A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9 and Canticle 15
Williams Concrete was the largest concrete company at home. They poured most of the concrete for the interstate system. The owner built a home on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River. The driveway was far too steep for trucks to get up, so, they built conveyor system to get all the concrete to the building site that was powered by a truck. They burned up 3 trucks to get all the concrete to the building site. Itconcreteficent home. You can see if from the river, a marvelous sight. You can also see it from a narrow road on the other side of the river; at least the passenger can, the driver has to pay attention to the road’s narrow curves.
Herod, King of the Jews, and the Roman Empire’s officials had similar magnificent villas along the Jordan River. Jesus asks crowd who overhears his exchange with John’s disciples “Who did they really go to see? The grandeur of Herod and Rome?” perhaps pointing to the magnificent villas; before he continues “Nope you went to see the prophet!” Saying that the crowd is more interested John’s baptism than Rome’s opulence is a way Jesus supports John (Allen) (Harrelson).
John could use some support. His situation has dramatically changed. The last we heard he was down by the riverside baptizing people and challenging Pharisees and Sadducees who were more than interested, more than curious to see what he was up to that drew all those people to him. Now John is alone in a dark prison cell ~ perhaps ~ waiting for death (Lose).
A change of place and or circumstance like that can cause a change in one’s perspective; which leads to different questions (Lewis). When we learn that not all Jewish communities were focused on the return of a messiah or even how God is active in the world or what God might be up to John’s new question is all the more understandable. (Allen). Questions that arise from a change in circumstances, or anything else, are not necessarily bad. They do represent that the asker has a clear-eyed understanding of the world around them. So yes, John’s question indicates he has preconceived ideas about who the messiah should be and how the messiah should be acting (Nagata). And yes, John may express some doubt; but, his doubt just may be his seeking the path from uncertainty to confidence; from disappointment to anticipation (Lose). It is important to hear that Jesus understands John’s question as an expression of faith (Lewis). And we know this because Jesus’ reply is not full of fiery judgment but it is full of compassion (Boring) and the hopeful vision of Isaiah 35 (Epperly).
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters, shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
And so yes, Jesus is indeed the “coming one,” but he has reversed all the expectations; and questions should arise. And yes, John faith does waver, but such wavering is the nature of discipleship and faith, which must constantly be renewed (Boring).
I’ve always found it just a bit curious that Jesus tells John’s disciples to go tell him what they see, and then he tells them what they see. For a while, I wondered if he was just preempting the foolishness he has come to expect from his disciples. But not so any more, I think Jesus was/is seeking to reassure John, and anyone else who might be wondering what he is up to. He is seeking to reassure folks that healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing sight to the blind, really are grounded in the prophetic vision of God’s redeeming work.
So, we have answered John the doubter’s questions about the Jesus’ authority. However, there is more to explore. John’s imprisonment and change of circumstance led to his questions.
What imprisons you?
-What so changes your circumstances, or which of your preconceptions have been so badly shaken that they are limiting your imagination of God’s redeeming work, and raising new questions (Lewis) (Nagata)?
-What events in your life, or of your community or of the world, are raising fundamental questions:
• Is there really a God who knows and cares?
• Is there a divine purpose for the world?
• Is there a purpose for me?
• Is Jesus the definitive revelation of that God,
• or should we look elsewhere for answers to ultimate questions (Boring) (Nagata)?
– What new idea has you all stirred-up (Pankey, Stir Up!)?
Can you place all those emotions in an Advent crock pot? Will you use this Advent time, while we are waiting for Jesus, to slow down, to reflect, and to pray ~ lifting all that has you off kilter to God in Jesus through the Spirit? Will you allow your questions and doubts to actually bring you closer to God (Nagata) (Boring)? Will you allow God’s reply, to your Advent waiting question, to inspire you to action?
Waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming is not a passive venture. God is already coming to us and wants us to use divine answers to get us all stirred up with new ideas to act with grace and persistence for the well-being of the planet and for all its peoples (Epperly) (Pankey, Stir Up!). And yes, new ideas are ugly, messy, and frightening, they threaten what we know, they scare us, and they are fragile. But when we nurture them with God’s light they bring beautiful transformation into the world (GE).
New Ideas can reveal how we can participate with God in restoration; they can help us identify other communities that share similar hopes and seek common purpose (Allen).
This morning’s collect asks God to stir up divine power and come among us. It is a great, though dangerous, idea. In it, we are asking God to turn lose power and light that we would much rather keep under a basket. In it, we are inviting the Spirit to work in our lives for the restoration of not only our souls ~ but the whole world (Pankey, Stir Up!) . We are unleashing God to help us be the prophets pointing to The Kingdom’s presence right here – right now, not only in what we say but most importantly in how we love all our neighbors. We are asking for directions and inspiration and power to follow Mary as
[Her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
[and her] spirit rejoices in God our Savior.
Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 11:211. 11 12 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X!! vols. App Olivetree.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes. 11 12 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 12 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
- “Ideas Are Scary.” 2016. web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfmQvc6tB1o>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Advent 3 A Matthew 11:2-11 . 11 12 2016.
Lewis, Karoline. Are You The One? 11 12 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Advent 3 A: John’s Blue Christmas. 11 12 2016.
Nagata, Ada Wong. “Can You See and Hear God’s Presence in Your Life? Advent 3(A).” 11 12 2016. Sermons that Work.
Pankey, Steve. How are we judged? 11 12 2016.
—. “Stir Up!” 11 12 2016. Draughting Theology.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.