Brinton and Swanton Novers 12-01-03
Mk 1: 4-12 John the Baptist’s ministry
Story: Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if the Bishop appointed John the Baptist as Rector of Brinton (or Swanton Novers).
Imagine yourself asking John the Baptist round for dinner.
What would you have expected?
1. His clothes.
He wouldn’t have turned up in an Armani suit and a Pierre Chardin shirt.
What you would have would have got was a rugged man with a slightly dishevelled look.
And if we were honest, he’d probably look more like a gypsy than what you’d expect of the new vicar.
2. His diet
And if you asked him if he had any dietary
requirement and he would tell you that he’s
vegetarian. And he would then probably add:
“Well actually I only eat is locusts and honey.”
That would be enough to drive any hostess up the wall. I ask you, where can you get locusts at this time of the year?
3. His conversation
I wonder what his topic of conversation would be with you over the dinner table.
John the Baptist had few social graces.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to look at his work, did he welcome them as honourable persons of the religious establishment?
Did he smile and exchange pleasantries over
Did he try to engage them in conversation about their work and their own perspective on religious matters?
Did he meet with them at the World Council of Churches to further interfaith dialogue?
No - but he did call them a bunch of poisonous snakes that were soon to be consumed by the flames of hell?
Not the way to make friends was it?
4. His first sermon at Christmas
Could you imagine his first Christmas sermon – in Brinton (or Swanton Novers) - with a full church.
What would his message have been be? Would he have told us simply to go on “being loving to one another?”
Or would he have preached a message of
repentance - with fire and enthusiasm.
5. He wasn’t a conformer
John the Baptist was not a conformer.
Obviously someone had forgotten to give him Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people” for Christmas.
The world, in which we live - demands conformity. It demands that we live and think and act just like everybody else.
Those who have the courage to resist may face great opposition and ostracism in their life.
Henry David Thoreau the great American poet once said:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured and far away”.
Do you hear a different drummer?
It is essential that we listen to the voice of God inside of us. We are called, as Paul says, not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God.
6. His diplomacy
John the Baptist would have not made the grade in the Foreign Office. He was not diplomatic enough. He was your archetypal Yorkshireman. He called a spade a spade.
And when he got round to King Herod, he told him - in no uncertain terms - that Herod was committing adultery and that he should stop.
And that eventually cost him his head. But he didn’t care for “the Good and the Great” – He cared only for God.
7. Baptism of John
Our Gospel reading tells us that John the Baptist came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4)
And that would have been shocking to the religious Jews of the day. The only time baptism was used was when a Gentile became a Jew. And then the proselyte would “baptise himself and all his family”.
But here we read that John the Baptist baptised them as if they were “Gentile dogs”. But wasn’t that the message? In God’s sight their actions were beyond the pail – because God has absolute standards.
Remember what Jesus said: If you look at a woman lustfully – you have committed adultery with her in your heart. (Mt 5:28)
God has high Standards. Even your thoughts count. "Die Gedanken sind nicht frei!"
And I think there are three R’s associated with repentance.
1. The first is Recognising our sinfulness
God has high standards and we need to recognise that we fall short of them. That’s what recognising our sin means.
Mk 1:5 tells us that this is exactly what those first century Jews did: “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins they were baptised in the Jordan River”
We too have confessed our sins in the words of the General Confession.
“ Most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed….
In they mercy forgive us what we have been ….
2. The second R is receiving God’s forgiveness
Mk 1: 4 talks about John proclaiming a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Lord God Almighty forgives me despite all my imperfections. Because of Christ, my sins are gone. God holds no grudges, He keeps no record of wrongs. He forgives me completely.
The people that came out to John to receive
God’s forgiveness and today, this same forgiveness is available to each one of us, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
That what the Absolution is all about, when I said:
"Almighty God.....pardon and deliver you from all your sins...."
3. The third R is reformation
That means that after I have been forgiven , God wants me to change.
You change from being self-centred to God centred.
The final “R” of repentance is the result of repentance. A reformed life is what God wants.
Again we have prayed this - this morning in the words of the General Confession:
“…In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are and direct what we shall be…”
If John’s challenge in our Gospel reading is going to mean anything today, I need
To recognize my own sin
To receive God’s forgiveness and
To reform my life
The question I need to ask myself – and perhaps you might like to apply it to your lives too is:
“Where have I fallen short of God’s standards in my life? “
Have I loved the Lord my God, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and with all my strength – as we heard in the Summary of the Law at the beginning of our Holy Communion service today.
i) People around me
Perhaps I can look back just this week on my conversations, on the way I have dealt with the people around me.
ii) God Himself
And I am challenged to think about my relationship with God. To think about the time – or lack of time I devote to Him.
Do I only spend time with God because I’m paid to???
Or do I really love him enough to delve into his word the Bible, to find out his will for me in my life.
To spend time with my heavenly Father, each day .
John the Baptist’s message is radical.
It is revolutionary –if we will allow it to be.