August 21, 2022 – The Rev. Mary Bea Sullivan

Proper 16C
Jeremiah 1:4-15, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Did it happen all at once?
I am wondering about that bent-over woman in the synagogue.

Was she suddenly stricken?
Or was it more gradual?
Little by little,
shoulders slumping more and more
until hers became a life of looking down.

No taking in the beauty of the surrounding mountains,
no gazing at the stars…
no looking at a beloved eye to eye.

Just day after day, staring at the dusty street and sandaled feet.

The Rev. Robyn Arnold Funeral Homily – July 11, 2022

Mother Robyn was a sister, daughter, friend, professor, scientist, writer, ecologist, and priest but most importantly a beloved child of God. Robyn began early in life asking questions and usually wasn’t satisfied with the answers she was given. Her desire to learn and find answers quickly led her into becoming an avid reader and deeply committed to education, both as a student and a teacher.  Her quest to seek answers and improve the world led her into the sciences. Her first career choice focused on educational programs which were sustainable and had practical environmental benefits from natural resources for the impoverished and marginalized families in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Her pursuit to do and learn more resulted in a master’s degree in Physiology from Mississippi State and her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her degrees allowed her to focus on factors diseases had on healthy cells and their effects on tissues and organs. It was while earning her Ph.D. she followed the nudging of the Holy Spirit and to her surprise ended up a baptized Episcopalian at St. Andrew’s church in Birmingham. When she questioned how to reconcile her scientific knowledge to her spiritual awakening, a newfound love of High Church liturgy, and the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, she began a discernment process that led to her earning her Masters of Divinity. As our priest, her inquisitive nature continued as she tried hard to focus on the Father’s will and not her own for her people of Grace and the marginalized of Woodlawn. Working with many other community leaders she questioned how to make real systemic changes for those who came to Grace’s doors. She was often frustrated with the lack of answers on how to reveal Christ and his all-embracing love to the neighborhood and how to lead her parishioners into a deeper daily relationship with the Trinity. 

Although not always hitting the mark she tried to seek out God’s will for Grace Church and through Grace Church. She helped cook for the hungry at Community Kitchens and for years spiritually fed our neighbors who came to Grace’s food pantry. When presented with the need to shelter our freezing neighbors she assisted in starting Grace’s Warming Station. When she was physically able she helped provide shelter during the winter nights to the homeless and under-employed. She spent many hours researching and discussing ways to not only share Christ with the community children but provide opportunities for GraceWorks children to be the feet and hands of Christ in Woodlawn. She often shared GraceWorks struggles and successes with her family. She envisioned GraceWorks providing the children of Woodlawn a safe place to play together outside just as she did with her sister LeAnn, brother Mike, and cousins when she was a child. 

Although she regularly met the immediate needs of those who came to Grace’s doors, her true love was celebrating the Eucharist at Grace Church. She believed with all her heart Grace Church should and could provide a beautiful place for anyone and everyone to worship with high church liturgy in the celebration of all the Sacraments in the Anglo-Catholic traditions.

During Robyn’s ten years at Grace, she led us through many chapters of Grace’s history. Some were of growth, some were of pain, and many were full of joy.  Towards the end of Mother Robyn’s tenure, her health declined and her separation from Grace was a painful one for us and for her. But as she stated in many of her homilies over the years, through all our pains, changes, fears, and joys; God in Christ Jesus loves, forgives, and redeems all of us every second. We are made new with each breath we take. As Christians we belong to God and “by our very nature live in the space between this world and the one to come….the Kingdom as it is revealed in the community of believers and the Kingdom as it is present in heaven.”  

I think Robyn understood John’s words: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’” Rev. 21:3-4

John’s vision reminds us that God is with us always and God’s plan does not end with our physical death. As Easter people, our Risen Lord is our proof death is not the end but the beginning of our gathering with the Communion of Saints. As Christians, we believe as stated in the B
ook of Common Prayer (862),” By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.”

 I would like to end the sermon with some of Robyn’s own words from a homily she preached in 2018. “Whether or not eternity is the nearer presence of God will be like the heavenly experience John saw in his vision, I don’t know but I am confident that this life is not all there is. It is my hope to be reunited with those I love who have gone before and it is my belief that in a very real way they are present with us now,… I am confident that we are not abandoned. Our God revealed to us in Jesus Christ will be our constant companion in this life and the next.”  Amen.

