After scouring the Internet for sermon and worship helps, here are some links and excerpts from some of the best resources I found. Click on the links to read more. Also, check out the following sites for further materials for your use:
Isaiah 35:1-10 or for Roman Catholics: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:47-55
John the Baptist in Prison (Black and White)
John the Baptist in Prison (Color)
Jesus and John the Baptist (Black and White)
PPT Background for Advent 3A, December 16/ Fondo PPT de Adviento 3A, Diciembre 16/Pano de Fundo PPT para Advento 3A, Dezembro 16.
Bulletin Cover on Isaiah 35:1-2 (Black and White)
Bulletin Cover on Isaiah 35:2 (Black and White)
Bulletin Cover on Luke 2:10 (Black and White)
Advent 3A Images from Hermanoleon Clipart (Color and Black and White)
Free Bulletin Covers for all Liturgical Years (in Word format)
See this post on this blog.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
I say to you my friends: There is more joy in the little finger of God
than this earth, or the whole universe, can contain.
The joy of the Lord be with you all.
And also with you.
The joy of the Advent Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
He comes to liberate prisoners,
and to open the eyes of the blind;
to lift up those who are ground down,
and to pour love upon believers;
to watch over homeless refugees,
and stand up for widow and orphan.
Even the arid wilderness shall be glad,
and the desert blossom like the rose.
Offertory Prayer from Liturgies Online by Moira Laidlaw
Gracious and loving God, we give you thanks with grateful hearts for
lives transformed through your love revealed in the one whose birth we
await once more – Jesus Christ. We offer these gifts and the service of
our lives, praying that they may be used to transform the lives of those
in need. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen
Responsive Reading – Luke 1:47-55 – The Song of Mary [The Magnificat, responsively] from David Beswick
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:46-55)
The Nativity as Divine Comedy by Conrad Hyers
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree. [Luke 1:51-52, RSV]
There is something peculiarly biblical in these words from the Magnificat of Mary. And though the immediate Christian inclination has been to interpret them in terms of a drama of sin and salvation, their peculiarity is more fully appreciated in terms of the genre of comedy. There is — as the imagery itself might indicate — a remarkable affinity between the biblical tradition and the comic tradition which has too often been neglected because of misgivings over drawing upon such associations. Still, the themes of ‘scattering the proud" and ‘putting down" the mighty, while elevating the lowly in their stead, are an important part of the symbolism of comedy, and of the ancient repertoire of clowns and fools.
Mary’s Song — and Ours (Lk. 1:39-55) by James F. Kay
In Mary’s song, the magnificent Magnificat, she tells of her Savior who has "looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant." Lowliness. The Greek behind o
ur English word is not talking simply about humility, but about poverty. Mary is poor — dirt poor. She is poor and pregnant and unmarried. She is in a mess. But she sings! Why? Because Luke knows — from the vantage of the end — that this lowly one, this wretched one, this woman, God raises up. Mary, despised and rejected, is favored by God and will bring the Messiah to birth. And so, she sings.
What is more, Mary sings not just a solo aria about her own destiny, but a freedom song on behalf of all the faithful poor in the land. She sings a song of freedom for all who, in their poverty and their wretchedness, still believe that God will make a way where there is no way. Like John the Baptist, Mary prophesies deliverance; she prophesies about a way that is coming in the wilderness of injustice. She sings of a God who "has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts"; who "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly"; who "has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." She exults in the God of Abraham; she exalts the God of Jesus Christ. Here at the beginning, Mary rejoices in God’s destiny — for her, and for a world turned upside down.
Can we sing Mary’s song? Could it break out this Advent along the Washington Beltway? On the Mainline? In Mann County? In Princeton, New Jersey? In the Silicon Valley? Or on La Quinta’s greens or Telluride’s slopes? Or will the Magnificat truly be sung only in the barrios and the ghettos, in Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta? Guess it depends on which choir you sing with.
