Sunday at Scarboro – December 4th, 2016

Service: 10:30 am49-dec4_16-advent2-001-001
Coffee and Fellowship at 10 am

Minister:  Rev. Lee Spice
Theme:    Advent 2 – Pondering What Lies Ahead
Anthem:  Wondrous Night – Armstrong

After several years of love and leadership, diana brecka will be saying goodbye to pursue new adventures. This is her last Sunday with us, and we will be sending her forth with deep gratitude and wishes for all the best.

To listen to Rev. Lee Spice’s messages, click here.

Advent II: Pondering What Lies Ahead – December 4, 2016
Isaiah 11: 1 – 10; Matthew 3: 1 – 12

Every year, just as the Christmas season is rolling along, this scripture comes up, and we have to get past John the Baptist.

Maybe if you’ve been in those pews for a lot of years, this is becoming old hat, but I have to point out that John was the weirdest, most unlikely dude to be bearing news about the kin-dom of God.

Some say that John may have been a member of a sect called the Essenes. It is possible – the Essenes lived in the desert and had strict religious practices and rituals.  The Essenes believed in ritual bathing that signified a cleansing and a change of heart, as did John.  But John was a public figure, while the Essenes were cloistered in the desert, and John’s diet of insects and wild honey was even more strict than that of the Essenes.

So out of the desert bursts this figure – wild and raging, wearing animal skins and eating bugs, and proclaiming that the Messiah was soon to come.

And I ask this every year, too – why isn’t John the Baptist on any of our Christmas cards?  Can you imagine it?  It would be a good way to get unfriended on Facebook:  “Dearest Friends, in this very special time, I want to say, ‘You pile of snakes – who warned you of the wrath to come?’” (click)

What John is saying to people is this: Get your stuff together – clean up your act.  We are awaiting the realm of God, so get ready.

It’s like that bumper sticker “Jesus is coming.  Look busy.”

John says, “You’re not just preparing a little nest for the saviour to land – you are cleaning out the garage and the house and the kitchen counter, because this really important Guest is coming.”

I’ll bet that John the Baptist knows when you’ve just shoved it all in the little room downstairs. (Kind of like Santa, I guess).

And in this account, he is impatient when he hears the entitled cries of those who think they have nothing to clean up. Speaking to those in the crowd who thought they somehow have an “in,” he says, “You’re not special.  You are a dime a dozen.”

But I think that the message of John the Baptist is more than preparation – more than getting ready to meet Jesus.

John the Baptist is issuing the call to commitment.  There he stands, up to his hips in the water, and he beckons you to come to the water.

Get in there – all the way – are you following or not?  No, not just dipping your toe in, but show that you mean it.  Take the whole plunge.

In some ways, John the Baptist kind of the Bad Cop to Jesus’ Good Cop.  Jesus preached a kin-dom where all were welcome – a kingdom of the underdogs.  John doesn’t deny that, but he asks for an immediate response – get in here and prove that you’re committed!

I think churches walk this line between John the Baptist and Jesus all the time.  Liberal church has been criticized for not requiring much of its congregants:  There is an element of truth to that.  I know we have just come through a Stewardship campaign, and the blood, sweat and tears it took to craft letters that would ask us all for financial help.  That is, knowing that some could give more than others, some are in financial difficulty…but how to ask gently, without being insulting. Or too pushy.

The same is true for involvement in the church.  In some faith traditions, it is compulsory for people to engage in Bible study, outside of the worship hour, and lots of churches, including some United Churches, fully expect the people to get involved with one or more of their small group ministries.  It would be my dream that every person in the church would find a way to be involved in one of the three Mission Teams: Welcoming and Supporting Our Community; Exploring and Celebrating Our Faith, and Stewarding Our Future.

The question is, how do you invite participation, perhaps the way Jesus did, saying that all are welcome, and God’s grace doesn’t depend on our actions…and yet harken to the commitment that John the Baptist preached about?

I am not here to lay a guilt trip on any of us.  What I am pointing out, is that John the Baptist reminds us that just dipping our toe in is not going to be that rewarding.

Following Jesus is a total mind, body and spiritual experience.

Take the plunge!  John reminds us that God is waiting in the wings, and, as we heard last week, we should be prepared to meet Jesus at any moment.

And, no, I’m not just talking about church participation, but I think that’s part of it.  The way we are in community kind of demonstrates our commitment.  And we have a choice to passively watch the skies for blessings from Jesus, or to plunge right in.

Plunge right in – at church or not.  Plunge into the controversies that challenge your faith.  Plunge into the tough side of Calgary life and see what you can do about it.  Plunge into living into right relationship with Indigenous peoples.  Plunge into supporting the legislation that will uphold human rights.  Plunge into doing something that will help to bring peace into the world.

Jesus continues to call us, even if we’ve already answered once. Or twice.

Prepare the way, prepare your hearts, prepare your lives for what lies ahead.  And, in a lot of ways, what lies ahead depends on us.

I’m going to end with a poem/prayer by Bruce Sanguin.  It’s called Taking the Plunge (in If Darwin Prayed, 2010, pp. 8).

We gather at the shore of a new start.
John the Baptist is proclaiming an apocalypse:
reality shorn of pretence,
the façade of religiosity,
the clamouring for acclaim,
and the make-believe madness.
He stands there, dripping wet,
eyes of fire burning through the dry brush of our egos,
our half-hearted commitments,
and all that we’ve settled for.

Buck-naked souls,
stripped down and seduced by words of life,
we wade in,
reminded by John’s uncompromising countenance
of what it looks like to hold nothing back,
and wonder how new-born souls
behave in the real Spirit-drenched world.

“Bear fruit fit for the kin-dom,”
the Baptizer responds,
and everybody knows –
we know,
taking the plunge –
what is required of us.

Amen.