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Crocus sightings…

December 12, 2010

Advent 3
Scripture readings:  Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:1-11

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus… (Isaiah 35:1)

Narayanan Krishnan video (2:42)

Today’s lectionary reading does not assign verse 1 of Matthew 11.  I thought it would be good to include it.  It is an important verse if we are to grasp what happens after renewal meetings in the desert where there are baptisms of repentance (Matt. 3).

Evidence suggests that to early readers, the Gospels were something like educational handbooks.  Time to take out your handbooks.  We want to do a quick overview of the first part of Matthew’s gospel as a way of putting 11:1 in context…

The gospel reading last Sunday (Matt. 3) was closer to the beginning of Matthew.  Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus.  In fact, the full title of the Gospel is “an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Matthew is a Jewish author writing to a Jewish audience about how Jesus is God’s anointed, God’s messiah, the one who embodies and interprets God’s plan for God’s people.

After the genealogy, we have the birth narratives.  Between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3 many years pass.  Matthew jumps from Jesus as an infant to Jesus as an adult going out into the wilderness to be baptized by John.  Not much material written about the son of Joseph and Mary as he grows up.  For 30 years God is in the neighborhood and no one recognizes him (Alan Hirsch).

In between the baptism in the Jordan River and chapter 11, Matthew’s gospel contains the wilderness experience of Jesus, the sermon on the mount (5-7) where his disciples come to him and he begins to teach them about the kingdom of God…

In chapter 8 Jesus comes down from the mountain and begins to interact with crowds of people.  There are stories of healings and exorcisms.  Jesus is able to calm the storm.  In chapter 9 he sits and eats with sinners and tax collectors.

Then Jesus sends the twelve out as an extension of his ministry (Matt. 10).   He sends them to the house of Israel—not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans.

He gives them instructions.  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Straight forward enough.  He talks about how to live this mission in the world.  It has to do with mundane things like clothing and shoes, money and walking sticks.  It has to do with the way we eat with people—the way we offer and receive hospitality.  The way we listen to stories and speak peace to the houses we enter.

It has to do with politics—the politics of vulnerability rather than entitlement.  The politics of living as sheep among wolves.  It has to do with the way we interact with governors and kings.  It has to do with family relationships and loyalties.

This brings us to verse 1 of chapter 11:  “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples…” and then the narrative returns to John the Baptist.

John the Baptist—who is now sitting in a prison cell staring at a wall. Even radical prophets hit walls.  When you hit the wall, many questions begin to surface.  So John sends word to Jesus by his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Why would John be asking this?  Didn’t he baptize Jesus himself?  Doesn’t he remember the voice from heaven?  Shouldn’t he just be claiming some verse of promise or something?  He could slap it on his wall as a reminder…

But the questions cannot be suppressed.  If Messiah has come, why is he sitting in Herod’s prison?  If Christ has come, why—after 70 years—is the parade organizing committee changing the name of the yearly event from Christmas Parade of Lights to Holiday Parade of Lights?  If Christ has come, why…?

When you hit the wall you begin to ask these questions.  In this place in the critical journey toward God we are invited to let go and to trust.  We are invited to let go of the need to see how our gifts and story are being used for the kingdom of God—to control the outcome of the story.  We are invited into deep places of reflection.  It is this holy place where we are deconstructed…reoriented.  Our eyes are opened to a new reality and we leave jobs to feed the hungry and shave them…   It is from this place that we write seminary papers…

Prison cells (and Advent) provide a place for reflection—a holy place to watch and wait for God.  We are invited to name the parched places our questions come from and we watch and wait for reeds, marshes, pools of water—and crocuses.

For Israel, watching and waiting in exile, the crocus appears through a benevolent ruler (Cyrus) who opens a straight highway back to Jerusalem.  For John the Baptist—who will lose his life—the crocus appears in the words that come back to him from Jesus–words that validate his prophetic wilderness ministry.  The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  And then the words of grace:  among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.  Those words mean a lot when you are sitting in a prison, staring at a wall, examining your life, questioning everything…fearful of losing your soul.

Where is the crocus ready to bloom? If we are paying attention, there are signs everywhere…

Something is stirring among young adults.  Trends say they are leaving the established church in significant numbers.  They are looking for something.  We hear that young people “have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.” Some young adults are delaying career, marriage and “settling down”—and maybe that is not all bad.

They are being drawn to parched places where the American dream is not happening.  They are getting rid of possessions—one a day for 100 days straight.  They are becoming a part of the Catholic Worker Movement—inspired by Dorothy Day’s vision of Jesus’ commitment to the poor.

Something is stirring among young adults.  I perceived this as I attended a presentation on human trafficking at West End Mennonite Fellowship on Thursday night.  Almost all of the 75 people at the event were young adults.  In the parched places of our world where children are being sold into forced labor, sex trades, and soldiering, young adults are being stirred to be a part of the crocus blooming.

But you don’t have to be a young adult to be a part of God’s crocus blooming in the world.  And you don’t have to move to the city.  Each Sunday a Witmer Heights member plans to be a host family, preparing a meal for unknown guests.  When Miriam Eberly’s Sunday comes around she sets her table for twelve and tries her best to fill it.  One Sunday her table companions included the visiting pastor and her husband; a Seventh-Day Adventist neighbor who does not attend church; a couple who recently experienced a house fire and their daughter, who resides in a community for mentally challenged adults; two government employees from Washington, D.C.; and the son of a local Presbyterian minister.

Since Miriam needed one more person to fill the table, she invited a young, disabled African-American man from her church.  “When we sat down to eat,” she recalls, “I suddenly had a moment of anxiety about how this was going to work with such a mix of people.  After the blessing and before the food was passed, I asked each person to tell their name and tell us something interesting about themselves.  That took care of everything!  I no longer was concerned about keeping the conversation going; it just happened.”  A crocus sighting…

Friday evening was the Neighborhood Christmas Fest at Laurel Street MC.  There were a few crocus sightings: …faces of many colors…three young girls playing their instruments…a young piano prodigy preacher…a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Ave Maria… a story of reconciliation

The good news this morning is that the crocus of God’s kingdom blooms even in parched desert places.

The invitation as we pay attention to the story of John the Baptist is to give voice to the questions which come from the parched places of our lives.  Secondly, we are invited to pay attention to the stirrings of the Spirit who leads us into parched places of the world to offer bread…love–to be a part of the crocus of God’s kingdom blooming.

As we continue to watch and wait for God’s coming among us–for the crocus to bloom–hear these words of promise from Isaiah:  Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.  AMEN

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2010 4:40 pm

    See that you used The Critical Journey in your sermon today. Great book!

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    December 12, 2010 4:46 pm

    Yes, we are doing a Sunday School elective Dec-Feb using that book as a primary resource. All the adults together in the fellowship hall. Also thinking about how generational profiles have impacted our faith journeys and the language we use…

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