Mary Says Yes (Luke 1:26-38; Luke 1:47-55)
by John Stendahl
At Christmas, even the most Protestant among us can be drawn to the contemplation of Mary. It seems right to recall her humble courage, her receiving and carrying and giving birth, and her joy as she sang of the saving work of God. The old King James Version puts part of Mary’s doxology this way: "He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts." Those words seem especially apt to me, for it is indeed by our imagining, by what our hearts picture in fear or desire, that we humans are pushed and pulled in our many directions.
Yet if imagination is such a medium for our destruction, could it not also serve to gather and bless us? Instead of imagining fantasies and terrors, may we not imagine ourselves alongside Mary, seeing history’s hard cruelty give way to hope and gracious surprise? We sing her song of praise and envision the vindication of the poor. We picture her child newborn as if we ourselves held him in our arms, as if God thus came to us as well. By "making believe," we may in fact come to believe. Yet more, what we imagine may take on flesh and truth before our eyes.
I think that we practice this imagination of the heart, by the gift and command of God, in our worship. We make believe that love rules already, that the lowly are lifted up, death conquered, sin cleansed away, peace triumphant, and Christ touched and seen and tasted. On the verge of Christmas, we imagine and sing with Mary in this way.
Mary Hinkle at Pilgrim Preaching reflecting on Matthew 11 passage. . ."Are you the one…?"
Jenee Woodard writes about this week’s gospel text and the effect of Advent: "I continue to think about the dead-end ways I find myself wanting to write ‘happily ever after’ in terms that are long-sense dead or outgrown, and in doing so, I miss the really good stuff." Did John have in mind a way of writing "happily ever after" that had to die if he was to see Jesus for who he was? "His winnowing fork is in his hand," John had said of the one who would come after him. Now he sends messengers to Jesus asking, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" In reply he gets a list of activities different from the work of separating wheat from chaff: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them" (Matt 11:5).
Sarah Dylan Breuer Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, Dylan’s Lectionary Blog
John is in prison, but he receives word from his followers about how Jesus is carrying out his mission — and John is not pleased. John spoke of a mighty one coming to baptize the righteous with the Holy Spirit and the wicked with fire to destroy them. Jesus talks about and does plenty of Holy Spirit things — healings and Good News and liberation — but he doesn’t talk much at all about fire and destruction, and more importantly, he hasn’t DONE any of the fire and destruction stuff at all. He doesn’t even seem to talk about it as part of his future plans. So where’s the smiting?
I’m not particularly proud of it, but I do speak with authority as someone who’s longed for some smiting myself. I’m guessing that if any of us were being completely honest, there’s someone, if not a whole group of someones, out there whom we really think the world would be better off without (like KoKo’s list from The Mikado). There’s someone who we think is holding back the kind of world God wants to bring into being, and we think that God can’t bring that world until people like that either get with the program or (more likely) get what they deserve.
God preserve me from getting what I deserve when I’m tempted to think like that.
In some prepared remarks by Rev. Dwyian Davis on the opening of ‘Pauli Murray Place,’ he begins with an illustration that might be of some use to preachers on the Matthew text.
A story is told in The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pitman, that when a child was born on the plantation, the proud parents, within hours of its birth, would bundle the newborn and bring the baby to Ms. Pitman’s cabin. The parents would place the baby on her lap, and Ms. Pitman would say to the parents, “Name this child.” When the parents spoke the child’s name for the first time, she would raise the child toward heaven and speak the child’s name to God, adding the great African prayer, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.”
Then, Ms. Pitman would cuddle the baby, whispering into the child’s ear, “Is You da One? Is You da One, chile, who will lead our people out of the darkness of bondage into the bright new day of freedom? Is You da One?”
Although Ms. Jane Pitman was a fictitious character, the hope expressed by her character was quite real.
