Tag Archives: Sunday Sermon

Sunday Service 3/12/17: Sin and Embracing the Unknown

Reflections on sin given by the Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor on Sunday, March 12th. (Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent(A): Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5,13-17, John 3:1-17)

What is sin? Living at the expense of others. From the March 12 Sundar sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor.I’m continuing to feel like this Lent is a particularly good time to do some real thinking and talking about evil and sin as our participation in the reign of evil. Our dog Kirby gets excited when he picks up different scents, and lately I’ve been feeling the same way about this topic – so here are a few of the trails I picked up this week.

First, last week I was struck by Hugh’s reminding us of Jim Lewis’s very simple definition of sin as, “living at the expense of others.” I find this clear, simple definition remarkably helpful. Given all the junk we’ve heard and internalized about sin, it can be easy to lose our moral compass to the extent that we can go around feeling totally guilty about things that haven’t really hurt anybody — and at the same time be oblivious to the ways we have caused harm, or allowed harm to happen.

The idea of original sin isn't just historically incorrect - it's not even Biblical. From the March 12th Sunday Sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor.Secondly, I was struck by Charles saying that evolution shows that the story of original sin is not historically accurate. I would add that the idea of original sin isn’t even Biblical, as this idea didn’t even emerge until the 3rd century. As Charles talked about the long evolution of human beings, it occurred to me that there may not have been sin before humans developed our fore brains — that is, before we could imagine a different way of being or acting. But once we had fore brains and we were able to imagine how our actions might affect others – and we still acted in ways that harmed them – that is when the problem of sin began. In other words, perhaps it is our fore brains, like Paul’s vision of the law, that have acted to render us guilty for what we’ve done or failed to do.

Third, after last week’s service, Amy mentioned to me that when she thought about when and where she had really sinned, she was almost always acting to avoid suffering. The implications of her statement are still really resonating with me. I’ve found that so much of personal and collective sin is about disconnection. When we do great harm to others, it’s almost always because we are disconnected from our hearts, minds, bodies, or souls.

Similarly, again and again great collective evils seem to happen when situations have been set up to help us to not see, and are thus disconnected from, the evil that is happening — for example, when people were taught that slaves aren’t equal human beings – or when the situation is so huge and complex that we don’t feel any connection or personal responsibility for the collective evil because our own, individual part in it is so small. Amy’s comment made me think about how often these disconnections are about avoiding suffering. Bryan Stevenson suggests they are often simply about our desire to avoid being uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful, to let ourselves feel our connection or disconnection from ourselves and others.

Fourth, this week on her Facebook page, Dixie wrote that perhaps original sin is about how our attachment to the world we are born into leads us to go along with the injustice that is part of that world. In other words, sin is rooted in our fear of letting go of the world as we have known it.

This really hit me in terms of our readings today, for all of them are about our need to let go of the world and ourselves as we have known them if we wish to live the life of faith, the life of the Spirit, and if we wish to be about the reign of God on earth.

The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic vision of faith begin with today’s story of Abram being called to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house to go into an unknown land. In a world where the stranger was often feared and attacked, Abram is called by God to become a stranger, to embrace the vulnerability of being an alien, as the means of becoming a blessing to others.

The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic vision of faith begin with today's story of Abram being called to leave his country, his kindred, and his father's house to go into an unknown land. From the March 12, 2017 Sundary Sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor.That is so powerful. It’s the very opposite of what so many call faith, which is all about holing up, hiding out, and becoming invulnerable. If you really let Abram’s story sink in, you can hear the direct connection between this idea of going forth as a vulnerable stranger and Jesus talking about our being called to the very places where suffering and injustice reigns – to meet God in those places and to become a blessing. You can also hear the connection between this vision and Paul’s letter to the Romans today about blessing being a means of “calling into existing things that do not yet exist.” That’s so powerful for me!

Finally, in our Gospel today we hear Jesus telling Nicodemus (and us) that unless we are willing to let go of who we are, be born again, and live a life led by the spirit – which he compares to being led by a wind which comes from where we known not and leads to where we know not – we are not going to be able to experience the reign of God on earth.

