Tag Archives: John the Baptist

The prophet John—Advent 2, Year C (9 December 2012)

Readings
Malachi 3.1-4
Luke 3.1-6

Did you notice how Luke chapter 3 begins? It begins with a number of names, in fact the names of seven VIPs. Listen again:

In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…

Luke is setting the scene here and letting us know just when all this was happening; with the detail Luke provides, we can date it around AD 28–29.

What happened in AD 28 or 29, according to Luke? Nothing that Pilate, Herod, Philip or the others were concerned about—at first. It was this:

…God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Herod would have dismissed this. Caiaphas would have sniffed. It would be beneath Pilate to even think about it. Who cares if someone called John thinks he hears from God?

A number of books in the Bible start in that way, with a list of names. Can you think of any?

Luke goes on to quote Isaiah; how does Isaiah start? Listen:

The vision about Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw in the days of Judah’skings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

Another list of VIPs, another way of dating Isaiah, at least the first 39 chapters of the Book of Isaiah. We can say that this prophet, Isaiah of Jerusalem, heard the word of the Lord in the eighth century BC.

The Book of Isaiah begins in a pretty standard way for a prophetic book. If you look at other Old Testament prophets, quite a few also begin this way, situating themselves in history. So when Luke chooses the same way to begin his story of John the Baptist, what is he saying? Just this: like Isaiah before him, John was a prophet. A prophet is someone who hears what God is saying, and then speaks that word to others.

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John and Mary, Jesus and Josie: A sermon for the Induction of the Rev. Josie Nottle (8 December 2011)

John and Mary, Jesus and Josie

 

Readings
Luke 1.47-55 (responsive)
Mark 1.1-8

 

It’s Advent, and two of the most wonderful people in the Bible appear in our Lectionary readings every year at this time. Those two are Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist.

(Not that they ever come together in our Lectionary readings. I’ve cheated! I’ve taken one of the choices for the ‘Psalm’ from this coming Sunday—it’s actually the Song of Mary in Luke 1—and I’ve teamed it with the Gospel Reading from last Sunday, from Mark 1. So tonight we have John and his Auntie Mary together.)

I say I like these two, but I’m not sure I’d like to have either living next door to me. They’re both prophets, burdened with a need to tell out the word that God gives them. I really don’t think I’d like to live next door to a prophet, especially John with his weird diet and his funny clothes. And what’s more, they’re both saints. If there could be one thing worse than living next door to a prophet, that would be living next to a certified saint.

But here we have John and Mary, prophets and saints. Though I doubt that either would get through the Uniting Church’s selection process to become ordained ministers. John would have too many ‘personality issues’ and Mary would be too young (apart from having a young baby to take care of)—so Josie, you’ve done even better than them. You really do have a lot to live up to.

John was a cantankerous old coot. (Though he was actually a cantankerous young coot if the truth’s to be known.) He stood at the end of the old order and he proclaimed a brand new thing: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark says,

…people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him…

Sounds like he was as successful as a modern-day tele-evangelist. His approach wouldn’t work too well in these materialistic days though.

Among the throngs who came to him was Jesus, perhaps seeking to know the direction that his Father God was calling him to go.

There’s a lot we could say about John and Jesus, but I just want to highlight one thing. John says:

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

It was said that disciples owed their teacher every duty except to untie the laces of his sandals. This was too demeaning.

John says not only should he untie the laces of the one who is coming, but that he is unworthy to do this very demeaning thing.

There are some often-quoted words in the Fourth Gospel. John the Evangelist has John saying about Jesus:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Josie, you are a minister of the Word. There is a real sense in which you are a symbol of the Word, the Word-made-flesh.

As a symbol, you are to point beyond yourself to the Jesus, who is the One you symbolise in a particular way. You must decrease, that he may increase. You may not be worthy to untie his laces, but listen: he has made you worthy. You have the dignity of a daughter of God.

Yet any symbol that points to the One who was broken on the cross needs to be a ‘broken symbol’. To decrease in the presence of the One broken for our sakes is to turn away from pride, manipulation and self-serving. It is to serve in his Spirit. It is to rejoice when others shine, because they shine with the reflected glory of Jesus Christ, the One more powerful than we are.

In the end, a broken symbol leads people to faith, not to control or power or possession of something. Your ministry will elicit faith within the people of God.

Take John as your example; not in the way you dress or what you eat or how often you shower, but in who you are. And in Who you belong to, and Who you yield to.

