John the Baptist: not perfect but a model to follow

Luke 1 :57-80 June 24, 2018

In case anyone did not know, today is the feast day of John the Baptist. It is also for us here in Quebec, la fête nationale, commonly known as La St-Jean. Now, it might be interesting to look back at how a religious feast day, with its parade that closed with a curly fair-haired boy riding on a float dressed as John the Baptist, became the national holiday that it is today, but that is a whole other story… that can be found on the internet!

What I want to focus on today is the person of John the Baptist. As much as I like to search for the fact amidst the religious myth, that is not my intent today. It is hard to separate fact from myth when it comes to John the Baptist. We do know that he existed, that he preached in the wilderness, that he had a following, disciples, that Jesus chose to be baptized by him. What I want to focus on though, is what we can learn from the person that is described in the gospels.

To begin with, I have to say, that I really like John the Baptist, and I will tell you why.

I am a man who likes it when people take action, when it is for the good of people and creation. People who believe strongly something and act on it. John the Baptist believed, in the difficult times they were living in first century Palestine, that people needed to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah that would free the people. They needed to get their personal lives in order, they needed to turn away from all that drew them away from God. That is what the word Repent means. Changing your ways.

For us today, John’s message still stands. He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord, to make the path clear. How? By first of all, looking at our own lives, what is not good, but also, by looking at what needs to change in society to reflect more the values of God’s kingdom, God’s reign.

This last week, we saw the tragic pictures of children, as young as 9 months old, torn away from their parents who had tried to slip into the US, placed in fenced in camps. 2300 children taken from their parents at the US-Mexico border, and sent as far away as NY city. Hard to imagine the trauma the children have experienced.

But people said NO, voices arose across the US and the world saying, NO, you cannot tear children away from their parents. Although, President Trump signed a decree to stop it on Wednesday, nothing was said about the over 2300 kids already separated from their parents. Friday a small demonstration was held in front of the US consulate here in Montreal. A few of us Anglican clergy were there. People were calling out in the wilderness saying no, in the name of God and all that is right, you cannot tear children away from their parents.

Now this is an American problem, but we are not without sin as Canadians. Here in Laval, refugee claimants who do not have the appropriate legal papers, are also held in detention. Children are not taken from their parents, so we have children, who have fled from their own countries with their parents who feared for their lives, being locked up with them. We have our own sins.

I like John the Baptist because he reminds us that we are to continue to prepare the way of the Lord, by making things right.

 

I also like John the Baptist because he was humble, he did not pretend to be greater than he was. He knew he was not the Messiah. The apostle Paul in today’s epistle quotes John saying that he is not the Messiah that was expected and that he was not worthy even to untie the thong of his sandals.

John was the complete opposite of the one wanting to draw attention to himself. We encounter occasionally someone, and we say to our self, ‘Who does he think he is? In French we say, ‘il se prend pour l’ombril du monde.’ A rough translation being, ‘he takes himself for the belly button of the world’ or more appropriately, ‘he takes himself to be the centre of the world.’ All referring to someone who sees him or herself playing a more important role than he actually does.

When we are young parents, we wonder about our child, not unlike Zechariah at John’s presentation at the Temple, when our child grows up, what role will he or she play? Will he or she, quoting a nursery rhyme, be a doctor, a lawyer, a merchant chief? We hope only for the best for our child.

As we grow into our teen years, then adulthood, we ask ourselves the same question. What will I do? What will I be? Maybe I was a bit too reflective as a young boy, but I loved Doris Day singing Que sera, sera, what ever will be will be, the future is not ours to see, Que sera, sera?

As we work our way through life, we test things until it becomes clearer, through times and trials at times, we begin to realize the role we are to play. It is a process of discovery.

John did not know immediately.  Jesus did not till he was 30, when he began his ministry right after his baptism at the hands of John. It was a turning point for Jesus, as he was able to embrace his identity as a child of God. Even after that, Jesus had to go into the wilderness where he had to sort out even more what it meant.

Each one of us, wherever we are in our journey of life, whether we are 20, or 60, can learn from John to seek humbly the role we are to play in preparing the world for it to be a better place.

I like John the Baptist because he reminds us that we are to continue to prepare the way of the Lord, by making things right.

I like John the Baptist, because he humbly played out his role in preparing the way of the Lord.

Now there is one other thing I want to mention about John the Baptist, that I really like. It is that he was not always right. He knew his role was to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, which is what he sought to do, calling people to change their ways, to repent.

Where he did not get it all right is how he expected the Messiah to be. He saw him coming with a winnowing fan to gather the wheat and burn the chaff in a fire that will never go out. In other words, all those who had not repented could expect to burn forever.

Jesus chose to embody another type of Messiah. The passage we heard from Isaiah 40, captures more what Jesus chose to be. Let me read again a part of Isaiah, where we hear the expected Messianic warrior become the gentle shepherd.

See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

John the Baptist did not get it quite right. He knew he was to call people to prepare the way for the coming of the messiah, but he did not have quite the right idea of what type of Messiah would be coming.

I like that about John, why? Because it is a heck of a load off my shoulders. I don’t need to get it all right.  What a relief! I don’t need to have the whole truth, I actually don’t have it!

Maybe you can relate to that desire to have it all together, to be perfect, embodying all wisdom, all truth. That hit me powerfully last week.

I was training parole officers, psychologists and various other individuals, the Canadian program of Circles of support and accountability, at l’Ecole nationale d’administration pénitentiare in France. COSA is a program that works with high risk sex offenders so that they do not reoffend. In my training, I use role plays so people can get a feel for how those Circles work. The day after the first role play, we did our daily check in, one woman, then a second woman, in tears, shared how they felt like failures. They did not do it right. I was quite surprised how deeply they were affected.

I realized though how many of us carry an incredible yard stick that we measure ourselves with, and if we don’t measure up, we believe we have failed. The reality is, we have not failed, we have learned.

I believe John the Baptist learned. When John was arrested, and Jesus began his ministry, John sent some of his own disciples to ask Jesus, is he the one they were waiting for. Jesus told them to go back to John and tell him, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life and the Good news is proclaimed to the poor. He invited John to decide for himself.

I like John because he was not always right, yet he continued to learn.

 

 

My sisters and brothers, on this St Jean-Baptiste day, let us celebrate John’s feast day, remembering that he

reminds us that we are to continue to prepare the way of the Lord, by making things right.

That he humbly played out his role in preparing the way of the Lord, and we must to.

Finally, as we seek to prepare the way of the Lord, we can remember that we will not always be right, but we can learn from our mistakes.

Bonne fête de la St-Jean!

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