And here Jesus very explicitly says, “I’m not talking about what happens in Heaven, but what happens on Earth. About how, through this different way of living, we can experience the life of God, rather than the life of death, right here, right now, on Earth.

So just to recap – between these three readings, we hear that faith is a journey into the unknown that enables us to become a blessing to others, and that part of this blessing is that it enables new things, new realities, to come into existence.

This vision helps to reveal how so many of the conventional conceptions of sin can keep us from seeing what sin is really about, and also how we can be part of helping to overthrow the reign of evil.

So often, people think about sin as being a choice. We’re here in the middle of the road. So often, people think about sin as being a choice. We're here in the middle of the road. The right side of the road is the good side, the left side of the road is the sinister side of the road – and sin is about our choosing to go left rather than right ... I reject this idea because it suggests that we are standing on neutral ground. From the March 12, 2017 Sunday Sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor.The right side of the road is the good side, the left side of the road is the sinister side of the road – and sin is about our choosing to go left rather than right. Being a left-handed leftist, you might suspect I might have trouble with this metaphor, but not for that reason.

Rather, I reject this idea because it suggests that we are standing on neutral ground. If that’s the case – that we start out in the middle and then choose whether to turn right or left – we are absolutely the cause of whatever evil happens, but we’re also not responsible for evil that doesn’t result from our direct actions.

But, as Dixie pointed out, we are not standing on neutral ground. We are born into a world not of our choosing. We are born into a world significantly shaped by a domination system where everything has been organized to control, dominate, and exploit people. We didn’t have a say in whether we were born into the top ranks of this domination system or the bottom. In such a world, sin happens in us and through us not only when we choose to sin, but simply when we fail to imagine and to act to break the ways that we are living at the expense of others. Sin is like the default mechanism. For evil to happen, all we need to do is go along with the way things are.

Here it is perhaps useful to think of the reign of sin in terms of the US at the time of slavery. Everything was set up to deny the slaves’ humanity. The only way to break through this evil was to claim slaves as your sisters and brothers, as flesh of your own flesh and blood of your own blood and then to act to free them from the evil of slavery. But trying to free slaves, or even to treat them as people, was illegal and considered by many to be immoral – and, for the longest time, even the idea of doing so was beyond most people’s imaginations and courage.

To use a more contemporary example, we might look at the current caste system in our country, at all the ways discrimination is perpetuated in terms of who can live where, who can go to school where, what kinds of jobs you have access to or don’t have access to because of where you went to school …

(The caste system in our country) a system that results in a kind of social despair – and the actions born of that despair are then used to justify even further discrimination, resulting in the United States jailing more of our people than any other nation in the world. From the March 12, 2017 Sunday Sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation.It’s a system that results in a kind of social despair – and the actions born of that despair are then used to justify even further discrimination, resulting in the United States jailing more of our people than any other nation in the world. Not only that, but we’ve created a huge caste of second-class citizens, ex-offenders who have completed their sentences but are still legally discriminated against in such basic aspects of living as housing and employment, and denied the rights of citizenship like voting or serving on a jury.

A key part of the mythic narrative that sustains this unjust system is the false idea that  everyone is walking in neutral territory, and therefore the evil that befalls them is their own fault.

But if we reject the idea that we all start in neutral territory, and we instead start with the great evil that exists right here where we are – and then work our way back to how we participate in perpetuating  or challenging that evil, we end up with a very different vision of sin.

Suddenly, you can understand why Paul says everything that is not faith is sin, because without faith’s imagination, vision, hope, courage and determination – you end up going along with systems that destroy the lives of millions.

Suddenly, you begin to understand that overcoming evils like starvation is not a matter of needing more technical knowledge to figure out how to produce more food or to get Suddenly, you begin to understand that overcoming evils like starvation is not a matter of needing more technical knowledge to figure out how to produce more food or to get food to those who are hungry, it's a matter of confronting policies based on narratives that justify neglect and harm. From the March 12, 2017 Sunday Sermon by Rev. Joe Summers at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation.food to those who are hungry, it’s a matter of confronting policies based on narratives that justify neglect and harm. As Bryan Stevenson has pointed out, we will not be able to overcome such evils without challenging the underlying narratives that justify them.

