John the Baptist is the BRIDGE
To Help us build a Bridge between Judgement to Tender Compassion
At the first gathering of our second year I told you a story about my first summers ministry. Do you remember?
Do you remember Bill Lange’s last reflection when he described his encounter with a man with AIDS. I can still remember his description of the man coughing and spewing in his car.
We are a unique group of people on a special journey. We are a people who remember. This is the season of Advent. As Lou Ann told us we are a people who are watching and waiting. We are longing, we have a longing in our hearts for the completion of this formation program, for the new beginning in ministry it will represent.
The reading from Luke this morning is one where the people of Luke’s time would have remembered the prophecy of Isaiah, the Angel Gabriel, and the father of John, Zachariah. This reading quickly drew me into my memories, of my encounters with my ministry to HIV positive and AIDS victims.
As some of you may know, for the past two and half years, I have been in a struggle, frequently founding myself in a debate with my Lord about my ministry to HIV+ and AIDS victims. I seem to automatically take up the cause of homosexuality with members of this class, with people in my church, with my fellow workers and peer supervisors.
I have, often asked the Lord, why me? Why do I regularly find myself in the middle of this debate?
Why am I defending people who are homosexual, whose lifestyle I abhor, whose very presence make me tense. Why do I find myself defending them every time someone attacks them?
I have asked God! I have asked my spiritual director? And I want each of you to know I would really prefer to choose to not argue this issues! Yet I persist in defending them against others judgement.
I can still recall my first encounter with a large group of homosexuals, HIV + and AIDS victims at the meal served on Tuesday night at the Shrine. For me being this close to homosexuals and people with the HIV decease was like being in a real desert. I clearly remember how uncomfortable and out of place I felt. I remember how straight and tall I stood. My behavior must have communicated very effectively to everyone my discomfort at being there. My body language was saying loudly, don’t get too close to my space.
As I watched, I can still visualize the gentleness, kindness, the tenderness, and compassion with which I observed others minister to the those whom we would consider the lepers of 1994. Most of these other ministers were obviously gay men.
After several encounters at the Shrine and regularly attending a support group meeting at the Good Samaritan Project, a strange thing began happening to me on my home. These great big crocodile tears would well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks as I drove my truck home.
I kept asking myself Why the tears? Why the tears? I don’t relate to gays or homosexuality or the HIV decease. I really didn’t want to be near them. I didn’t support their lifestyle.
I disliked observing their behavior. What was it?
Finally I realized that I had been standing as a witness to the awesome love God has, for even these lowly lepers of today. An awesome love being extended far beyond my capability by those whom I would judge to be abhorrent and detestable.
I realized that it was I, who had the haughty heart. It was I who was unable to love these people of God. The tears were the reflection my sadness of my ability to truly love my brothers unconditionally. How awesome is God’s love for his people. I was a witness and it had touched my soul.
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from high shall break upon those, who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and guide our feet into the way of peace”.
This morning’s Gospel from Luke is about God’s logic and God’s will and plan. Luke’s message is about God’s His plan of salvation. His plan will be done and nothing can stop God’s plan of salvation from being made available to all.
Today, we hear about John in the desert. As Flo told us, the desert is a powerful symbol, a place of common ground, no one owns it. The sand is blown all around from place to place and the terrain is in a constant sate of change.
We hear the story about John the Baptizer who we are told hears a herald’s voice in the desert crying. “Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be leveled. The windings shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth, and all mankind shall see the salvation of God”.
It is a story about John’s call and mission to prepare the way. We know that John is last and the greatest prophet. He serves as the transition. He serves as the bridge from the old testament to the new testament covenant.
John is a profit who does not belong to the period of promise but inaugurates the period of fulfillment. John fulfills God’s prophecy, that of Isaiah, Gabriel and his father Zechariah. John serves as a model for the church. He serves as a model for this class as we approach the end of this year 1994 and enter the final days of our formation. He prepares the way. He is a prisoner leading others to the frontiers of faith in Jesus as we also are called.
John freely choose to live in the desert. A place where drawing a line in the sand and finding it later is a waste of time. The desert a no man zone because man has no power or control or influence over the desert.
The desert symbolizes a common ground where man can find God. John hears and responds to Gods’ voice calling for repentance. A baptism of repentance which leads to the forgiveness of sins.
Think about the symbology of the desert and Baptism with water. water in the desert is a scarce and precious commodity. In the desert water a rich symbol of death and life. John, the desert and baptism serve as a powerful symbols to cleans away the sins of many.
Return to My Story:
Through my AIDS ministry experience I have been hearing a herald’s voice crying in the wind. A voice proclaiming a baptism of repentance and not of judgement. A voice that won’t leave me alone when the topic of homosexuality and HIV with all its judgement comes up.
Isn’t Luke calling us through John the Baptizer to serve as the cleansing water of baptism today, to help led all God’s people to the forgiveness of sins. Even people who most of us may not prefer not to encounter. Yes, people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS. The lepers of 1994.
These people have a more urgent need to hear the herald’s voice crying. They are people who are indeed in life’s desert and on a fast track to death.
Make ready the way of the Lord! Clear a straight path, fill in every valley, level every hill and mountain, make the winding road straight, the rough ways smooth and all mankind shall see the salvation of God.
This passage form Luke is speaking to us. At least to my human instincts to run for cover and to jump into the comfort zone of judgement?
Have I been called by a herald’s voice, a voice that I would prefer to be heard by someone else?
As I struggle with these revelations and reflect on this reading I ask you to join me in praying to the Lord Jesus Christ to help each of us to;
Pray that we make straight our attitudes through prayer,
Pray that we fill in the valley of our inabilities through positive action,
Pray that we level and temper our tendency to judge through the control of our tongue,
Pray make we make the way straight for those who may seek our council.
Pray that we can smooth the way for all God’s people to see the salvation of God!
As a class we have traveled far and have much to share and remember. This Advent, this time of the church year, we are a people who are reminded that we are watching and waiting. In one week we will finished 1994 and will begin the final leg of our formation program. Indeed, we are a people longing for a new beginning in ministry to God’s people.
This morning when we pray the Canticle of Zachariah remember;
Remember the words anew, and with the longing of Advent in your heart. That we may join John the Baptist as Baptism of water that cleanses the way for sinners.
The canticle of Zechariah. “And you my child shall be called the prophet of the most high; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins”.