Summary: A prevailing church is one which lives like those persons others thought Jesus might be -- like John the Baptist, loosing himself from tradition; like Elijah, living out of grace; like Jeremiah, let loose in the world.
I walked into the Baptist Student Center at the University of
Kentucky, about to take over as chaplain. My predecessor
was still on the scene, filling up garbage cans with files. In
those pre-Watergate days, nobody had thought of shredders,
I guess. He was throwing away every record, every letter,
every bulletin, every document that he had worked with over
about ten years. I was appalled. I said I thought I might
need some of those. I might want to know what had been
going on. He said two things, one of which was wise and the
other was not. He said, first, that I would be making my own
way and working out of my own vision, and that I would not
want to be bound by the past; and second, he said that he
had always liked everything to be neat and clean and wanted
to leave the place that way.
One of those two things was wise; the other was not. You
figure out which was which.
Change comes to everything. And when change comes it is
not always neat. When winds blow, they disturb our lives,
and we have to respond. We can respond by working harder
at making things nice and neat. We can resist change. Or
we can learn to love change, we can go with the flow, and
we can enjoy fresh winds blowing.
Jesus introduced change wherever He went. People reacted
to Jesus. They did not just yawn in His face. They did not
respond with indifference. They felt the change He brought.
When Jesus came, He changed people. You might have
been cheating people out of their tax money, but Jesus
looked up the tree at you and said, “I’m coming to your house
for dinner.” And you got busy! You might have been turning
tricks on the streets, but Jesus stood you in the middle of a
crowd and dared them to prove themselves sinless. You
went home free from sin. Jesus changed people’s lives.
And whether it was the Samaritan woman who went running
back to town to tell them to come see a man who told me
everything I ever did, or whether it was the skeptical
Nathaniel muttering about how nothing good could come out
of Nazareth, you got a surprise when Jesus walked into your
life. He changed things. He created chaos. But you loved
it, because He made you different. He loosed you from the
stuff that had held you down.
So when that defining moment on the road to Caesarea
Philippi came up, maybe it’s not surprising that the disciples
reported some wild guesses as to who Jesus was. They
selected some of history’s more unpredictable people, some
of Israel’s most unsettling figures. They said, “Jesus is like
this.” Chaotic, creative, charismatic. Messy souls. Do you
think Jesus is like these guys?!
Like John the Baptist, for instance? The people guessed
that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned to life. John,
who dressed in animal skins and took his breakfast from
locusts and wild honey! John, who did not seem to bother
with niceties like where he would sleep or what he would put
on or how he would eat. John, whose total existence was
wrapped up in announcing one thing, “Repent, for the
Kingdom of God is at hand.” I don’t know about you, but I
am not sure I want John the Baptist as my role model. I’d
rather sit in an office and plan with precision.
We travel to Britain on Tuesday. We have planned things
down to a fare-thee-well. We know exactly when we are
supposed to arrive, and at what gate. We know what car we
are to pick up, and I have studied the map to determine
which highway – oh, I’m supposed to say “dual carriage
motorway” – which dual carriage motorway to take to get to
our destination. Which is planned, we have a reservation for
bed and breakfast. I have the address and the phone
number. It’s all planned. Nothing is left to chance. All I
have to do is learn which side of the car to get into and
practice saying to myself, “to the left, to the left, to the left.”
No, I am not John the Baptist. I am not very comfortable with
spontaneity. I don’t just get out there without a plan.
Planning is important to me.
Buy have you heard the story about the flight that was so
carefully and completely automated? All the latest planning
techniques and all the best technology had been used to
provide a controlled experience for the plane’s passengers.
They took their seats, computer selected for each
passenger’s height and weight. They glanced at packets of
information, prepared for each passenger’s preference. And