Year B, Proper 10, Track 1.
Today in the Gospel we get this really tough text about the end of John’s life. And it’s hard for us to put it in perspective. It’s hard for us, many of us, I think, to imagine what a world like that is like…
It's a very tough day for John... Arguably – this is the hardest day for John. The hardest thing he’s ever going to have to go through. Here he is – at this moment in time – When he knows something bad is going to happen – When he knows he has no control. He doesn’t have the power to save himself – In fact – he doesn’t have power over anything –
Those of us here this morning – we maybe don’t know what that moment feels like – The facing of our own death…But we do know what it’s like to be caught in situations we can’t control – To feel helpless as we wait for – Or watch something bad happen to ourselves – or to people we love… We know what it’s like to feel helpless…We know what it’s like to not have control…
But in this cell – by himself – John has one precious thing. A thing from which I imagine he drew a lot of comfort. A thing – that actually – if you look at the arc – the narrative of his life – It’s the very thing that made him who he is.
It’s a relationship with Jesus.
30 something years before – Mary had journeyed – pregnant – And when she arrived to visit her cousin Elizabeth – John, still in the womb – Kicked his mother’s belly – He leapt within the womb – because he knew he was in the presence of the Messiah. From that very moment on – John had a relationship with Jesus. He had a purpose – a cause – given to him by God. He was called to prepare the way – to make the people ready – to meet the Word of God – To know his voice when the Shepherd called to them – And this work defined his life.
He beckoned – and led – and coaxed people out into the wilderness –And he met them on the banks of the Jordan river. He led them out into the water – and called them to a new kind of life – A transformed life – He invited them to share his purpose – To live the kind of life that resembled the very water they were standing in…
Quick. Vibrant. Alive.
He told them – as he stood on the banks of the Jordan – as he waded out up to his waist – He told them that he was not the Messiah – But that the Messiah was coming – And his whole life revolved around this cause…this task…this purpose. It was grounded in a relationship with God. And in a relationship with Jesus – however distant it may have seemed from time to time.
This wasn’t easy for John, though. This relationship didn't solve every problem - or may everything easy. Not long before he’s killed by Herod’s guards – as he waits in prison – The Gospel tells us that John sends disciples to Jesus – to ask if he is the one – The one coming into the world – Or if they are to wait for another.
So this journey of John’s life – This relationship he shared with Jesus – was not without question. It was not without doubt. John who stood in the river and baptized Jesus – and heard the voice of God – Saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove onto Jesus – Annointing Jesus for his ministry – John who saw – and heard – and touched – John still wanted to know for sure. He still had to ask the question. He still needed to send someone to speak for him.
So John’s journey – was not one of blind faith. It was not easy. But it was faithful. He went about the work he was called to do. He asked the questions. He had the relationship. John’s entire life was about Jesus. It was about sharing God’s message –
And inviting the people of God to make ready their hearts for the coming of their King.
John’s relationship with Jesus is one of joy – and obedience – It is human – because John was human – But it defined who he was – and made it possible for him to be himself – And even in these last moments – I think the truth of Christ would have brought him great comfort –
Until he found himself at home in heaven. And John was able to meet this day – This – the worst day – The day when the worst possible thing happened to him – Over which he had no control – He met this day – strong in who he was. Strong in his relationship with Jesus. In fact – it was this relationship with Jesus – this grounding in God – that made him who he was. That allowed him to be who he was – uniquely him – Filling this important role. Living into this work.
Our relationships with Jesus can do much the same thing for us… If we’ll only do the work. It doesn’t mean that we don’t ask questions. It doesn’t mean there’s never any doubt. It doesn’t mean that we always have all the answers. But a relationship with Jesus – a covenant with Jesus – Is what allows us to be who we are in the world. It’s the very thing that helps us not only to know who we are – And the work we’re called to do – But to have the grace and the strength to do it. To live into. To be the people God made us to be.
One of the great gifts John leaves behind for us is this witness to relationship – And this example – of someone – who did their work. We know what John was about. We know what he was committed to - Because he spoke. And acted. And lived a life defined by his relationship with God.
What causes – what purposes – what commitments do you think others would read into your life?
If a record was left – of your life – like John’s – what would be the work that you are all about? What would be the purpose? And would your relationship with Jesus speak?
Does it sustain you – and does it prepare you for the hardest moments – Does it give you life – even in death – Does it bring you through those worst moments – when the only thing you can control – is whether or not you share it with Jesus? Amen.