Suddenly you begin to understand that sin – when sin is rightfully seen as cooperation with great evil – is generally not as much about what we do as what we fail to do. It requires imagination to connect the dots, to see how the small role we are playing helps perpetuate these evils. It requires imagination to start to envision how we can begin to take responsibility for addressing these evils.

Suddenly you begin to see the ways our deformed consciences keep us preoccupied with minor things, that may not even really hurt anyone, also keep us from being able to see or address real evil.

Suddenly you begin to understand why Bryan Stevenson says we must be willing to be uncomfortable if we are going to stop helping to perpetuate these evils and begin to help overcome them.

We want our lives to be like the story of the Good Samaritan. We would like being good to be as easy as encountering people who have been left brutalized – and then we get to be the good person who helps to heal them and send them on their way. But our reality is different, because we live in a world in which we can see people being brutalized as it is happening. We live in a world where we can see people about to be brutalized before it happens.

This means there is no more neutral ground. We can wait until the beating is over and then help those who have been harmed, or we can intervene to stop or prevent the beating – which will bring us into direct conflict with those doing the harm. Either way, we are no longer bystanders. Either way, we have to really wrestle with what it means for us to be part of God’s reign of love and justice here on Earth in a way that those who want to restrict the concept of sin to what we individually do wrong aren’t willing to consider.

Letting go of a world view that says we’re little self-contained individual units that are only responsible for those we immediately bump up against leaves you incredibly vulnerable, but this is not a bad thing, for as Brene Brown says:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

In W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio the three wise men say: “To discover how to be human now/ Is the reason we follow this star.” These are words that suggest that our becoming human is dependent on our being led by revelation and what’s beyond our conscious minds.
Recently Donna and I got to hear the great Native America poet Joy Harjo speak and read her poems. Again and again, she talked about words being given to her and about stories coming to her that wanted to be spoken. That’s the language of prophecy. That’s the language of a person who’s willing to be led, of someone who recognizes that our conscious minds know only a small portion of what we know and that our egoistic minds know even less.

Only by being willing to enter the darkness of the womb of the unknown can we begin to look beyond to see what our corrupted vision would keep us from seeing, can we think the thoughts our corrupted minds would keep us from thinking, can we feel the feelings our corrupted hearts don’t want us to feel.

Please don’t misunderstand me – the conscious mind and rationality are terribly important to give us greater understanding, but if we limit our understanding to what they have to tell us we will always be driving into the future looking backwards.

Workers for justice are dependent on the creative vision of artists and poets and prophets to help us see, know and feel what we have been educated not to see, know and feel. If to live fully in the present we need to understand our past, we also can only come to that future world we have never been to, but which our hearts know of as home, by becoming co-creators of that future. But to embark on that journey require us to let go of and become a stranger to the world and ourselves as we have known them through embracing the unknown, and with it – that which we can’t see for it doesn’t yet exist.

And if we are willing, God is able – and if we are ready, God has already gone ahead to prepare a way for us. Amen.

Images courtesy April, Robert Young, TimOve, Moyan Brenn, meesh, and Darryl Joel Berger  via Flickr.

Standing on the mountaintop with Jesus and his disciples -- reflections by Rev. Joseph Summers at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation on Feb. 26, 2017

Sunday Service 2/26/17: From This Mountaintop

Reflections given by the Rev. Joe Summers on February 26th, 2017 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation(Readings for the Last Sunday of Epiphany: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 99, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9)

The mountaintop story we hear today is the turning point in our gospel. From this mountain, Jesus will set his face towards Jerusalem to do the non-violent actions that will lead to his arrest and execution. For Peter, James, and John it is a moment in which they finally see Jesus with heavenly eyes: as one in whom the glory of God shines brilliantly, as one who talked to and was the equal of Moses and Elijah, as one through whom God spoke.

While our Epistle emphasizes that the disciples had the same revelation that Jesus heard in his baptism – that Jesus is God’s beloved son and one with whom God is well pleased – I would suggest the accent should be on the final line: “Listen to him!” That is, it’s not just about Jesus being one with God, but what God is saying through Jesus.