The Rev. Kay Williams, Deacon

5th Sunday After Pentecost 2022 – Rev. Nathaniel K. M. Darville

In the name of the God of truth, compassion, and love: the F, the S, and the HS. Amen. (from Ps. 25:3-5)

Arise, and rule the earth, for you shall take all nations for your own, O God: the F, the S, and the HS. Amen. (from Ps. 82:8)

(Jesus said) “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 36 &37)

Wrong Question, Right Answer or The Courage to Be the Neighbor

Kate MacIntyre lost her decade-long battle with cancer in 2007.  A stalwart of the community, she was known throughout Davidson, North Carolina for her public service.  Those close to Kate say she had two passions.  She loved art, and spent her career starting several initiatives to bring the visual arts to a wider audience, particularly to those with little means.  She also loved to volunteer at the food pantry of her home parish, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.  A few years later, St. Alban’s commissioned a memorial that combined Kate’s dedication to the arts and to the poor.  A bronze sculpture of a man lying down, wrapped in a blanket, was placed on a bench just outside the church doors. The blanket completely covers his face like a hood, but his bare feet are left exposed.  A closer inspection reveals the man’s feet to have large scars, meant to represent crucifixion wounds.  The title of this sculpture: “Homeless Jesus.”  

Personally, I believe Homeless Jesus to be a profound piece of theology.  This one image encapsulates the whole gospel.  The poor stranger on the street is certainly our neighbor.  But he’s not only our neighbor; he’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  There is no doubt this is true.  But this truth, like any truth, is unsettling.  We like our faith to be polite, familiar, and neat.  The sculpture is provocative, odd, and messy.   And the reviews on Homeless Jesus were…mixed.  For sure, the parishioners were totally convinced it was consistent with their commitment to social justice.  And some members of Davidson believed it was refreshing for a church to openly acknowledge the homelessness problem.  But many more people were offended by Homeless Jesus, and believed it had no place in their community.  The sculpture was on St. Alban’s property, but it faced a public road, and pedestrians often mistook it for an actual person, especially at night, and were frightened.  Others simply disagreed with its message, like one woman, who called the police saying “Christ wasn’t a vagrant, and doesn’t need our help.”  Still others admitted they were so uncomfortable that if they happened to be near the church, they would cross to the other side of the street so they wouldn’t have to walk by Homeless Jesus.

Today’s Gospel continues right through one of the meatiest sections of Luke.  In Chapter 9, Jesus commissions the 12 disciples to go around the Galilee region do the same ministry he had been doing-healing the sick and preaching the Good News to the poor.  After a successful mission, the disciples regroup with Jesus to assist him in feeding the 5000.  Peter responds to this miracle by proclaiming Jesus to be the messiah.  Jesus answers this proclamation by reminding the disciples Jesus will be betrayed, will suffer, will die, and will be raised.  And he also reminds them that those who want to follow him must pick up their crosses first.  The disciples then go with Jesus to the base of a mountain, but only Peter, James, and John take the hike up with him.  At the summit, the three disciples witness Jesus transfigured by God’s glory with the two most important figures in the Jewish faith-Moses and Elijah-on either side of him.  Then Jesus climbs down the mountain to begin his final journey to Jerusalem.  When he and the disciples are fully into Samaria-surely the most hostile territory for Jews in Palestine-there Jesus commissions 70 of his followers to heal and preach.  Despite the fact they are ministering to Samaritans, the 70 also do well.  Just then a lawyer, that is an expert in the Torah, comes to Jesus to try and trip him up on a deep theological question: “Rabbi, this whole eternal life thing, how do I get me some of that?”  Jesus does what he always does when presented with a question; he answers with his own question.  “You know the law, so what does the law say?”  The man provides a good summary of the law-love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), love neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).  Jesus is willing to end on that note: “You’re totally right,” he says.  “Live by that rule, and you’re golden.”  But the man pushes Jesus even more.  “Who is my neighbor?”  And Jesus uses one of his favorite teaching methods.  He tells the man a parable.  An unidentified man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, an 18-mile road known as “the Way of Blood” due to its steep, windy decline, and because it was a favorite spot for thieves to ambush travelers.  So, no surprise, the man is robbed and beaten nearly to death.  A priest was traveling in the same direction, but instead of helping the man, he crosses to the other side of the road so he can pretend he doesn’t see the injured man.  Next, a Levite, that is another man who served in the Temple, did the same thing-when he reaches the man, he crosses to the other side of the road.  Finally, a Samaritan-an absolutely despised enemy of the Jews-walks by the man and is filled with compassion for him.  So much so that he tends to the man’s wounds, picks him up, puts him on his riding animal, and takes the man to an inn.  And there the Samaritan continues to care for him.  Even though he needs to leave, the Samaritan gives the innkeeper money to continue to care for the man, and promises he will return, and pay off any more expenses that may come up.  Then Jesus concludes with a question of his own: “Which of these men was a neighbor to the injured man?”  The lawyer cannot even say the word “Samaritan.”  “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus responds: “Go and do the same.”

