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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday Lectionary- I Heart John the Baptist

For Sunday, December 9

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

This week in the lectionary we turn from considering Jesus’ next arrival to considering what happened before he arrived the last time.

Isaiah talks about the peaceable kingdom. Lions and lambs together, and everyone stays alive. The Psalm is about justice, and the Romans passage concludes with this great line: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s all good stuff, but I only have eyes for the Matthew passage, John the Baptist. John the Baptist, the long desired child of Elizabeth and Zechariah.

John the Baptist, by Trina Zelle
This strange child
of their old age
didn’t laugh much
small hands dry
as the sandy soil
in which he played
with single-minded
urgency he would
hug his old mother
and stare down
the shimmering road
over her shoulder.

Don’t you just love John the Baptist? Wow. Here is a guy who is able to be exactly who God created him to be. He doesn’t worry about what people think. John lives what Jesus has to remind all of us to do- he doesn’t worry about what is going to happen tomorrow, he lives the truth as best he can in each and every day. He wasn’t perfect. He was honest, with himself and with those who came to hear him preach.

This is what Frederick Buechner writes about John in his book
Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who:
“John the Baptist didn’t fool around. He lived in the wilderness around the Dead Sea. He subsisted on a starvation diet, and so did his disciples. He wore clothes that even the rummage sale people wouldn’t have handled. When he preached it was fire and brimstone every time.The kingdom was coming all right, he said, but if you thought it was going to be a pink tea, you’d better think again. If you didn’t shape up, God would give you the axe like an elm with the blight or toss you into the incinerator like what’s left over when you’ve lambasted the good out of the wheat. ”

John the Baptist comes to tell us to repent and prepare. How do we do that in our world?

How do you preach John the Baptist in a way that creates opportunity rather than discouragement?

I only have eyes for John the Baptist, but maybe one of the other text piques your interest.

What are your thoughts for this week?


  1. Listing.. I'm with you I'm going with John the Baptist this week too. I am excited about all the posabilites.I think I am going to talk about how we get this sweet baby and we like to talk about an easy Jesus but he messiah John is talking about is not sweet and easy.

  2. I'm also hearting John the Baptizer (or JBap, as the scholar Meier says). What I'm doing with him...I don't know.

    I really have trouble with the fire and brimstone passages; so many of my congregation have been hit over the head with them. I try to focus on the universals when I use them--peace and justice and acting with integrity--but it can be hard to move beyond seeing them as clubs.

    And then trying to make this about Advent...Jesus is coming and it isn't good news for everyone!!

  3. I also heart John...I'm treating him as the last of the OT prophets, telling the people one last time that everything is going to change. John's sort of the stick; Jesus is the carrot, to abuse a metaphor.
    Some thoughts I'm toying with:
    What does it mean for us that the Kingdom of Heaven is near? How do we know?
    It's a matter of life and death, especially so for John, and for Jesus
    People followed John and thought he might be the Messiah, but Jesus is coming, and bringing the love...there's something to that, I think, RP.
    Anxious to hear others' thoughts.

  4. A Voice Crying in the Wilderness is calling out to me. I will preach on that. And since our theme in Advent is the Millennium Development Goals, I will probably focus on all those voices crying out to be heard. Are we listening?

  5. I'm struck by the phrase "from these stones". J the B (as Wondergirl learned to call him in her art history class) seems to be reminding the people not to rest on their heritage to save them. God doesn't need us nearly so much as we need God.

  6. interesting that you (we) only have eyes for John the B ... but you know what - he deflects our eyes from himself to jesus and that's what I love about him the most.

  7. I'm using Seasons os the Spirit and the focus passage this week is from Isaiah. I have no idea what I'm going to say but it will be short as the youth Christmas program also takes place during worship.
    I need a short and sweet little sermon!

  8. I'm preaching on hope this week, using Romans and Isaiah. Three years ago at my former church, I cribbed from the pastor at the church I interned at and had a member dressed as J the B storm in reciting the passage. It caused quite the stir. I was thinking about doing that here, but I just don't have any males who could pull it off. (The pastor had actually played the J the B role when he was in seminary and did not attend the church.)

  9. Let me come in and say something a little different, although I am taken with John, too. I'm contemplating peace and particularly the peace among the wild creatures and John's living in the wild places in order to offer the peace of forgiveness. Each of us must know our own wild selves in order to find our place of peace, whether that means coming to accept who we truly are, or turning to God in an act of repentance, or some combination of the two. My sermon title: "Where the Wild Things Are."

  10. Ooh, I like that, SB! Now you've got me musing...

  11. Joan: Ah, such memories! Were you there the day Son Of SuperPreacher payed that role?

  12. Ohhh, I like that too, SB. I only have eyes for J the B as well...but not sure which direction to go. Trying to get my sermon at least outlined today, and struggling with it.

    My DH would make a wonderful John, beard and all, but the crutches and cast would spoil it.

  13. guess i'm weird. sticking with romans though it is a less enticing passage than last week.

    i'm thinking about talking about relationship building with our brothers and sisters in Christ in OTHER traditions/churches as being a component of our Advent vigilance. Paul is focusing on harmony between gentile and Jewish Christians... for us... the differences that break us are denominational... lots has been going on the past few weeks that makes good fodder for this reflection.

  14. My denomination's Advent worship resources, "Dare to Dream," suggest that J the B Sunday is "Dreams of Spirit and Fire."

    A la Songbird, it might just become for me "Dreams of Spirit and Fire and Other Wild Things".

