of his life, John’s mission never wavers. It was to point people to the only One who would ever be fully human and fully Divine and could bring salvation to the world.
When John was preaching and teaching in the desert, he was living in the not-yet moment. While it would only be a few short years until the Son of God would be teaching, preaching, and performing miracles, John headed out into the wilderness to proclaim that he had been called to help prepare the way. The world had not fully realized the power and presence of Christ.
John asked those who gathered to hear him preach, those who would be baptized by him, and those who would give up everything to commit their lives to the mission to be vigorous in their pursuit of the holy. He was asking them to use their holy imagination to consider a world God imagined for them. He implored his followers not to simply languish in the “not yet” waiting, but to actively move the mission and the vision forward until the time when Jesus would come and dwell among them…among us.
In this week’s lectionary gospel text, Luke 3:7-18, we encounter a powerful interchange between the listeners and the preacher. After hearing John preach in which he has challenged them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance,” the crowd asks, "What then should we do?"
John’s response reveals once again the clarity of his mission and of those who will ready themselves for the receiving of Jesus. When the general people in the crowd ask, “What shall we do?” he commands them to be generous with one another, making sure no one has need. ("Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise." Luke 3: 11). When the tax collectors, those who have power and authority over others, ask, “What should we do?” he commands them not to misuse their power. (“Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Luke 3:13) And when the soldiers, those who are commissioned to oversee and protect the well-being of the people, ask, “What shall we do?” he commands them to live out their calling without looking for ways for it to benefit themselves. ("Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages." Luke 3;14)
John knows the fulfillment of God’s promises to bring forth the fulness of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ requires each person to act. This was true then, and it is certainly true now.
As the Church faces many changes and uncertainties and ponders its role and relevance in the world, perhaps the question we would be well to ask ourselves, “Well, what shall we do now?” and then lean into the voice which continues to cry out in the expansiveness of God’s creation and created order.
The response will be what it has always been. Live in a way that you are preparing for the way of our Lord to come into the lives of all people. Be kind and generous with one another. Do not misuse your power but rather use your power, voice, and influence to make sure no one has need. Be accountable to all those with whom you share this earth to also know hope, peace, love, and joy. And receive, trust, and believe in the One who can bring salvation to the world.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister