By Pastor Steven Molin (John the Baptist enters in ragged clothing, singing “On Jordan’s Banks the Baptists Cry”)
Where are the children? I had heard there were children singing today and I am surprised that they are not here. I like children; they are more honest than most adults I know, but alas, I am stuck with you today. Don’t start with me; I’ve been called bold, cranky, mean-spirited and obnoxious by much better people than you! And I suppose I am all those things. Perhaps you would be too, if you had to wear scratchy clothing, and eat grasshoppers, and live in a place that looks like Wyoming without the mountains. And you’d be upset to if your middle name was “the.” So here I am.
John’s the name, baptism’s my game. I spent my life in the wilderness, telling people that the Messiah of God was coming. Oh, the crowds that came out to the Jordan River were astonishing; people whose lives were a mess. I preached a radical message of repentance, telling them to turn around their lives and prepare to receive God. Many did; they waded into the frigid waters and gave their lives to God.
But others were imposters who were drawn by the star power of the Messiah. I saw through them right away; I called them “snakes” and “vipers” and the lowlife that they were. They thought I was he; that I was the Savior of the world, and they wanted to rub up against me and gain some favor with God. “Was I the Messiah? Was I Elijah? Was I a prophet?” Heavens no, I told them, I was none of these things. I am merely a voice calling out “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make your paths straight, fill in the potholes of your lives, get rid of the ruts, and make it like the King’s Highway.” When they resisted, I sent them away empty-handed.
But alas, I think I have been misunderstood all these years. I suppose today, I am the one who has come to repent; repent, if my words were misspoken or misunderstood by those who could not grasp what I was trying to say.
And here is where I will begin; by telling you that my message was indeed radical, for it was the announcement of a gracious and forgiving Savior who was to come. God is not an angry God, as the Jews suspected, coming to the world to penalize the people, but to forgive you. God accepts you just the way you are, but he is not willing to leave you the way you are. He desires righteousness from you, but you do not have to earn his love. He calls you to justice and compassion, but first he offers his own justice and compassion to you. To repent means simply to turn around; to change the direction of your living. A willing heart and an open mind is what God asks of you; God will do the rest.
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The second misunderstanding comes in my exhortation that people prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. In my day, the main highway in the region did not carry a number, like “Interstate 94” or “Highway 36.” No, the main road was always called “The King’s Highway.” It was the road upon which the emperor would arrive as he came to visit our city. Months before his arrival, crews were sent out to fill in every low spot, to straighten out every sharp turn, to pick up rubbish, to clean up the scenery by which the king would pass. I dare say, if your new president-elect, Mr. Obama, were to come to Stillwater, you would do very much the same. Then how about if the Savior of the world were about to come? Would you be pleased with the condition of your heart? Or would you cast out the sinful and unsightly practices that would embarrass you? Would you remove every barrier, and every roadblock that would prevent this King from taking up residence in your heart? I fear that the people of my day believed I was calling them to perfection. On the contrary, my dear friends; I was calling them to honesty and humility with their desperate need for a Savior. And I renew that call to you people today, for the King is coming soon. Are you ready for him?
The third and final confession I have to make has to do with me, with my error. I thought I was pretty big stuff in first century Galilee. People knew my name, they swarmed out to hear me preach, and they filed into the water so that I might baptize them. I was their pied piper, but I failed to tell them that they had a message too. That they could reach people with their lips and with their lives that I could never reach. They had a responsibility to proclaim this same radical message of repentance and forgiveness to their neighbors and friends. I failed to call them to be messengers of the good news of the Savior who was to come. I expect that your pastors make the same error; they think they are the only ones called to proclaim this wonderful news, but they are wrong, as I was wrong. When you leave this place today, now you must be witnesses to the light. Now you must be the ones to tell the great and glorious news of God coming to earth in the person of Jesus the Christ, whose purpose was not to condemn but to save even the worst sinners. Oh, it’s a crooked world in which we live; violence and corruption and injustice is everywhere. But there is a Messiah who is coming, wishing to be born into the hearts of all people. Prepare the path for his coming. Tell the nations that it is never too late to receive a King. This is the word of the Lord!
(John leaves the worship space, whistling “On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist’s cry”)