    There's also this contemporary reading which may be helpful for some of you:

    "I Am Not Afraid of Death", from Threatened With Resurrection by Julia Esquivel,© 1982, Elgin, Illinois: Brethren Press [Editor’s Note: Julia Esquivel is a Guatemalan poet who lived in exile for almost 20 years for raising her voice against the government. Her cry, like the Baptist’s in the wilderness, is the outcry arising from depth of spirit, where call leads to powerful action.]

    "I am no longer afraid of death,
    I know well its dark and cold corridors leading to life.
    I am afraid rather of that life
    which does not come out of death,
    which cramps our hands and slows our march.

    I am afraid of my fear
    And even more of the fear of others,
    who do not know where they are going,
    Who continue clinging to what they think is life
    Which we know to be death!

    I live each day to kill death;
    I die each day to give birth to life,
    and in this death of death, I die a thousand times
    and am reborn another thousand
    through that love
    from my People,
    which nourished hope!"

    J the B is exhorting folks to choose the more difficult path of righteousness and justice and even peace over an easier path of what is popular, easy and self-indulgent. The fire and brimstone is for those who enjoy an easy privilege that excludes others, not those who do not experience that privilege.

    Eugene Peterson in The Message has a most interesting version of the J the B story ... which is accessible online at Bible Gateway.

  15. My greatest memory of JtheB is when we created our own Sunday School lessons - 2 guys dressed up as Jesus and John and were out by the river behind the church -- the kids went to the river and John was ranting away about if you have 2 pairs of Nike's you should be sharing, etc. He was wearing a blue fright wig, leopard tights and a faux fur wrapped around with a belt. He baptized Jesus and then stormed off to the park where the kids interviewed him. A friend was there with the guitar so the kids reported that they have found John the Baptist in the park with his friend Dave!! I find it interesting that John is so wrong about Jesus and what Jesus will preach. But Jesus still calls him one of the greatest. Another factoid - John's Day is at the summer solstice - as he "will decrease" and Jesus at the winter solstice - as he "will increase."
    Also there seems to have been a big argument between followers of John and followers of Jesus in the early days if one reads between the lines of the Gospels.

  16. What is it about John. Is it that he is the rebel?

    And it's wonderful that so many of you are tackling the peace texts- there maybe nothing we need to hear more.

    How do you preach about peace in a time of war?

  17. In our non-lectionary Advetn plan this week we talk about the life-changingness of Christmas. BUt I have yet to get a confirmed yes or no from the teen girl I asked to do a MAry monologue. I can write it as a letter from Mary but it would be nice to know what to write.

    THen I am going to try some discussion. See here for the discussion questions

  18. Songbird I really like your thinking-I am doing something a little different- a meditational service called Time out from Tinsel- this is out at one of our village churches ( good to get away from the pressure)... but I am thinking of incorporating your thoughts on knowing our wildness...

  19. Cheesehead: No, I missed that. I think I was still attending church of the semi-famous writer, or had wandered off for Christmas somewhere.

  20. Wow! Thank you to all, but especially to Listing for such an excellent intro and to Reverend Dona Quixote for the poem.

    Y'all are awesome.

  21. Joan: it was something. SP got quite choked up. His son looked just like him only scrawnier, if you can imagine. He had the wild hair/beard of J the B.

    (Okay, I'm done hijacking the comments. Sorry everyone.)

  22. I'm going with John as well. Great text. In fact I wrote it last week because I couldn't wait. It's posted here if you care to check it out. Blessings!

  23. I am actually doing something a bit different this week; this came from a brainstorming session with some folks in the church I respect. If John's purpose is to call us to prepare the way of the Lord, how does that relate to the "preparation" so many of us engage in...namely, decorations, gift exchanging, parties,cookies, etc etc? In the spirit of the contemplative way of living, we opened ourselves to thinking of these things as being preparation? How might that transform and redeem our holiday season? How might it cause us to prioritize differently?

  24. Interesting discussion! I heart J the B lots, and got to talk about him in my class last Sunday, though I'm not preaching this Sunday. I get the Urban Word of the Day from urban dictionary and amazingly(?) here's the word for today:

    December 04, 2007:

    Adjective. The opposite of metrosexual; one who cares little for one's own appearance.

    Examples: Michael Moore, Peter Jackson.
    First documented hobosexual - John the Baptist.

  25. Great intro and great thoughts everyone. Thank you because honestly I was saying to myself, "John the baptist again... blech!"

    The wild things and peace are all giving me new ways of looking at this text. Thanks. I needed that.

  26. Me too! Thank you, SB! I shamelessly stole your title and the sermon came easily from there. It is mostly done. I'll polish it up on Saturday.

  27. I am not a pastor but I am one of the facilitators of my Sunday School class and it's my turn this Sunday.

    I am not overly fond of John the Baptist (*ducks*).

    I am going to focus on the Isaiah passage and I'm using some of the study guide questions from the Serendipity Bible. I like the idea of exploring the "hero" concept, with the eventual question: is God your ideal hero?

    I'm going to have people identify traits of an ideal hero, then cover the text, then have them compare to their experience of God.

  28. I'm really focusing on the stump/shoot images in all three texts--this idea that from something that looks so utterly dead, something new can spring up.

    Last week I ended up talking about how the "in-between" spaces and times are where amazing things happen. I'd like to keep working that in as we progress through Advent.

    Hmm. Apparently I need to do some more thinking.


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