And what about Mary? Josie, you’re a young woman, but Mary was about half your age. We Protestants tend to ignore Mary; she makes us nervous. One Advent, a friend of mine said she was preaching on Mary. I said, ‘So you’re preaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary?’ She said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t call her that.’ I said, ‘Why not? The Bible does.’ She replied, ‘Oh yes, so it does!’ (All right, I confess: I was deliberately being a smart arse.)

The point is this: there are passages in the  Scriptures that value Mary more highly than we do. So we should look at her more than we do.

For tonight, let me again just say one thing: Mary is the example of a believer. She shows us what it is to believe. When confronted with an arduous task of gargantuan proportions, she just says,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

But that’s after she questions God:

“How can this be…?”

Mary says “Let it be” after she questions what this is all about. And then Mary praises God.

Josie, I suspect you’ve taken a similar route in coming to Centenary. You’ve no doubt questioned whether this is a task of gargantuan proportions—but I think it’s not!—and you’ve sought whether God is calling you here.

And once you decided that was indeed the case, you said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” And I know you have given thanks to God for bringing you to this point.

Mary was a courageous young woman, who knew the consequences for her could be severe—even death by stoning—but she said “Yes”.

Josie, you are another Mary, as are we all. Jesus is being formed within you, and changing the way you look at life. You know that Mary sang the truth:

You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty
from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry
with good things
and sent the rich away empty.

Tell us that story, Josie, tell us again and again! Lead us to live that story, as Mary did. And always keep in mind that Mary was only half your age, so take St Paul’s advice to Timothy also (1 Timothy 4.12):

Let no one despise your youth.

So Josie, whatever else you are, you are a symbol—a broken symbol—pointing us to the risen and crucified Lord. He is being formed within your very being, so you can be bold and daring with Mary. Be a broken symbol among us and with us and for us.

I don’t know if you’re a prophet, or a saint, Josie; maybe you are, but if so I’m sure I’ll get used to working with one. For now, on behalf of the people of God in this place, let me just say, “Welcome!”.

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The beginning of the Good News: Second Sunday in Advent (Year B, 4 December 2011)

Today, the Rev’d Josie Nottle joins us for the first time. Josie will be working among us with her focus being youth and children’s ministry.

 

The beginning of the Good News

Readings
Isaiah 40.1-11
Mark 1.1-8

 

Three books of the Bible have the word ‘beginning’ right at, well, the very beginning… Those three books are

  • Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
  • John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
  • Mark: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”

What’s your reaction to that? If it’s Ho hum, or So what?, listen closely: the writers of the Gospels of John and Mark knew the Old Testament very well. They knew that its first words were “In the beginning”, and that those words started the stories of the creation of the world. Mark and John are giving us a clue: what they are writing about is as important as the creation of the world. In fact, it’s about a new creation.

John says that the Word with which God spoke the universe into being—“God said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light”—that Word was personal. More than that, this person was God. More than that, this person took human flesh and lived among us, not to judge us but to bring us life in all its fullness.

Mark says that the Good News is good news of a new creation. A brand new beginning. In fact, it seems likely that this was Mark’s title for his whole book: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

What is ‘the gospel’? You may know our word comes from the old English godspell, which means ‘good news’. The gospel is good news. If it’s bad news, it’s not the gospel.

But it’s not any old good news. It’s not the good news that the Rev’d Josie Nottle is commencing her time with us this Sunday. That’s wonderful news, but it’s not the gospel. It’s not even the good news that the Aussies are thrashing the Kiwis in the cricket. For one thing, it depends what side of the ditch you hail from—it’s bad news for the Kiwis. It’s not even the good news that the baby was born safely, or that the operation was a success. It’s a particular kind of good news.

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First Sunday after Epiphany: The Baptism of Jesus (Year A, 9 January 2011)

Baptised–for us

Readings
Isaiah 42.1-9
Matthew 3.13-17

When I was a young minister in my first placement, I had quite a difficult conversation with a visitor to the town. She started by talking to me about baptism. She wondered if I thought that baptism is important. I replied ‘Yes, I do’. This gave her the opening she wanted to announce with great enthusiasm that she had never been baptised. She was waiting for a word from the Lord direct to her telling her that she should be baptised. Until she had a direct word from God, she wasn’t going to be baptised.

What do you think about that? Should she have waited for a special word from God to her alone? My answer is this: She has already had a direct word from the Lord. This woman was sadly mistaken. In fact, she’s had quite a number of direct words!

