December 16, 2012 @ 5:53 pm
John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
“Are you the one?” says John. Are you the one? The promised messiah? The Son of God? Are you the one who will deliver us from all our misery and grief and sadness and shame? Or shall we look for another? Have you ever asked that question? It is a question of doubt. It is a question of uncertainty. It is a question asked by one whose faith has been shaken. Have you ever asked that question?
John asked that question. The great prophet of the Lord who by Jesus’ own estimation is greatest man ever to be born. He says it. I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John. And in spite of his greatness, John doubted.
Doubt comes with suffering, does it not? Doubt comes when things are so bad, so ugly, so horrible that we wonder where God has gone. If he is really there. IF he has ever been there. Perhaps they are suffering in Newtown, Connecticut. Perhaps they are doubting in Newtown Connecticut.
We don’t understand this. We are not able to relate to this. And the reason why is that in truth, most of us don’t really suffer. We are far too isolated, far too insulated, far too covered up to really see the true face of the world. We are simple country folk, surrounded by other simple country fold. We live in comfortable homes. We have nicely trimmed Christmas trees. We stress about things like whether or not we will be able to purchase all the gifts in time to get them wrapped and under the tree. That’s not suffering. It is for us. But it’s not truly suffering. We don’t understand suffering. We don’t understand evil. The people of Newtown Connecticut are suffering because they are victims of evil. A young man hell bent on murder. Murder others, murder himself. There is no other description for this than to say that it is evil. While we suffer from the difficulties and the challenges of this world, while we suffer the effects and the illnesses of this world, we don’t always get to see the evil. In fact, for the most part we are protected from it. So we don’t relate to it.
But not John. John the Baptist was suffering. The great prophet of God was suffering. He was locked away in a hole because he did what was right. He did his job. He called out the sin of a king who committed adultery with his brother’s wife. So Herod arrested John and locked him up in prison. John saw first-hand the evil that lives in the world and that lives in the heart of men. John suffered and John doubted.
Most of us can not relate.
In the second part of our text, the part that was not printed on the bulletin, Jesus said, “To what shall I compare this generation and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’” There are some in this world who suffer. The rest of us are like this. Like spoiled children sitting in the marketplace complaining. “We played the flute. You didn’t dance. We sang a dirge, you didn’t weep.”
We’re bored. Self consumed. Unimpressed. We have seen it all, done it all, experienced it all, we have it all. We are consumers. Waiting to be impressed by the next big thing. Waiting for the manufacturers to impress us, to coddle us, to comfort us with more; more comfort, more options, more zip or zing or flair. And that is how we go to church. Waiting to be wowed. Waiting to be moved. Waiting to be entertained. Waiting to have our emotions pulled, our heartstrings tugged, our funny bone tweaked. And when it doesn’t come, when don’t get what we want, we cross our arms, sit back in our chairs and we complain. We need to be more like children.
Children are a joy. Adults fancy themselves too sophisticated to express joy at the world. But not a child. That’s why we love Christmas, isn’t it? Set up a tree, decorate it with ornaments, light it with lights, and watch the glow in the eyes of a child. See the wonder and amazement as they sit with joy at the sight of it. Put a plate of cookies and a few wrapped d gifts in front of them, and watch them tear it apart, unable to contain the excitement over what they might find inside. We need to be more like that.
The Lord sets before us his gifts, better than Christmas, better than anything you could find wrapped in a package and placed under a tree, no matter how it might sparkle or beep, or whirr, no matter how many pixels or miles per gallon, there is no gift that compares to the gift that God gives every single Sunday. God himself comes to you. He comes to hear your prayer. He comes to hear what is on your mind and in your heart. He comes to care for you. While it is true that we most of the time do not suffer, while it is true that most of the time we do not understand the true plight of the world, we close our eyes to it, we avert our attention to the side that sparkles and shine, there are times that we do get to see it, that we have to see it, that it forces itself upon us. The darkness of the world is never too far away and it can always come to your house. It can take advantage of you. It can hurt you and injure you. It can cause you to lose your faith or maybe just to doubt for a while. The Lord comes to you. He comes here and he invites you to come.
“Lord have mercy.” Is the church’s cry. Have you ever noticed how many times prayer is preceded by that phrase in the Bible?
“Have mercy on me O Lord, my daughter is oppressed by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22)
“Have mercy on my son O Lord for he is an epileptic.” (Matthew 17:15)
Lepers, (Luke 17:13), and blind men (Matt 20:31) call out as he passes by, “Lord… Jesus… Master… have mercy.”
And so when we come to pray, we pray for mercy. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
And the Lord responds to those cries for mercy. He hears those prayers. He listens to them and he answers them. He gives help to those who need it.
And that prayer is exactly the prayer that Christians need to pray. It is the prayer that all Christians need to pray.
The bored Christians who are too sophisticated to be wowed by the simple words of faith spoken in the creed and the Lord’s prayer, who are too jaded, too mature, too cool, too busy, too contemporary, to be impressed with the simple singing of the Kryie or the Gloria need to cry out to the Lord to have mercy and grant them repentance and renewed faith. To give them the heart of a child that is once again wowed and excited by the gifts God gives when he calls them to worship.
Blessed says Jesus is the one who is not scandalized by me.
And to those who suffer, those who see the world for what it really is, those who have received the worst that this world has to give, the Lord says this: “The least in the Kingdom of God is greater even than John.” He who was the greatest ever to be born is less than you.
You see, John only saw the Kingdom of God from the not yet. He knew it was coming. He knew that Jesus was the one who would bring it. He knew that it was soon to be delivered. But he never saw it. He never saw that Kingdom come to its fulfillment. He never saw it come in its completion. He didn’t know what it would be. He did not see how glorious it would be. He didn’t know the plan. But you? You do. You do see it. You do see what the Lord has done and how he has saved you and how he has redeemed you.
You see Jesus did what no one ever would have suspected. We fight fire with fire; strength with strength; muscle with muscle. Jesus fought strength with weakness. Muscle with submission. Power with surrender. Jesus fought Satan and sin and death and hell but submitting to all of it. He gave himself to be crucified.
That wickedness, that single mindedness of murder are destruction that continues to find it way into the hearts and minds of America’s young people – Aurora Colorado, Oregon, Newtown Connecticut; the unrestrained evil that lives in the hearts of men – while most of us are isolated from this horror, Jesus was not. He knew it fully. He felt it completely. Jesus suffered terrible suffering. Jesus was at the mercy of those who knew no mercy. Maybe you can relate to that.
Jesus also suffered justice at the hands of the One who gives out justice. The only true and only Just Judge of Heaven. And he suffered justice in the place of the unjust. He suffered for this sins of the bored and the complacent and the jaded and the judgmental. Jesus suffered for you.
And Jesus calls us all to faith. He calls us all to fall on our knees before him, to cry out to him for mercy, for help, for salvation because he has already prepared it for us. It is ready. Ready to be given, distributed richly and freely and undeservedly. Jesus will give it all to you. Because he loves you.
The heart of a child receives gifts with joy and excitement and eager anticipation. May you receive the Lord’s gifts with that same joy.