Sermon/Third Sunday of Advent (A)/December 11, 2016
The Very Rev. Randall Hehr D. Min., Rector, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 3200 N. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, FL 33761/727-796-5514
“Are you the one?” This poignant question comes from John the Baptist as he is held prisoner in a dark cell. He sends word through his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” As I picture John imprisoned, I am aware that the world seeks to silence the prophets of God. John’s honesty and direct language has made Herod uneasy. And Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, is a treacherous leader. John, the outsider from the wilderness, was speaking out publically against Herod’s relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod silences John by throwing him into prison, and will eventually put him to death.
“Are you the one,” John asks. He met Jesus in the Jordan River, and Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that the prophet realized this was the Messiah. So why now does he question Jesus’ identity?
Perhaps Jesus is not the person John expected. You remember John’s language. He preached repentance, and said the coming Messiah would baptize with fire and would separate the wheat from the chaff. John saw the Messiah as an agent of change. Perhaps as John the Baptist observed Jesus bringing healing and hope to a broken world, he saw more grace and more love than he expected.
“Are you the one…or are we to wait for another?”
Have you ever been disappointed by someone? Have you ever been let down by someone you hoped would live up to your expectations? This is a common dynamic in the human community. We develop our own inner portrayal of others and then reality comes knocking at the door. It can happen with a good friend or a colleague at work. It often happens in communities like this one. We disappoint each other because we are human and fall short.
For over three decades, I have been privileged to work with couples who are planning a wedding. Often I have provided premarital counseling required by the Episcopal Church. I always begin the process by asking the couple to tell me their story. In some cases, a couple will describe an opening period of “getting to know you.” Frequently they will describe a time when they encountered a difficult test of the relationship. This test requires that they work through the disappointment or distress or conflict and be able to see their partner with open eyes. This experience can be a doorway to a deeper relationship with deeper understanding of one another. During this period of inquiry, one or both parties may be asking, “Are you the one?”
Certainly the Gospel describes other occasions when people fall short of expectations. Peter denies knowing our Lord. Jesus’ disciples flee during his arrest and crucifixion. Judas betrays the Messiah. Jesus’ family disowns him. Like life, scripture abounds with examples of people letting each other down.
Right here in the sermon I want to introduce the psychological term “projection.” You and I project our feelings onto others. Pay attention when someone really bothers you and gets under your skin. That is the very time when we are likely to be complaining about that person. Pay attention when this is happening and look inside yourself. Often we project onto others the very things about ourselves that we do not want to accept. We project our own shortcomings, our own frailties. Often we are not aware of this process because we are so focused on our judgement of the other person.
The Gospel invites us to intervene in this process. The Gospel invites us to catch ourselves when we are feeling disappointed or let down. The Gospel invites us to go inside ourselves and see the truth about ourselves. If we are willing to do this, the question “Are you the one?” may shift to “Who am I?” Now we are less likely to try to nail the other person and we are more likely to see ourselves with open eyes and ears, learning more about our own frailty and brokenness.
Now I want to circle back to the Gospel according to Matthew. Let us listen to Jesus again as he answers John’s question. He references the signs of the kingdom unfolding: the 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. He sends John’s disciples to describe these events to John. Then Jesus turns back to the crowds and talks about John. He lifts up John. He reminds them that John is not wearing soft robes or living in a palace. No, this is John, “more than a prophet.” John is God’s messenger, preparing the way for Jesus. John is preparing the way for God’s kingdom of peace and love and hope to unfold. Jesus knows who John is and wants the people to understand him. He praises him as a true servant of God.
The Gospel teaches us how to portray one another. The Gospel teaches us to lift one another up. The Gospel encourages us to go inside and to examine ourselves honestly and truthfully. And then we lift others up. Praising them for the work that they do. This is called building up the body of Christ.