John the Baptist

Remembering John the Baptist

King Herod had a critic named John. First he put John in jail and then he beheaded him, but that didn’t silence the baptizing prophet for we read his words still. John the Baptist is the patron saint of those who protest against injustice today. John was a journalist before there was newsprint. So on this weekend following the Fourth of July, we remember John’s martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas, as well as the slain journalists in Baltimore. I think the spirit of John the Baptist (or the “Dipping Man” in my Mary Sees All novel) leads us to ask, “When is Government Sinful?”

Government sin has three forms (in descending order):

  First, bad policy — This may not seem like sin at all, but ill-conceived tax cuts and poor environmental regulation shackles the next generation and betrays the Genesis 1:28 commandment that we be good stewards over the earth. Prophets and journalists speak about this sin with the opening phrase, “History will prove…”

  Second, social injustice — Here kings and presidents stoop lower to betray the poor, the refugee, and the innocent. They sin by their silence when people of color lose their children to aggressive policing. They sin by their quiet approval of hate groups. They sin in their closed door dealings with other rulers who oppress their people. Jesus, John the Baptist, the Old Testament prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, lifted their voice against those who sinned against the poor. Religion must speak.

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Pentecost 11

Ready to Hear?

Sometimes we are sent out into the wilderness to learn things. It wasn’t until the people under Moses in the Exodus reached the middle of the Sinai dessert that God taught them the ten commandments. Jesus went out into the wilderness to prepare for the active portion of his ministry. He also sought out mountain retreats and desolate spaces on a regular basis, so that he might be ready to learn, to pray, and to  renew his commitment to God’s will. The crowds that Jesus would teach, had to first go into the wilderness and there, be taught by John the Baptist. We, yes each of us, are sent out into the wilderness to learn things.

There’s a bit of new age (popular) philosophy that runs, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” The biblical version of this is, “When you get yourself to the wilderness and have nothing, then God will send someone to teach you.” Sometimes we are sent to the wilderness by trauma, loss, or grief. Sometimes we intentionally have to choose time away, just as Jesus often did. We are too busy to be taught. We don’t have time for spiritual things. When a disruption comes, an accident, an illness, a loss of the ability to go-go-go; then we stamp our feet and pray “Lord, get me out of this wilderness.” If God answers our prayer, it is our loss. We will never learn.

If you are in the wilderness, take hope. If you are in the busy place, be ready.

see also wilderness voice
 

Sunday, December 10, 2017
Advent 2

The Importance of Rules (and breaking them)

Jesus breaks the rules. He comes from God like John the Baptist does, but he doesn't sit out in the wilderness eating locust and wearing wild animal skins. He is in the tradition of Isaiah and Moses, yet he doesn’t write long books or tote stone tablets with rules to learn. There are three rules that I have learned from watching Jesus:
1) Always be compassionate.
2) Awareness beats ignorance
3) The ends never justify the means (or always trust the process).

We use many rules each day to stay healthy. We brush our teeth religiously, schedule routine medical appointments, trim toenails, spray sunscreen, and perhaps, floss. Each of these has an embedded mental mantra. Just as we say to ourselves thirty days hath September, so we repeat trite rules to form virtuous habits. Yet, there is something in me that rebels against rules. To have physical health and spiritual shalom I need to intentionally embed a limited number of phrases into my subconscious. I need to make it a rule to keep certain rules.

The point of always be compassionate, is that shalom will lie, not in the place where others say that it is, but in the place our heart, that is fully invested in the rule, finds to be compassionate. So, the father in Jesus story about prodigals, is thought to be violating the rule of compassion towards the vegan village and the older brother when he kills the fatted calf for his lost son. But shalom favors this extravagant gesture of grace. Only when we have the first rule firmly embedded in our mind can we see this.

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Pentecost 9

In with the Vipers

John the Baptist doesn’t make any friends by calling everyone brood of Vipers. Now note that Jesus doesn’t contradict John. To understand their shared message, we need to focus on what is healthy and not, relating to pride and shame. What would John, or Jesus, make of the boast, “I am proud to be an American” or the current rush in France to buy tricolor flags since the Paris attack?

