December 9, 2018

2018 Dec9

Advent 2 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

I recently read an article entitled “10 Myths Non-Christians Believe About Christians” by Robert Driskell. Some of the myths reminded me of John the Baptist.

  • Being a Christian means following a set of rules.
  • People can get to heaven based on how good they are here on earth.
  • Christians aren’t allowed to think for themselves. Christianity is based on blind faith.

Compare that to the ministry of John the Baptist:

  • Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And in order to do that, here’s the et of rules to follow.
  • He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And if you do it, you’ll get into heaven.
  • All flesh shall see the salvation of God. There’s the blind faith.

That got me thinking: Is John the Baptist the Forerunner of the Church? Was his ministry what our ministry is supposed to be?

 

Here is what we know we believe as Christians:

  • John was the Forerunner of Jesus Christ
  • The Church is the Body of Christ

But, the Church’s Mission is much like John’s ministry. Turn to page 854 of the Book of Common Prayer. That’s the red book in front of you. On page 854, we find the definition of The Church

 

Q.  What is the Church?
A.  The Church is the community of the New Covenant

 

Q.  How is the Church described in the Bible?

A.  The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God.
So, that’s us. We are the Church, the Body of Our Lord. Many Christian leaders would say that we are the hands and feet of Jesus to do His work in the world. That clearly begs the question: What is our mission? So, we look at the next page – 855, we find the Mission of the Church:

 

Q. What is the mission of the Church?

A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

 

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

 

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

 

John the Baptist preached and advocated for all of these things. As the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, John wasn’t focusing people’s attention on us, the Body of Christ; he was pointing people toward Jesus Christ, the Head. Similarly, we don’t point people toward ourselves; we point people toward Jesus Christ, and we do that by drawing people into the Body of Christ. For both John the Baptist and the Church, it’s about Jesus – we point others toward Jesus. Our missions are the same.

 

As we read in the Catechism, it is through Baptism that the Church grows, and it is the mission of the Baptized, the Members of the Church, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. In Luke, Jesus states that John baptized “all the people and the tax collectors” and brought many into faith in Jesus Christ, and as they came to know Jesus personally and by reputation, they began to carry out the mission of the Church – to make Christ known to all.

 

This is what the Church is called
to do: To bring God’s children
into the Body of Christ through Baptism.

 

At Diocesan Convention, it is a tradition to read the Necrology, the list of those who have died in the previous 12 months. This year we included the work of the Church, Baptisms. We listed the names of those who have been baptized in our parishes in the previous 12 months. For St Stephen’s, that included Anna & Georgina Knowles and Hugo & Elliott Anderson. By our Baptism, we are unified with all others who have been baptized, throughout the world and throughout time. We are the Body of Christ, but our mission is to continue to bring others to know Jesus Christ, that they may be restored to God.

 

One of the other parallels with the Church and John the Baptist is our influence on politics and policy. Herod, the ruler who chopped off John’s head, believed John to be a good man who was calling upon the Jews to lead righteous lives, to live justice toward their brothers and sisters, and to exhibit piety toward God. Herod respected that: a national ruler listened and respected how John called upon others to worship, and to promote justice, peace and love.

 

The Church today attempts to influence national leaders to promote justice, peace and love. It is an awkward relationship, because the Church is not a unified body. We all have seen how Church leaders have used their positions to influence our politicians to legislate in ways that do not promote justice, peace and love. But what I know of The Episcopal Church, we endeavor to promote justice, peace and love through our political system.

 

A recent article from the Episcopal News Service highlighted the members of Congress who are Episcopalians. And the Episcopal Church maintains the Office of Government Relations, which monitors legislation, coordinates with partner agencies and denominations, develops relationships with lawmakers and encourages Episcopalians’ activism through its Episcopal Public Policy Network. As individuals, we each have a sphere of influence. Our faith is part of who we are, and therefore contributes to our spheres of influence, whether explicitly or implicitly. John the Baptist’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah was an explicit influence upon all whom he encountered, including Herod the Ruler.

 

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/episcopalians-bring-faith-perspectives-congress-both-sides-political-aisle

 

In this respect, what we find is that John the Baptist – John the Baptizer – is what scholars call an Oracular Prophet. So, we then explore the question: Are we the Church collectively an Oracular Prophet?

 

When we think of prophets, we are reminded of the Old Testament prophets who led movements and lobbied those in power to changes their ways: to protect the poor and vulnerable, to care for the resident alien, to protect the environment, and much more. An “oracular prophet” did not lead a movement, but instead pronounced words of judgment or redemption.

 

The Presiding Bishop refers to the Church as the Jesus Movement, so we have to consider whether we are leading the movement or pronouncing the movement. I would say that there is a dual function in the Church, functioning as different types of prophets. An oracular prophet preaches a message either of judgment on the powerful, or of deliverance for the suffering masses in the midst of crises.

 

We definitely do that. From the pulpit, we have heard sermons about the abuses of power in this country, and our responsibility to lift up those who have suffered greatly. In our ministries, many have marched for several causes, including the March for Our Lives, to call upon our government to protect us from gun violence. We also care for the suffering masses through out monthly feeding at Prado and our fundraising through the Parish Council, to name just two.

 

On the national level, the Episcopal Public Policy Network is focused on how we, along with the nation and through our political system, can turn the attentions of the powerful to assisting with deliverance for the suffering. But, we don’t do it in a way that would be considered either a threat to political stability or crazy and requiring silencing, as is a characteristic of the oracular prophet, and what eventually got John beheaded.

 

But we have to go back to what the Mission of the Church is:

  • The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
  • The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
  • The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

 

Our worship, particularly our
participation in the Eucharist, is
our call to mission.

 

When we gather for worship, we glorify God, and at the end of our worship, we are charged to “Go in peace to love and SERVE the Lord.” Our worship is our preparation for our mission. One of the new dismissals is:

 

Our worship has ended;
now our service begins.
Go in peace
to love and serve the Lord!

 

We must always be striving to do God’s will, which is steeped in justice, peace, and love. And, like John, we are to be advocates of the poor, especially when they are being actively neglected, to stand up against oppression and greed, to stick up for the disenfranchised Children of God.

 

John’s primary message – which superseded his call to repentance and Baptism – was a message of proclaiming the Messiah who is to come. John himself acknowledged his role as merely the herald of one greater to come. We, too, speak and point toward one greater to come – who has come and will come again.

 

As we remember John’s ministry, which pointed so many toward Jesus’ ministry and toward the truth that Jesus is, let us be voices crying out in the wilderness and help all flesh see the salvation of God. Let us carry on John’s mission as our mission to point people toward He who embodies justice, peace and love.


Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins – and to continue that message – that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

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