2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Soon after Jesus’ baptism, John was arrested. Actually the news of his arrest prompted Jesus to move from Nazareth to Capernaum and begin his ministry first by proclaiming the very same message, that John had proclaimed, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." I find it interesting, that both John’s and later Jesus’ opening message was the same, almost like a together rehearsed imperative to repent.
There was nothing new in the urge to repent. That had been the proclamation of most of the prophets throughout the history of Israel. The only difference with Jesus and John compared to the Old Testament prophets was the reason why to repent. It was the because kingdom of Heaven was near.
John ended his ministry with this slogan and Jesus started his with it. But Jesus’ message evolved. It carried also other aspects of the kingdom wit the exhortation to repent – as one can hear from the sermon of the mount for example.
But something about Jesus’ message got John worried. Before he was jailed, he had been pointing to Jesus as the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That was a weighty testimony. Now he was jailed, he had to rely on bits and pieces, even rumours about what Jesus was proclaiming and doing. We know that Jesus was more liberal with observing the Jewish traditions. He ate and drunk as anyone and didn’t fast. and many other odd things bothered John: Maybe he had been too fast to proclaim Jesus as messiah. “Maybe he isn’t the one?!?”
Jesus’ response – as usual, wasn’t a direct answer to the John’s question. He didn’t say yes or no. He asked John’s disciples to tell him what they see taking place. And then John would get to decide himself, whether Jesus is the one or somebody else. And the list of things happening around Jesus was the proof, that God’s kingdom was braking trough in many ways. John’s disciples were bringers of the good news between the kingdom and John in captivity.
I think this is a model of communication that New Testament portrays us in many occasions. There are two phases: First the invitation to come and see. People have to get first a call to come, see and listen, so that they can make their conclusions. According to some, a personal face to face invitation from a neighbour to another, is still the most efficient way to get people to come to church. And if they feel, that there is something kingdom-like in there, they may also stay and become part of it. I think so called back to church Sunday is an attempt, a joint effort in churches to invite people, our friends and neighbours to come and see. And second: there is becoming convinced, that kingdom is present here. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, that awakens a feeling of awe, peace, longing – it can be many things, that draws people towards God’s Kingdom.
But when people come, what do they see? What do they hear? The indicators, that Jesus referred to are quite extreme – people healed from various diseases. Blind see, deaf hear, lepers are cured and dead are raised. I don’t see these kind of signs of Kingdom to be present in any of the churches, that I know, but there is one last thing on the list, that we may reach to. “The poor have good news brought to them.” Actually Matthew uses the Greek word euangelizoo, which is the root for our word “evangelize.” So the sentence could be translated simply: “The poor are evangelized.” The word evangelize has become a bit loaded, at least in Lutheran churches. But it shouldn’t be. We are called Evangelical Lutherans. And in our case the word means, that we and our message are bound to the Gospel. Gospel is the brand of the Church. Martin Luther says, that Church is an “assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity.”
As I look at the church of today, I am not sure, that we are doing right things, whether it is inviting people or how they experience what they see and hear in our midst. I am not sure, that they become convinced, that God’s kingdom is present in our congregations. St. Matthews is in a good position because you have started a process of calling a pastor, because so much of the proclamation lays on the shoulders of the pastor. Please keep the call committee and the work they have started, in your prayers throughout the process. But even the best pastor cannot do anything by him or herself. Sometimes I feel that expectations are very high, especially when a new pastor arrives. I wished some of that expectation energy could be turned inwards to turn the whole congregation to a place for the kingdom to settle. In John the Baptist’s words, that would be paving the way to the kingdom to come and remain in our midst.
Of course there isn’t a cookie cutter solution to make a community so that a visitor senses the Kingdom’s presence whenever, they step in. It is a matter of prayer and asking the Holy Spirit to guide us.
And we might as well start now. Let us pray.
We are called Christians,
and we would like to be that today and tomorrow.
We pray that your church, we all together,
would be a community, where your kingdom may take place.
Help us to uproot from ourselves all selfishness, bitterness,
and every obstacle, that hinders the Holy Spirit to do her work among us.
Give us joy and peace, that only you can give.
Convince us first,
that we may then ask others to come and see and
become convinced of your works amongst us.
We ask these things in Christ Jesus’ name. Aamen.