Foundry United Methodist Church

Matt Smith, Youth Minister

 

 

 

 “Are We to Wait for Another”

Sunday, January 13, 2008

 

 

Matthew 11: 2-11


Matt

Matt Smith

 

Surely one of the most rewarding parts of my time at Foundry has been working with our confirmation program.  Each youth who goes through confirmation is assigned an adult mentor.   They agree to pray for one another.  They read the Gospel of Luke and discuss it.  With the rest of their class, they come here for some Saturday mornings.  They learn about scripture and different points of Christian theology.   They make a banner integrating some of their learnings.  Through these months of study with their mentor, we hope that the youth comes to a more mature appreciation of the Christian faith.  Sometimes the mentors come to a more mature appreciation of the Christian faith.  Confirmation wraps up on Pentecost Sunday, when the youth come before God and this congregation and make the promises of the baptismal covenant.  If they were baptized as infants, the youth affirm the promises their parents have already made. 

 

As we approached the big day last year, one of our youth wondered about the choice she was making.  Was she ready to say that, for all time, she wanted to follow Christ?   This youth was curious about Buddhism.  Should she be confirmed now if one day she might become a Buddhist?  Was she ready, when asked by Dean, to say “I do,” when this phrase from the hymnal was asked…

 

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior,

put your whole trust in his grace,

and promise to serve him as your Lord,

in union with the church that Christ has opened

to people of all ages, nations, orientations, and races?

 

Was she ready to say, “I do,” to all that?

 

I have been fortunate to work with Foundry’s youth for more than four years now.  You should be proud of them.   This is the sort of sharp and mature questions they ask all the time.  This youth realized that being confirmed is kind of a big deal.  Making this choice might be a choice against something else.  How can you know that Christianity is the right way?  If you choose Jesus, are you rejecting the Buddha?  Frankly, how could someone so young know what she would believe when she’s 55 or 35 or even 15?

 

This morning’s scripture is meant to answer the doubts of three groups of people who might have trouble answering the question John poses: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?  There are those who choose to commit to something or someone else.  There are those who put off a commitment to Christ. And there are those who used to believe, very strongly, that Jesus was the one, but now have come to have their doubts.

 

*****

 

The Book of Matthew is very interesting on the subject of other religions.  As Dean talked about in his sermon last week, the community that produced this gospel has a church that is open to Gentiles.  In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Matthew goes so far as to suggest that even those Gentiles who don’t come to have faith might be saved.  According to Matthew, those who belong to “the nations” will be judged on the basis of the charity they showed their neighbors: “Whenever you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”  But Matthew doesn’t say that following Jesus is one valid choice among many.  Jesus clearly admires John, but the “least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John is.”  Wasn’t that a weird phrase to follow the thing that preceded it: “No one born of women is greater than John”?  Matthew thinks that those who continue to follow John the Baptist are missing out on something. That’s why I’m glad that the youth who had her questions did go through with confirmation, even if she couldn’t say what would happen in the future.

 

But there are clearly worse choices out there than following John.  To those who didn’t see the signs of the messiah in him, Jesus asked what they expected to see.  Were you looking for someone like Herod?  Jesus can’t resist getting in some digs on Herod.  “Did you come to see a reed waving in the wind?”  Herod had a coin with his face on one side and wheat on the other.  That reed waving in the wind was Herod.  It was Herod who lives in a palace and wears soft robes.  But Jesus was no Herod.  Jesus rejected the values of empire.  He didn’t steal power; he didn’t even take the power that was rightfully his.  If the people were looking for someone to command an army and manage an empire, Jesus wasn’t their man.  He wasn’t that kind of messiah.

 

There’s another possible response to Jesus, and that’s the one of John.  John is someone who started out believing in Jesus, but now has his doubts.  In chapter three of Matthew, Jesus comes to John to be baptized and John tries to refuse him.  He says, “No.  Wait a minute, Jesus.  You ought to be baptizing me.”  But, by the time we get to chapter 11, John is stuck in prison and he must have been surprised by the reports he heard from his cell.  John expected Jesus to be a new Elijah and usher in an era of judgment, but Jesus is more concerned with mercy and reconciliation.  Since he’s in prison and Jesus hasn’t acted like he expected.  It’s only natural for him to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

 

*****

 

On our honeymoon in New York six years ago, Joanna and I went to see the movie Serendipity, which is a fairly standard romantic comedy, in my estimation.  Boy meets Girl.  Boy and Girl make a real connection one night but, rather than exchanging numbers like people who aren’t in a movie, She tells Him that if they’re meant to see each other again, they will.  Fate will bring the back together.  For years, He can’t shake the notion that they’re meant to be together.  She gets engaged to another guy, but is never quite satisfied with their relationship.  On the eve of her wedding to this other man, they find each other serendipitously.