So often those who claim Jesus as the Son of God seems to think that what he taught can be ignored. At no time do I think we need to listen more closely to what Jesus is saying to us through his actions than in these events leading up to his death.

For Jesus and these three disciples, the mountaintop will be a last heavenly vision before the waters become incredibly dark and murky.

Up to this point, Jesus has spent his time primarily in Galilee trying to teach people about the nature of God and the way of God. He’s tried to show them how they can live the will of God here on earth through: sharing their food, forgiving debts, healing and caring for one another, standing up against injustice and prejudice, learning how to read the scriptures, practicing equality, speaking truthfully, and praying and learning to live from a place of trust and thanksgiving.

Whereas other religious teachers of the time spent their time primarily interpreting biblical texts, Jesus taught primarily through telling stories, parables, which forced his listeners to reflect on their own experience and determine for themselves the truth of the story.

Now, Jesus is going to Jerusalem, where he is going to engage in a re-telling of the story of the Hebrew faith. He’s going to challenge people with a vision of a new, very different kind of Exodus story.

And this time he’s not just going to tell a story, he’s going to act it out so that it will be a story that people will never forget.

If our enslavement were basically about evil people, Jesus could have become another Caesar or zealot committed to killing the oppressor. If our enslavement was simply about bad ideas, wrong thinking, than Jesus could have simply stayed a teacher.

But Jesus recognizes that the enslavement of humankind is not a simple as bad people, or bad ideas. It is about people and institutions embodying bad ideas, and the only way to exorcise these spirits and overcome these bad ideas was to confront them in a bodily form and force them to reveal themselves for who and what they were–not Godly dominion or faithfulness-but cowardice, prejudice, fear, greed, and the rejection of the living God.

Jesus will pursue a strategy that forces these people and institutions to do exactly that, knowing that the reign of lies can only continue as long as it wears the mask of truth, knowing that domination in the name of religion can only continue as long as people don’t know and don’t experience the God of redemptive love.

Jesus knows that this revelation will come at a great price, the price of his life, and yet he willingly embraces his death that we might know life. But worse — yes, there is a worse — Jesus knows the time is coming soon when he is going to have to trust his disciples to carry on this work after he is gone. How terrifying that idea must have been, that Jesus’ work was going to depend on those beloved but bumbling, uneducated but hard-headed and often closed-minded, heroic yet often egotistical, group he called his friends. Jesus must have longed for more time to prepare his disciples before entrusting the world to them, but there was no more time.

And it strikes me that today we are also there, on that mountaintop with Peter, James, John, and Jesus. In the resurrected Christ, we too have seen Jesus in all his glory.

Like Jesus, we have had glimpses of seeing how love is the only reality that matters.

Even though love can appear so weak and vulnerable in the face of violence and physical force, in the end Love is what is eternal. It is so important for us to have these mountaintop experiences, to be renewed in their light, to see our lives and world through heavenly eyes, and yet…..looking down from this mountain into that valley we are confronted with the complexity of this human experience and the dilemma we are facing as a species and a world.Between this mountaintop and the next, there is a valley with a deep, cold, muddy river -- a river we must face if we want to get to the other side. Reflections by the Rev. Joe Summers at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation on Feb. 26, 2017.

If people and institutions embodying bad ideas are what’s keeping people enslaved and keeping humanity moving towards extinction, how can we best overcome these bad ideas?

If lies reign by wearing the mask of truth, how do we best get lies to reveal themselves?

If this is primarily a spiritual battle, how do we stay grounded in love and the unitive vision that is the grounds of wholeness, healing and peace, especially when facing facing bullying, violence, murder, and ugliness?

If it is not just a matter of ideas and spirits, but how they are embodied in people and institutions and practices, how do we engage people and institutions and practices in such a way as to lead them to change?

And in all this, how do we recognize and embrace our own weakness, limits, and fallibility as human beings – human beings whose God often appears so very weak in comparison to the gods of wealth, military power, and physical coercion?

This mountaintop on which we can see clearly is incredibly important. We need to not only revisit it when we can, but also to carry it within us.

