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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

John Calls Out

John calls out!
                                                                 
 
Matthew 3:1-12
 
 
Have you watched how dogs and cats seem to know their owners voices. Our last couple of dogs we have “adopted” seemed to have had a fear of males and would have little to do with Joe. Both little dogs would go out of their way to avoid him, sneaking behind furniture or taking the long way around to get where they wanted. But with patience and lots of treats and petting, the dogs began to show signs of interest in Joe. Eventually each dog would react excitedly when his car would come up the drive way. They would look at him expectedly and wait for him to sit down and bound into his lap when he was ready to settle. Both Hardy and Jack Jack had become his dog, knew his voice and would zoom immediately to him if they heard the treat box rattle. 
 
John, living in the desert, had spent a lot of time with God in the desert, so much time that he must have known and recognized God’s voice when it sounded. So it is not surprising that John knew God intimately enough to catch some of God’s desire for relationship with humans. Perhaps he had a sense of God’s tears when God’s people failed to live up to the law He had given them through Moses. Perhaps John felt God’s pain at how stubborn and wayward these people were. Perhaps John knew the longing God had to embrace all peoples and give light to this world created for Him. So John cried out! He came out of the desert, oddly dressed, wild and scruffy, to enter into the wilderness of human pain and suffering and distance from God. His was the message that people needed to turn back to God in repentance through the act of baptism. I wonder how much he longed for each person to know what he knew of God as he baptized them in the river. Did he know they were likely to turn once again from God even after they had repented and been baptized. Sure some would “be on fir” for a while, but the tendency of even the most devout was to begin to forget their love of God, as the world offered its subtle seductions. 
 
But a new thing did happen. Jesus was born and came to the river to be baptized by John. Perhaps John’s familiarity with God helped him to recognize God in the face of Jesus. John had certainly been prepared for that moment. I wonder how we are being prepared in this season of Advent. The kingdom of God has broken into human life in the reality of Jesus. Jesus offered another way of thinking about this world. He preached good news of the extreme love of God and how we are to love each other out of that love. But we are still seduced by this secular world. Fame, fortune, and accumulation often entice us into forgetting about God. We pay attention to that which we can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear.
But there is so much more to life. Jesus’ way embraces not only the physical world, but the unseen part of this world as well, the kingdom of God which can’t so easily be seen. In china in the 1960’s, Chairman Mao proclaimed that the concept of Beauty was a Bourgeois idea and ordered that flowers would not be planted and goldfish had to be destroyed. He ordered everybody to wear the same unisex clothing. But something interesting happened. Women began to grow flower in their homes and children hid their goldfish under their beds. The concept of beauty did not go away, it simply went underground. When the time was right it re-emerged. When the early Christians suffered persecution, the church went underground til the time was right for it to emerge and literally explode upon the face of the earth.   Philip Yancey calls such event, “rumors of another world”. We have hints that there is much more to life in the face of our increasing secularism. God’s kingdom cannot be destroyed no matter what things seem like in our times.
 
One night, several years ago, a group from my last church decided to go to the Palace in Auburn Hills. That night it seemed the Kingdom of God was alive and well as thousands gather for the Gaither Homecoming. I believe that each person in that astounding theatre was touched by God at some point in the performance. I personally was lifted by the power of the voices of the singers and the power of the sight of thousands of lights glimmering in the darkened space. The strength of the Kingdom of God was in its glory that night.
 
But often the Kingdom of God comes to us in the little voices that we begin to recognize as we develop and strengthen our relationship with God. But it takes a steady preparedness to hear the voice of god in the little things that come our way each day. I smile when I see a morning’s sunrise and I smile when I saw the brilliance of the sunset on our way to the Palace that night, the voice of God printed on the sky for all to see. One year we had the youth of that church make wreaths to sell as a fund raiser for their next mission trip. I smiled when I saw their seriousness, their industriousness and their creativity as they made their wreaths: the voice of God speaking through the hands of youth. I smiled one morning when I couldn’t find the sermon I had written the night before and sat down at the computer the next morning calmly typing in spite of the limited time I had to get a sermon done. The voice of God planning through the carelessness of a pastor. I smile when a sanctuary is transformed into a beautiful expression of the season. The voice of God in the midst of things that could go wrong with the work and toil of a people of God.

The kingdom of God is alive and well in the midst of what we can see and touch. Evidence of it is all around us. We simply need to tune into it and know it is there. We need to learn the voice of God in our surroundings and in our hearts so that we can hear it more readily and more frequently. Jesus knew there was so much more to life and he offered what he knew of it. He offered the voice of God through his teachings and his miracles and especially through his death and resurrections. But he also knew that we are limited in our ability to understand all there is to life. As Philip Yancey puts it in “Rumors of Another World, What Are We Missing”, we don’t remember our births and we can’t imagine our deaths, but the kingdom of God encompasses both and offers more than the limits of those two events in our lives.
This is a season to tune ourselves into a grander picture of life, a life where God can enter as a baby and literally change the world. Jesus calls us into acknowledging that a fuller world exists even in this one and certainly beyond what we know. Jesus calls us into responding to that world while embracing this world. Sometimes we need to go into the desert to tune ourselves into God. Sometimes we need to spend a little more time contemplating the unseen world. Quieting the noise and bustle of this season helps. Stopping the frantic pace of these weeks is essential. Limiting our frenzy over the gift buying might just help us find what truly needs to be given. Spending some time near the manger and with the shepherds and listening to angels might open our hearts to the voice of God. Let us take time to dwell a moment in the silence and beauty of this place, not worried for just a few minutes about what comes next or how soon the service will be over or what we are going to do with the rest of the day. Let us spend just a moment thinking about the wonderful thing God did that day Jesus was born and from this time of silence let us move into the future in greater faith and love and hope.

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