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Second Sunday in Advent (Year A, 5 December 2010)

Confronted, converted, consoled

Readings
Isaiah 11.1-10
Matthew 3.1-12

The spiritual writer Richard Rohr says this in his series Preparing for Christmas:

‘The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.’

I’d like us to think about our preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives and into our world with those words in mind:

The Word of God confronts, converts, and consoles us—in that order.

The Word of God confronts us:

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to have John the Baptist as a neighbour. I reckon he’d be an argumentative old… thing. If you invited him for a barbecue, he’d insist on bringing his own locusts to chuck on the barbie rather than have snags and kangaroo steaks. And he’d want to talk about the state of my soul all the time.

He’d be a confronting neighbour. He’d always be telling me to repent of this and that and the other thing.

I’d get annoyed at his continual going on and on. After all, I’m a minister of the Word. I’ve got a PhD in theology. I work full-time for God! Surely I’m ok?

And John, for the last time, I don’t want a piece of barbecued locust! I don’t care if it does have your special wild honey marinade! I just don’t want to eat locust!

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Third Sunday in Advent

Good News?!

Sisters and brothers,
the Word of God, made flesh in Mary’s womb,
will come forth to heal us
and make all things new.

Let us pray:

Save us, coming God,
from relying on our goodness;
but as we trust in your word,
and turn from sin,
may the fire of the Spirit
blaze among us;in Christ’s name. Amen.

Zephaniah 3.14-20
Philippians 4.4-7
Luke 3.7-18

Things John the Baptist would never say:

‘I’m ok, you’re ok.’
‘Of course, I could be wrong…’
No, really, you’re fine as you are.’
’Tact and negotiation. They’re what get things done.’
‘Yes, it’s a cheeky little merlot and I think you’d be amused by its impertinence…’

What did John the Baptist say? ‘You brood of vipers!…’ I’ve always wanted to start a sermon like that, but at theological college they teach you not to. For some reason.

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is about waiting, and preparing, for the coming of Jesus Christ. Actually, Advent is about three comings:

Advent is about the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem, his birth, the celebration of Christmas, when the eternal Word was made human flesh.

But Advent is about far more than this. We can’t forget that Jesus comes now, in Word and Sacrament, as we meet Sunday by Sunday. He is in the midst wherever two or three gather in his name. He is here—here in his Body, the Church, in his Word and in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

And Advent speaks of the final coming of Jesus, his return to bring about the Reign of God in all its fullness.

Some of our Communion prayers put it this way:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Or, Jesus came 2000 years ago, the Son of Mary. Jesus comes among us Sunday by Sunday, and day by day. Jesus will come again as Lord of all. And we wait.

But you know, there’s waiting and there’s waiting. How are we waiting? Are we hanging around, loitering, wasting time? That’s one way of waiting.

Or are we waiting by looking forward, anticipating, yearning for the coming of God’s justice and God’s peace, are we ready for Christ as he comes?

This is what it’s about. How are we waiting? Are we lounging about, or are we thirsting for the shalom of God, the peace of God to come in all its fullness? One and only one of these ways of waiting leads to life.

Today’s readings suggest two essential things that should mark our lives as we wait expectantly for Jesus. One is to learn to live well while we wait. The other is to live with joy while we wait.

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Second Sunday in Advent

Baptised into union with Christ

Luke 3.1-6

I want to talk a little about baptism tonight. In my years as a minister, I’ve heard a lot of quite wrong ideas about baptism.

Like these: ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re baptised or not.’ Wrong! ‘Baptism is about works, not faith.’ Wrong! ‘You can get baptised as many times as you feel you need to.’ Wrong!

Let’s look at baptism. Our Gospel reading tonight says that John the Baptist

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…

John proclaimed a baptism of repentance. In other words, people came to him to turn away from their sins and towards God, and be washed clean.

They came to John because they believed that if the whole people of God repented, then God would bring the kingdom down to earth and there would be justice and peace for all.

Notice this: it wasn’t about getting to heaven when you die; it was about God’s perfect will being done here and now, like the Lord’s Prayer says:

…your will be done on earth as in heaven.

People flocked to John, repenting of their sin, turning away from sin, and turning towards righteousness. And then waiting for the Messiah to come.

This morning, we baptised three very young children. How can we do that, if John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance? These three tiny things are hardly notorious sinners. They aren’t old enough to have anything to repent of. How can we baptise them? It’s simple, really: John’s baptism and Christian baptism are not the same thing. When the Lord Jesus Christ was baptised by John, he transformed John’s baptism and gave it a new meaning.

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