At the same time, something stands between us here on this mountaintop and the next one – the mountaintop on which we all recognize that our humanity is inextricably bound with one another’s. *

Between this mountaintop and that new world is a dark valley, a valley with a wide, deep, cold and muddy river – and we’ll only come to that next mountaintop, to that glorious new world, if we are willing to wade into the turbulent waters that face us.

But if we are willing, God is able, and if we are ready, God has already gone ahead to make a way for us.

*This is a paraphrase of Desmond Tutu’s definition of “ubuntu”: “the awareness that ‘my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.'”

Images courtesy Tony Fischer and Ruth Hartnup via Flickr.

Sunday Service 12/11/2016: The Harsh Good News

Reflections by the Rev. Joe Summers given on December 11th, 2016 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. (Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent(A): Isaiah 58:1-10, Psalm 146-4-9, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11)

xmas-star-eustaquio-santimanoAdvent is about the coming of God and in Isaiah today we hear what this means. It is the time when the desert shall rejoice and blossom with joy and singing. It is the time when the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame leap like a dear, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. It is the time when the outcasts shall come home with joy upon their heads and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

But our brother Matthew, the author of the gospel we have begun reading this Advent, has a problem. There are folks who think that the coming of God happens simply by people believing something. There are folks who think that to prepare for God by following in the way of Jesus, all you need to do is participate in church services and perform miracles of healing.

In a very different way, we see Matthew trying to tackle some of the same problems Paul was tacking several decades earlier.

Matthew’s whole gospel is a fiery assault on what he sees as the hypocrisy of the idea that you can be a Christian without doing the kinds of things that Jesus did: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, reaching out to those in prison, overthrowing injustice, working for social equality. In a nation where so much of Christianity has been co-opted and used to justify the very domination system, with all its injustice and neglect, that Jesus gave his life to challenge, I find Matthew’s gospel like a cool drink of water in a hot and dry dessert. But to hear Matthew’s gospel in this way you need to get rid of the domination lens through which we’ve been taught to read this gospel and instead hear Matthew as a brother desperately trying to get people to hear the Good News as something other than simple superstition.

Last week we heard Matthew’s fire coming through the mouth of John the Baptist. John is going after those who think that because they are ethnically Jewish and uphold the traditions of the past, as both the Pharisees and the Sadducees do, that they are somehow okay. John’s words set them straight on this: “You brood of vipers– who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves we have Abraham as our ancestor, for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is laying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Luke’s version of this text helps to articulate what John means by bearing fruit that befits repentance: Let the one who has two coats share with the one who has none. Let the one who has food share with the one who has none. Tax collectors –stop stealing from people. Soldiers–stop robbing people through coercion and the threat of violence. The fruit is all about actions. It is the brass tacks kind of stuff that needs to happen if everyone is going to be able to experience the reign of love.

On the surface we hear a message aimed at Jews calling them to wake up from their complacency and arrogance and turn back to the faith of the prophets, but beneath that surface I believe what we are hearing is a message addressed to Christians who are doing something similar. While they may not be thinking that being ethnically Jewish makes them part of God’s in-group–they are thinking that because they have affirmed a belief in Christianity that they are now part of it. To them, Matthew is saying: “Hold on–not so fast. The gospel of Jesus is not just about words and beliefs–it is about deeds and actions. It’s not just about proclaiming the reign of love–it’s about doing the work of love. The kingdom of God is not just about an afterlife–it is about how you are living and what you are doing here and now to love and care for others.”

We hear Paul speak directly about these problems in his letters to the church in Corinth. Communion was meant to be an enactment of God’s feast of love for all, so it was held by having big meals together. But in the church at Corinth, by the time the poorer workers arrive from working in the fields all the food has been eaten by the wealthy and those who didn’t have to work such long hours. Paul says that this transforms the Eucharist thanksgiving feast, into a kind of anti-communion that heaps burning coals on those who participate in it.

The congregation in Corinth prided itself on all the miracles they were able to perform in Jesus’ name. Later in Matthew’s Gospel we will hear Jesus denounce such Christians saying: “I don’t know you. For when I was hungry you didn’t feed me, when I was thirty you gave me nothing to drink, when I was naked you didn’t clothe me, when I was in prison you didn’t visit me.” When those Christians cry out, “Lord when did we fail to do these things for you” Jesus responds, when you didn’t do these things for the least of my sisters and brothers you didn’t do them for me.”

