Sunday, December 16, 2007

What Do You See? -- a sermon

The title is "What do you see?" but it should be, "What do you seek?"  What did you come here to see?  What is it that you are looking for?

That's the question that Jesus put before all his listeners.  John the Baptist had sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if he was indeed the Messiah.  I mentioned last week that John had not exactly expected a Messiah who would heal the sick and care for the poor.  He had expected a military hero -- Hercules for Israel.  

Instead, he got a man who told us to turn the other cheek, who ate with sinners, who told us not to judge and to look at the log in our own eyes before we talk about the speck in another's.  What kind of Messiah is that?

But it's what Jesus said after those disciples went away that is interesting.  Jesus addresses those who remain and says, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes?  Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.  What then did you go out to see?"

Three times he asks.  You know three is important in scripture.  Think about Peter, who denies Christ three times.  Or Jesus when he asks Peter later if he loves him -- three times.  Or the number of temptations Jesus faces at the beginning of his ministry.  The number three means, "Pay attention, this is important."

But what could be important about that question?  First a little context.  There are reeds along the Jordan.  They are, in fact, a symbol of the region and are even found on some coins of the time.  People took some pride in them, and one implication is that city folks came out to get away from things and enjoy the reed-lined banks.  So here Jesus asks the crowd if they are simply on an outing to enjoy the countryside.  

When he asks about seeing folks dressed in soft robes, that also has logic -- because there were palaces along the Jordan -- not much by our standards perhaps, but pretty nice for the day.  They were places where the rich could retreat from the messiness of the city.  It was in those palaces that normal folks could get a glimpse of the elite.  (Tell me we don't do that in modern times.  Tours of celebrities homes are still big business in Hollywood).  So, Jesus asks, if they are out here for idle curiosity?

Then he asks the big question: Are you out here to see a prophet? Are you here to find God's path?  Are you out here to grow closer to God?  

The answer, of course, is yes.  But Jesus doesn't stop there.  He says, John is a prophet.  A great prophet.  The best.  So, if all you want to see is a prophet, then you've done it!

Or, he says, do you want more?  Because a prophet can only do so much.  The prophets could only see so far, and not even John could recognize how God was at work in Jesus.  Now, Jesus tells the crowd, there is a new thing, something so fantastic that it leaves the greatest of the prophets behind.

That great thing is the invitation to become part of the Kingdom of God.  The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John.  Because John is a figure of transition from an old understanding of who God is to the Kingdom Understanding.  John sees the new way, John herald's the new life, but like Moses he does not live to enter it. 

Jesus asks those who once followed John what the are looking for.  He tells them bluntly that, with him, they will no more find a pleasant diversion than they did with John.  But if they stick with him, they will find something beyond even John's imagination. 

So the question is, "What do you come out to see?  What do you seek?"  Only you can answer that one.