Monday, January 11, 2016

Wild John

Luke 3:15-22
January 10, 2016 Upper Rogue UMC

Everybody had heard about John. Talk about him, and the coming judgment of God, was on everyone's tongue, and folks from all over were flocking to the lower Jordan valley to hear him; and even be baptized by him. Nobody seemed to know much about him, except that he was apparently of the tribe of Levi. Rumors said that he was the child of he priest Zechariah an his wife Elizabeth who was far beyond child bearing years when he was born.

John was wild and unrestrained in his preaching. Unlike the Priests and scribes from the temple who urged us to remain under Rome's rule until God intervened: John proclaimed that God was intervening now, and we had better be ready! Personally I didn't see any signs of God's intervention. Tiberius was keeping a tight rein on us through Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip was ruler of the territory of Iturea and Trachonitis; and Lysanias was ruler of Abilene. Roman soldiers were everywhere, and so were the tax collectors. Between taxes to Rome and tithes and taxes to the temple, most of us were lucky to have enough to eat. It sure didn't seem like a Godly involvement to me. Maybe his diet of locusts and honey was getting to him. My friend Levi joked that his camel hair coat was giving him a brain itch.

Whatever the reason, I guess John saw things differently. He went throughout the whole territory of the Jordan River, preaching, "Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive your sins.... Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel! Fill every valley, level every mountain, make the winding road straight! Smooth over the rough paths and get ready. The whole human race will see God's salvation!' " A lot of us thought he was talking about getting the road to Jerusalem ready for God's army. To prepare an entryway to the city that was fit for a king. But John wanted more than that. At least he did on the day my friend Levi and I went out to see for ourselves what he was up too.

We got there just in time. With all the fuss about him the Priests and Levites had sent a delegation from Jerusalem to find out just who this John was. Just as we arrived, John was calling them a “brood of snakes who were running from the fires of judgment.” When the Jews asked him, "Who are you?" John didn't refuse to answer. He told them clearly, "I'm not the Messiah." So They asked him, "Well, are you Elijah?"
"No, I'm not."
Then they asked, "Are you the prophet?"
Finally they asked: “Then Who are you and what do you say about yourself?"
John said, "I'm a voice crying out in the desert, 'Make the way for the Lord straight,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

Because he was baptizing people, something we usually do only to make someone ritually pure, like the Essenes do, the Pharisees asked John why, if he was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, he was baptizing, he responded: "I baptize you with water. But the one who is more powerful than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie his sandal straps. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
He went on to tell us that it wasn't enough to be descended from Abraham: “God can raise up descendants of Abraham from these stones.”
Luk 3:10-14 The people asked him, "What are we to do, then?" (11) He answered, "Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it." (12) Some tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what are we to do?" (13) "Don't collect more than is legal," he told them. (14) Some soldiers also asked him, "What about us? What are we to do?" He said to them, "Don't take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay."

After a whole bunch of people cried out their sins and were baptized by John, a fellow named Jesus showed up. A few of he folks knew him, or at leas knew of him. He was a carpenter from Nazareth, the Son of Joseph and Mary. One fellow standing close by said: 'Well, this is no surprise. I grew up with that guy” he said pointing at Jesus, “He's a lot more religious than the rest of us. He never missed a Sabbath class or a festival. Sometimes he even knew the scriptures better than the Rabbis.” But when this Jesus stepped into the river to be baptized it surprised John who said: "I need to be baptized by you. Why are you coming to me?"
We couldn't hear most of what they said to each other, but they talked together for quite a while before we heard Jesus say:"This is the way it has to be now. This is the proper way to do everything that God requires of us." Then John gave in to him.

That's when things got spooky. As Jesus came up from the water, the sky was suddenly covered in heavy, dark grey clouds that darkened the sun. Then, with what sounded like a loud clap of thunder, the clouds separated, and a dove flew down and landed on him as a loud voice came from above the clouds: "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him." And then Jesus just wandered off into the wilderness.

I sure didn't know what that was all about, and neither did Levi. We wondered and talked about what had happened as we walked back home. Later we learned that John had accused Herod of adultery for marrying his brother's wife, Herodias, and had been put in prison for it. As for Jesus, we heard that he began wandering around Galilee preaching and healing the sick, the lame and the blind. There were a lot of stories, I don't know if they were true or not, about his performing miracles. It was said he had turned water into wine at a wedding, that he had fed 5000 plus people with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. Other stories told how he had stilled a storm on the lake, and how he had driven out demons, given sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. It was even said that he had healed 10 lepers without even getting close to them. That was the kind of stories that circulated for the next few years. Then, one Passover, the priests final managed to quiet him. They manipulated the crowd to call for his crucifixion, and had the Romans execute him.

But you know, the story didn't end there; in fact it was just getting started. Jesus' followers left Jerusalem and went all over the world with the news that he had risen from the dead, and that, through him we are now forgiven, restored, and reconciled with God. And like Jesus, they were healing people and working other miracles; and, like John, they were urging us to be baptized. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think maybe John was right when he said God was intervening, maybe God just wasn't intervening the way we thought he would. And I guess that means that when Jesus returns, and his disciples say he will, folks then probably won't recognize it either. In the meantime though, I would suggest that you do as John advised:
Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins. " "Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it." "Don't collect more than is legal," he "Don't take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay."
And above all else, do as Jesus said: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' and 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'

If we all did this, the Kingdom would surely come.

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