Monday, January 14, 2019
Meeting Matthew Again...Anew
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
What memories flood to overflowing your mind when you hear the word, "Water?"
I remember splashing in the community pool with friends playing Marco Polo.
I remember fishing with my dad along the Cedar River using corn to catch the fish...because these were Iowa fish! It didn't really work.
I remember canoeing with my wife Gina during our honeymoon....which even more than wallpapering helped to define our marriage.
On the Sunday after Epiphany every year we make our annual track out to the wilderness to encounter John the Baptizer. We are familiar with his eccentric and odd ways. His unusual fashion choices...his strange diet (and I thought the Paleo Diet was out there)...and yet people come in droves.
Perhaps the church growth strategy we have all been searching for was in Scripture all along. Just need to find a Camel's hair robe online and develop a taste for locust!
Yet, let's really dig deeper into the little bit of information we get. John is wearing camel’s hair, which is exactly what the prophet Elijah wore. For John to wear camel’s hair would be like me showing up wearing a sequin jump suit, dying my hair jet black, while eating a peanut butter and banana fried sandwich as an ode to Elvis. People in Jesus day knew John was paying homage to Elijah. They also knew that rabbis had told, taught them that Elijah had to come back to earth before the Messiah would arrive.
John is not content to only let his clothing style speak for him. He goes and eats locust and honey. In John’s day, locust was considered poor people’s food. In a world where there was no grocery store to go buy chicken or beef, in a world where most people could barely afford some grain to make bread, locust provided much needed protein. Locust were readily available and because locust tend to be extroverts hanging out together, if you found one; you found a whole bunch.
And yet, John is not content to just letting his clothing and dietary choices speak to the people. He goes down to the Jordan River. The Jordan is on the edge of the Promised Land. The Jordan was the space Joshua, the leader after Moses, parted to have people cross over, finally stop camping in the wilderness, and settle down. It would be the same if I would say to you, “Let’s go to the Delaware River where George Washington crossed over, while eating apple pie, and talking about baseball.” Place and space speak louder more than words.
It is easy to picture John with unkempt hair, locust legs sticking out of his matted beard, and shouting at people. We do this, because then it is easier to dismiss and deny that what he is saying might have relevance for us. If we picture him in this way then we don’t have to take him seriously. What John is about to preach (which we will look at in the next post)...will challenge and convict us to our very core. What John is on the edge of saying has an edge that can cut what we cling so tightly to and the ways we like to think we are in control. What John is about to say we might was to dismiss as said by some weird odd guy centuries ago...and thank God Jesus came along to make things all warm and fuzzy again.
Yet, John is important and perhaps still as something vital to say to us. But for now, as we gather at the river...as we prepare to wade in the water...as we celebrate that through baptism we are claimed as beloved by God...let us sense that even in the most unlikely spaces we can still find more than a trace of God's grace.
May it be so for you and me this week.