John 1:6-8, 19-28
Chaim Potok was a writer; an extremely religious man. He was a Jew and from an early age, Potok knew he wanted to be a writer. But his mother wasn’t convinced. When he went away to college she said, “Son, now I know you want to be a writer. But I want you to think about brain surgery. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying. And you’ll make a lot of money.”
To which he responded, “No, Mama, I want to be a writer.”
But, “No,” is not what Mama wanted to hear. So, every vacation break for 4 years she would repeat her comments about his becoming a brain surgeon – keeping people from dying, and making a lot of money. And always his response was the same.
Finally he had enough, and, when the same mantra began, he cut off his mother and with great passion he said, “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying, I want to show them how to live.”
Some religious institutions today are like that mother. They think Christians ought to be like brain surgeons – sent out to keep sinners from dying eternally in the fires of hell.
No. The early church turned everything Jesus said and did into an eschatological (end of the world) focus. We haven’t repaired the diversion away from Jesus’s teachings yet. Many people still think the kingdom of heaven is an after-life destination. That’s the reason I wrote The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real, and It’s Open to Everyone! In the words of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Jesus told his disciples, “I came that you might have life, and have it to the full.” He wasn’t talking about life in heaven after they died. He was talking about life in Israel in the first century.
Christians are sent into the world to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the lives of those who don’t know God and teach them how to live an abundant life right here and now.
John the Baptist came first. His message was this: “Change the way you think (that’s what the word “repent” means – change your mind) and let go of unloving actions/sins.”
Change the way you think so you stop hurting yourself and others.
John said, “I can only baptize you with water…I clean you on the outside with water and the law…but the one who comes after me is so much stronger than I am. He won’t just clean your outside actions. He’ll immerse you in a Spirit that is worthy of praise (holy) and you’ll be clean from the inside out.” The things you do will be done for the right reasons…because you love each other.
For most of my life, I believed Christians were sent into the world to keep people from going to hell when they die. Today, I’m convinced God sends us into the world to help people out of the hells they currently live in. They live in hells of poverty, of sickness, of debt, of depression, of materialism, of anger, of division, of discontent. Christians are sent to show and help people learn how to live an abundant life.
Jesus came for another reason. He reveals the truth about God. I gave a lot of details about that in How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever.
The Gospel of John says, “Jesus is the light of the world.” The first letter of John says, “God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” Another place it says, “God is love.” This is the good news!
Darkness is a metaphor for lack of understanding. Jesus has helped us understand God. But too many people are accustomed to darkness. They shun the Light.
Our role is to prepare a way in the wilderness by pointing to Jesus as the revelation of a God who is love and goodness. We don’t have to save anyone from a devil with a pitchfork and horns. We are to show people how to live the abundant life – how to find peace, and love, and joy, and meaning in life by helping each other to enjoy the ride through to the end of this one. Our eternal futures are secure. We know the end of the story.
Jesus is the Anointed One, the Word made flesh who has shown us the truth about God. God is light. God is love. This is the good news!
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 Susan R. Andrews, Sermons for Sundays: In Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: The Offense Of Grace, CSS Publishing Company, Inc. (from illustrations in eSermons.com)