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Is Anybody Listening?

Matthew 11: 2-11

The Rev. Jon Roberts

15 December


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Is Anybody Listening?

St. John the Baptist in Prison by Juan Fernandez de Navarrete 1565-1570

Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?[1]

This is Gaudete Sunday, meaning we are to “rejoice” for what is heard. The third Sunday is about finding relief when we hear the most important response from our Lord to the prophet John the Baptist. He is the one! There is no need to wait for another. You heard it. You were listening, weren’t you? How often did John get up on the rock by the Jordan and preach the same sermon? We preachers really have only one sermon, one message to deliver. We can present it in many different ways, but when pointing people to the Messiah, to Jesus Christ we have only one sermon. There are times, though, when we wonder if anybody is listening. After the service people may be kind enough to come up and shake the preacher’s hand, saying something like, “That was a lovely sermon” or “Thank you for the message.”

​Today the message is the same as last week’s, that is, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was sent here to save your soul and mine from a life imprisoned, an eternity in hell. That second part seems pretty harsh. It’s not there to get your attention. It may not give you the feeling to rejoice.

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once told his students, "If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners."[2] John the Baptist tasted a bit of hell on earth during his imprisonment and later by his ugly death, but he would truly be credited by our Lord as one of the finest winner of souls. He, like so many others before and after, like the prophet Isaiah, like the disciple James, delivered the message of the one to come, over and over again, sometimes, perhaps, wondering if anyone was listening. It was an exercise of sacrifice through loss and humility through patience.

In our American history, there was another man who delivered a strong message that we must all come together and work together if we are to overcome the evils of this world. He was President Franklin D. Roosevelt and he delivered this message in many different ways, but it was the same message. He wondered if anybody was listening. He got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said; "I murdered my grandmother this morning." People would automatically respond with comments such as "How lovely!" or "Just continue with your great work!" Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, "I murdered my grandmother this morning," the diplomat responded softly, "I’m sure she had it coming to her."[3]

We all deserve what is coming to us. We all deserve death. We all deserve to have our life ended and that’s that. But the irony of Christmas and our preparations thereof, is to listen to the message, one that says our death will be overcome by the birth. Did John the Baptist doubt Jesus was the one foretold, that he was the Messiah he had been prophesizing? The early Church Fathers, St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom say, “No.”[4] They delivered the same message that John not only knew Jesus was Lord, but that he sent those to Jesus from his prison cell, that they may ask the question and know for themselves as well. John the Baptist, you may recall, sent Jesus his first disciples. Andrew was the very first.

When we come to the manger scene in ten days, we will ask the same question, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” You will not be like a “reed shaken by the wind” because you are truly listening to God’s message.[5] Matthew, the evangelist points ahead, quoting the comfortable words given by Christ, intended to give us relief and hope. They are like the reeds that blow back and forth in the wind. Here them as they say, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” [6]
“For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”[7]
“Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God.”[8]
“Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden and I shall give you rest.”[9]
This is God’s message sent to those who will be prophets.

Is anybody listening?

[1] Matthew 11:2-11
[2] From a sermon by Gerald Flury, What Made John the Baptist Great? 12/12/2009.
[3] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 318.
[5] Matthew 11:17
[6] Matthew 17:5
[7] John 3:16
[8] Ephesians 5:2
[9] Matthew 11:28-29

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