Here’s what gets me about God…
Because of course we know the things that our faith teaches us to be true. You know: God is before the beginning and after the end. With their own hands, God makes everything living. The breath of the Spirit is the breath in our own bodies. She is omniscient and omnipresent. His power is his mercy.
We have learned the theories and attributes that our faith teaches us about God, and any one of those will blow your mind if you think about it for a minute. But here’s what gets me…
The LORD our God wants something.
There’s something in the Holy Spirit that trembles with possibility! It’s not just that God made the world; it’s that he was squealing with delight when he saw you become you. It’s not just that God’s power is forgiveness; it’s that her own heart breaks when our hearts break. Did you know that your pain can bring God to tears! It never ceases to knock me down.
God looks at the world and loves this world, and the Author of our Salvation feels a yearning in their own being, and the sky opens and the chaos splashes, and God wants something. God looks at us and says Oh yes! You are mine… I love you.
If you ever find yourself longing to reconnect with the fiery dreaming of God, you might find it energizing to read the passages featuring John the Baptist.
He’s a guy who lives in the wilderness and eats locusts and wild honey. He probably goes for days without sleeping, and writes aggressive poetry at four in the morning, and has strong opinions on composting, and he’s not afraid to be a little smelly. This is what I’m guessing.
What we know is that John speaks with the flash of the Holy Spirit in his eyes and the thunder of God in his words. It’s like the fault where God’s heart breaks is the same fault that cuts right through John’s heart. So it’s no wonder he’s furious. I mean John finds the light in the old, dusty words of the prophets, then he shines the light —calling the people to repent!— calling the people a brood of vipers!
It’s no wonder. See John’s dream for the world is to keep in front of us God’s dream for the world. It is something of a wonder that the people show up to hear him… like they know he’s telling the truth and something in them is desperate for the truth.
What happened was the Jewish people were living in a world threatened by multiple forces of oppression. You’ve got Herod on the throne as the leader of the Jewish people. (This is the son of the Herod who was out to get Baby Jesus.) This Herod is also a problem! Then you’ve got the Roman Empire occupying the region so your own neighbors are tax collectors and soldiers.
There’s violence on top of economic exploitation, and into this world, John comes out preaching! It’s no wonder that he is filled with the rage of the LORD —this world is not the kingdom of heaven! It might be the opposite.
I mean, he yells right at them: Don’t think that by getting baptized you’ll escape the wrath of God! And the people don’t say: Ummm…. maybe we’ll keep looking for a faith community that feels a little more normal. No. Even the tax collectors and the soldiers come to hear John preach!
The people say: Okay. If God is about to launch a revolution, how can we help? What then should we do?
So John stops yelling. He takes a breath, then he tells them: If you have two coats, give one to someone who has no coat. Same thing with food. If your job is to collect taxes, don’t join in the scheme to take a little extra. If your job is to work for the empire, don’t use intimidation to get what you want.
The Bible says the people heard the Gospel and were filled with expectation. It’s like the people were desperate to imagine that it doesn’t have to be like this. The Messiah is coming! God is dreaming of something more…
But today’s story ends with a warning. The Holy Spirit is pouring onto the scene. Tensions are rising. Herod is on the throne. John gets thrown into prison. Jesus gets baptized and thrown into the wilderness. And no kidding about that revolution. God looks at this world, and loves this world, and wants something!
You and I know, in our world, people are enduring multiple layers of oppression. It’s not just poverty. It’s poverty compounded by racism compounded by prison. It’s not just environmental destruction. It’s environmental destruction compounded by corporations exploiting workers compounded by no affordable health insurance. It doesn’t take much to be crushed.
Wrapped up in these systems of oppression, there’s an increasing spiritual hunger. We know that living is not just existing. It’s not being able to perform the Eight Activities of Daily Living to your doctor’s satisfaction. It’s not “three hots and a cot.” Living means you want something.
It could be that our own longing for our lives meets up with God’s longing for the world. It could be that somewhere in our soul we’re desperate to imagine how this world could find healing and peacemaking. Why on earth would people tolerate being yelled at by a prophet, getting threatened and called names?! Only maybe we know the answer because we’re after the same thing:
Tell us how the world we’re living in is not inevitable. Tell us how the kingdom of God is possible! Tell us how we can help.
If I were preaching eight years ago, I would’ve told you, this is why young people come to church. Sure there are a thousand reasons why young people don’t come to church. Anybody can see that. The reasons why they do are far more exciting!
They come because there are adults who get to know them and care for them. They come to see how their dream for the world rises into harmony with God’s dream. They come to church because there are actual things to do to help. Here will you care for children in the nursery, will you make music… If you have two coats, will you give one to our neighbor who walks to the Food Pantry every week and has no coat.. We need your help!
Now if I were preaching eight years ago, I would’ve told you this is why young people come to church. Now I know better. Now I know this is also why older people come to church. It really might be what all of us are doing here.
So look, I know there’s worry in the church these days. We’re worried about the number of Youtube views, we’re worried about the budget, we’re worried that people have gotten used to not coming to church so when the day comes, what if they choose not to come back… I hear you. A lot of us who love the church are worried, but what if there is something more? What if there’s actually a threat greater than the question of how the church will bounce back…
It could be this: There are people who are giving up. There are people who are looking at what’s happening in the world, and the most they can muster is resignation that’s beginning to melt into despair. They have no reason to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way! They don’t see how God imagines a world of generosity and justice. And you and I know, this is not their fault.
Nobody’s showed them what it looks like to realize: The kingdom of heaven is not an underfunded school system, no kidding. But there’s absolutely something of the kingdom of heaven in sitting with an eight-year-old in fellowship hall and watching her spend minutes working out the words of a sentence. Then she gets it! And her whole being lights up, and there’s not an angel in heaven who is not cheering for her. But not everybody gets to see this.
It could be that the church is proving to you: there’s something you can do that will turn the world toward love. It could be the church is sounding the chord where the desire of your own heart comes into harmony with the dreaming of the Holy Spirit. And see there are people in our lives who do not have this. All I’m saying is if our faith is renewing your hope, if our church is renewing your hope, then oh my friends.
You have two coats. You know someone without a coat.
In these days, the Holy Spirit is pouring out upon the world, and it’s my job to inform you that the Gospel does not give us the words that assure our safety. The Gospel gives us the words that call us to life.
God looks at the world and loves this world, and the sky opens, and the chaos splashes, and God wants something. The LORD looks at us and says Oh yes! You are mine… I love you. Then the Gospel leaves us with Herod on the throne and political tension rising. (Try to imagine.) John gets thrown into prison. Jesus gets thrown into the wilderness. We’re about to find ourselves thrown into the trouble, charged with the love of God, and I can’t say anything to stop that.
But I will borrow words from my friend Kerri who directs the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Now she has all the prophetic wisdom of John the Baptist, but instead of calling people a brood of vipers, she’s been going around telling everybody this: “It is for these days that you have been baptized.”1Rev. Kerri Parker, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches Even last Wednesday.
It is for these days that we have been baptized.
You’ve got this.
|Rev. Kerri Parker, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches