Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Cars and Hair

A teenage boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his father as to when they could discuss his use of the car.

His father said he’d make a deal with his son: ‘You bring your grades up from a C to a B average, study your Bible, and get your hair cut. Then we’ll talk about the car.’

The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.

After about six weeks his father said, ‘Son, you’ve brought your grades up and I’ve observed that you have been studying your Bible, but I’m disappointed you haven’t had your hair cut.

The boy said, ‘You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair ~ ~ ~ and there’s even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair.’

You’re going to love the Dad’s reply:
‘Did you also notice that they all walked everywhere they went?’

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The Servant – a Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

(preached on 14 January 1996 at St.Michael’s, Inveresk – edited)

John 1 verses 29-42

Service these days – despite the efforts of Downton Abbey to semi-glamorise it – has certain negative connotations.

It implies subservience, a sense of surrendering personal rights, an abrogation of identity.

If you go to the “People’s Story” museum in the High Street in Edinburgh, you’ll see a display of how it really used to be – a tableau of a young lassie, at the crack of dawn, lighting a fire, working as a very minor servant at Carberry House – in bleak conditions.

Or perhaps some of you had a grandmother or great grandmother who, as a young woman, was in service – and although many were treated well, many others had a miserable existence.

That was the past ….. but……

When I was working in Trinidad, I was distressed by the conditions in which our church “servants” lived – our janitor and his wife. Their home was really just a basic shack with a corrugated iron roof – situated next to the church building.

I brought the situation of the Cordiners (that was their name) before the Kirk Session, only to be told that they were better housed than most in their position.

And I was further surprised when the Cordiners themselves said that they were perfectly happy, indeed “blessed”, to be living in this lean-to shed, and were honoured to be called to serve.

These are the very words that Henry and Cordelia Cordiner said to me, “We are honoured to serve”

I was thinking of these words, when I looked at today’s Gospel Reading –

– here’s John the Baptist, who had already said that, in modern terms – he was only the warm-up man for the Messiah; he said this about Jesus, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I am; whose sandals I am not worthy to carry”

And here he is again today, once more in a secondary role – handing over, as it were, to one who is greater than he is – and feeling honoured to do so.

What is our conception of greatness? Is it someone who is rich and powerful and who can bid others do his will?

H.G. Wells was once asked to select the three greatest men in history. The first thing Wells did was to decide upon a test to determine what makes someone “great”. He came up with this: what did a person do to start people thinking in new directions in a way that eventually changed the course of history? Using this criterion, he narrowed the field to three, Aristotle, The Buddha and (in first place) Jesus of Nazareth.

And should you think that Wells was biased – he was an agnostic

Jesus was the greatest who ever lived.  John the Baptizer certainly thought so, and was honoured to bow, as it were, before Christ’s greatness.

Then there was Andrew, one of the first called by Christ – who was honoured to serve and follow.

And look what he does: he doesn’t feel that his place is to feel superior – rather, he fetches his brother, Simon Peter, to meet the Christ.

I have the feeling that Andrew felt that this was an honour – as we find later in the Jesus story – an honour to be working away in the background.

And, if you look at Peter’s story several pages onward, you’ll see that we have a chain reaction of service.  And service here is regarded as the highest kind of calling and sacred duty

Christ shows us that service is the new greatness.

Let’s move on now from the very beginning of Christ’s ministry and towards its close.

Here we discover the disciples having an argument about greatness

Their minds were entangled in contemporary ideas of greatness.  When Jesus was born, the Caesar at Rome had the title “Augustus” – or “Majestic”.  The ruler at Jerusalem was Herod THE GREAT.  A common title in Syria and Egypt was “Benefactor”

The Pharisees of Jerusalem and the Galilean towns were clothed in prestige, as were the Temple Saducees

And the disciples, and especially James and John, wanted some of this status.  These two wanted to sit on Christ’s right and left side in his glory – that’s the ambition of power!

These men needed a new idea of greatness and Jesus gave it to them.

And he did so by washing the feet of his disciples.  A menial task.  And Peter quibbled at this; but Christ replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part of me”

And he says to US – May the leader be the one who serves.

Greatness is to be found in service!

Since he said that, this new concept of greatness has inspired such servants as Peter and Andrew, Francis of Assisi, Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, pope Francis ….and so many unheralded others.

And to us today

A personal remininiscence:  in my first charge in 1974,  I visited this particular parishioner, an elderly lady who was housebound.

On one particular visit, it was desperately cold and her home-help hadn’t managed to come along that day; as a result, the fire wasn’t lit.

The obvious thing was for me to go to the coal bunker outside, bring in the coal, and light the fire.

She would have none of this!  Scandalised: “you CAN’T do that!”  Explaining that a “man in your position” should not stoop …. etc

Of course, the word “Minister” comes from the same root as “minor” – lesser, and so one who serves.

In our ministry, as the people of God and as disciples of Christ, let’s never lose track that we have been called to serve – the highest calling, the greatest honour any of us could possibly have.

And that is to bring light to the World and news of salvation to all.

Was there ever a day when such need for such service was so great and pressing?

(a post note:  after almost half an hour and virtually a whole box of matches and umpteen firelighters, I still couldn’t get the elderly lady’s fire to light – maybe she was right when she  asked me not to bother!)

