Luke 1 :57-80 St Jean-Baptiste Sunday June 25, 2017
Well it is the end of a school year for thousands of students across the country. They have all received their report cards, or something akin to what I had as a kid.
It is also the day we are celebrating the feast day of St John the Baptist, la fête national, as we say here, de la fête de la St Jean. The gospel text we heard today was his father, Zechariah’s, declaration of his son’s calling. Sometimes we look at the text and question when it was written, who wrote etc. Today, I want to take Zechariah’s words at face value and evaluate, like a report card, how John the Baptist measured up. I will also turn the report card on us, and I will ask you to help me mark our own report cards.
Zechariah’s words, often called the Benedictus because of the first words used, Blessed, are in many ways, John’s mission, his goals for his life.
It is in verse 76 that Zechariah begins to map out his son’s future Mission. It begins with ‘You will go before the Lord to prepare his way’.
I think on a score of 1-5, we can give John, a 5, he accepted his call. He went out into the wilderness to prepare the way for the Messiah. Like presence and participation in the classroom, he was there. Definitely a perfect score, he took his calling seriously, in the wilderness, stripping himself of all the luxuries of life, he accepted his call and threw himself completely in it.
What about ourselves? As a people who are called to be followers of Jesus, of continuing his mission, what score would you give the Church? What score would you give yourself? Let’s start with the Church. The Church has sometimes done a terrible job, let’s be frank. We cannot mark it for the past, though. We are not marking the older brother and sister, that already went through the class. We have to look at the Church’s presence and participation now in preparing the way of the Lord. What do you think?
Now, how would rate yourself?
John the Baptist perfect score for accepting his calling, challenges us to also accept our calling as disciples to prepare the way of the Lord.
Let’s go back to our text and see how John did in his learning goals. Did he understand them? Was he able to convey them?
For that we have to go back to Zechariah’s words. They are found in verses 77, 78, 79.
John is to give knowledge of salvation to the people. But how? The surprise is here in Zechariah’s words. It will not be through violence, an insurrection, a political change. Zechariah knew that would not be how the Messiah would come.
Listen to the how salvation is to come. There are three parts to that. That salvation comes by the forgiveness of theirs sins. It is by the tender mercy of God that this happens with the ultimate goal of leading the people to peace.
That is one incredible learning goal John had, a steep learning curve. John, like most people expected the Messiah to be the warrior king that would use violence to achieve his goals. Most people also saw God as a judge. Zechariah’s prophesy saw something radically different. The Words translated tender mercy do not convey how deep mercy is in the nature of God. Did John get it? Was he able to incorporate these learning goals in his message.
Des résultats mitigés, as we would say in French. He definitely understood the need to call people to repentance. He did not quite seem to grasp the idea that God’s nature was totally into mercy. Jesus got that one perfectly. John didn’t. He got stuck on threatening them with fire and brimstone. Now, did he understand that the whole purpose of God’s design was to lead people out of darkness into the way of peace? The records are a bit sketchy, but what we have seems to indicate he did have some awareness of at least getting them out of darkness into light. It is not clear that he understood that it was to lead them onto the way of peace.
We will have to give John a 3.5.
Now what about us? WE have had the benefit of Jesus making it so much clearer.
That is a hard one to measure. The Church and religions in general so often have thrown themselves on the side of the state, which seldom is working on the way of peace. Some churches and religions have recognized that God is mercy and love. Others, are still stuck in the idea that God seems to be looking for opportunities to condemn people. That certainly is not only with the Muslim extremists, we find them in some Christian circles as well.
I received a flyer in the mail a couple of weeks ago. IMPORTANT MESSAGE, QUÉBEC, YOU ARE WARNED, and on the back page SAVE YOUR SOUL! In between, there was a lot of warnings of God’s judgement. If you take Papineau, going south but don’t take the fork to the South shore, you will see the church on your righthand side, with a big sign that is again a warning type.
The damnation churches, and the type of Christianity they represent, are closer to John’s message of a call to repentance, then the vision Zechariah and later Jesus shared, that God is a God of love who goes running after the prodigal son, or the Shepperd that goes after the lost sheep.
But what about us? How would you rate the Church? Has she gotten the Gospel message, right? Has she been telling people that the way to their salvation is by accepting the forgiveness that God offers them? Has the Church been clear, that the very nature of God is mercy? Has the church been leading people to the way of peace?
As a Christian pacifist, one who believes that is what Jesus called us to, to be peacemakers. I would score her a bit low on that one. I would rate us maybe a 3 out of 5.
That having been said, I think it is best if we let God rate her Church, counting on her very nature of mercy.
As far as each one of us is concerned, we need to ask ourselves and evaluate ourselves, are we living out a gospel of forgiveness, mercy and peace?
In the meantime, remembering that John the Baptist was not perfect, may we strive to live out the good news of forgiveness, mercy and peace.
There is one last area where I think we need to rate John on his report card. I would call it Recognizing one’s strengths and limitations. Here John gets a perfect score, 5 out 5. He knew he was not the Messiah. He knew that he had a specific role in God’s plan, and that was to prepare the way for the Messiah.
I think there is something for us to learn in that. The ministry of the Church is to continue to prepare the way of the Lord, and we do so as we carry on Christ’s mission. That mission is vast and each one of us cannot do all of it. We each need to know what we can do, and do it. Some are called to visit the sick or those in prison, some are administrators, some teachers, some Sunday school or child care workers. Others continue to lead the Church in social justice issues. As a minister, I am aware of so many of the needs, I also recognize I cannot do it all. I need you, we need each other to be faithful to Christ’s mission.
This last Sunday of the month is the last dinner we serve to the poorest of our community till September. We usually have a lot of volunteers from the schools to help our own volunteers. Not today, schools are out, that means we need more then ever volunteers from you gathered here. If you never have, don’t worry about it. There will be those who have who will guide you. Doing so you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are not only helping people but continuing to prepare the way of the Lord. Plus, you will have a great lunch!
John the Baptist recognized the role he had to play in God’s plan. May each one of us find our own role, recognizing our limits, and giving thanks for all those with who we work to prepare the way of the Lord.
Sisters and brothers, I, to make a point, evaluated John the Baptist’s record. The point I hope is clear. John the Baptist did the best he could and he prepared the way for Christ.
We are challenged to accept the call that of the disciple to continue to prepare the way of the Lord.
We do so as we announce and live out the gospel of forgiveness, mercy and peace.
Finally, the mission of Christ is so vast, let us each continue to play our role, knowing our limits, and giving thanks for each one of us as we seek to faithfully prepare the way of the Lord.