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What Would Happen If John the Baptist Stood in Today's Pulpit?
Preparing for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: One Day before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 14
Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:13-21, 29-31
Gospel: John 10:11-21
Psalter: Psalm 51:1-10
Old Testament: Genesis 8:20—9:7
Gospel: John 10:11-21
We praise your abiding guidance, O God, for you sent us Jesus, our Teacher and Messiah, to model for us the way of love for the whole universe. We offer these prayers of love on behalf of ourselves and our neighbors, on behalf of your creation and our fellow creatures.
Look! He comes up like clouds,
his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles—
woe to us, for we are ruined!
O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness
so that you may be saved.
How long shall your evil schemes
lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:13-14)
When I read the Prophet Jeremiah, he reminds me of John the Baptist. The people of Judah could not handle Jeremiah. The leaders of Israel in Jesus’ day did not appreciate John and his message. I wonder how many congregations today would tolerate John the Baptist as their pastor? Before we even get into the substance of his preaching, can you imagine how the folks in the pews would react to a guy who dressed as shabbily as he did? Moreover, who would invite him over for dinner being such a picky eater. Some individuals are meat and potatoes kind of persons, while John was into the locust and wild honey diet. What congregation wants such a strange pastor?
But even if people could get past his attire and eating habits, what would be the response to his preaching? Is it possible to imagine starting a sermon by calling your listeners a “nest of snakes?” There is little comfort in John’s words, little to calm the human spirit. “Get your act together!” says John. “Bear the kind of fruit in life that shows you are indeed as repentant as you say you are. Judgment is coming,” John warns. “The axe is being swung with mighty force at the trunk of the tree. If the tree is not bearing good fruit, it will cut down and thrown into the fire!”
Moreover, John is not content to speak in vague generalities of what repentance actually means. When asked for specifics by the people, he responds with specifics. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” The scoundrel tax collectors are not let off the hook either— “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” And John insisted to soldiers charged with the duties of keeping order in daily life, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (John is indeed a brave man.)
What nerve this desert wild man has to stick his nose into everybody’s personal business! Why doesn’t he limit his preaching to the big and important things we all need to hear like how much God loves us and how his grace is without limit and how forgiveness is always available. No one wants to hear about judgment and to be told what they should do with their money. John even has the gall to get political by telling Herod that his sex life is immoral! Doesn’t he know that what Herod does in his bedroom is his own business! He is, after all, a consenting adult. No wonder Herod threw him in jail. That’s what you get when you start meddling. If John thinks he is going to have any kind of following, he going to have to tone it down a bit and speak nicely; after all, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Oh, wait... John did have quite a following among the common folk, even though he didn’t always say nice things. It was the powerful and status quo who opposed him. So, if John (or Jeremiah for that matter) were here today and could preach in our churches, how would we respond to the preaching of this not so nice person? Would we take heed or would we have too much to lose to listen to him?
PRAYER: Redeeming Sustainer, visit your people and pour out your strength and courage upon us, that we may hurry to make you welcome not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in your name. Amen.
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