How many of you have heard this story before?  One could argue the Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most recognizable passages in all of scripture.  It’s certainly one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables.  Yet it’s also one of the most misunderstood.  If we aren’t careful, we completely overlook Jesus’ point.  It’s right there, propped up between the lawyer’s question- ”And who is my neighbor?”-and Jesus’ question-“Which of these three was a neighbor to the man?”  So, let’s take a closer look at them.

And who is our neighborEverybody.  Each character in the parable had a descriptive name-robber, priest, Levite, Samaritan, innkeeper-each one, that is, except for the man.  Jesus just calls him a man.  The man, of course, was the neighbor.  But he wasn’t given a specific title or name because he represents every person.  It doesn’t matter what someone’s legal status, gender identity, or sexual orientation is, no matter what our culture tells us.  Everyone we come into contact with, everyone in our community, everyone on this planet is our neighbor.  Especially those who scare us to death.  In today’s Gospel, the priest and the Levite avoided the man beaten by robbers because they were afraid.  But the Samaritan took the risk to enter into the man’s suffering and care for him. This call is our call.  God demands that we love all people the same way God loves us-with a love that’s absolute, unsolicited, and unconditional.  There are absolutely no exceptions.  But we might say we just can’t do it.  It’s too hard.  It’s true.  We can’t.  But thank God it’s not up to us.  We love our neighbors as God loves us because we love with God’s love.  In the waters of Baptism, we are soaked in God’s love.  In the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are stuffed with God’s love.  In our prayer together, we are filled with God’s love.  And this love is so gratuitous, so generous, so infectious, that we simply have to share it everywhere with everyone.  In other words, by an act of grace, we become God’s love to our neighbors.

And who is our neighbor?  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God loves us so completely that God desires to share in every part of our experience.  It’s for this reason that God became human.  And when God became human God sanctified every part of it.  People are good.  You are good.  We know this because Jesus has the same body we have.  He has the same emotions we have.  The same joys we have.  The same suffering we have.  And Jesus is present in all of it, in all of us, right here, right now.  This is what Jesus means in Matthew’s Gospel when he says “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  This is also reflected in our Baptismal Covenant, where we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”  These aren’t metaphors.  These aren’t superstitions.  These aren’t ideals.  It’s simply how it is.  Jesus is present in each of us.  And when we meet our neighbor-our family, our friends, the mentally ill, the violent criminal, the single woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy, the person facing the end of a long, painful, terminal illness-when we meet these neighbors we come face-to-face with the risen Christ.  And it’s in these moments filled with incarnation, we love the Word made flesh.

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  Here is the one fact often missed in this parable.  Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question.  According to Jesus, it doesn’t matter one bit who the neighbor is because everybody is.  Instead, Jesus flips the question back on to the lawyer and on to us.  The real question for us as we take our spiritual journey together is: What kind of neighbor should we be?  A neighbor just like the despised Samaritan.  We must love everyone, especially those who have been rejected, beaten, and exploited by the powers of this world.  But what does this love look like?  We enter into the spaces of others, seeing everything from their perspective, not ours.  We have compassion, bearing others’ burdens, sharing their pain, and bandaging their wounds-all with complete intimacy and care.  We pay others’ monetary debts, no matter how much.  And we always come back for more.  Because that is what we do.  We love our neighbors as ourselves.  And we love our neighbors as ourselves because they are ourselves.  They are connected to us, part of who we are.

Let’s take a moment and look around the nave.  Each person here is here because their lives were touched by Mother Robyn Arnold.  If I had not met her, I would not have met and fallen in love with each of you.  If I had not met her, I would not have thought God might be calling me to do something.  If I had not met her, I would not be a priest.  I owe Robyn my life.  Because she taught me that it was possible to make the world a better place a little bit each day.  Because she reminded me that everybody, even those who test my patience, push me out of my comfort zone, and shake me to my core is my neighbor.  Because she showed me Christ is really, truly, actually right there in everyone.  Because when I looked into Robyn’s eyes, I saw Jesus. What a wonderful, joyful, beautiful gift.  I am forever grateful for that.

