I listened, with gladness, to Pastor Vic’s sermon yesterday to launch our church into the Advent season. Yesterday, we lit the Prophecy Candle, reminding us that Jesus’ arrival did not appear out of thin air, nor did the early followers of Jesus invent it. God’s purpose and plan was something that was whispered and hinted at from the very beginning.
Vic’s treatment of John the Baptist’s ministry, as it is mentioned in Luke 3, was important for me and for our congregation to consider. John came to give a warning, to prepare a highway through rough and uncertain terrain.
His baptism of repentance was striking in so many ways.
- Only non-Jews were baptized in 1st century Judaism. Outsiders needed to be cleansed in order to participate in the life of the community. John’s urgent call for all to be baptized signaled a clear message: it doesn’t matter what family you were born into; we are all outsiders and we need to think again about how we are living life.
- This baptism was taking place “along the Jordan River” instead of Jerusalem and John believed that this baptism was for the “forgiveness of sins.” That type of transaction was supposed to take place in view of official priesthood in the shadow of Israel’s Temple. But here is John, breaking out holiness in the wilderness. This bold move had political, religious, and economical implications.
I suggest that the heart of John’s critique of Jewish insiders was their presumption for being in Abraham’s family, that their national identity gave them some sort of certainty within the life of God. John is clear, the fruit of one’s life is the determining factor of whether or not one is located within this community.
Presumption is a powerful force. A man can presume that he and his spouse have a romantic relationship because they sleep in the same bed and share meals together. A mother can presume to have a good relationship with her child because they “talk” everyday. A worker can presume to have a certain standing within a company because he has worked their for a certain amount of years.
Those outside of the faith struggle with the sins of pride claiming that they don’t need a god in order to have an ultimate ground of being.
Those inside the faith struggle with sins of presumption, claiming that affiliation is the same as participation.
John’s riverside chats are haunting and I must admit that his message stings and spooks. As not only a religious person but also a professional Christian, John’s words have pointed me to Paul’s haunting words to the Corinthian church,
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
May our craving to inhabit the life of Jesus exceed even our desire to be affiliated with the community of faith.
May God see us as faithful servants, not merely enthusiasts.