Lectionary: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38
I am deviating from the familiar Sunday format today because of something that is hanging in the front of my mind. The Lectionary readings have some parallels but my primary inspiration has come from another place.
Often during the pre-Christmas season, a passage from Mark 1 or John 1 in the Bible will get read early in December (did I say Christmas?!?). Both passages are about a man named John who had the unenviable task of being humble and poor and brutally honest and … oh yes, somehow preparing the world for the arrival of the Son of God.
I’ve read it many times, I’ve heard it many more, perhaps you have too. Mark 1 quotes from an even more ancient writing from Isaiah 40 and the author intentionally brings it forward to their current setting:
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
Today (Wednesday) I randomly heard those same words in a Christian song I haven’t listened to for years but they sank into my mind and heart in a new way. They took on a deeper significance for my todays and for my life.
John’s task was to be a voice, to encourage straight paths in the wilderness. He was to clear space and open access in a world that was tangled and naturally resistant to the ways of God.
Think about it – John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus.
Think about it – so is ours.
Russia and the U.S. are talking in specific terms about their ability to target and out-nuke each other. India and Pakistan are on the verge of a major war. Taiwan and China seem headed for conflict. NATO is in shambles and the terrorists are still terrorizing. Breaking news tonight, just minutes ago, some guy was arrested for planning mass killings of politicians and news people.
Our governments on both sides of the border are in an uproar about graft and coverups and are defending their territory at any cost. Programs we can’t afford are being cut and others we can’t afford are being added.
Locally, a fourteen year old boy in a group home a five minute drive from our house was just charged with first degree murder in the death of another boy in the home. Should there be a safe injection site in our downtown? There aren’t enough spaces for street people to find warmth tonight.
To make matters worse – no, rotten – we’ve had a tsunami of bad news about churches in recent days. The Vatican is reeling from burgeoning abuse charges and allegations are that it is much deeper. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical fellowship in the U.S. has been outed for hundreds of abuse charges and widespread cover ups. The details are gruesome and mushrooming by the day. Church attendance is down, churches are closing at an accelerating rate and Christians are seen as only a marginal moral compass.
You see, the world really is wilderness-like and I don’t blame people for walking away from Christianity – in many ways it has become lost in the wilderness itself. It is frequently just another religious system grasping for the usual things and its paths have become crooked and over grown.
Some Christians I know think just shrug, clinging to their ‘old time religion’; they are hopeless, helpless and hapless. To them this just means ‘the end’ is near, or maybe they hope the end is near. They prefer self-righteousness and passive acceptance.
Not true and not me. I still believe Jesus is alive and real.
People become who they become because of the voices in their lives, because of paths opened for them. How will they know about what matters most if we don’t walk in the wilderness with them; if we don’t show them the better path? I believe there are still good Christian voices in the world to walk the paths and to be heard in the wilderness. I believe you and I can be included in that group. We must prepare the way so that others will be open when they meet Jesus.
Do you have loved ones? How will they find a straight path in the wilderness of life?
Neighbours? Friends? Associates? How will they be prepared for Truth when they meet him?
Do you have children? Who will prepare them to engage with Jesus?
Who will help them hear the one who matters most when their paths cross?
I’ll say it again: you and me.
I’m not talking about guilt trips or preaching or nagging or arguments or endless church events. Yuk. That’s why people stay away. I’m not talking about being perfect or full of wisdom or serious all the time.
I’m talking about you and me living open, worthy lives that others will see Jesus through. I’m talking about joy in our activities, an appropriate word, an attitude of grace. I’m saying we need conversations about the important things where names like ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ can filter naturally into our stories. Quiet worship and prayer as a regular part of our day so we are intimate and rooted in truth.
Shortly after reflecting on the verse above, I sat down to prepare for this blog and read the scheduled lectionary passage about Joseph from Genesis 43. Without going into detail, Joseph’s jealous brothers had tried to get rid of him many years before and ironically their lives now depended on him. In verse 5b Joseph reassures them with the words, ‘It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.’
I guess that’s my message. Maybe it sounds simplistic and sermon-like but it’s how I want to think about what I do each day. I’ve been through my own wilderness and God has sent me there ahead of you to preserve you.
My prayer is that you would be in the place where you can say, ‘It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.’