Sermon - Brad Brookins
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’
So John the Baptist is having a problem. Things just aren’t turning out the way he had expected.
Ever had a day like that—when what you knew was true and good and right turns out to be just plain wrong? Happens to me all the time.
Eight days after he was born, John’s father—Zechariah the priest, made a proclamation to the world that would set the course for his son’s life:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, (Zechariah said) for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David…that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us… to grant that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear…”
Zechariah is speaking here of the Messiah, the one Jewish people had been expecting for generations. As they understood God’s promise, this Messiah would free them from whatever oppressive government held them captive at the time. This was a thoroughly political hope, you see. They wanted their country back. They wanted to be a free people. The Messiah would bring them their freedom.
Zechariah says to his little, eight day old son, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…”
Imagine growing up believing your purpose in life was to prepare the way before the one who would free your people from Roman oppression. “You, child…” Those words must have rung in his ears every day.
Some people believe John spent years preparing for his mission—years out in the wilderness studying, thinking, praying, preparing for the day the Messiah would show up.
And when the day arrived, John came out swinging—
“I baptize you with water (he said to those who came to him); but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (And then he uses this judgment and victory image) His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The wheat is Israel. The chaff is Rome. The world is about to be turned right side up and Israel will be back on top.
John’s message catches on, too. He draws large crowds. Until the day he calls out King Herod on his moral failings—complaining that Herod has “stolen” his brother Philip’s wife. John’s reproof proves to be a political bridge too far for the king; so he steals John’s voice by shutting him up in prison.
Meanwhile, Jesus moves freely around Palestine—roaming the countryside and visiting the small villages. He teaches in the synagogues and on the hillsides and he heals people—the blind, the lame, the deaf; even the dead.
And maybe John is saying to himself, “All of this is impressive, but it’s not very Messiah-like. Rome is not budging an inch. Our people are not free. Why—why did he run off and heal that Roman soldier’s servant. And why am I left rotting in this stinking cell?”. He must have been wondering, “Have I missed something?”
So he sends two of his disciples to Jesus with a very interesting question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Now think carefully about that question; because there are two assumptions in there that John wants to hold on to. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
In other words, John is saying, “The Messiah is coming; I don’t doubt that. But when he comes, I don’t think he will look like you”.
So are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Will you get with the program, or will you disappoint me? John is being brutally honest here.
“Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind”, Luke says. So when John’s disciples ask their question, Jesus replies by quoting scripture—mostly from the prophet Isaiah: “‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
Notice, he doesn’t answer the question. He sends John back to scripture, back to his spiritual roots. He urges him to take another look at what gave birth to both of them—the ancient words of God.
Now here’s what I think is going on. Clearly there is a difference between Jesus and John. They are not working out of the same playbook. But they are heading in the same direction; toward the same goal. The difference is in the path each is taking.
John wants his people to be free of foreign oppression; he wants the Roman government off their back. If people are healed of their diseases along the way, he’s fine with that.
Jesus wants all people to be healthy and whole—physically well and spiritually free. When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven oppression will surely end, and that will be fine with him.
John wants to impose a top down political solution to the nation’s problem. Jesus wants to build a bottom up community. John thinks if you fix the system the benefits will eventually flow down to the people. Jesus thinks if people experience the grace and generosity of God, the world and its governments will eventually become what they were meant to be. John wants to restore the nation. Jesus wants to grow a people.
Interesting, isn’t it, how Jesus and John—both deeply rooted in the scripture and tradition of Israel, could approach their life work so differently. The both want to repair the world, but they travel different paths.
“Are you the one…?” John asked Jesus. Jesus finds the question behind that question. “Am I the one…?” Well, that depends. What do you want? Do you want a warrior Messiah, like Joshua, to take the country by force; or do you want me? Do you want to build a country, or do you want to build a community?
“…tell John what you have seen and heard (he says to John’s disciples): the blind (see), the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
John did take offense at Jesus, you know—at least a little. That’s why he asked the question. Jesus is urging him to look again.
