“Are You the One?” Matthew 11:2-11; December 15, 2019; Boeuff Presbyterian Church

“Are You the One?”
Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2019, Boeuff Presbyterian Church

“Surprise!” It’s a common movie and tv trope, I’m sure you’ve seen it: a room full of people all prepared to surprise a guest of honor and then someone else comes in right before. And the moment is ruined, the good surprise used up. 

Reading our text this week a scene of a ruined surprise came to mind. John asks the question, “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

The messiah, after all, had been greatly anticipated. Not just for a few minutes of people crouched behind a couch ready to welcome a guest of honor, but for hundreds of years. And the people really didn’t want to be wasting the good welcome, the good celebration for some person who wasn’t the messiah.

Today is our Advent week of Joy, but unlike the other lectionary texts that highlight Mary’s Magnifcat, her song of great joy at learning she is to be the mother of Christ, this passage is much more tempered. It’s trying to decide if there’s something to be joyful about. It’s cautious, wary of getting too excited.

There is so much in this world that tempers our joy, environmental crisis, divisive politics, and social unrest. In this polarizing world, we are wary of that which doesn’t come right out and identify itself. “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?” We want salvation from everyday trivialities and from the overarching unrest of earthly existence.

The lectionary narrative this week takes us out of the manger scenes of the season and into John the Baptist’s prison cell and among Jesus and his disciples. It’s towards the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Right before this story Jesus is commissioning his twelve disciples and sending them out. So, while we’re in the season of celebrating the baby Jesus entering into the world, this text draws us forward to the adult Jesus’ entering into his ministry.

“Are you the one?” It’s a haunting question really. And one that it takes a certain level of gumption to ask. John wasn’t really known for being subtle. He’s described as some sort of unkempt man of the wilderness. He rolls into town preaching and prophesying, his radical nature landing him in jail.

“Are you the one?”It’s one thing for the question to be asked by those who don’t know Jesus or those who are new to his company of followers or by those who oppose Jesus and his teachings. But this question is asked by the one who perhaps had the most intimate knowledge of Jesus. From John’s first time in the presence of Jesus he seemed to react to his divinity, leaping in his mother’s womb.

Tricker still, this question was being asked second hand, as John himself was in prison and unable to ask. I’m not sure what disciple it was that was tasked with asking this question, but can picture those who had talked to John drawing straws to see which one of them would have to be the one to ask Jesus:” are you the one?”

I don’t know about you, but John specifically being the one to ask this question feels like the pressure being taken off a little. It makes it easier to be vulnerable with our own questioning when someone this in the know has doubts too. I can imagine the disciples breathing a sigh of relief that someone was willing to bring this up, at that it was one with such thorough knowledge of Jesus. I’d hazard to say, that as Christians, approaching our faith with our own questions showcases a vulnerability that invites others to be a bit more transparent with their own doubts too.

Jesus responds to John’s question by sharing accounts of the ways that the world has been changed in the wake of his coming. He says to that messenger disciple, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This is not just a report of what’s transpired, it’s a reference to the prophecy that preceded Jesus. In Isaiah 35 we read, “Here is your God… He will come and save you. 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.”

Our Advent wreath theme of the day is Joy, and while it is very present in Jesus’ account of what the world is like now that he has come and prophecy is being fulfilled at that very moment, John’s question holds joy at a distance, not wanting to jump in too soon, to be too excited if there’s still more waiting yet to come.

“Are you the one?” When we’re not one hundred percent assured that God’s Good News is good news for us, we can find ourselves asking that same question. Are you Jesus, the one that can transform our lives, our hearts? Or should we wait for another? There are so many idols of this world that can look like salvation when our joy is not fully rooted in Christ.

But salvation is not just meant to be personal, it’s meant to be for the whole world. So, while we might not always be able to identify how God is at work transforming our world and our lives specifically, Jesus’ list in this passage invites us to view these radical healings and transformations already taking place all around us. One of the greatest joys of being community, of being the Church universal is that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just for us, but for all of us. Thanks be to God.

In this season, may we be willing to ask the difficult questions so that we can make way for Christ to be revealed in this world around us and received more authentically by all those who are awaiting his coming.

Amen.

“Table Grace” Luke 17:11-19, October 2, 2016, FPC Holt

“Table Grace”
Luke 17:11-19
October 2, 2016, First Presbyterian Church of Holt

2016-10-2-slide-1-healingUnclean! Unclean! No, this isn’t about the new parent plight of struggling to take a shower, rather it’s what these 10 men in our story today were required to shout when they got near to anyone, lest they expose others to this terrible and infectious disease. Unclean! Unclean! Each shout creating a boundary, putting oneself at a distance.

Often when I read the miracle stories I have trouble connecting them with our current reality. But this one? 2016-10-2-slide-2-divisionsIt’s a scene of divisions: racial divides, religious separations, and health as a barrier to relationship. There’s nothing foreign about those concepts in our world today. We know what lines drawn in the sand do to our understanding of “us” and “them.” We know what fear is capable of when used as a weapon to divide and denigrate.

2016-10-2-slide-3-lepers-at-a-distanceWhat is unfamiliar, however, is the healing practices surrounding leprosy, and how that plays into the divisions in this story. We know it is an undesirable and contagious condition, but the disease had further implications in society. Social and religious convention of that time dictated that once leprosy was contracted those who had it were unclean, medically and ritually. The duality of their uncleanliness meant that even once they were healed medically, they needed to be healed ritually as well, with sacrifice and the priest’s blessing.

