Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hindsight Is 20-20

Hindsight Is 20-20
Matthew 3:1-12
            We like to think we’re wiser than those who came before us, that we would make better decisions and avoid the traps previous generations have fallen into.  No way would we have voted for Candidate A.  We would have known instantly that he was trouble in the making.  We would have seen his weaknesses and voted for Candidate B instead. 
            The same goes for religion.  We would have recognized immediately that Jesus was the Son of God, and would have worshiped and obeyed him without question.  The crazy things the disciples said?  The off-the-wall questions they asked?  Not us!  How could they be so dense?
            Nor would we have behaved like the Pharisees.  They saw Jesus as a threat to their power.  If he was right, they were wrong.  They saw their base moving away from them.  These are human failings, but we would not have succumbed to them.  We would have understood that Jesus was bringing in a new world order, and would have recognized his superiority, given over our power and position to him, and gladly, willingly taken a back seat.
            When we’re honest with ourselves we know that none of this is true.  We would have missed the signs that made Candidate A unsuitable for the position.  We would have asked questions and made statements equally as foolish as the disciples—if not more so.  We would have clung to our power positions as desperately as a drowning person grasps a life ring, holding on for dear life to the last shred of authority.  All of these are indeed human failings, and most people in every generation fall into the same traps and commit the same errors.
            John the Baptist was the rare exception.  He understood his role in the story.  He knew he wasn’t the main attraction.  His job was to prepare the audience for the star performer.  He knew where he fit into the gospel story.  His job was not to bring the good news, but to prepare the way for the One who would not only bring the good news, but be the good news.  And so he went before the King, proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” so that all who heard would be ready.
            Of course, John had an advantage.  He must have known from a very early age who he was and what his role would be.  He knew he wasn’t the second banana, or the second string, or the warm-up act.  He was the messenger, filling the honored position of opening the door for the One who would bring reconciliation to the world.
            But John was a little weird.  Matthew makes sure we see John as the people of his day saw him.  He didn’t wear normal clothes, he didn’t eat normal foods, he didn’t live where normal people lived.  His contemporaries saw him as an oddity, a curiosity.  They most likely went out not to hear and accept his message, his call to repentance, but to see the show, the weirdo, the nut case.  Once there they were overwhelmed by the power of his message, felt the strength of his passion, and responded to his call.
            Where do we fit in to this story?  Would we have accepted John’s message?  Would we have said, “What must I do to be saved?”  Would we have rushed eagerly forward to be baptized?  Or would we have written John off as a kook, fun to watch and maybe even laugh at, like the guy who came to our college when I was a freshman.  He went all over proclaiming himself the king of each place he visited.  He stood on the gym steps and proclaimed himself king of Syracuse University.  We laughed at him.  A few of the braver students made comments about his mental state; and then everybody left.  No one took him seriously.

            How would we have responded to John?  To Jesus?  How do we respond today?  Careful now!  Remember, hindsight is 20-20!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How to Change the World

How to Change the World
Romans 12:1-2
“The world isn’t on the right path, and if we don’t like it we need to change it.”
So said Raymond Knous in 2006.  That was ten years ago—and it’s still true today.  In fact, many of us would say that it’s truer today than ten years ago.
            We prefer to blame someone else for the world’s wrong direction.  It’s the government’s fault.  Or the schools’ fault.  Or that other country’s fault—you know, the one whose political system is different from ours.  Or the other party’s presidential candidate.  Or the liberals’ fault, or the conservatives’ fault—anyone but ours.
            To a certain extent, it is the government’s fault, and the schools’ fault, and the liberals’ fault and the conservatives’ fault—because it’s everybody’s fault; and that includes us!
            What we don’t want to admit is that we are all responsible for the state of the world.  Someone once said we get the government we deserve, and that’s a good observation.  If those who don’t vote don’t like the shape of the country, they have no one to blame but themselves.  If we don’t like the people who are running for office, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  It’s our job in a democracy to 1) vote; 2) get involved in the process of choosing candidates; 3) get involved in supporting candidates; and 4) if we don’t like any of the candidates, perhaps to run for office ourselves.
            If we don’t like the schools it’s our job to get involved and change them.  Any school administrator will tell you that the golden charm for making schools work is parental involvement.  I’ve worked in schools where parents were involved in their children’s education, both in ensuring their children were doing the work assigned to them and in holding the schools to high standards.  I’ve worked in schools where these things didn’t happen.  I can tell you from firsthand experience that parental involvement makes a difference.
            What about Christians?  Should we be any less involved with getting the world on the right path?  Should we leave the “things of the world” to the world and concentrate on religion?  Absolutely not!  If anything, Christians should be more involved, because our mission as God’s people is to change the world.  Knous is right:  If we don’t like the path the world is on, we must realize that God is calling us to get it on the right path.
            Paul understood that changing the world begins with changing ourselves.  We are—each of us—to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  Paul also knew that no change was possible if we didn’t change our minds—and that begins with repentance.  Repentance means being sorry enough to quit.  We talk about changing our hearts, but it’s our minds that control what we do.  Change your mind, your heart follows.  The reverse isn’t always true.
But it isn’t enough to talk about change, to preach about change, to write about change.  Change is something we do.  Alan Lyne prayed, “Help us, Lord, not just to speak the Good News, but to be the Good News.”  We may have heard the statement, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Unless we change, and make that change visible to those around us, we can’t expect the world around us to be any different than it is right now.  If the world around us doesn’t change, we can’t expect changes to happen in the larger world outside our sphere of influence. 
            Improvements happen a little bit at a time.  If I change, I have the opportunity to help make changes in those around me.  If they change, they have the opportunity to help make changes in those around them.  After a while, change begins to spread like ripples on a pond. 

            And it all begins when we discern the will of God and renew our minds.