Sermon given by Jeff Lowndes
John 1:6-8, 19-28 Straight Paths in a Crooked World
During the singing of the pre-sermon hymn Jeff goes to the back of church and puts on sack-cloth robe and becomes John the Baptist. He comes up the aisle in the robe, singing “On Jordan’s Banks the Baptists Cry” . Hecklers interrupt during the verse:-
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry: Heckler 1 – Who are you?
Announces that the Lord is nigh: Heckler 2 – Are you Moses?
Awake, and hearken, for he brings Heckler 3 – Are you Elijah?
Glad tidings of the King of Kings Heckler 4 -Are you the Messiah?
Hullo, are you the group of pilgrims from Scotland visiting the Holy Land? I’m told by your tour guide that he’s a bishop and that you travelled here in a Time Machine called the Tardis. Very strange! He’s told me a lot about where you come from and the world you live in.
Well, John’s the name, baptisings my game. I’ll go up this little hill to tell you more about it (goes to pulpit).
Your guide asked me to talk to you and perhaps share our experiences – well I have some spare time – I’ve heard that Herod wants to meet me at the palace – there’s to be a party at which Salome will dance. I don’t want to go – it’s not my style and anyway, I’m not sure how welcome I’ll be, after criticizing the marital relationships in that family. Perhaps he wants to hear me speak of the Messiah? Heckler 1 – oh yes – that’ll be right!! That sounds like a sad Sadducee!!
It’s a bit dusty in the desert so pick a rock (they call them pews!!) sit and rest.
Are there no children here? I like children; they are more honest than most adults I know, alas, I am stuck with you today. Heckler 2 – ‘get on with it’ Don’t you start on me; I’ve been called bold, cranky, mean-spirited and mad by much better people than you! But I suppose I am many of those things. You would be too, if you had to wear scratchy clothing, eat locusts, and live in the desert.
Well, I spend my life in the wilderness preaching – to all who listen and to those who don’t, I testify to the light. I tell them, Christ is coming – repent – make straight the way of the Lord. Of course saying that around the wrong people could get me into a lot of trouble – but, I am called by God to do it.
Your guide told me that nothing changes – that speaking about Christ can still get you in trouble in your time and place. That in Nigeria and Kenya it means rape and murder… in Iran where it means an official death sentence…in Syria and Iraq where it means thousands fleeing the country. And yet they cling to Christ. They proclaim him from burning churches and with their dying breath.
I am saddened to hear this. For they are not martyrs’ tales from a far away age. This is what is happening right now, today … to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the world seems unable to do much about it – clearly, proclaiming Christ still comes with a price.
Now – where was I? Oh yes – my ministry here in what you call The Holy Land. You want to know what I get up to – I simply tell the truth – that the Messiah is coming, indeed that he is already among us.
It’s amazing how many people come to the River Jordon to listen, even though I don’t give them an easy time. I preach a radical message of repentance, telling them to turn their lives around and prepare to receive God. Many do – they wade into the waters and give their lives to Him.
But others are imposters who are drawn by the power of a Messiah. I see through them – I call them “snakes” and “vipers”. They think that I’m the Saviour and they want to rub up against me and gain favour with God. You heard them yourselves – asking me “Was I the Messiah? Was I Elijah? Was I the prophet?”
I’m none of those things. I’m merely a voice calling out “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make your paths straight, fill in the potholes of your lives, get rid of the ruts, and make it like the King’s Highway.”
When they resist, I send them away to think again – what’s that you say? – like King Edward and his army in the Flower of Scotland? – no I’m not familiar with that song!! Heckler 3 – go back to your lunch of locusts! Ignore that – he looks like a miserable Pharisee.
To continue – I think I have been misunderstood all these years. I suppose today, I am the one who has come to repent; to repent if my words were miss-spoken, or misunderstood by those who could not grasp what I was trying to say. Perhaps I didn’t get it right – but in my own way – I tried.
You must understand that my message was radical, for it was the announcement of a gracious and forgiving Saviour who was to come. God is not an angry God, as the Jews thought, coming to the world to penalise people, but to forgive.
God accepts you just the way you are, but he is not willing to leave you like that. He desires righteousness from you, but you do not have to earn his love. He calls you to justice and compassion, but first he offers his own justice and compassion to you.
To repent means to turn around; to change the direction of your life. A willing heart and an open mind is what God asks of you; He will do the rest.
Another misunderstanding comes in my plea that people prepare the way for the coming of The Lord. In my day, the main highway in the region did not carry a number, like the A9 or A96. No, the main road was called “The King’s Highway.” It was the road upon which the emperor would arrive when he came to visit our city.
Before his arrival, people were sent out to fill in the holes, to straighten out every sharp turn, to pick up rubbish, to clean up the landscape through which the king would pass. I dare say, if the First Minister came to Fochabers you would have to do the same.
So, what if the Saviour of the world were to come? Would you be pleased with the condition of the route to your heart? How would you cast out the sinful and unsightly practices that embarrass you? Would you remove every barrier, and every roadblock that would prevent this King from taking up residence in your heart?
I fear that the people of my day believed I was calling them to perfection. On the contrary, I was calling them to honesty and humility with their desperate need for a Saviour. And I renew that call to you people today, for the King is coming soon. Are you ready for him?
My final confession has to do with me, with my error. I was pretty big stuff in first century Galilee. People knew my name, they swarmed out to hear me preach, and they rushed into the water so that I might baptize them. But I failed to tell them that they had a message too.
That they could reach people with their lips and with their lives that I could never reach. They had a responsibility to proclaim this same radical message of repentance and forgiveness to their neighbours and friends.
I failed to call them to be messengers of the Good News. I expect that your priests and ministers make the same error; some may think they’re the only ones called to proclaim this wonderful news, but like me, they’re wrong. We all have a ministry, but we need guidance and leadership.
When you leave this place today, you must be witnesses to the light. You must be the ones to tell the good news of God coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, whose purpose was not to condemn but to save, even the worst sinners. It’s a crooked world in which we live; violence and corruption and injustice is everywhere. But there is a Messiah who is coming, and things will change.
Your bishop tells me that many of you worship God in churches – that you gather mainly on Sundays as The Body of Christ to worship. That is good because you can gather strength and share fellowship in your church, refocus and build up confidence.
But is that enough? Surely God didn’t put you behind those church walls just for an hour on Sundays – for it is outside the walls, in the world, where we must speak about Him. I know from my own experience that it is not easy.
But it doesn’t mean that we all become street corner evangelists – we may have different gifts and talents to share. As the hymn tells us ‘They will know we are Christians by our love’. To live in Christ’s love and to proclaim it in word and deed means paying the price.
Just before you arrived I had wonderful news. Thank God I lived long enough to receive a message from Jesus through my own disciples. He told them I would recognise him if they told me what they had seen and heard – that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear , the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. That encourages me to continue my own work for I know that the Messiah is with us.
So now I say to you – prepare the way for His coming. Tell the nations that it is never too late to receive our King. This is the word of the Lord!
Now I have to go – I see Herod’s men in the distance – I mustn’t get too excited about preaching in the palace, mustn’t lose my head. Perhaps I will see you again ? Amen.
All hecklers shout together – ‘Amen’ in reply.