2016-10-2-slide-4-one-leperThis story draws our attention to the Samaritan. He, like the other nine, is healed of his leprosy, but unlike the nine, his status as a foreigner means that even though he has received that same medical healing, he is unable to receive the ritual healing of the priest’s blessing. He comes to Jesus, and because he has been healed physically he is able to come close. His healing moves him from experiencing Jesus at a distance, to being able to truly know him face to face.

He is overcome with gratitude and Jesus says to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

2016-10-2-slide-5-lepersJesus draws his attention to the other nine, wondering why they don’t display such thankfulness. A big part of gratitude is acknowledging that there is actually something outside of yourself that is making things happen, improving your life in perceptible ways. If you believe that your health and wellness are solely your own doing, why would you express gratitude to one beyond yourself?

These nine were taking the steps they needed to take, like following through on a prescribed workout plan and diet. I guess one could see that as the upside to legalism. If things are so straightforward and dualistic: healthy and sick, broken and whole, and you believe that your move from one side of the coin to the other is determined by your actions, then you are indeed the one to be praised. Way to go, you! But the independence exercised by these nine, reveals an ignorance of God at work.

2016-10-2-slide-6-one-leper-shadowThis tenth man saw things a bit differently. He didn’t fall within the bounds of Jewish culture, and therefore was not privy to the benefits of their legalism. When he experienced healing he knew it not as his own doing, but as an act of grace from God. In his great need, he was able to see his lack of control, and thus was more receptive to God at work in his healing.

Gratitude is fundamentally an acknowledgement of our limitations and a humble response to our interdependence.

2016-10-2-slide-7-calvin-hospitalIn this recent season of life, welcoming sweet Calvin into the world, I’ve been surrounded by many moments of great need and humility. When you are in great need and have those needs met it can’t help but spur gratitude. So many of you saw me through many months of morning sickness, that was certainly not contained to the morning. Try as I might to find my own ways out of it, I instead was required to find ways through it, accepting the help of others, surrendering to my need for God’s presence.

In the midst of those first few days with Calvin, there were many opportunities to learn this lesson over and over again, through my inability to walk, climb stairs, or drive. I was utterly dependent on the help of others and on the peace and comfort God’s presence. Little by little I regained some semblance of health, but the interdependence in that time of utter need stayed with me.

As we sought to figure out this parenting business, so much was new and unfamiliar. In one specific instance I was trying to figure out how to sterilize bottles. What do you know, that very day we received a package from the Lloyds with another set of bottles and a steamer to help clean the bottles! The generosity was the Lloyds’, but the timing had to be God at work.

2016-10-2-slide-8-praying-around-tableOne of the first implicit lessons I was taught about faith was the importance of acknowledging need and interdependence through praying before eating a meal. In these prayers we were naming our need, naming the needs of others, naming our gifts, and thanking God for what we had.

2016-10-2-slide-9-prayerUCC pastor, Rev. John Thomas reflects on how our gratitude shapes our prayers. He wrote, “Saying a prayer before meals quietly or with others acknowledges that my life depends on God’s bounty and on a host of people who grew, processed, distributed, prepared, and served the food that gives me nourishment and delight. Saying a prayer by a hospital bed admits that my health rests in God’s love as well as the skills of scientists and physicians and nurses and a host of people who maintain these places of care. And, yes, even sending a thank-you note… is far more than social convention, but an awareness that the best gifts and thus much of the joy of life are not things we can give ourselves but come from beyond us as an alluring expression of love, even an invitation to love. Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are weaned away from the myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence. Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are shaped by the truth of our belonging to others, even to Christ.”

2016-10-2-slide-10-communion-table Today we have the opportunity to acknowledge the healing we’ve experienced through Christ and to draw near God in gratitude, coming to the communion table. In communion we are fed by the body and blood of Christ, a meal of unmerited favor, that is to say, grace.

Just as we are drawn close to Christ in this sacrament, we are also drawn close to Christ’s universal Church. When we come to the communion table we are all eating a common meal, bread and juice, but it is indicative of a much larger and more varied table. We come to this table in the midst of fellow Christians all over the world and all throughout time. At this table we offer up ourselves, our own ideas of how to be healthy and whole and good. We forgo our independence to be enveloped in the beauty of our interdependence, so that we may be brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we may fully partake in Christ’s grace.

2016-10-2-slide-11-hands-on-arms Seminary professor of mine, Beverly Zink-Sawyer had this to say about the teaching enacted by the Samaritan, “It is his actions that are exemplary for us as a community of faith. Recognizing the healing that has occurred, he turns back to praise God and falls at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving. The verbs “praise” (doxazo) and “thank” (eucharisto) echo references to worship frequently used by Luke and other New Testament writers. Luke seems to be connecting the practices that mark Christian worship with the restoration of health. We are reminded by the leper’s action that the ultimate place where we can cry out to God, receive mercy, and be transformed is the church, the place where we gather to offer our thanksgiving and praise.”

So as we are gathered today, in our worship, and most especially at this table of grace, may we remember that we are not our own, but we belong to one another and to God in blessed interdependence. May we respond with the utmost gratitude. Let all thanks be to God. Amen.