 

So many of our movies and books make the case that, for each of us, there’s only one other person out there with whom we could possibly be happy.  Only one person with whom we’re destined to be.  That’s the story that our fairy tales tell us.  But I ask, what’s more romantic?  Glass slippers that fit only one set of feet?  Or is it romantic to choose to commit to one another without guarantees like that?  Many people hold off on making commitments because they can’t rule out the possibility that something better might come along.  Joanna and I didn’t have an indisputable sign that we were perfect for each other.  Every committed relationship is a gamble.  Hopefully, you gamble and win.  The risk is high but the reward is great.  I think that’s romantic.  How could Joanna and I be certain about getting married, moving to DC, or having a child?  How could I be sure about applying to be a minister?  Well, how can you be sure of anything?  We hadn’t exhausted every other possibility. We couldn’t rule out the chance we were wrong.

 

I suspect our commitment to Christ is like our commitments to our partners and spouses.  It doesn’t necessarily come with a sign – like Cinderella’s glass slipper – that can’t be interpreted in some other way.  Joanna wasn’t the one I was waiting for romantically just because of destiny.  She’s the one I was waiting for, at least in part, because I decided she was.  Just to say there weren’t any indisputable signs doesn’t mean there weren’t signs.

 

John Wesley was a man who liked to do things by the book, according to good order.  (I hope the board heard that.  I believe that very deeply.)  So when Wesley got the invitation to join his friend George Whitefield in a mission preaching to coal miners outside of Bristol, he was skeptical.  In a field.  To coal miners.  Making fun of himself later, he wrote that he almost thought at that time that it was a sin to save souls outside of church.  But he was intrigued and he accepted his friend’s invitation and he was amazed by what he saw.  Mining has never been glamorous work, but in those days it was excruciating, with men down in the mines over half the day, seven days a week.  The working conditions were such that the death rate was high.  These miners were hard men, not given to emotion, but when they heard the good news preached to them, Wesley saw tears streaming down their grimy faces.  John Wesley saw this as a sign of the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit.  The sort of signs Wesley saw usually led him to places and the ministry that seemed improper to him, but he did them anyway.  So when Whitefield left for the Americas, Wesley kept preaching to those miners in the fields and Wesley resolved to become even more vile (in his words) if that’s what it takes for people like coal miners to hear the good news and know that God hadn’t forgotten them.

 

John sent messengers to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?  Are we to wait for another?”  Here’s how Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.”  What other signs were you looking for?  If you’ve seen what Jesus has done and heard what he’s said, why would you keep waiting?

 

The signs are there, but even if they’re not enough to vanquish every doubt, they’re there.  And the more confident you become in the love and goodness of God, the more signs you’ll see.  There are tradeoffs to every choice, other options are closed to us, but life is richer when we commit to the people and things that matter.  Once we choose to follow Jesus, he becomes more and more of the one we were waiting for all along. 

 

In a day where we are less connected to one another and less apt to belong to anything, it is a beautiful choice to commit to your partner, to the church, to what God is up to in the world.  Don’t wait out of fear or doubt.  Believe what’s worth believing and commit to what’s worth committing to.  And, if you committed to it once, be willing to commit to it repeatedly.  This is another way our commitment to Christ is like marriage.  Being married isn’t just about one big day with a white dress and church bells.  It’s about sharing a lifetime of burdens and joys.  You have to recommit to it daily.

 

In a few moments you will have the opportunity to make a sign of your commitment, to reaffirm your baptism.  Baptism is a sign that we belong to Christ, that we do believe Christ is the one, and that we’re willing to submerge ourselves in the life that Christ calls us to. 

 

And if that sounds like a lot to commit to, that’s because it is. 

 

But there’s good news: you’re not the chief actor in this drama.  You’re not the chief actor in baptism.  Dean and Theresa aren’t the chief actors in baptism.  Sure, we all shuffle our feet to the front of the church and dip our hands in the water and some of us get dressed up especially for the occasion, but it’s God – it’s God who rushes across all space and time to meet us.  All we do – all we do by coming forward dipping our hands in this water is to position ourselves in the place where God in Christ is trying to find us.  Your “yes” this morning, even if it’s timid, is going to be met by God’s “yes,” which is grand and powerful.  You may not be certain that Jesus is the one you’re waiting for, but I’m certain Jesus is waiting for you and has been for a long time.

 

 

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