2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Ideas For John 1:6-8, 19-28 Part 2

A well worn story makes a simple distinction between heaven and hell. People are in a series of banquet halls for the heavenly feast. Arms are so strapped to long eating utensils that no one can feed himself. The difference between those starving in the midst of plenty was that in the heavenly banquet hall, the saints were feeding one another.

John the Baptist comes bearing witness to the Word of God, to the Light of the world. The evangelist uses the symbols of Light and the Word. Light can be distinguished as the all seeing truth which engages the mind. The Word of hearing connects with the heart. Pastorally, through heart and mind we engage the whole person with substance and soul. Preaching which fails to engage all of us risks missing. John Baptist comes bearing witness. Preacher and member alike are called to bear testimony to the Light, like living sign posts.

Before we speak too readily about seeing the light and hearing the word, we need to recall that each can be painful. Walk from a darkened place into a bright light and we must shelter our eyes until they adjust. Equally unsettling can be a chance look into a mirror. To behold what one sees, before the mind's defenses soften the image, can be unsettling. To see ourselves in another, either in love or attacking criticism, can evoke pain and even despair. It is not just the insects beneath the rock which wriggle away in the light. No wonder Old Testament scriptures remind us none can see God and live. The brightness of Being overwhelms our being. Yet John comes bearing witness to the Light.

Before we speak too readily about bearing witness to the Light and hearing the Word, remember that hearing is no less painful for similar cause. I recall listening to the world through a friend's hearing aid. The cacophony of unfiltered sound hurt as rattling paper and distant sounds all roared through my head. Words of criticism, unfiltered by love, can speak more loudly than the voice of God in judgment. We do well to recall that the Evangelist begins his gospel with John the Baptist calling the people to repentance and directing them to anticipate the coming of the Word. We also must recall that the concluding texts (Jn 20:23) have the Risen Word entrusting to his Church the power of forgiveness. Like John the Baptist, we as disciples are to be witnesses of the Light and bearers of the Word.

The difference between heaven and hell is both relatively incremental and infinite. Much has to do with perspective. Much has to do humility, knowing our role. The popular musical Les Miserables, "Les Mis" portrays Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal, as the hero and Javert, the officer of the law, as the villain. Javert falls into hell as he realizes his zeal for upholding the law without compassion has stripped him of his humanity. The moment of judgment was when his own life was spared. The light of that truth was unbearable.

Consider a common experience; a new minister comes to town. From all over, the disgruntled and lackluster come to visit and pose the unspoken question: "Are you he who is to come?" By now we know that no human minister can bring them to the kingdom. Their question usually translates: Do it for me; be a savior in the human quest for certainty. In the same way, with the elections now past, we place a similar, impossible expectation upon our President: Can you save this nation? Whomever we have elected we need to pray for, rather than to prey upon, him. Over and over again, we act our childish wish for a hero to save us from ourselves. Only one can save us.

"Who are you? Why are you baptizing?" are questions to challenge John's authority, his credentials. In terms of our own authority, we are to be like Christ, not to be Christ. Our calling is to be at one with the indwelling Word. An observation about the difference between heaven and hell: We spend our lives seeking to be like "X, Y, or Z." We will never be content when consumed by elements of envy and covetousness; it is a form of idolatry. John's power came in living out of his role, "One crying in the wilderness."

The text from Isaiah 61 offers the preacher a framework for the sermon. Jesus was depicted as using it at the beginning of his own ministry. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me..." Here is combined pastoral nurture and social justice: To bring good tidings, to bind up, to proclaim liberty to captives and prisoners, to proclaim God's favor and vengeance, to comfort mourners. As some wit noted "To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" is the preacher's task. Given the heated social debate, the preacher's pastoral task is to speak to a polarized Christendom. On one hand, dispirited social action has lost the divine dimension and like Esau has settled for secular porridge. On the other, there are self-righteous Christian conservatives, who seemingly arrogate divine prerogative unto themselves.

Neither are fully of God; none seem fearful of God; yet neither is without access to God's Word. The Lord who loves justice still covenants with a sinful people in hopes of their ultimate salvation.

The preacher, as always, walks a narrow line. For we are caught in the web of our own blindness, self-deception, and self-importance. We need the Light to reveal love, forgiveness, and hope for ourselves and the world. We need the comfort of a word of love for our hearts grown cold in the absence of the Word. In the Christmas rush, we need the reminder that the good tidings encompass healing of old wounds; freedom from old faults and failures which cling to the soul; justice and deliverance from all forms of oppression; and comfort for all life's losses which we mourn. Possibly, the preacher needs to give the assurance that the family is where we are most tried as well as the most blest, especially as we extol the family ideal. Most of all the preacher's task is to bring the Light to bear on a darkened world and to give the assurance "That they are a people whom the Lord has blessed."

Louis C. Fischer, III