After a few months of constant harassment, St. Alban’s Church finally gave in to the pressure and removed Homeless Jesus from that bench.  I’m sure the irony was lost on the Davidson community that they were, at least symbolically, kicking Jesus out.  Fortunately, the sculpture found a new home outside a church in Detroit, Michigan in what is ground zero for urban plight, where it continues to draw attention and inspiration.  One could make the argument that a good piece of art and the Good News of Christ produce the same results: they both force us to ask questions about ourselves-who we are and what we do.  There’s no question that every homeless person is our neighbor.  There’s no question Christ is present in every encounter we have with the homeless.  But the real question Homeless Jesus raises is not who is our neighbor, but what kind of neighbor should we be, and how can we love in a world that chooses to ignore the marginalized?  The answer is we’re called to be Samaritans, who help all people within our reach, meeting their needs with complete compassion.  And whenever we remember our baptism together, whenever we break bread together, whenever we pray together, we’re filled with the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, who just loves us into the neighbor we were always meant to be.

Rev. Nathaniel K. M. Darville
5th Sunday After Pentecost, 2022

First Sunday After Easter 2022 – Rev. Kay Williams, Deacon

May we have eyes to see our blessings, ears to hear God’s words, and the humbleness to praise Christ our Risen Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, AMEN

Today, the first Sunday after Easter we have heard the Easter story and celebrated Christ’s victory. But have we taken the time to truly realize we are the benefactors of our Risen Savior’s victory over death, hell, and the grave. Today’s scriptures show us a glimpse of the disciples’ spiritual growth and the concrete changes his resurrection had on their lives and can have on ours.

In John’s gospel, it has been three days since the disciples watched their leader, and teacher die a very public and horrible death by crucifixion. Now on the first resurrection Sunday they have been startled by Jesus’s empty tomb. They have also just been shaken by the message Jesus sent to them through a woman, Mary Magdalene. In a state of great fear, anxiety, disappointment, and maybe anger they huddled behind locked doors with fearful thoughts of the Roman and Jewish leaders searching for them; when before their astounded eyes stood Jesus. The master they had forsaken and ran from in his hour of capture. The one Peter denied three times. The one some had watched be crucified and heard his last words from the cross. There he was with reassurance to them with his first words, “Peace be with you.”

He came to them in the midst of their fears and confusion and gave them a deep soul-filling peace. A solace that comes only from a loving God. He met them where they were physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He went into the locked room and revealed his marks from the crucifixion. He allowed their eyes to take in what they could not wrap their heads around. Jesus instructed them to move beyond their fear, and confusion and from behind the locked doors to continue God’s work of sharing His love and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, a week later the disciples are still huddled in the same house but Thomas is with them when Jesus appeared a second time. Again Jesus began by giving all in the room his peace. Just as he did with the disciples earlier he showed Thomas his crucifixion marks, but this time with an invitation to touch them. He came and gave Thomas exactly what Thomas needed to believe. Thomas did not need to touch the marks, he openly and verbally declared Jesus as his Lord and Master. He went beyond a belief statement into a proclamation of trust and a personal relationship: “My Lord and my God!”

The disciples went from a huddled group of dismayed, and distressed followers in a locked house to spiritual leaders who proclaimed the Gospel boldly where ever the Spirit led them. In Acts, we find Peter and some of the apostles defending their actions of healing the sick and proclaiming Christ risen in Jerusalem. Peter and the other disciples have already served jail time and been ordered to not teach in Jesus’s name. Although not perfect and often doubting, fearful, and confused the disciples have been in the presence of the Risen Savior and now respond to the religious authorities with a new boldness. Jesus’s resurrection has resulted in the disciples being forgiven, restored, and commissioned to begin a new life teaching, healing, forgiving, and loving others in the name of Jesus. Being with the resurrected Christ changed the frightened scattered apostles into a community of faith believers who were bold and outspoken proclaimers of God’s love, and power, and of Jesus as the resurrected Savior of all. They no longer lived by the letter of the law, or by a list of do’s and don’ts but lived their lives with the new experience and knowledge of life beyond physical death. They spoke with the authority of eyewitnesses to the Risen Savior and through the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

Their actions of love, unity, and putting others before themselves had resulted in an amazing growth of the new church. This growth continued to the point many churches were established and harassed by the Roman authorities. John’s writing of Revelations was to the churches struggling as communities of faithful believers under Roman rule. The original believers understood the cryptic language and symbolism John used to get his message to the churches. John’s writings were to encourage the followers and remind them God has all power and is in control, not the Roman leader Caesar. Like the original disciples, the churches were to remain bold in sharing Christ and living their lives honoring God.