Exposed and Waiting (Ps. 146; Is. 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matt. 11:2-11) by Rosalind Brown
There’s a phrase tucked away in Psalm 146 that provides the basis for our Advent hope: God "keeps his promise for ever." Without that assurance there is no hope and no sense in Advent. Our hope is in God. The psalm underlines that conviction, as the confident prayer for the king of last week’s psalm suddenly gives way to the disappointed voice of bitter experience: "Put not your trust in rulers, not in any child of earth, for there is no hope in them."
The psalmist’s words probably test John as he languishes in prison at He
rod’s behest. He knows there is no hope in. Herod. But is God keeping his promise? What has happened to the glorious vision of Isaiah, where the eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf are unstopped, the lame leap and the tongue of the dumb sings for joy? What about his own bold proclamation of the coming of the messiah? We don’t know exactly what provokes John’s question to Jesus, but this faithful prophet, who once recognized that he needed to be baptized by Jesus, is now face-to-face with his doubts and disappointments. Jesus is apparently not the messiah he anticipated. John is forced to reexamine the basis of his hope.
When Jesus responds to John by asking his disciples to tell what they see and hear, and to dare to hold that alongside the promises of Isaiah, he leaves out the part of Isaiah 61 that refers to the prisoners being freed. Can John recognize in what his disciples see and hear that this is indeed the messiah, even if he does not set this particular prisoner free? Can John be trusted not to take offense at this messiah? After all, Jeremiah was rescued from a well. Why not John from a prison?
Are You the One Who Is to Come? (Luke 7:18-28a) by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, because John called him to account for marrying his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. Herodias never forgave him. Josephus tells us that he had been incarcerated in Herod’s castle at Macheras, a desert fortress in Perea east of the Dead Sea. Josephus tells us, "What was walled in was itself a very rocky hill, elevated to a very great height."
John had spent his youth and ministry in the desolate region around the Dead Sea and the southern part of the Jordan River. Now he was locked away, far from any city. Though Herod Antipas didn’t have a reputation as ruthless as his father, Herod the Great, John’s prospects of release were poor. He wasn’t cut off entirely, however. A few faithful disciples braved the desert to meet his needs and bring him news.
When everything seems to be going your way, you seem almost invulnerable. But when your health breaks, your marriage fails, your business goes bankrupt, and you lose everything you have, time and loneliness have ways of playing games with your mind. You second guess your former decisions. You wonder, What if…. Like his great spiritual ancestor Elijah, great victory had given away to questioning (1 Kings 19).
Had he been wrong about Jesus? He had foreseen the Messiah’s ministry largely in terms of judgment.
A Desert in Bloom (Is. 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matt. 11:2-11) by Ruth A. Meyers
Isaiah describes a desert climate dry and barren as the northern Wyoming plains. In Isaiah’s prophetic vision, waters gush forth in the desert, and the dry, parched land springs to life. In the early summer in the Wyoming plains, the cactus blooms, offering a brief glimpse of lush color, a promise of life in the midst of desolation. I used to hike in the Big Horn Mountains, up beyond the plains, and come upon meadows filled with wildflowers, crowded fields of vivid color. Isaiah sees the desert come alive this way, sees its blossoming abundance as new life announcing the glory and majesty of God.
The new life in the desert signals the presence and power of God. Those who are weary, enfeebled or fearful can take heart because God comes to save. This means healing and transformation in specific ways: sight for those who are blind, hearing for those who are deaf, speech for those who are mute. So great is the joy and so profound the healing that those who were lame now leap and those who were speechless now sing.
Isaiah’s prophecy promises restoration to a captive people, and this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus. John the Baptist has promised that one is coming who is greater than he. Then John is imprisoned. Hearing of Jesus, John wonders whether this is the one. Jesus doesn’t answer directly, but instead lets his deeds speak. Through Jesus’ ministry the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the speechless speak. Jesus’ deeds inaugurate the reign of God as they fulfill Isaiah’s promises.
