Sermon by Elder Larry Plank
Isaiah 35:1-10 Matthew 11:2-11
Our text opens today with an unusual scene. Here we are in the third Sunday of Advent we light the candle of joy, so we are starting to look for angels, the couple in route to Bethlehem, shepherds on the hillside outside of town? Who in their right mind would place this text in the lectionary on this Sunday?
But the scene is John the Baptizer who has spent his adult years preparing the way for the Messiah. John has identified this Messiah; remember the scene along the Jordan when Jesus comes by exclaiming, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John has in fact revealed his mission in his understanding,”Repent because the axe is already at the root of the trees, he will judge….the good will be rewarded….but the sinners like the chaff will be burnt with unquenchable fire.” This is typical of terms used by Matthew.
After years of proclaiming the One to come, John finds himself not in the Judean wilderness, but in Herod’s prison (Matthew 14). You see he has offended Herod, telling him he can’t marry his brother’s wife Herodias. I guess one thing is going for poor John, Herod actually protects him, he enjoys hearing him speak, but his wife Herodias would prefer to have John executed. As we know she eventually gets her wish. John apparently has privilege to visitation of his disciples. They give a report to John of what the Messiah’s ministry looks like. And to John’s surprise it isn’t the ministry he preached. John preaches the wrath of God….Jesus on the other hand preaches forgiveness, compassion. He is associated with the sinners and tax collectors, eating and drinking with them. John called for judgment and proclaimed a baptism for the repentance of sin, and had little use for the religious leaders of the day…the Pharisees and Sadducees calling them vipers. But Jesus went to the poor, the sick; the outcast….this is where the kingdom of God was focused. John should know this; remember the scene in Nazareth (Luke 4) where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah…”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.”
So John hears what Jesus is doing and he begins to question…”Maybe my years of proclamation was in vain, I’m sitting in jail and the One maybe isn’t the One.” How many times do we ask the same question or have the same thought. I mean the movers and shakers of the world aren’t the homeless, the outcast, the poor, the people on the bottom, to us these people are powerless. No if you want change you go the rich and powerful, they get things done. I will address this later in my sermon. Look at some of the rulers of the world over the centuries…I’ll let you name them. But some of the cruelest acts against humanity have been in the name of nationalism, religion. We look at the evening news and we may ask the same question as John the Baptizer did…”where is this kingdom that has come near?” As I write this on 8 December the local news on my computer has these stories….car shot at in Pensacola…road rage; elderly woman in Gulf Breeze is robbed, youth in Pensacola is murdered, apparently by a teenager. So yes we could have a mind-set like John wondering “where is this kingdom of God that has come near?”
But let’s get back to John. He sends some of his disciples to Jesus asking the question…”Are you the one, or are we to look for another?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. He tells them you just go back to John and tell John what they have seen and heard. The sick are healed, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the lepers are cleansed and the poor have the good news brought to them. So our story ends, just how do I preach this, the text has no theological issues that should be addressed, the closest to that is Jesus being referred to as the Messiah or the One, no people are healed and no-one is forgiven of their sins. We are basically left pondering the question…..”where is the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?” If you would like to look into the theological end of Jesus as the Messiah read the gospel of John. His gospel is directed to point to Jesus as Emmanuel, the Messiah. John begins his gospel…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ is God with us. This is my favorite gospel, I encourage to read it.
So can we see this kingdom in the world today? In my opinion we can. I can think of two major events that occurred in my lifetime that affirms God’s kingdom. I think of the civil rights movement in our nation. The African-American people in our country were abused, mistreated, and discriminated against. To answer a question I raised about the rich and powerful were the ones to get things done. This movement proved this wrong. It was the poor black people who forced the issue and changed our nation forever, for the good. And we can thank people like Martin Luther King who had the guts to help lead this movement in a non violent protest.
Another event similar to the one in the U.S. occurred in South Africa (Apartheid). The blacks were forced to live in certain townships (I have personally witnessed these townships, and they are very poor places); they were denied access to many places. They could not move to areas where white folk lived. Again it was the poor who brought about change for the good. By the way the Presbyterian Church in South Africa stood with these people, giving many protection in their churches, and some of these churches were burnt down.
These are signs of the kingdom on what I would say were on grand scales, international tones. But today where do we see the kingdom being witnessed, in our community or this county? This church and other churches in our community collect food for food banks. This is a visible sign of God’s kingdom. I received an e-mail Friday our church will adopt so to speak two children for Christmas gifts (Christmas Tree). This is a visible sign of God’s kingdom. The poor are fed, many churches offer meals during the week this is a visible sign of God’s kingdom. The First Presbyterian Church of Ft. Walton Beach feeds the hungry on Saturday morning, all are welcome. It’s been cold the last few nights….how many churches have opened their doors to the homeless for the night, a sign of God’s kingdom. When an organ donor dies and the heart goes to save another life, a sign of God’s kingdom. When a truce is called in a war zone, a sign of God’s kingdom. When a new translation of the bible is available to some little known tribe in Papua New Guinea, a sign of God’s kingdom. When we see peace makers travel all over the world to seek peace, a sign of the kingdom of God. And lastly when we may be out and about and see an act of random kindness, or do an act of random kindness, a sign of God’s kingdom.
These stories probably won’t make the evening news; it doesn’t make the ratings go up. But when we see these acts we can just imagine Jesus telling John’s disciples….you go back to John and when you see all these things taking place….the kingdom has indeed come near. Thanks be to God.