When I was lost in a Catholic Charismatic Christian community that passage helped to wake me up. One of its leaders had told me that doing the work of justice was like being a garbage collector in the Kingdom of God. Coming across that passage I thought, “Well, I’d rather be true to what I know, and if that means I’m a garbage collector in the kingdom of God–so be it.”

Matthew’s gospel is a hell of a message in a country where so many Christians imagine Christianity is simply about caring for your own family, or the people in your own church, or the people in your own community.

Matthew’s message rains salt and fire on those who have gotten lost in religious babel, who have come to believe that religion is about power and glory and wealth and status. Contradicting this, Matthew says the faith of Jesus the Messiah is a faith in a God who operates in human history, who works through people, to bring about the reign of love on earth here and now. It’s not a faith that’s going to make you wealthy. It’s a faith that will lead you to be persecuted as you stand up for the oppressed and against injustice, as you challenge those, like King Herod and those like him, whose wealth and power and privilege comes at the expense of others and who will do everything to violently defend them.

If you believe that radical social inequality causes all kinds of terrible suffering, leading up to the destruction of those civilizations that practice it- you may begin to be able to hear John the Baptist’s and Matthew’s harsh words in a different light.

This last week I read an article about the work of an historian who says that, in general, in human history, we have not moved towards greater social equality except through total disaster. For example, the collapse of the Roman empire and the plagues that came with it, the bubonic plague during the middle ages, and the aftermath of World War II all marked periods where we saw society move towards greater social equality.

Do we have to wait for that kind of disaster, or is there another way? For Matthew and John there is another way, but it can’t be just a matter of thinking or talking in certain ways, or believing certain things, it’s got to be a matter of doing the work of justice and the deeds of love.

Jesus ended up looking and sounding nothing like the messiah John was expecting. John seems to have been expecting the kind of Messiah who would ride in on a white horse with a big sword to slay the wicked. Thus it is not surprising, as we hear today, that John would send some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the messiah or whether they are to await another.

And Jesus response is powerful. He doesn’t hold himself up, he instead points to the fruit of his work: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are experiencing the good news.” John would have recognized these from the writings of the prophet Isaiah as signs of the reign of God.

Jesus then ends with talking to the crowds about John. He says, John was a real prophet (not a court prophet) as seen in his willingness to rough it in the wilderness and his steadfastly speaking out despite all the threats he faced. John is even more than a prophet for he’s helped to usher in the new age. Then in words that are confusing, mysterious, challenging and exciting, Jesus concludes: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist: yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

In a world that was all about lineage Jesus follows John in proclaiming, God doesn’t really give a hoot about lineage. Matthew affirms this message in the beginning of his gospel when he goes out of his way to point out Joseph’s royal lineage only then to say, but Jesus wasn’t really Joseph’s biological son. In other words, Jesus is a good example of how God can raise children out of the stones themselves.

Jesus is holding up John as a prophet who cried out for justice, but appears to be saying there was also something missing in John’s proclamation. Was it that the kind of language where John compares people to dead trees that need to be burned was lacking in love? I don’t know, but that certainly seems to be the case. Jesus holds up John as a prophet of repentance, but repentance is apparently not the same thing as entering the reign of God. Something more is needed.

Lastly, Jesus challenges John’s disciples to look around them and see how the poor, the handicapped, the sick, the lost, all those who have been viewed as less than, are coming back to life. This means that when Jesus turns towards these same crowds and says to them that any of them can be greater than John, he is holding up a vision of the last having becoming first, those who had seen themselves as lost and forsaken being able to be, like John, ambassadors of God and somehow even greater than John.

God’s kingdom, power, and glory have nothing to do with wealth. They have nothing to do with status, but they are as real as the glory you see in the evening sunset, or the millions of stars you can see in the Milky Way, or in a person who has been dead and who has come back to life through realizing who they are and what they are and where and how they can make a difference in this world.

And if we are willing God is able, and if we are ready, God has already gone ahead to prepare a way for us. Amen.

Image courtesy Eustaquio Santimano via Flickr.