Today the Holy Spirit still leads his followers and the church to stand together and be strong in God. We as baptized believers have been changed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. The same God of eternity, the Risen Savior is present with us today. Jesus is alive! Regardless of our doubts, fears, confusion, or hesitations he still reaches out to us. He is with us daily.

Today’s readings demonstrate the spiritual progress the disciples made in their earnest efforts to live their lives according to the firsthand knowledge and lessons learned from the Son of God. We as a church are in the midst of a time of transition and a great potential for new spiritual growth. Grace Church has walked with God for over one hundred years and we still look to Jesus for our answers and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Like the churches John wrote to, we will at times feel uncomfortable and even face some struggles as we prayerfully move forward. But remember “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. God is in control. He is never taken by surprise. He has a plan for Grace Church, for each of us no matter who we are or our situation.

Just as Jesus repeatedly kept coming to the first disciples to give his peace, he comes to us. Jesus comes each week to us through the proclaimed scriptures and our participation in the Eucharist. He wants everyone to have his peace in the midst of our fears, questions, and confusion. May each of us like Thomas accept Jesus’s peace and respond in this transitional time with, “My Lord and my God!”

Amen

Second Sunday of Advent 2021 – Mother Robyn

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Luke 3:4-6

When I read these particular words, originally from the prophet Isaiah, my mind translates them into music and I can almost hear a luscious contralto voice bringing the Handel Messiah to life.  Of course it is in the King James’ English…”every valley will be exalted and every mountain and hill made low…the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  For thousands of years the words of this poetry have been a song of promise and inspired hope in even the most world-weary and burdened of hearts.  I don’t know about you all but in these increasingly dark days I find myself greatly in need of a little hope.

All around us there is sorrow and hardship. Each day we receive news of some new horror and it seems that no one is safe from the effects of societal unrest and violence.  Greed is rampant and the powerful in our country have completely lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve.  Those who claim to follow the Prince of Peace lock and load their guns and stare with suspicion through the gates around their communities certain that everyone with brown skin or who follows a different religion is waiting outside to kill them and take their piles of accumulated stuff.  Everywhere we turn, the voices of reason are shouted down by those whose political or social agendas are advanced in a culture of fear and anger.  

All that said, it should be sobering to realize that as awful as things seem to be the truth is this is nothing new.  Humans have been killing and oppressing one another since long before recorded history.  The only thing that changes is the ideology or rationale we concoct for legitimizing our inhumane behavior.  As a species we seem intent on our own destruction the collateral damage of a destroyed planet seems a small price for being the last man standing.

In light of our troubled past and present persons of good heart and good intention have only two choices…to admit defeat and eke out a sad and helpless existence on the fringes of the society that has become too hateful to be tolerated…or to look East for the rising of the sun and rekindle the hope in one another that we can learn from our mistakes… we can be better….we can rise from the rubble of war and once again seek to create peace.

Every so often into these dark times God sends a messenger to encourage God’s people and to breathe life into the dying coals of faith and hope.  Today our lectionary gives us the opportunity to reflect on the words of two of those voices.  The Prophet Isaiah was not always a voice of light and hope but he did have moments when he looked up from the war and pestilence that surrounded him and spoke hopefully of days to come.  He reminded those ancient peoples that God had not forgotten them…that always a remnant would remain to begin again…and that at some point in the future a Messiah, a Deliverer would be sent to bring them out of oppression and war and into the way of peace.

In our Gospel reading today Luke quotes from Isaiah’s predictions about the forerunner…the one who was to come before the Messiah to prepare the people to hear his words and follow him.   In our Christian tradition, as recounted in Luke, we believe that prophecy to have been fulfilled in John the Baptist…the cousin of Jesus who came striding out of the wilderness, a fierce and strange man on a mission.  He must have been a peculiar sight, standing there in his camel’s hair clothing, rail thin from his ascetic diet, hair and beard long and wooly sweating under the desert sun, his eyes glowing with the fire of the Spirit.  Here was the voice crying in the wilderness, calling God’s people to repentance.  