Cellmates (Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11) by Frederick Niedner
Few know blindness so profoundly as prisoners who once could see the whole world but now find the universe shrunk to the size of a cell. Inmates hear only what jailers allow, most often some version of "We own you." As for music, the rhythm of one’s own pulse must suffice, and that hardly leads to dancing. One can even forget how to walk.
Such was John’s plight now that Herod had locked him up so as to silence the cranky prophet’s tongue. As the days dragged on, perhaps John could see only that he would never escape the bars unless he got really skinny. But even then, he could never squeeze his head through, so he’d have to leave that behind.
Despite the isolation, rumors from outside reached John. The Coming One he’d baptized and boldly proclaimed had begun to make his move. Soon would come the smiting of evildoers. Judgment on the threshing floor would surely commence. But the news that filtered into prison didn’t have the sound John expected. Jesus was saying things like, "See, I send you out like sheep into the midst of wolves. . . . They will hand you over to councils. . . and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. . . . Do not fear those who kill the body. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father" (Matt. 10:16-31, passim).
And yet, the sparrows do fall. John would soon be among them. Had John baptized the Messiah for this? Would this Jesus prove his preaching wrong?
…Or Shall We Look for Another? a sermon by Leah Grace Goodwin
John, you see, knows exactly who Jesus is, knows the very sound of Mary’s voice, even from the darkness of his own mother’s belly. John knows, even before he or Jesus has a name, that this other fetus is the anointed one, the Messiah. And knowing that, despite the cramped quarters, he quite clearly expresses his joy with what must have been, for Elizabeth, a startling lurch.
But times change, and the vicissitudes of life complicate what once seemed so clear. In this morning’s Gospel reading we find John the Baptist, the great messenger of God’s coming reign, the prophet of the wilderness, in a dark enclosure vastly different from the safety of his mother’s womb. We find him in prison – though, ironically, still in the wilderness, for he is imprisoned, according to other sources, in the dungeon of Herod’s wilderness palace at Machaerus. And this time, news of Jesus’ work in the world does not have John leaping for joy. Jesus’ lordship, at least as far as John sees it, is not quite so self-evident as it used to be.
Matthew writes, “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…” What Matthew might as well have written is “ when John heard what the Messiah was NOT doing,” because as far as he was concerned Jesus was not sticking to the script. Healing, liberation, good news, all right, but let’s get down to some apocalyptic business. Where was the smiting? Where was the ax lying at the root of the trees about which John had warned his disciples? Where was the unquenchable fire?
And so John, from prison, sends his own disciples to inquire about the matter. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” they are told to ask.
The question is a bit shocking, if you think about it. How can John, of all people, John who baptized Jesus all unwilling because he thought Jesus should baptize HIM – how can John question whether Jesus is “the one who is to come?”
Actually, it’s a legitimate question. Jesus was not the only person claiming to be the Messiah, the “Anointed One,” running around in first-century Palestine. He was also not the only folk healer, not the only social justice speaker, not the only imparter of secret knowledge in the region, either. And John, remember, is in prison, which does not immediately seem an appropriate place for the Messiah’s forerunner and relative.
Third Sunday of Advent Year A, Barbara Brown Taylor on Matthew 11:2-12
Have you ever heard that last verse in church before? “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” I have never heard that verse in church before. I am not even sure I ever noticed it before, although I have owned a paperback copy of Flannery O’Connor’s second novel for thirty-five years now. When I pulled the book off the shelf to check my memory, I found Matthew 11:12 right there in all caps on the second page (in the King James Version this time): “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” Leave it to Flannery O’Connor to find and preach the gospel that most church folk never hear.
I had to smuggle it in here, since the verse is not part of the assigned gospel reading for today (or any other day). There are reasons for that, but they aren’t very convincing. The Greek is difficult. Matthew and Luke interpret the saying differently. Mark never mentions it at all. It is one of those odd verses that scholars tend to view as almost certainly authentic since it is too obscure for anyone to have made up. If you ask me, we do not hear it in church because no one wants to believe that the kingdom of heaven is vulnerable to human violence. Violent people can take heaven by force? Who wants to believe that?!
