Sermons That Work

A Wild and Woolly Call, Epiphany 1 (C) – 2004

January 11, 2004

Today we find John Baptist at the River Jordan, where he preached repentance, baptized Jesus, and admitted how much greater Jesus was than he. John’s is a story of such great significance that we hear parts of it every year — twice, sometimes three times.

John Baptist was quite a character — wild and woolly, wearing a camel’s hair coat with a leather belt, eating grasshoppers and wild honey. He was a rough and tough preacher who issued a clear and strong message about repentance. He called some of his hearers a brood of vipers. He talked about retribution to come. He screamed about those who fell short of the goal of God’s kingdom as so much garbage to be thrown into a fire.

John admitted that his message was different from Jesus’ John’s preaching, strong as it was, produced, in the long run, merely a watered down version of what Jesus sought for all God’s people. John’ s message was one of fear — a strong motivator that often brings about desired results. But we might well ask whether his tactics were as likely to be permanent. Will the change he could effect with his method continue after the threat?

John said he came to baptize with water, while Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The difference is that John the Baptist’s way is workable for the short-run, but it is not the ultimate way God provides.

John and Jesus, juxtaposed in the rich events that took place long ago at the River Jordan, offers us a good comparison- a comparison between the superficial and immature kind of short-run solutions demanded by John the Baptist and the more lasting and deeper, long-run solutions suggested by Jesus.

John the Baptist’s short-run way is one of invoking fear compared with Jesus long-run way of encouraging love. John’s short-run way of threats compared with Jesus’ long run-way of attraction- of reaching out to little children, eating with sinners, touching lepers, always wooing people into loving God and their neighbors.

Compare the short-run way of the Ten Commandments, with Jesus’ long-run command to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Compare the short-run, child-like way of memorizing bible quotes and literal views, with the long-run way of openness and unlimited hearts that are inquiring and discerning.

The short-run way is severe and legalistic, while the long-run view is peaceful and forgiving. The short-run way is exclusive and the long-run way is inclusive. The short-run way limits people, while the long-run way frees people, releasing them to develop their potentialities, assuring them that failure is not the end — that the price for our sin has ultimately been paid by Jesus death on the cross.

This is the crux of matter, isn’t it? In the short-run, John the Baptist can call us to certain specific actions. He can motivate us into Godly actions by means of threat and fear. But in the long run, God reveals a better, yet more difficult way-the way of Jesus.

Jesus frees us to be bold in our living. He releases us to move and act in life as if what we do really matters. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who understand that they will never be saints if they dare not take the risk of being sinners as well

Jesus calls us forth, woos us, love us into committing the actions of our faith — actions toward people in need. Jesus calls us toward values significant enough to wager our lives and souls on others. Jesus calls us to accept his truth and live it out — the truth that in following him courageously and with commitment we can surely find our true selves.

If you are searching your heart for some such values — if you are wondering where you can fix your heart so that you can find your true self — look no further than the words our church offers, the commitments of the Baptismal Covenant; these commitments which we have pledged to fulfill in word and carry out in action — with God’s help:

  • To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
  • To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
  • To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
  • To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
  • To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

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Christopher Sikkema


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