Luke’s account of the beginning of John’s public ministry places it in historical context.  He tells us who is governing Rome, the Emperor Tiberius in his 15th year.  He also records that Pontius Pilate is the governor of Judea and Herod rules Galilee.  These details are given to add credibility to his account of events.  You will remember I am sure that it is this same Herod who will eventually have John the Baptist executed and Pontius Pilate who will order Jesus’ crucifixion.

But at this moment Jesus has yet to begin his public ministry and John is the new attraction for the people of Judea.  I am sure that many people came out just to catch a glimpse of him, but they then stayed and in many cases were convicted and converted by his message.  He obviously had power in his presence and in his words and he spoke clearly and plainly with no attempt to avoid insult or injury.  

In Malachi’s prophecy of the forerunner he says that “he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness”…Malachi 3:2-3.  John didn’t come to play nice, but rather to draw attention to the spiritual corruption that afflicted God’s people, especially their leaders, and to call them to repentance.  

John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Anointed One of God who was to come after him.  He wasn’t some sort of agent for Jesus, setting up venues for him to speak, or running some sort of first century public relations campaign to make sure Jesus had good media coverage.  Rather, John was the last of the great Prophets.  His role was to draw the attention of the people to the sorry state of their faith lives and to share with them the opportunity to make their lives and their souls right with God before the Messiah arrived.  

John had no idea that the one for whom he waited was in fact his cousin Jesus, and he had no idea what the Messiah’s message would be when he came.  All he knew was his own call, his own ministry.  God gave him the words and he gave them to the people…that is what he knew.  He didn’t sugar coat his diagnosis of their spiritual illness and he loudly and emphatically called them to repent and be baptized as a sign of that repentance.  He called them to change their attitudes and their lives and to seek righteousness rather than public approval.

The path that John was called to make straight was the path of the heart.  The rough places were in the minds and souls of God’s people.  The mountains were the internal barriers that the people had built up inside to wall themselves off from God.  If the people were going to be able to hear what would be a brand new message from the Chosen One they needed to have clean hearts and open minds.  God was getting ready to do something completely new and John’s job was to make sure the people were ready for it when it came.

There was an urgency to John’s preaching, almost a desperation.  Some of the things he said to the people were shocking and insulting but he wanted to shake them out of their complacency…their self-perceived helplessness.  Oppressed peoples can become broken down and lose hope and faith.  John wanted to break them out of that psychological bondage so they could hear the message of liberation that would be coming to them.  

So, how is the life and witness of John the Baptist relevant to us 21st century Christians? Considering the state of the world I think his relevance is obvious.  While. in our understanding the Messiah has already come and we have been given Jesus’ message of the liberation of love and the promise of eternal life made real in his Crucifixion and Resurrection, like the people of John’s day we have become weary with oppression.  While in this country we consider ourselves to be free people and in many ways we are, there are those who seek to and succeed in oppressing the people with fear…fear of the other, fear of the enemy, fear of the wrath of God.  

We have become so used to this climate of suspicion and fear that we aren’t even aware of how it has affected our behavior.   We treat the poor with disdain because we question their worthiness.  We treat the stranger with suspicion rather than welcome because he or she doesn’t look or speak as we do.  We believe those who profit from the machines of violence when they tell us there is no way to peace.  We believe the preachers who proclaim a perverted gospel that claims God rewards the faithful with wealth and afflicts the sinner with disaster and illness.  We have left the faith of Christ and have followed after the foreign idols of uncontrolled capitalism, unfettered nationalism and the narcissistic cult of self.

I think there is a desperate need for us to hear again the words of John the Baptist, calling us to repent of our misguided ways, to renounce our sinful lives and to become the way by which the Messiah is made flesh again.  The promise of the Incarnation, of God with us, is that even now when the light of love has grown dark, Christ can and will be born in us again…can and will be born into this world again.  The first coming was the beginning of a continuous renewal, a reoccurring birth of God through the Holy Spirit. 

I believe that in every moment…in every second of our lives God offers us the opportunity of a do-over.  All of the pain and suffering that we have caused to others and that we have endured at the hands of others can be forgiven and healed.  We can find hope and the strength to defy the powers that be to bring love once more into our own lives and into the society we create.

When Zechariah, John’s father, looked into the face of his son, the miracle baby born to aged parents, he gave him both prophecy and blessing.  

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,  To give his people knowledge of salvation  by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Let us pray for the Grace of God to make ourselves ready to be the highway for the Lord…to not only walk the path of righteousness but to become that path to bring the love of God in Jesus Christ into the world anew.  Come quickly Lord Christ, your people wait.