The Rev. Patricia Gillespie of The East Range Episcopal Churches concludes her sermon on Matthew in this way:
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you speak to us behind our thick prison walls this Christmas? Can you give strength to our feet? sight to our eyes? hope to our hearts? wholeness to our brokenness? life to our death?
Are you the One, Jesus?
And, Jesus might answer, "Are YOU the one? I live in you. You are my body in today’s world. It is through you that I can touch people’s hearts, bring wholeness to their brokenness, and set them free to love. With your hands I can reach out to the lonely. With your words I can comfort the grieving. With your voice I can proclaim good news to the poor."
Jesus asks you today, "Are you the one, or am I to wait for another?"
God is Still Speaking… Rev. Laurie Ann Kraus has been Riviera Presbyterian Church pastor
Are you the one who is to come? Or should we look for another?
Though these words were placed on the lips of a disillusioned and fatalistic John the Baptist some two thousand years ago, I think it is still a very good question. Are you the one we have been waiting for? Or should we keep looking? There is, in fact, more than a little evidence to suggest that the Jesus we were sent once upon a time has proven to be somewhat unsatisfactory to the church who bears his name…even, if we were honest, something of an awkward encumbrance. Those of us like John, who wanted, who expected, Jesus to come and set things right in and among the kingdoms of this world have been sorely disappointed. There is no peace on earth. The churches of Jesus use his name to justify intolerance, oppression, wars of aggression, even genocide.
The ones who wanted Jesus to reign, his religion to conquer triumphant have watched while other faiths, younger and more aggressive, have grown faster, more brilliantly, while the market share of Christianity seems to shrink year by year. Others, who trot out the baby in the manger year after year as an icon of hope, sentimentality, and commercial possibility find themselves confounded when, now and again, the real Jesus shakes off the straw and strides out of the stable to preach his message of wild, extravagant welcome and pointed, inescapable challenge.
From Göttinger Predigten im Internet: A Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11 by Walter W. Harms
Looking forward! That is the mood of the season. Looking forward to the big celebration that is Christmas. Looking forward to the presents we will get. Looking forward to having the family together (perhaps)! We could not but look forward to what is coming….
Unless, of course, we have little to look forward to. For all of us there are those Christmases, when someone is missing from the group. A dear, loved person and without that person, there seems so little to look forward to.
Not every promise that Christmas is to be filled with laughter and gaiety, with high spirits and pleasant memories will be or can be fulfilled. Some of us can’t get along with relatives, even if they are brothers and sisters. In-laws–well, that’s another story. Looking forward to have to tolerate them is not highly anticipated.
This season of joy and peace may be anything but joy and peace. More people have serious breakups at this time of year than at any other. Too tired, too stressed out, to much to do, to many hopes we wish fulfilled–these often bring quarrels and much worse.
If this is the season of Advent, the season of coming, if this is the spirit of eagerness and hope, then no wonder that many people have too many of the spirits that come in a bottle. We may well look forward to this season being over with and done.
I haven’t the slightest clue what you really think of Jesus. I don’t know what you think he is all about. Certainly from all the songs and carols of Christmas we might expect lots of joy, calm, peace, hope. "Joy to the world," "all is calm, all is bright," and so much more. The coming of this Jesus does not seem to bring us what all the promises held for him and for us.
And so it was with this man, John who at the beginning of the Gospel for today asks the question of Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come to should we expect someone else?"
Sermon for Third Sunday of Advent, Holy Cross Monastery, Br. Douglas Brown
There was a story some years ago in the Reader’s Digest of a woman looking for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She found one that said on the outside: “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” On the inside it said, “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.”
