Go Tell John Matthew 11:2-11 Advent 3 December 12, 2010
“Are you the one who was to come, or are we to wait for another?”
That’s the question that’s really at the heart of our faith, isn’t it?
I have a sneaking suspicion that each of us asks that question to Jesus more often than we might admit. “Are you really the one who was to come?”
We do our best to believe in God, to believe that Jesus really is the savior of the world and of our lives… but as this time of year illustrates all too well, sometimes our lives get away from us.
We start organizing our time and our actions according to what we see happening on the outside, rather than by the guiding Spirit of God who resides within us.
We get flustered, hurried, and our time gets consumed by all the outward cares that thrust themselves upon us.
There’s no shortage of ways to keep busy, especially at this time of year.
But when that exterior busy-ness becomes the ongoing habit of our lives, faith becomes little more than lip-service to a nice idea.
We might have experienced God and true faith once upon a time…
but without paying regular attention to our inner life, that childlike faith becomes something like a distant memory.
It’s easy to neglect our inner life, and in so doing, get swept away by all there is to do around us.
And as we go along with the tide that our culture mandates, we wonder why we have no peace.
The Holy Spirit of God resides within us, not by our striving or deeds, but by the grace of God.
This Spirit is the centering presence that seeks to guide all who Christ has claimed by the reconciling work he accomplished in his life, his death, and his resurrection.
But on the outside, each one of us is surrounded by all of the demands and distractions that the world offers. These outer distractions come gift wrapped and pre-packaged in a thousand different ways.
Jobs, family commitments, schedules,
the need for exercise, the need for rest, the need to read the Bible,
…cleaning house, attending church, shopping for gifts and travel–
all of it takes place in this outer life I’m talking about.
We can and we do spend almost all of our time in this outer place.
It’s the place where we are known by the world.
But the inner place is where we are known by ourselves; and by God.
This inner place is where our identity is formed.
The inner place is an easy place to avoid, but that avoidance leads to shallow living, shallow faith, and shallow relationships.
If you avoid it too long, you might find that you’re so consumed by the outer life you’re busy maintaining, that the thought of your inner life seems like a fantasy.
So you might feel conflicted, confused…or separated (like an egg yolk that’s been separated from its white).
It’s kind of like what David talks about in Psalm 51, where he says “God, surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place…create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.
David was writing about that sense of separation that he experienced after Nathan confronted him about sleeping with Bathsheba.
For us, maybe it’s the sense of isolation that we get when we finally achieve all that we hoped to achieve, and we still come up feeling empty.
All that and more is carried by the question John sends to Jesus
“Are you the one I’ve been waiting for, or shall I wait for another?”
Is this the present I’ve been waiting for? Is this going to be the Christmas I always dreamed of?
Is this the party, is this the family reunion, is this the date I’ve been waiting for?
Is this the job I really wanted? Is this the house we wanted so bad?
Is this really the person I loved when I married them?
Or should I wait for something or someone else?
I’m here to say that I think the answer to all of those questions begins inside of you.
If you start by looking outside, you’ll never have enough, be enough, or accomplish enough to be satisfied; much less happy.
So when Jesus answers John’s question, in a way he sends him inward.
“Go tell John,” Jesus said. “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk. The dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Here’s the evidence. Here’s what I’ve done and am doing.
Here is the outward reality of who I am.
It’s another way of asking “who do you say that I am?”
See, here’s the thing about Truth of Jesus. It can’t be measured, quantified, or contained in an answer.
He did not come to the people who had the details of his arrival all worked out. He didn’t come to the ones with answers.
Rather, he came to the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, and the dead.
He came to the downtrodden.
He came in humility for the humble.
He came for those who did not have it all worked out for themselves.
He came to and for those with questions.
It’s people with questions who are paying attention to that inner place within them.
And unless and until you’re able to go to that inner place, Jesus will mean very little to you.
He’s interested in the whole deal; the complete person.
Not just the outer part, and not just the inner part.
So go tell John, Jesus says. Go tell him, “Here’s what’s happening”.
Jesus knows that even though John’s in jail, he’ll understand the importance of the Christ.
Jesus knows that John will understand, because he knows that our external situations are only part of the story.
The external realities we face cannot set the tone of our lives unless we let them.
John knows the importance of Emmanuel; God with us.
He was able to wait, even in jail when all the signs pointed to a pretty dismal ending.
All the work he had done;
all the people he had baptized,
all the systems he had challenged,
all the locusts and honey and nights he spent in the wilderness…
All the hard work he had done, laying the groundwork for the kingdom of God…
All of it came to nothing (or so it would seem).
But Jesus spoke a word of hope to his inner being.
And it’s in the book of James that I find a word of hope for us today.
It’s a call to patience for the people of God; for the coming of the Lord is near.
We have tasted death this week. Many of us lost a good friend in Gary Mast who attended Martins Creek Mennonite Church; and we also remember our own Sturges Miller who passed away yesterday morning.
But as unwelcome as death may be, we do not understand it to be the end.
James calls us to patience for the coming Kingdom. And the patience that is required does not shrink away in the face of death.
Ours is not a flaccid faith, a puny hope, or a love that is here today and gone tomorrow.
Our patience is being forged in the furnace of adversity as day by day we journey with Jesus.
We’re not just waiting.
Waiting is what happens in that outer life I was talking about. Waiting is what you can do while you’re completely consumed by the external circumstances you find yourself in.
Patience, however, is an inner reality that puts away the distractions and looks toward that future hope.
All who are patient do wait, but not all who wait are patient.
James tells us to strengthen our hearts–that is, our inner life–by exercising patience like the farmer waits for the crop to grow.
That’s pretty much always a timely message.
So as Christmas draws near and your schedule reflects it, what is it that has you asking Jesus “are you the one who was to come?”
What is it that you need patience to endure–patience and not just waiting?
How is your inner life connecting with your outer life?
What might need to change?
I’d like to close with some words from a woman named Jan Richardson.
Bless those who know the darkness
and do not fear it,
who carry the light
and are not consumed,
who prepare the way
and will not abandon it,
who bless with grace
that does not leave us.