This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on December 14, 2014.
Gospel: John 1:6–8, 19–28
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." 21And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." 22Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23He said,
"I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
'Make straight the way of the Lord,'"
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" 26John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Lately, I’ve really enjoyed reliving old episodes of the sitcom, The Office.
If you aren’t familiar with this classic show, it revolves, shockingly, around an office, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that sells and distributes paper. Now, if your funny bone isn’t tickled already, what makes the show work is its cast of characters, especially, the boss, Michael Scott.
Now, Michael has a very good heart, and his intentions are usually very well-meaning, but when it comes to life, Michael really doesn’t have a clue. This may be most apparent, in the episode about Scott’s Tots. You see, Scott’s Tots were a group of children, who Michael made a very big promise to. Michael offered to pay for their college tuition, if they graduated from High School.
Perhaps, if Michael was the owner of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper, this promise wouldn’t be so outlandish, but he is merely a regional manager at the Scranton office. In other words, he couldn’t make good on this promise. Which makes for a hilarious 22 minutes of really awkward television, especially when Michael has to meet with Scott’s Tots, who even sing to him, “Mr. Scott, Mr. Scott, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do make our dreams come true?” …Which Michael does accomplish, that is, if the dreams of the children were fulfilled by the laptop battery he gave them and not the chance to go to college.
Even though he was a bit of a moron about it, I can see where Michael Scott was coming from in making such a promise. It felt good to him, to make others feel good. It made him feel important, and a difference maker in the lives of others to make this promise. By and large, we all know how it feels, to be able to give things to others that make them happy.
Unfortunately, the control that we have over our promises, can be pretty minimal. For instance, if you have a young boy at home, and they are looking forward to a special Halloween Trunk or Treating party at their school, and it gets canceled due to weather, unless you can control the weather, you just have to suck it up, and deal with a disappointed child. So, we are wise, when we do the opposite of the Michael Scott approach, and surprise with things we can actually give to others, rather than make promises to them, that may we have to break.
Often times, in the world of faith, our revered figures and role models can be less obvious versions of Michael Scott. This is the faith figure who seems to be able to be a constant source of hope and enthusiasm, at least for a short time. The person who has made it as far as they have, usually in terms of financial stability, and worldly status, as a result of what God has done for them, because of their faith and belief. And the message that I often here in this type of faith, is that God will certainly do the same for you. As long as you have enough faith, the message proclaims, I promise you, you can become like me, and have the good life too, you can be comfortable, and satisfied, and completely in control. Then, to throw in some good intentions, there’s also the message that together, we can change the world for good.
This message can be uplifting, for a time, and it can give hope, but in the long run, this promise is not sustainable.
The promise; of success, a comfortable life, even health and wellness can come and go. And nothing I, or anybody else can promise can make the uncertainty of life change, regardless of how much one believes, or has faith. But the uncertainty of our lives and the many things that are beyond our control, doesn’t mean that we are without promise, or that we are without hope. It only means that instead of hearing and emulating the message of the Michael Scotts of this world, we turn instead, to someone like John the Baptist.
John, as we read today, wasn’t really anybody. He was sent by God, yes, but he wasn’t sent to be the light, or the Messiah, or even a great prophet. And, though he baptized people, John himself admitted, that really, he was just getting people wet. John, was sent by God, to simply tell people, to speak with boldness, that their Savior, Jesus Christ, the Messiah who had been promised to them, was coming.
This morning, the position of one who makes a lot of promises about how great your life can be is not a message I’m equipped to give. I can’t predict your future, or give you keys to happiness, and I can’t draw much of a link about how believing in God will help you pay for someone’s college tuition.
But, I will gladly share with you a message with a much better promise, a much greater hope, a much brighter future, than anything I could possibly have control over. This is the message that our God, Jesus Christ is here, and by the power of his love; through the promise of his unending life, we have a hope that is greater than anything we could imagine. The hope of someone who promises to love us, the promise to make us his sisters and brothers, even while we crucify him.
And, just like John, we proclaim with our lives that Jesus’ presence in this world will continue to break forth, it will continue to increase, it will continue to bring salvation to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the prisoner, our enemies, and even ourselves. This salvation will increase, as we grow in believing Christ’s promise, the promise of his unending love, the promise that he has given to all people, by dying for us on a cross.
We, as God’s people, are being sent, like John the Baptist, out into the world, not to give false hope, to proclaim and fulfill this promise of Christ’s love. We are sent into the world to share this gift until there are no more oppressed, or brokenhearted, only sisters and brothers. Truly, we have been given the promise, the unending hope of Jesus Christ, and we are called to share it, knowing that:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,