Summary: This is a sermon in a narrative storytelling style looking at John the Baptist's question to Jesus "Are you the one or are we to look for another? Dealing with the issue of our disillusionment when the way God works shocks or disappoints our expectations.
A disillusioned prophet questions Jesus
On Friday night Steve and I attended a performance of Handel's Messiah at the Costa Hall. It was obvious that this was a well and truly practiced
and polished performance. Each of the participants had obviously spent hours both alone and together preparing for their roles in the performance. And being such a familiar choral piece it gave that added enjoyment often experienced by audiences who know and love the music. Now can you imagine for a moment how it would have been if one of the leading performers suddenly opened their mouth and sang different lines to a new and different albeit beautiful tune. A different tune than either the audience, the conductor or the rest of the musicians were expecting? Or a bit closer to home for us in Winchelsea imagine if Maureen King singing in John's cantata startled the choir singing a new apparently unprepared solo? Yet a solo that while shocking some by its unexpected nature was hauntingly beautiful and welcomed and applauded by the composer John. Bishop Tom Wright suggests that this is something like how John the baptist would have felt when he heard reports of Jesus ministry.
Well now lets leave the concert setting behind and let me take you now
on a bit of an imaginary trip back to ancient Jerusalem to meet another man called John. This time we are going to a prison cell no beautiful music here, just torment and deprivation and the cries of other unfortunate inmates.
Can you imagine the dark dirty and damp 1st century prison cell? No human rights conventions to satisfy in Herod's prison cells. Hardly enough room to move food if there was any served in the most unthinkable unhygienic manner. A place like that would be enough to depress and disillusion the strongest of individuals. And there sits our hero John the baptizer. In last weeks reading he was spouting with prophetic enthusiasm warning sinners to realign their lives with the vision
of God's coming Kingdom. He was confidently hurling words of judgment and impending doom at the religious hypocrites of his day.
Calling them broods of vipers and asking them 'Who had warned them to flee from the wrath to come'.
You see John had been waiting and preparing for a lifetime for the arrival of Israel's messiah. Ever since his miraculous birth he'd been told about his special mission and he didn't take it lightly. He knew deep down to the core of his being that he'd been personally sent by God with this special Elijah type task. He was no less than the final biblical, capital "P" prophet. His task was to prepare and herald in the arrival of the great King. And this task gave John such a boldness that he would even dare to take on Herod. That so called 'King Herod' who was no more than an immoral pretender to Israel's holy throne.
And now finally he had really believed that he'd seen the new Messiah he'd even baptized him in the Jordan. Although even at the time
John had had to admit he'd thought it was a bit strange that the Messiah
would submit to baptism. Yet then there was that opening of the clouds and the voice from Heaven declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, the one and only Son in whom God was actually proud. But then full of prophetic confidence he'd taken on Herod and his incestuous marriage
possibly going one time too many and a bit too personal and the rest was history.
So now sitting there in the dark feeling hungry and alone and cold and wet and miserable fending off the rats and squashing the fleas.
John began to wonder was he really mad or demon possessed like some people thought. He did have some very eccentric character traits and a strange sense of fashion. So was he just hearing voices? Had his parents been a bit demented in their old age. No! No! He had to stop that negativity he was sure he'd heard that voice. Surely Jesus was the promised Messiah. He believed God, it was just himself he was doubting.
But then if Jesus was who he believed he was why were things turning out the way they were? Why was he sitting there alone in a prison cell?
And why wasn't Jesus establishing his holy kingdom and obliterating the hypocrites who had all the stolen power in Israel. Not to mention the Roman occupiers why wasn't he dealing with that whole bad lot?
But Jesus seemed to be playing an unexpected tune. Why was he eating with the very sinners John thought he was coming to judge? John wouldn't touch wine! But Jesus did! Surely the messiah would avoid sinners. And John had even heard that he was eating even with those collaborating tax collectors. In fact it might have seemed to John that he John the prophet was putting his neck out further than Jesus. Jesus just seemed to go around offering mercy and forgiveness to the most undeserving 'low-lives'. At least John baptized them first and threatened them with judgment! Jesus just kept talking about love. This wasn't the tune he was expecting Jesus to play. Where was the fire? In fact it was a tune that might have even offended John’s prophetically tuned ears.