12/8/19 – “You can close the doors, but you can’t silence him”

Posted on : Dec 5th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

John the Baptist pushes me beyond my spiritual comfort zone.  Having been told by so many well-meaning – but 100% wrong – Christians, that I as a gay man needed to repent, I’m always wary around those who preach repentance, especially when the jugular veins in their neck are bulging.   Was John the Baptist one of those?

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell us the same thing about John: “John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of our God,
    make God’s paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

OK, so John was big into repentance.  But over the ages, something has gotten lost from John’s prophecy and preaching.  When the people heard John’s message, they felt totally confused.  So they asked him, “What are we to repent of?”  And John answered them with something you hardly ever hear quoted.  He said:

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages.”

Oh my, that’s a bit of a different “take” on John the Baptist’s message, isn’t it! 

Many years ago, The Rev. Howard B. Warren, Jr. reframed John the Baptist’s message for me.  Howard claimed West Hollywood Church as his spiritual home, even though he was the Director of Spiritual Care at the Damien Center, an HIV/AIDS organization in Indianapolis, Indiana.  At the time we were Presbyterian and the Presbyterian Church had an annual policy making meeting called the General Assembly.  A whole bunch of us attended “GA” every year to advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. 

One year at GA, Howard stood at the top of the escalators which people had to use to enter the Assembly Hall.  He was crying out at the top of his lungs, “God calls the Presbyterian Church to repent.  Repent of your homophobia and fully welcome God’s Gay and Lesbian children into Christ’s Church.” 

Everyone got to hear that message as they made their way up the escalator to the Hall.  And because of the acoustic, you could hear Howard’s prophecy all during the opening session of the plenary.  This message irked the denominational leaders, so they finally had the doors to the assembly hall closed.  Five minutes later, as only God can do, God sent 3 angels dressed in police uniforms to the doors.  I was afraid my dear friend Howard was about to be arrested.  But much to our surprise, they opened the doors to the Assembly Hall and informed the staff that the fire marshal required the doors to be open whenever the Hall was occupied by people! 

A friend of mine said, “You can close the doors, but you can’t silence him.”  And so it is with the message of John the Baptist.  More on Sunday.

Advent Blessings to each of you,

Dan

Luke 3: 1-18

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah & Elizabeth in the wilderness. John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of our God,
    make God’s paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham and Sarah. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

 

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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