Unlock the John the Baptists!

The world always needs a John the Baptist.

I love that fact that our pastors still follow one of the traditions of Advent in which traditional readings point to certain people in the story of God’s incarnation, like John the Baptist a week back. I was glad I got the assignment to highlight him up on North Broad, since I think he needs more airplay and we need to be even more like him.

We’ve always been like him in many ways. Like it came to John, the word of God came to us in Philadelphia in the wilderness of postmodernity and vacuous expressions of the church. The same Spirit that moved John the Baptist, Odo of Cluny and Sadhu Sundar Singh brought us together.


That Spirit also isolated us in ways. While our life together might seem normal to us, the reforms we instituted make us loved and resented in the world, just like our spiritual ancestors. We’re admired, but also feared, even in our own denomination. For instance, a man is flying in from Kentucky to consult with us next month. But our bishops are never sure we are really team players.

There are good reasons for that  suspicion. We don’t get along with Trump Christians; we deploy women leaders. We welcome gay people, accept cohabiting people as married. We listen instead of fighting and think reconciliation is more important than being right. We love psychotherapy and believe black lives matter — and we are going to keep saying that. We abhor war and suspect guns — and we are going to keep saying that. We love immigrants. We talk to so-called liberals all the time about Jesus. We celebrate the ancient/future Advent, practice contemplative prayer and get Pentecostal. Then we start a business. We don’t reflexively put men or anyone else at the top of a pyramidical structure.  Last week the pastors encouraged us to use our listserves to offer toasts to 2017 — people don’t get trusted to do such things that often and pastors don’t ask them to do them. The list could go on, right?

Plus, we are an ambitious people. We might go to your monastery like Odo or go to Tibet and tell you what God showed us like Sundar. We might follow a rule, wear a yellow robe or reveal the Son of God right in your backyard like John the Baptist. So we might get as isolated as John the Baptist, as feared as Odo of Cluny, or thrown in a dry well like Sadhu Sundar Singh. That’s Advent. The unwelcome wind of carefrontation, change, and nextness often isolates the reformers while they are bringing people together in Christ.


What is the word that Jesus wants to get out there now? Any John the Baptists in the wilderness reading this? I know there are. Do not let anyone shut you up! Tell the truth no matter what it costs; love people even if they hate you. Give us what we need even if we throw it back in your face.

The message, spoken and demonstrated, is old. It came as a variation in the 900s and 1800s. But it always has a unique slant when it arrives out of the wilderness of some society. What wind of the Spirit is moving you? What is blowing into your mind and heart? Trust it! Test it with us! Enact it as a “we” (or as Dan Siegel taught me last week in California, as a “mwe” – fully me and fully we in harmony). The word of Jesus is true freedom, and when his people live it out in community we undermine the whole godless culture. Can we do that?

That’s the blessed question of Advent. The word comes to us, disrupts us again. It begins the end again. And we end up being the vehicles who come with that word to a needy world. We become the advent of Jesus ourselves. What an honor! I want to die wearing that badge of honor: maybe like John the Baptist in prison, like Odo tramping all over Europe,  like Sundar in Tibet, or like us in one of those little renditions of the “mwe” we call cells in the body of Christ — advents making a difference all over the region.

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