 

Shame is related to who we are, as opposed to guilt that involves what we do. We can have false pride relating to both who we are (things outside our control) or relating to things we have done (boasting of our accomplishments).  John tells the good Jewish people who come to him, not to have unhealthy pride in the fact that they are “children of Abraham” (Luke 3:8). Similarly, I don’t think we should have false pride in the fact that we were born Americans. If I had been born 10 miles south of where I was, today I would be speaking Spanish and worrying about Mexican politics. False pride is sinful and can lead to a lack of compassion.

 

Does the Voice in the Wilderness Matter?

Every four years our country makes a show of sending the presidential candidates through the rural villages of Iowa and New Hampshire. For a few fleeting moments, common people seem to matter. They have a voice in Ottumwa.  Individuals in Concord can ask the next president if he or she knows the price of a gallon of milk. Yet the Bible speaks about the voice in the wilderness as being something more than just symbolic. We are all made to travel through wilderness from time to time. Life is enriched by trauma and displacement. There the soft voice of God has a chance to rise above the static. John the Baptist isn’t just a foot note in the story of Christ. He is an embodiment of all the reasons that God sends us out into the wilderness.

 

Sunday, December 6, 2015
Avent 2

John and Austerity

Meditation consists of intentionally eliminating the things that are so familiar that we have allowed them access to our souls. Spirituality begins with naming our inner idols and the material albatrosses hanging around our necks. So, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Then, he immediately goes further into the wilderness for forty days. These two events lack noise. They lack clutter. What specifically is missing from these two events?

 

Hierarchy - John says I need to be baptized by you. What would happen if, for today, the preacher comes into the congregation and says, “I need to be taught by you?” Jesus sets the example. Hierarchal structures are constructed to promote specific outcomes; in business, having a boss enables a group of employees to be more profitable. In times of war, having a general increases the chances of winning a battle.Over the course of our spiritual development, the things that hierarchal structures aid become our most pernicious idols. Jesus here, and elsewhere, reverses the master-servant structure in order to dispel its hold on our lives.  

 

Sunday, January 11, 2015
Epiphany 1

Authority?

I warned our dog, Bella, that she’d be in the blog this week. She didn’t care. She prefers to be stubborn. The current problem involves antibiotic pills that I am hiding in her doggie treats. I say, “Trust me.” She doesn’t. She eats the treat and spits out the pill. We argue. She growls, “Who made you an authority over me?” It’s the same place Moses was in as he led people across the wilderness. People were grumbling because Moses picked camping sites without regard to water.

 

 “We’re thirsty,” people said.   

 

“This is where God said we should camp,” Moses replied.

 

“Who made you boss?”

 

“God.”

 

Sunday, September 28, 2014
Pentecost 21

JB baptizes Thomas

One morning, John the Baptist and his disciples went out to the water. This day a variety of people had come out, many from the mixed race cities of the Decapolis. So the prophet said to his disciples, “Try to imagine the Day of Judgment. Will the God who fashions a unique face and home for each soul rebuke us for being different from each other? Will the king herd us like cattle, placing us either in the slaughter line or on the road for redemption according to our nationality? No! I think the king will ask each of us about our acts of compassion.”

“But that will take too long,” his disciples gasped.

“It will last, like, forever,” the youngest added.

“That’s the point.” The Baptizer laughed.

Later that day a giant stone mason named Thomas came to him to be baptized. The prophet asked, “Do you sin big or do you sin just a little?”

This giant said with tears, “My sins are worse than anyone I know. I may be the worst sinner in Galilee, with the possible exception of King Herod.”

“I doubt that,” the prophet roared with laughter. He liked this one. “In repentance there is forgiveness,” and he said and set Thomas gently into the stream.

Then turning to the crowd the prophet shouted, “On the Day of Judgment the Messiah will sort his flock as a shepherd segregates sheep from goats. Each will go as they are told to go, for no soul can refuse its true owner. Some will be ready, but many will not. Some of you believe that with many words you will be able to persuade the judge to let you off. Hah! You instead need to prepare for that Day by living each day with compassion. Nevertheless, may the Messiah come soon!”

Sunday, December 8, 2013
Advent 2
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