Archive for December, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

John The Baptist  Revd. Martin Dale

Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence

Story: A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy and he was set the following problem to solve.

You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.

On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby.

Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured.

You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in the USA.

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.

Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.

Another man is crying for help, having been blown in the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take.”

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote,

PAUSE

I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”

But just as that wouldn’t do for the policeman so we as Christians we can’t duck our responsibilities either

We are often called to swim against the tide of public opinion.

Jesus certainly did – and so did the subject of our Bible reading this morning – John the Baptist.

And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).

John was an important figure for the early Church.

John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:

1. In his lifestyle

2. In what he taught and

3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.

1. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle

While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.

John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.

He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.

When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:

But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)

There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle

He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans. He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success. St Matthew records that

John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)

While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.

2. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching

John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade

He was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.

There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.

Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.

We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance. And He was quite a tough preacher.

When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:

You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves ” We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:8-9)

I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!

The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law – as they saw it – would make them fit children for God

But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught

What comes out of a man’s heart and not what goes in is that which pollutes him,” (Mt 15:17-18 paraphrased) Jesus once said.

And God speaking through the writer of the book of Proverbs inn the Old Testament said this:

26 My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways, (Proverbs 23:26).

John’s message was tough – he didn’t mince his words – and inevitably this brought him into conflict with the authorities – which in this case was the local king Herod Antipas.

For Herod, John overstepped the mark once too often when he condemned Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s wife. And so Herod threw John in prison.

And prison in those days was not at all comfortable. Prisoners had no human rights and generally were dependant on friends and relations for the very food they ate.

3. And the final way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his fearlessness of men

He didn’t chicken out when the going got tough.

John, I am sure could have extradited himself from prison if he had simply found a formula to allow Herod to marry Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife.

And even great men of God bowed to such temporal pressure.

Story: One of the blots on the career of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther – was his acquiescence to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hess.

In 1530, at the height of the Reformation in Germany – and where the Protestant cause was at its most vulnerable, Philip of Hesse organised the secular Protestant forces of the Reformation into

what was known as the Schmalkaldic League.

This alliance was set up to protect their religious and secular interests against interference from the Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperor

On 11th December 1523 Philip married Christine of Saxony the daughter of an important ally George Duke of Saxony.

However Christine has been described by contempory sources as sickly and unattractive – and was reputed to have a drinking probem.

So it wasn’t very soon after the marriage that Philip committed adultery with the daugther of one of his sister’s ladies-in-waiting, Margarethe von der Saale.

And he wanted to marry her.

The matter was discussed with the great German Reformers, Luther, Methancthon and Bucer.

It was only when Philip threatened to side with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestant Schmalkaldic league if he didn’t get his own way, that the Reformers gave in.

They agreed that – rather than follow Henry VIII and have a divorce – they would sanction a bigamous marriage which took place on 4th December 1540, between Philip and Margarethe.

To the eternal shame of the Reformation

Had John the Baptist been asked his opinion, I am sure he would have condemned it.

Such was the courage and integrity of the man.

And John’s brave outspokenness eventually cost him his head.

Conclusion

John the Baptist’s story reminds us that being a Christian will not always be easy.

There will be tough decisions to make that might lead us to be unpopular.

Yet the story of John is not given to us to show us a way to earn our salvation – because we can’t.

All of us still have to come through the Cross of Jesus.

Even John the Baptist – a Great and Godly man as he was – could only enter the Kingdom through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For the Kingdom of God is made up – not of those who in their own goodness try to enter it – but ofn those who are clothed in the blood of Jesus.

For in human terms John was special – but this needs to be kept in perspective – as Jesus said:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the very least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (Lk 7:28-29)

However, once we are saved John was a great example for us to follow in Christian living.

But John’s life reminds us that we must have integrity in our lives.

We must be willing to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives – even if it eventually costs us our head. That is quite a challenge.

First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord and saviour Jesus Christ our righteousness. Amen.

            The light of peace. There’s a room full of boys at bedtime. A bit of noise, a bit of mucking around and suddenly the lights turn on. Peace descends on the room as they all stop and get to bed. This is the truth we have heard today, the Son of Man, Jesus, will come in glorious light to bring peace to the whole world and deal with all evil. The light of God’s temple will be lifted above all things so we can look to it for the truth, like those old clocktowers telling the time. He will bring you peace, all of us, and we will walk in the Light of the Lord, His ways, not ours. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

            It’s not my power or your way that everyone will flock to, as Paul (Romans 13:14) writes, don’t think about how to gratify the desires of your flesh, rather clothe yourself with Jesus Christ. It’s His way that brings peace, and Jesus is a perfect example, saying to the Father, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42) These desires, when we feel we just need to have this one thing, wine, chocolate, sex, our own way; when we dwell on these things and how to get them, we live as if Christ is not in us and we are not in Him. As Paul puts it, we are sleep in the faith. This new life you have through baptism into Jesus by the Holy Spirit is a life that is focussed on Him. It’s a focus like the moth to the light, it doesn’t care that it just ran into the wall, it only cares about the light. When you worry about fulfilling your desires, you stress and often sin forgetting Christ is our light, our focus, then feeling your guilt you have no peace. But to be clothed, or in Christ, is to live according to His life, not according to our often plainly selfish desires. It’s not about, ‘what do I want?’ rather it’s ‘What has Jesus done? And what does He want?’. This is what it means to walk in the light of the Lord, to put on Christ, so that when others see you they see Jesus.

            Now we know, when Jesus comes again, everyone will see and He’s gonna sort out everything. Last week we were reminded that those who are in Christ, and you are, He promised you this in Baptism, those who are in Christ are already judged righteous (John 3:18; Romans 8:1). So when the end comes you have nothing to fear, the New, peaceful and holy Creation awaits. Yet now and here while we wait for this final fulfillment of God’s promises, the advent of His Son, right now we can live the new life we have been given, to live in the light and peace we already have by God’s Amazing grace! It’s not the time for rest, we are the saints in warfare. Paul writes the armour of light not the PJs. It’s the time to fight against the devil, against our sinful desires, time to pray and listen to God’s Word, the time to encourage one another in the faith, to talk about Christ’s work in our lives and to point each other to the light of Christ and to receive His peace. Now while we wait, it’s the time for action not for sleep. So keep watch, for we do not know the time when Jesus will come to bring ultimate light, truth and deep lasting peace.

            This peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, as we wait and into eternity. Amen.

Joseph Graham.