17 December 2007

Just Which Advent???

Delivered at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH on 16 December 2007

(based on Matthew 11:2-11)

The Season of Advent can be a very confusing time for some people:

· on one hand, we all wait with wide-eyes for the birth of the Christ child
· on the other, we are waiting for the second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

Indeed a major part of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus will return to earth and all believers shall be drawn to him and an eternal life. And in the liturgical year, Christ’s ‘Second Coming’ is celebrated during the Advent Season when we are usually more focused on the birth of Jesus.

Today we enter the third week of Advent – with it the anticipation of the Birth of Christ. In just a little over one week we will be sitting here celebrating Jesus’ birth that nativity story from so long ago. You would expect the readings to center on that blessed event in Bethlehem.

But today’s scripture is not foretelling the birth of Christ.

We are hearing about that other advent – the advent of the New World, the New Jerusalem. The church’s liturgical year is a cyclical reminder of the life of Christ – from birth, to death, to the resurrection and His second coming at the end of the world. So, as we once again celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we ARE reminded to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God when Jesus comes to earth again.

In today’s scripture we find John the Baptist languishing away in prison. John was considered a fanatic and zealot in his own time, so , when Herod Antipas married his brother Phillip’s wife after divorcing his own, john had much to say, about it, far and wide. John, of course, would rail against this; it was his life’s business to prophesy and accuse! In an attempt to silence him, Herod had thrown him in prison. He has been there for over a year and must have felt abandoned and out of the mainstream. He heard rumors that the Jesus he had baptized and proclaimed to be the Messiah was traveling the countryside preaching and prophesying. The time of the Messiah must surely have come. His hopes high, John is sure that Jesus will ‘ride up on a white horse’ and rescue him from prison.

But what was actually happening? What do his messengers tell him about Jesus?

He hears that Jesus is busy performing miracles, preaching mercy and compassion and love. This is not what he expected of the Messiah!!!

Jesus was not proclaiming himself the Messiah King,

. . . not bringing about the destruction of Rome

. . . or overthrowing Herod’s rule.

Instead of preaching revolution and smiting evildoers he is proclaiming good news to the poor and destitute, the broken-hearted and downtrodden, the captives and oppressed. He was even saying people who believed in Him would be persecuted!

Even though they were cousins and had known each other since the womb, John was no longer sure that THIS Jesus was the Messiah he had foretold. He was certainly not doing what he expected Him to do.

So John sent his disciples to speak with Jesus. After all, John had been prophesying that the Messiah would come with fiery judgment, pitchfork and axe in hand. But here was this man, preaching and teaching hope and love and healing, not fomenting revolution.

What was going on here?

Imagine you were John, foretelling the reign of the Messiah, only to find out that He was not the revolutionary you had predicted – or at least not in the sense John expected. Jesus was preaching and healing, not riling up the citizens to revolt. There was no message of revolt in his teachings and stories. He stressed compassion and inclusion of everyone in the Kingdom of God.

The Jews had been waiting a long time for the appearance of the Messiah with the expectation that he would save them from Roman oppression and restore them to their rightful kingdom. This Jesus was certainly not acting like that Messiah! Disappointed, John wanted to know if Jesus was that man . . . or if there was another Messiah coming.

He must have thought:

· Had he been wrong about Jesus?
· Was he looking like a fool?

Some folks may have thought so then, but today we know better . . . that even John didn’t fully realize what the kingdom of god would be, and indeed sometimes, we forget, too.

The scripture goes on to say that Jesus affirmed John and his prophecy. Jesus reminded John that he was ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, in camel skins, eating locust and honey. He reminded him that his calling was as a preparer - he had called many to the wilderness to be baptized. He was more than a prophet; he was a forerunner, reformer, a preparer of the way.

Those times for which John was baptizing people and foretelling had truly come to pass. Just as Elijah foretold of Jesus’ birth, John was foretelling of Jesus’ life on earth. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus among them.

· That prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus: a Jesus that was a man of words and compassionate actions, not one of authority and military might.
· A man of the spirit, not of the sword

Jesus sends the disciples back to John, telling them to tell him what they had seen. Tell him about:

· Healing the sick
· Casting out demons
· Raising the dead
· Forgiving sins
· Preaching to the poor.

We can only hope that when the disciples returned and told John what they had seen, he remembered the prophecies of Isaiah that we heard about in your reading today about the marvels that would take place in the desert. And he remembered his faith in that man he baptized so long ago.

