Why Prophets Make Lousy Dinner Guests
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 3: 1 – 12. Sunday, December 8, 2013. Focus on why we need a savior but don’t want one.
I’ve never met a Biblical prophet, but I imagine if I did I would not like them very much. It’s never fun when someone shoves a bunch of hard choices in front of your face and shouts, “Repent!” Prophets are horribly pessimistic too. If one showed up around my grandmother she would have said to him: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.”
Prophets also have this amazing ability to come across simultaneously as pompous and whiny, which is annoying beyond belief. And they’re almost always RUDE. I mean all caps rude, too. If a prophet had a twitter feed everything he’d say would all be in CAPS – All the time.
Case in point – John the Baptist. Here he comes, all ready to prepare the way of the Lord in his weird, get up of camel’s hair and his equivalent of granola – a locust honey trail mix. John is making a name for himself in the wilderness giving the typical prophet speech about repentance and getting your mind right with God and then he invites everyone to come on down and put their money where their mouth is by getting baptized.
Now you would think the goal of propheting would be to convince people to see things your way, particularly when you’re claiming that your way is also God’s way. And I can only imagine that there is a hierarchy of targets on which a prophet would hope to be successful.
There are your average followers at the bottom, the ones who might be the people who like to follow the most interesting new thing, and above them, the people who were inclined to believe what you’re saying but maybe needed one last push to get there.
Then after this, I imagine, it gets interesting. You get to the real converts, the people who were swayed by your words and at the very top, at the pinnacle of prophetic success, the people who you are speaking against, the people who most need to hear what you are saying and therefore will be the most reluctant to accept it.
Now if you can get those people, then you’re a shoe-in for the Prophet Hall of Fame. It’s this kind of repentance that would make the angels burst into song. So when his antagonists come out to be baptized by him, you would think he would welcome them as a sign that everyone, from the least to the greatest at long last is willing to repent together. But that’s not what he does.
Instead he rails at them: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” This would be an interesting call to worship don’t you think? Leader says: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath of God.” People respond: “Let us praise the Lord!” But I digress.
John’s real message is to say that being born into a certain race, clan or tribe means nothing. Stones could just as easily take their place. The Pharisees and Sadducees couldn’t agree on much but one thing they both believed was that they were God’s chosen. It was after all in their very genes. The blood coursing through them was all part of a covenant that had been given them thousands of years before this encounter with John.
You see these were the folks who taught and interpreted God’s word to the people. They were the folks who kept the synagogues and Temple running smoothly. They paid the bills. Set the budget. They kept the religion of Judaism alive. What more were they expected to do?
And the answer is simple: To bear fruit. To live lives that witness to God’s will for the world. And the rest of Matthew’ Gospel sets about to describe in great detail what that looks like. What this particular passage is about is the “pretense” to think that one deserves God’s favor because of heritage or lineage or anything other than faith.
It’s the pretense that says we’re ok all by ourselves, that we have it all under control. Just don’t’ look in my closet. And it’s this particular pretense, which is the last thing that we really have to let go of before we can truly know or meet God.
You see God didn’t send Christ into the world to make us and the world just a little bit better, or because we had figured out just about everything else on our own and all we needed was just one more thing. Jesus came because we need him – because we need that Love made manifest, the Word made flesh.
We need someone that looks like us. We need it to see how we should be as a human being and God loves us enough to provide it. We are worth God sending a son, and the son giving his life for our lives. We are worth that!
But we didn’t make it happen. We don’t have it under control. But God did, and God still does. And when we live lives with this realization, then we naturally will bear the fruit that God expects from us. Amen