The story in the Gospel this morning reflects the same ambivalence. It is familiar to us all. John the Forerunner shared his people’s hope of the coming of the Messiah – a hero of David’s line who would expel the foreign conquerors and would establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace
: a kingdom in which the lion would lie down with the lamb and righteousness would pour down like the dew. The preaching of the Kingdom of God is central to the ministry of both John and Jesus and John had named Jesus as the One during his ministry at the Jordan; but now he was in prison for scolding Herod for taking his brother’s wife, time was marching on and Jesus was not doing what was expected. He sends and asks: “Are you the One; or do we look for another.”
Jesus’ answer is, as is frequently the case, indirect. He sends back to John the ways in which the prophecies are being fulfilled: the blind receive their sight, the poor have the good news preached to them, etc.” This is a familiar path for us. The Kingdom is not what was expected. It usually ends in a homiletic flourish in holding that John had it wrong and that the Kingdom was more a matter of compassion, mercy, healing, justice (and, usually “within”).
Well, even on this reading, one might still ask John’s question. Two thousand years later, and particularly after this last century, we might ask where that Kingdom is too.
"Watch Your Step!" by Scott Hoezee, Calvin Christian Reformed Church
But the third interesting thing about Jesus’ answer is the last line he tacks on: "Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me." In a way that little tag line is Jesus’ gentle way of kicking John in the pants! Even so, Jesus is being kind and compassionate with John. Jesus did not say, "Blessed is the one who never, ever has the slightest doubt about me!" Had he said something like that Jesus would have slammed John as well as anyone else who has ever harbored a doubt in the quiet recesses of his or her heart. But Jesus didn’t chide John for having a hard time figuring everything out. Jesus did not deny that his ministry was rather surprisingly quiet even as it was happening in rather out-of-the-way locales.
Jesus was the Christ, as Matthew told us in verse 2. He was doing God’s work, the most important part of which was preaching good news to the poor. The power of God’s Spirit was upon Jesus, even if that Spirit was not manifesting itself in the fiery ways John had maybe envisioned. It was all true. But believing that required accepting the peculiar shape Jesus’ ministry was taking. John had drilled a round hole to make way for Jesus’ ministry, but the actual ministry looked like a square peg.
The NIV translates Jesus’ words in verse 6 as blessing the one "who does not fall away on account of me." Actually, the original word in the Greek is skandalizo, which means to be scandalized by Jesus. Even more originally, in Jesus’ day a "scandal" was literally something you could trip over and so cause you to fall flat on your face. So if you left a box in the middle of a dark hallway and someone took a header over it, the Greeks would say that the box was a skandalon, a scandal, something that can trip people up.
In order to enter God’s kingdom you need to pass through Jesus. He is the door, the way, the gate that leads to life. So blessed are those who can pass through that door without tripping over the nature of Jesus’ life and ministry. Blessed is anybody who can see Jesus for who he really is despite the fact that Jesus led no major political revolutions, made apparently no impact on the Caesar in his day. Blessed is anybody who can admit that Jesus really did get crossed out by the Romans while at the same time believing he is the resurrected Lord of life even yet today.
Unmet Expectations (Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11)
Unmet expectations can anger us. Unmet expectations in social settings can set friend against friend. Unmet expectations in work settings can destroy good rapport between colleagues. Unmet expectations in family (or church) situations can shake the very foundation of relational life.
And the only thing that makes it worse is when we put our expectations of each other onto God when "God" doesn’t come through for us the way we wish or want. It happens all the time. We expect great things from God, but: we still do poorly on the exam. We expect great things from God, but: we still lose the football game. We expect great things from God, but we still miss out on the job opportunity. We expect great things from God, but: the marriage still falls apart. We expect great things from God, but: our worse fears about the sickness still come to pass.
I keep thinking about John the Baptist in prison. In prison John is eagerly awaiting the Messiah. He has clear expectations. Remember how John described the Messiah in last Sunday’s Gospel text? This is what John said: "one more powerful than I is coming after me…He will baptize with fire…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, and…the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." This is John’s expectation of the Messiah.