So—what do you want? What kind of Messiah are you looking for?
I think I’m going with Jesus on this one.
Around the time of Jesus, or shortly after, there was a Hebrew phrase used by the rabbis to describe the Jewish way of life—(S)“Tikkun Olam”. Tikkun olam was a lifestyle defined by acts of kindness—not just great good deeds but also the little good things people do for each other.
The world is broken, the rabbis said; shattered into millions of pieces. Tikkun Olam is the work of bringing all these pieces back together; it is the work of repairing or perfecting the world. Acts of kindness for those near and far, the rabbis taught, was God’s way of saving the world. Through tikkun olam we engage with God in repairing the creation.
Tikkun olam is a non-partisan kindness. Not “kindness for ours but not for theirs”; but a kindness that erases differences when it can and bridges them when it can’t. The divisions of race, culture, politics, and values so common among us theses days are healed in tikkun olam—intentional kindness for healing human kind.
Let’s go back to the poem I read earlier (S):
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled, like a yard
From the place where I am right, I can acknowledge your brokenness, but not my own. On the hard dirt of my “rightness”, my way is the only way. Kindness can not thrive there.
But doubts and loves—or as Parker Palmer says, the questions we share and the things we all want to keep and preserve—those
Doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
This is tikkun olam—very different people coming together around the things they love and, by their acts of kindness, digging up the hard ground of conflict and making a fertile garden of peace. This is how we repair the world.
Tikkun olam is the way of Jesus; “The blind see, the lame walk,… the deaf hear, the poor have good news brought to them.” These are acts of kindness—often amazing from our perspective but kindness nonetheless, given in out of the way places to insignificant people, unnoticed by the powerful. Tikkun olam, and the world begins to turn and heal.
The way of Jesus became the way of the church, and remains so today; very much needs to be so today. The brokenness of our world is no secret to any of us. We need the way of Jesus to be our way because we have been summoned to aid in the repair of the world. (S)
“If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it”, Menachem Schneerson said, “then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete.”
We can do this; as divided as we are we can do this. When in kindness we act together to save the things we all love, we are repairing the world. Bit by bit, piece by piece, Creation comes together.
Through kindness and generosity, by sharing and preserving together what we love, by walking in the way of Jesus the world turns again. “The blind see, the lame walk,… the deaf hear, the poor have good news brought to them.” Good news for them, and for us. Amen.
Here is the text and a few mind bending questions for this Sunday. Enjoy and we'll see you in church.
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 20When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
28I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ 29(And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
31 ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”
33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’
1. John the Baptist is stuck in prison with a problem that he can't quite figure out. Jesus doesn't seem to be "the one" he was expecting. Recall what he said back in chapter 3 (below) and note any differences you see between what John preached and expected and what Jesus was delivering.
Luke 3. 7-9; 15-17
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’...
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
2. In 7:23 "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Jesus very gently rebukes John for taking offense at who Jesus was and what he was doing. Try to get inside John's head. What was he thinking? Why was he disappointed in Jesus?
3. In his answer to John's disciples Jesus quotes from the same Isaiah passage used back in Nazareth in chapter 4. Compare Luke 4. 18-19 with Luke 7. 22. What does Jesus leave out of his reply to John? Why? What would John have heard in this omission?
Luke 4. 18-19 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Luke 7.22 "And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them."
4. Jesus aid John was more than a prophet, the greatest man ever born. Why do God's best people end up in jail? What are reasonable expectations for us to hold about our own lives and faith?
5. This line has always puzzled me: "yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." What do you think Jesus meant? What does it mean to be least and great at the same time? Can anyone honestly aspire to being the least?
6. In vs. 31-35 above Jesus makes a point about people rejecting both him and John. Why were they rejected? Were these valid reasons or just excuses for rejecting them? How do we tell the difference between our reasons and excuses for accepting or rejecting what Jesus says?