John and Jack started a painting business in the mid eighties. While initially things went well, they hit a difficult patch in business and decided to comprise on quality to keep profits up. They did this by thinning down the paint. Jack had no idea that John was being troubled by this until one day he turned up to work and said I can’t do this anymore. Why asked Jack. John replied last night an angel appeared in my dream and said “Repaint you thinner... and thin no more!”
Repentance as you know is a change of heart, mind and behaviour. A realisation that things need to change and the steps you take to make those changes. In the last month or so people have been sharing some interesting changes in their lives.
A work colleague has been on the email warning us of the dangers he’s discovered about modern supermarket food and promoting the many reasons why we really do need to go back to organic food and why the extra expense is really worth it in the long run.
Another colleague was espousing to me the benefits of a carbohydrate free diet and how it made him feel and look years younger than his age. And I must say he did look far younger than his age.
Someone else was explaining how his particular regimen of exercises and diet had brought about a radical weight loss, which was true and evident. He would explain this is in great detail to.
A Muslim friend was recounting his experience of going on the Haj and how it had been the toughest thing he had ever done in his life and how transforming the exercise of sacrifice and patience had been.
I’m sure you too would have many experiences of people sharing their life changing experiences with you and when they do they don’t just recount it, its shared in a way that we too really need to experience what they have experienced.
For some people this is yet another passing fad, for others it’s going to be long term lifestyle choice and for still others it’s going to be their path way to fame and wealth.
In Jesus’ day too there would have been many movements I’m sure. There would have been those pro Empire groups that would have been fascinated by Roman civilization, culture, development and luxurious indulgences. There were others who would rather be passionate patriotic terrorists and throw off the yoke of the Roman Imperialists. Some became conservative Traditionalists who turned inward to preserve their own faith and culture, determined to not let it go under the sweeping influence of newer cultures.
And then there were those who responded to John the Baptist. At the risk of simplification, his message was essentially one of Trust in God and Live with integrity.
John the Baptist we’re told ate locusts and wild honey and wore a garment made of camel’s hair, tied with a leather belt. This wasn’t the latest religious diet or fashion. It simply communicated that he did not care about food or clothes. His clothes and diet were basic, for someone not concerned about living in and fitting in with society. It also pointed back to his predecessor of a few centuries earlier, Elijah. They were both anti establishment, and answered to only one boss, God.
I work as a religious chaplain in a school where not everyone is from a religious background. Last week one such student asked me whether I was the only “Lord of the school” or whether I was Lord at any other schools. So I said, “No I’m just Lord of this school”. And to think that after my first few days of marriage I’d given up hope of ever being addressed as Lord.
Just to put things into perspective for most of us here, educational options, family commitments, jobs, career connections, investments, community expectations, are all very significant and important in our decision making. John had none of these concerns.
He was also about living with integrity. To some of those who came to him to be baptised he was quite harsh, calling them snakes and hypocrites, saying if you really want to be baptised be prepared to change the way you treat others. He got into trouble with King Herod and his wife Herodias for calling their relationship to account and his challenge to soldiers and tax collectors was to give up corruption and cheating in their jobs and to exercise their power responsibly and honestly. So it’s a great irony that he ultimately lost his head to save Herod’s face.
Now his message resonated with an audience of people for whom these things were important. They were alert to the fact that everyday living had drawn them into duplicity, away from God and away from their spiritual heritage and they wanted to turn back.
Getting us to see ourselves for who we really are is very tricky. We look in the mirror everyday and we think we know how we look. Of course how we see ourselves is quite different from the way others see us as they have a more rounded (360 view). Someone sent me a photo of me the other day from an angle I wish I hadn’t seen. While what I saw was a surprise to me, it’s probably what you’ve seen of me for a long time.
Similarly the image we have of who we are will be different from the way others have compiled an image of who we are. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else perspective of us is any more objective because each of our experiences and personalities tend to filter out some aspects and highlight others. So there are mirrors all over our daily lives and some of them are more distorted than others. There is a children’s party place in Oakleigh where there are a series of distorted mirrors. In one you look thin and tall, in the next you look like a ball and then in the next one along there is yet another distortion. Yet we rely on accurate mirrors to gain accurate perceptions.
The truth of who we really are is reflected back to us by other people. Personally I think to have an objective person (i.e. not a spouse) reflect back to us what we’re really like is exceptionally valuable and for us to be able to accept it, even if unpleasant would be highly empowering. John the Baptist’s mirror made a whole group of people realise that they weren’t living the way God wanted them to be living, trusting God and living with integrity. So they flocked to him,repentant, were baptised by him and began to follow him as they sought to change the way they lived their lives.
John the writer of the Gospel is keen to point out that John the Baptist however always saw himself only as a precursor, a preparer to he who was the true provider. The repentance he preached was to prepare his listeners and highlight the one for whom he was preparing people for.
John is keen to point out that that the personal transformation journey doesn’t end with him. He is basically the on ramp onto the Jesus highway. And while John could hold up a mirror to challenge people to see their true spiritual condition and while he could motivate them to prepare to receive God into their lives, it was Jesus, the one who came from God, who could show them the true reality of God’s Kingdom. It was he who could actually legally provide the forgiveness for our repentance, who could give the Holy Spirit to live within us as a continual source of life and empowerment and who could save us from the judgement and consequences of our choices.
The preparation and openness provided by the work of John the Baptist was in the long run meaningless without the acceptance of Jesus and the filling of the Holy Spirit. It’s interesting to note that some of John’s disciples continue to see themselves as John’s disciples and seem not to make the transference onto Jesus. God may have used a person or people or program for each of us to be prepared to receive Jesus as Lord of our lives and while each of those things may continue to be significant in our lives our lives are really about having Jesus forgive us, cleanse, fill us with his spirit and make us children of God.
Through our own journeysGod has brought us to accept the Lordship of Jesus and his revelation of truth and grace. He has filled us with his spirit who continually enables us to see ourselves as God sees us and who empowers our repentance into repeated action no matter how many times we stuff up. Who gives each of us gifts and abilities that he will use to build up others in his grace and truth. We then become the body of Jesus filled with his Spirit. Like Naomi mentioned a few weeks back each of us doesn’t just have a role, we spiritually become part of his body. Even in our brokenness and sinfulness, together God is revealed in us, the many many facets of God’s grace and truth.
I saw a photo of someone in their house. It was a leaving present from his previous employer. His photo was made up of smaller photos of people from that company. Likewise together we carry the image of Jesus, full of grace and truth.
So let’s keep being challenged by each other’s convictions,
encouraged by each other’s gifts and
supported by each other’s love
as we continue to proclaim the message Of God’s love, forgiveness, empowerment and gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.