Are We There Yet? by Kathi McShane, Director of Development and Planned Giving, Pacific School of Religion
We hate to wait. And we hate to wait most when we don’t know how long we will have to wait to get there. When my daughter was a toddler and asked "Are we there yet?" for the 35th time, I used to think, "Don’t you think you would know if we were there?" But she didn’t know. All she knew was what she thought it would be when we were there- and she wasn’t even very sure about that, so how could she know if we were almost there?
Those who waited for the coming of the Messiah were in about the same shape. For those who heard the words of the prophet Isaiah the same way we hear them today, as foretelling the incarnation of God, the coming of the Messiah, it seemed like it should be obvious when it finally happened. In Isaiah’s words: "The desert shall rejoice and blossom…God will come with vengeance to save you…The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…A highway shall be opened up for God’s people…The lion and the lamb shall lie down together…God’s people shall be redeemed." How could you miss it? Shouldn’t it be obvious if all these things are happening?
But in the text we heard this morning from the 11th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we hear that even John the Baptist took a turn at asking, "Are we there yet?" The events in this story happen after Jesus had been out for a while, doing miracles, healing people, and teaching, and even after Jesus had sent his disciples out to do the same kinds of things themselves among the Jews. John was in prison, and Matthew tells us that John heard about all these things that Jesus was doing, and so John sent two of his own disciples to Jesus, to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Home Truth on Matthew 11:2-11 by Rev. David J. Hanna
In his book, Life in Full Stride, Christian writer Charles Ringma states, "Christians are sometimes portrayed as weak, gullible, wimpish, and self-effacing. The German philosopher Nietzsche claimed that Jesus also was weak." (1)
It is one thing to call us, as Christians people, weak and wimpish. Sometimes that interpretation is true, but not always. Just consider the heroes, saints and martyrs of Christian faith, and our history has many such people. And so, with some difficulty, I can swallow this depiction of Christians without putting on the debating, boxing gloves. But Nietzsche goes too far in claiming Jesus as weak.(2) Now the gloves are
Jesus had the strength to withstand great suffering and the courage to face the cross.
Not to mention, the strength of character and the courage to love, which was not only part of every action but permeated every part of the being of Jesus Christ. And yet, Nietzsche had the audacity to write about Jesus being weak. Forget road rage, air rage or computer rage; what I begin to experience is Christian rage. The need driven by strong emotion to stand up and to stand out, and to say, "Nietzsche, how dare you!" But, Nietzsche wasn’t the only person to consider Jesus as weak. John the Baptist, I believe, did as well.
Who would have guessed that John the Baptist and Friedrick Nietzsche would end up compared in a sermon?!? Can you imagine John the Baptist and Nietzsche in the same room together? John, in one corner, saying in a fiery, rebuking tone, "repent," and Nietzsche, in the other corner, stating, "God is dead." And yet, John did view Jesus as weak. We can begin to see this tendency in John’s thinking when he asked the question: Is Jesus truly the one?
"A child, A Messiah" Pastor Tim Zingale
So John sent a group of the disciples to see to ask Jesus if he was the one, or whether there was still another one to come? ;
The disciples go and ask the question to Jesus, and notice the answer of Jesus, he doesn’t really answer it, but ‘he says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." What the disciples saw and heard was not the wrath of God, but the grace of God.
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was: Go back,. and don’t tell John what I am saying: tell him what I am doing. Don’t tell John what I am claiming: tell. John what is happening.
Jesus is saying that he has come not with the wrath of God to drive people away from God, but he was coming with love to attract people, to attract them with love and with mercy.
Frederick Buechner says the following in his book, Peculiar Treasures: "Where John preached grim justice and pictured God as a steely-eyed thresher of grain, Jesus preached forgiving love and pictured God as the host at a marvelous party or a father who cannot bring, himself to throw his children out even when the spit in his eye. Where John said people had better save their skins before it was too late. Jesus said it was God who saved their skins, and even if you blew your whole bankroll on wild living like the Prodigal Son, it still wasn’t too late. Where John ate locusts and honey in the wilderness with the church crowd, Jesus ate what he felt like in Jerusalem with as sleazy a bunch as you could expect to find."