But wouldn’t it have been natural for John to have been a little upset that he was sitting in prison suffering for an itinerant preacher who gave mercy to anyone who asked (even Romans) and would lead his followers into a brutal death? Possibly John sent his disciples to Jesus to try and prod him into the action that John had expected from the Messiah.

This Jesus - this Messiah - was not what John the Baptist expected. He was not coming to destroy Rome; they could and did do that without his help. He was here to establish the Kingdom of God.

A Kingdom of God where everyone is welcome, all are loved, and mercy and compassion flow like waters.

This is Rose Sunday, or to the Anglican community ‘Stir It Up’ Sunday. In the Collect, we ask God to ‘stir up his power’ in us. And we got our blood flowing when we sang one of my favorite hymns: ‘Sound the Trumpets!! Spread the Message!!!

We need to be prodded and poked to strive for a sinless life. We need to be pushed forward to who is coming. We need to be reminded in this Advent Season that our King and Savior comes not only as a human child, but promises to return again to triumph over death and make that possible for us also. That our Lord comes twice to bring eternal life and peace and in an everlasting Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is what we are waiting for as we continue this Advent Season. As we anticipate the birth of that little baby in Bethlehem, let us keep our eyes fixed on the real prize:

The Kingdom of God!!

10 December 2007

Render Unto Caesar

Delivered at Procter Center, Anglican Academy for Morning Prayer, 8 December 2007

(based on Matthew 22:15-22)

This is one of the most famous stories about Jesus and, probably, the most misunderstood or misapplied. It has been used as a bludgeon for centuries to justify the separation of things of the Church from the affairs of government.

The Romans now controlled the land God had promised the Israelites and brought with them their pagan ways. Most Israelites saw this as a contamination of the Creation that God had given them. So why would one willingly give taxes to the Roman Empire? After all, withholding taxes was just about the only thing that the Jews could do to express their displeasure with the occupation.

We all know that the Pharisees asked Jesus that question, trying to trap him into either being counter to Jewish law, or a seditionist against the Roman occupation. They felt that no matter how he answered the question, they could ‘get’ him. Either he disobeyed the Jewish Law and said pay the taxes (which would be an affront the YHWH), or said withhold taxes which would be treason to Rome.

But Jesus was too smart for them – he was not the uneducated preacher they thought he was. When he pointed out that the name and likeness of Caesar, not YHWH, were on the coin, there was no way they could trap him. In fact, they had just trapped themselves. Tribute should be paid to Caesar, using Caesar’s money.

But I think this set of scripture has a much deeper meaning for Christians. I think it admonishes us to be good citizens of the world we live in. As Paul often told people in his letters, “God ordains the higher powers” and Christians are subject to its authority. Peter and Paul both stressed that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.

As Deacons, we need to be good citizens. . . and we need to set an example for others.

But how do we do that??

First of all, we must respect the institutions of our communities and country. But that DOES not mean we can’t disagree with what the government/institution is doing, but that we be law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing citizens. If you remember,

· Daniel spent some time with a lot of lions because he disagreed with King
Darius’ notion that everyone should pray to him. .
· Shadrack, Meshak and Abadnego ending up in a furnace for protesting against
King Nebuchadnezzar.
· All of the apostles spent time in prison because they proclaimed their faith
contrary to the policies and wishes of the local government.

Even I, in several non-violent actions, have protested the manner in which churches abuse their LGBT children and can proudly say that I have been arrested and jailed with some of the finest people in the religious community. Civil protest and civil disobedience is a biblical tradition, based on answering a HIGHER calling from God.

The Bible says that we are stewards of the world God created. For us to be good stewards, we need to know what is going on in the community and government and who is doing it. Deacons provide a valuable service, connected those within the church walls with what is going on in the secular world of politics.

How many of you know who your senators and representatives are?

Don’t you think you should know?

And don’t you think you should know what is going on in the legislative sessions?

What bills are in process?

What impact they will have?

Don’t be an ignorant voter, casting your precious vote based on sound bites provided by a less than neutral new source.

Read the Bible and books that will help you solidify your faith and beliefs. Know what you believe and why. Be able to defend your position using principles of God.

And most of all, honor that which should be honored.

The next time you take out a dollar bill or a coin, notice what inscription is on it.


Remember that


Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s


Unto God what is God’s!