2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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Sermon Briefs Mark 1:1-8

John Claypool begins his sermon Do You Really Want to Grow?1 with the startling observation that had it not been for John the Baptist's work, Jesus could not have accomplished what he did! This stress on the crucial role of free will and human action—and God's dependence on them—is central to the sermon.

Claypool takes very seriously the freedom that we mortals exercise in affecting our destiny. We have a deep ambivalence about change. We want to grow and develop but at the same time are held back by fear, pride and shame, and "weary inertia." The latter forces must be overcome if change is to occur. We have little to do with many of the givens of our lives, but the one thing we humans bring to the process of creation is our willingness or unwillingness. The presence or absence of desire determines what is going to be possible or impossible in our lives.

John and Jesus shared the uncommon ability to create in people the desire to change. John showed this to be true by the large and diverse crowds who flocked to him. Jesus showed it to be true in his conversation with the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus' question was, "Do you want to be healed?" When an affirmative answer was finally forthcoming after some evasiveness, a 38-year cycle was broken. Real change!

Claypool quickly relates baptism to change. Baptism was never meant to signal the end of a process. It has always been a symbolic way of saying, "I am ready to grow."

There is much tragedy in the way many of us shortchange ourselves in life. We settle for too little. We are not willing to make the changes and take the risks that would enable us to realize our potential. Once again, our desire to grow and do God's will is all important. Without that desire, not even the almighty Creator can intervene in our behalf.

Mark Trotter begins his sermon You Have to Start Someplace2 with these words: "You ask anyone in the New Testament how you get to

Bethlehem, they will say, `Go out to the desert, keep going till you get to the River Jordan. You can't miss it. There is no other way to get there.'" Of course, the one waiting for us in the river is John the Baptist. All four Gospels say that if you want to go to Bethlehem, you've got to start with him.

John is a prophet. Prophets are commonly seen as foretellers of the future, but what is hard to take is what they say about the present. They say, "Repent!"

Trotter confesses that he does not want to go out to meet John because he knows what John is going to say. It's what John always says: "Repent!"

Trotter relates how he once went to see a physician, an old friend from college days. The good doctor found him to be well physically. The diagnosis was anxiety. A treatment was proposed: "We have two options. I can give you some pills, or you can practice what you preach!" Trotter never went back to that doctor because he knew what he would say: "Have you started practicing what you preach yet?" He didn't want to hear that. Nor do we want to hear John's piercing words to us.

Prophets rarely say anything new. They

tell you what you already know, which is

largely what you don't want to be reminded of. They tell you to shape up and start practicing what you preach.

John says that Christmas means nothing less than an invasion of this world by God. A new age is here. God came into this world to change it, and God wants to begin with you! You've got to choose which kingdom you are going to give your loyalty to.

Such a message is in stark contrast to the feel-good merriment of the Christmas season. Not surprisingly, we never see John the Baptist on a Christmas card. He is most like "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

Stephen Vincent Benet wrote a Christmas play in which the wife of the innkeeper of Bethlehem said, "Something is loosed to change the shaken world, and with it we must change." When we are ready to do that, John will be waiting to show us the way to Bethlehem.

Michael Duduit's sermon Preparing the Way has a different thrust than the other two.3 He asserts that we, like John the Baptist, have been called to prepare the way for Jesus. We can do this in three ways: (1) Through a powerful message (v. 4). Many in our day are waiting to hear a powerful message of God's love for us and God's claims on our lives. (2) Through a personal example (v. 6). We, like John, should stand apart from the norm and be an example of righteousness. (3) Through a primary focus (vv. 7-8). John's primary focus was always on the One "mightier than I" Should ours be less?

Sandy Wylie Shawnee, Oklahoma

NOTES

1. John Claypool, The Light Within You (Waco: Word Books, 1983), pp. 151-59. 2. Preached at First United Methodist-Church, San Diego, CA, on Dec. 6, 1987. 3. Preaching, Nov-Dec'90, pp. 51-52.