Sermon on Matthew 11:1-6 By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
Why did John the Baptist ask his question? John the Baptist asked his question because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah that John envisioned.
Don’t forget, it was the calling (the job) of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord. John did that by preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2). John warned the people to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Mt 3:8). So, his followers confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John’s message was an unrelenting, unchanging message of judgment and the need for repentance. John’s sermon title, "Turn or Burn," did not change from week-to-week. It was this uncompromising and unchanging message that landed John in jail – because he even dared to tell King Herod to repent or else.
When Jesus first started His ministry He preached exactly the same as John: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 4:17). From John’s point-of-view, it seemed at first that Jesus was continuing or building upon the work and preaching of John. In fact, when we listen to what John says in Matthew 3:12 we realize that John expected Jesus to do this:
(Mt 3:12) "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
John was expecting Jesus to be a firebrand, an avenging angel, someone Who defended and protected the holiness of God.
But then John the Baptist started to hear things about Jesus and His ministry that confused him. John heard that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. John heard that Jesus made a tax collector one of his disciples. John heard that Jesus hung around with loose women. John heard that Jesus healed lepers and Samaritans. John heard that Jesus befriended some Roman soldiers. John heard that Jesus made friends with some of the Pharisees.
Who Are You Looking For? by Stephen Sours, Minister for Youth and Young Adults, American Church in Paris
Despite all this, John still asks, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" And we are still left asking, "why is it, how is it, that John found himself asking, doubting, reconsidering, testing the possibility that Jesus was not the One." He had even leapt in his mother’s womb before he was born when the pregnant Mary came to visit-which he did not remember; and would himself have submitted to be baptized by Jesus had he had his way-which he did remember. And so here he is in prison for his public condemnation of Herod Antipas and the immorality of the royal palace, and he sends his disciples to Jesus with the question.
We might wonder: was he doubting himself, his faithfulness to God, or God’s calling on his life? Was he letting himself be used by God the way he should? Had he read the scriptures; had he understood them rightly? Was he leading his disciples astray; would he be responsible for their misdirection? What of his preaching, his interpretation of events, his ritual of baptism; would they land him in the junk-heap of false prophets? Or was he doubting God? Did God remember his people, or were they still to remain captives? Was this the time of God’s salvation, or did they have to wait even longer?
Matthew does not exactly tell us what were all the doubts and fears and second-guessing and conjecturing and worry that was certainly eating away at the insides of the greatest prophet. But Matthew does give us a pretty good indication of why they arose. Consider the difference between the message John preached and the answer Jesus gives to his disciples.
“John’s Pilgrimage” a Sermon Preached by The Rev. Douglas M. Donley
John told his disciples to ask Jesus, “are you the one to come or shall we wait for another?” John was, I am sure thinking, “Was I wrong in supporting Cousin Jesus? Is there still one to come who is going to be a judge to condemn the unrepentant?” And most important, John asked realizing his own imminent demise, “Have I wasted my life?”
Now Jesus, being the wise person that he was, could quote scripture just as well as John the Baptist. Jesus knew that he wasn’t the kind of messiah that all of the Hebrew Bible’s proscriptions assumed he would be. Jesus knew John would not be satisfied with a yes or a no answer. He would search the scriptures to disprove him, if he was skeptical enough. So Jesus avoided the question. He said to John, make up your own mind. “The blind receive their sight, th
e lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (And here’s the clincher)
“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 28:18,19 and the first verse of Isaiah 61. Pretty sneaky.
It didn’t fit with John the Baptist’s perception of the Messiah. John the Baptist was interested in the Messiah coming in and sweeping out evil. Certainly Jesus did that. Who can forget the moneychangers in the temple and what happened to them?
But Jesus chose to approach his ministry as one who still opposed evil and worked for social and religious justice, but also sought to create something good among the people to take the place of evil.