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Don’t lose your head!

imagesBaptists don’t dance because the first Baptist lost his head at a dance

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Waiting for the Messiah

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp.

In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” he describes the sufferings that Jews endured in those camps, and, perhaps surprisingly, he says that one of the worst sufferings was that of waiting:

  • waiting to learn what happened to loved ones
  • waiting to learn one’s own fate
  • waiting to be gassed or otherwise executed
  • waiting to be rescued

This terrible waiting, he says, affected prisoners in different ways: some lost hope and despaired; others lost faith and stopped believing.  But others continued to wait and pray.  They never lost hope, they never despaired, they never lost faith.

What was true of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany was also true of the Jews in ancient Palestine who also suffered from political oppression and from the pain of waiting – in this case waiting for the coming of the Messiah…..

…..the Messiah who would be the promised one, the King of whom the prophets said:

“Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot of David….and this is the name they shall give him: ‘The Lord our justice’” (Jeremiah 23, 5-6)

When the Messiah didn’t come, ancient Jews responded as did modern Jews: some lost hope; others lost faith; but others continued to wait and to pray.

Then out of the desert came a man named John whose message was like that of the prophets of old.

“Repent!” he said, “turn away from your sins!”  The Kingdom of Heaven he was indication was at hand.

Excitement rolled across the land and many people began to think that this was the promised one, the Messiah.

But John put them right.  He was the forerunner of someone greater.  He was the one of whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking when he said:

“A voice crying in the wilderness: Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!”

Prepare the way of the Lord.

Prepare for the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah!

Prepare with every fibre of your being as if your life and your eternal happiness depended on it – as indeed they do!

There’s an old story that illustrates the kind of jolting impact that John was trying to make on people’s thinking.

There once was a fabulously wealthy king who lived in a beautiful palace.  But in spite of his wealth, he had a simple heart and a deep, sincere desire to find God.

He read books, he consulted wise men, he prayed in the gold-covered palace chapel – but with no success.

Then, one night, while lying in his satin bed, he was wondering why he was having such trouble finding God, when suddenly he heard a terrible racket on the roof of the palace.

He went to the balcony and shouted, “Who’s up there?  What’s going on?”

A voice, which he recognised as belonging to a hermit who lived in a forest nearby, shouted back, “I’m looking for my goat; she’s lost and I’m trying to find her”

The king was angry at hearing such a ridiculous response and shouted back, “How can you be so stupid as to think you’ll find your goat on the roof of my palace?”

The hermit shouted back, “And you, Your Highness, how can you be so stupid as to think that you’ll find God while dressed in silk pyjamas and lying on a bed of solid gold?”

The story ends by saying that those simple words of the old hermit jarred the king so severely that he rose from his bed and, eventually, became a great saint.

This was what John was trying to do – he was trying to jar people out of their beds of apathy and complacency.  He was trying to get them to prepare for an event that was imminent and one that they hadn’t dreamed possible.

The very Son of God was about to enter human history and be born as a baby – not dressed in silk pyjamas and lying on a bed of solid gold, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

May the simple words of John the Baptist jolt us from our beds of indifference and complacency and jar us into realizing that the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand.

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An eight-year-old was asked to write a homework essay with the title ‘Explain God’ This is what he wrote:

One of God’s main jobs is making people.  He makes them to replace the ones that die so there be enough people to take care of things on earth.

He doesn’t make grown-ups, just babies.  I think because they are smaller and easier to make.  That way, he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk.  He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

God’s second most important job is listening to prayers.  An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime.

God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this.  Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere, which keeps him pretty busy.  So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mum and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.

Jesus is God’s son.  He used to do all the hard work like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God.  They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him.

But he was good and kind like his father and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK.

His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth, so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore.  He could stay in heaven. So he did.  And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which

are important for God to take care of – and which ones he can take care of himself, without having to bother God.  Like a secretary – only more important.

That’s an eight year old’s perception of who God and Jesus are and what they are like.

 It’s a misconstrued perception, but, sadly, such warped descriptions aren’t restricted to children.

 Many adults too have a false impression of who Jesus is.

 Jesus once asked his disciples who people think he is.  He was testing public opinion.

The answers ranged from John the Baptist to Elijah and Jeremiah or some other prophet.

But Peter, when asked, was able to give the answer to the puzzle of Jesus’ identity – and his answer should be ours also –  ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’

Jesus is Emanuel, God with us, the head of dominion in whom is full salvation and access to God.

He comes from God, is one with God, reveals his purpose, and leads humanity back to him.  He is what God intends humankind to become.

Jesus is about love and reconciliation.  He’s about broken lives and putting them back together again.

Jesus is about everything that is good and pure.

He looks at us as he did the disciples that day and says, “Who do YOU say I am?”

Jesus is not someone, who is easily defined, but when, with Peter, we acknowledge him to be the Messiah or Christ, we confess him as we have experienced him.

As we have experienced his compassion and his love.

For Jesus is love.

The real Jesus is someone who cares for us, who has compassion on us, who loves with a love divine all loves excelling; a love that made him sacrifice himself for the likes of us – yes, us, loveless and imperfect as we all are. 

When we have experienced that wondrous love, then we truly know who he is – “the Messiah or Christ, the Son of the Living God”

Who is the real Jesus?  Someone who loves us far more than we will ever understand.

As the old Hymn puts it –

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak, but he is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

The Bible tells me so

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