Summary: John was a man of deep integrity. He called a spade a spade, regardless of the consequences. He was so sold out to God that it cost him his life. But as Jim Eliot wrote: He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose
Sermon: John the Baptist – Radical and Countercultural par excellence
Oprah Winfrey was once interviewing people on her program who were having affairs with married people. It seems a great subject for TV nowadays.
One woman who had a long-standing affair with a married man was saying how happy she was.
But then someone raised the question of morality.
"Wait a minute," the woman protested. "I am a Christian, but my personal life and my religion don’t have anything to do with one another.
God wants me to be happy, and if I am happy with this man, then God doesn’t mind."
Is God only happy in making us happy?
Is God like an eternal baby sitter letting us constantly have our way?
Can we believe in God and live like the Devil?
Can we sow wild oats all week then glibly go to church to pray for a crop failure?
Well that is not the picture we get of God from John the Baptist, the subject of our Gospel reading.
He was a tough preacher and took the commandment not to “commit adultery” very seriously.
So much so that his preaching got him in trouble with the ruler of the land King Herod.
We read in Mark’s Gospel that the reason Herod took offence at John’s preaching was this:
18For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
And interestingly all four of the Gospels tell us things about the life of John the Baptist (Mt3, Mk1 and Mk 6, Lk 3 and Jn1).
John was an important figure for the early Church.
John the Baptist was both radical and countercultural in three ways:
1. In his lifestyle
2. In what he taught and
3. In his fearlessness of men in the face of adversity.
1. The first way that John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was his radical lifestyle
While the religious leaders of his day lived in fine houses – and the High Priest himself even lived in a palace – John the Baptist took to the desert to live a life of seclusion and prayer.
John wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t overrate himself. In fact quite the contrary.
He didn’t claim to be more than he was. There was a humility about John.
When Jesus came to be baptised by John – look at John’s reply:
“But John tried to deter him, saying: I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt 3:14)
There was also a simplicity in his lifestyle
He didn’t wear an Armani suit or Designer jeans.
He didn’t have a rolex watch either – and all the other trappings of worldly success.
St Matthew records that
“John’s clothes were made of camels’ hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4)
While I am not advocating locusts and honey for our harvest supper – I do think it is important to notice the simplicity of John’s living.
2. The second way in which John the Baptist was radical and countercultural was in his teaching
John the Baptist was very clear in his message. He called a spade a spade .
John was hugely popular with the people – not just because he tweeked the nose of the heirarchy – but because the people recognised what he was saying was from God.
They also recognised a genuineness in John’s way of life.
There was a mini revival. Even the outcasts of society – the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers are recorded as coming to him (Lk 3).
And I wouldn’t be surprised if the prostitutes came as well.
Yet his message wasn’t a populist message – indeed it should have been extremely unpopular as it was so condemnatory.
We read in Matthew 3 that he preached a Gospel of repentance.
And He was quite a tough preacher.
When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised by him he said this:
“You brood of vipers Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves ” We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:8-9)
I don’t think John the Baptist had ever read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people”!!!
The Jews thought that simply by keeping the letter of the Law - as they saw it - would make them fit children for God
But God is interested in the heart – as Jesus often himself taught