“I am not the Messiah”
That’s probably pretty obvious to all of you. Of course, I’m not the Messiah.
But I wasn’t talking about me.
These were the words of John the Baptist as he started his ministry.
He was out there, talking to people about the coming Kingdom of God, preaching, inviting people to repent… well, actually, doing things that I typically do as a pastor.
And people started to wonder about him.
Who are you?
Are you Elijah?
Are you a prophet?
Are you the Christ?
“I am not the Messiah” he answered.
“I’m just a voice, crying out in the wilderness, making the Lord’s path straight.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might mean to make the Lord’s path straight and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really about making it easier for people to connect with God.
If you go back to the origins of the phrase from Isaiah, the Hebrew word used in this passage actually means to clear the land… to remove the rocks and roots and everything that gets in the way so that something new can be planted, so that something new can be done.
John was someone who was called to help clear out the obstacles that prevent people from experiencing God. To clear the way for God’s salvation.
And so in our passage today, we hear about what happens when the Messiah does show up. John is out there, doing his job and Jesus comes to be baptized… by him! He has this amazing experience and vision and realizes that THIS is the Messiah. THIS is the one they had been waiting for.
But John’s job isn’t finished.
No, John’s role is to keep pointing to Jesus, to keep making it easy for people to come and discover the Messiah for themselves.
And so the next day, John is hanging out with two of his own disciples. And when he sees Jesus walking by, he cries out: “Look! It’s the Lamb of God! That’s him! That’s the one I was telling you about!”
And so these two start to follow Jesus. And then they reach out and invite others to come and see. “We have found the Messiah!” they tell their friends and neighbors and siblings. “Come and see!”
In many ways, the beginnings of the church was a pyramid scheme.
You find one person, and that person finds two people, and then those two people each find two people, and then those two people… and before you know it, there are 2.2 billion followers of Jesus Christ in the world.
The question I want to explore this morning is how you and I are called to keep this church going. In many ways, our job is simple. We have found the Messiah! We don’t have to BE the Messiah. We don’t have to save this world all by ourselves. We don’t have to single handedly run this thing or be perfect or fulfill every obligation.
We have found the Messiah. We already have someone who can do that.
No, I think you and I have two jobs.
First, it is state loudly and clearly to all the world that “I am not the Messiah.”
Will you repeat that with me? “I am not the Messiah”
Let’s say it like we really mean it: “ I AM NOT THE MESSIAH.”
That might seem like a strange exercise, but the truth is, we aren’t perfect. We are totally unworthy of this calling. We will make mistakes all the time.
In fact, we are only 15 days into this year and I have already made a bunch of small mistakes and a couple of big ones. But I learn from them. I keep going. I try to grow and do better the next time. That is all that we can do.
One of my own failings is that sometimes I set the bar too high. And I’ve heard from some of you, who are overwhelmed that you don’t feel like you are good enough or can do enough for the church. And I’ve heard from some of you that you are burnt out and tired and trying to do all that you can, but you simply can’t do any more.
You know what? None of us are the Messiah.
None of us are good enough to be here. And we all have some kind of brokenness in our lives – be it a broken relationship or our bodies are broken and letting us down or we’ve broken promises to ourselves or others.
We aren’t perfect. And we aren’t supposed to be. We are not the Messiah.
But we ARE here today, because we think we have found the Messiah.
I am part of the church, not because it’s a community of perfect people who never make mistakes or let one another down, but because I believe that this is a place where broken people find healing.
I am part of the church because this is where I hear the stories of Jesus Christ and in the midst of the brokenness, I meet Jesus all the time.
Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer and blogger and recent talked about why people come to church. And she said:
You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.
What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.14f389a46dd4)
And so our second job is to make it easier for people to come and meet the Messiah. To clear the way. To invite our friends and neighbors and siblings to join us on this journey. To ask them to come and see what it is that we have found here: life in the midst of death, healing in the midst of struggle, hope in our despair, forgiveness in our mistakes.
Our Administrative Council has been wrestling over the last few months with what we want to set as goals for this church in 2017. And part of what we have been doing is looking forward as well to what God is calling us to as a church.
We’ve had a vision for the last four or five years to “Live a life, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer” and part of what I have been pushing them, and us, to think about is so what?
What is going to be different in this world because we have done so?
You know, the meaning of “salvation” is “to heal.” It is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need, resulting in their restoration to wholeness.
Taking what is broken and making it whole.
That’s the business God is in.
What if that is the business we were called to be in?
We are not the Messiah, but we are here, because we have experienced God’s love, grace, and healing power.
So what if we lived in such a way, if we loved in such a way, if we served in such a way, if we prayed in such a way that we could clear a path for others to come and find Jesus here, too.
In a few minutes, we are going to take a moment to remember our baptism. We are going to remember that we have been saved and healed and are being made whole by the Lord Jesus Christ.
And part of this rememberance is being honest about just how fall we have fallen short. We have ALL fallen short. None of us are perfect. We are not the Messiah.
But we will also be invited to make anew some promises to God.
Because, we might not be the Messiah, but we, the church, believe that God can use us and use our gifts to help make it easier for others to come and find Jesus, too.
And so our covenant prayer simply places our lives in God’s hands. It invites us to remember that we are not the Savior, but that we are willing to let God work in our lives this year.
I am not the Messiah.
You are not the Messiah.
But we have found the Messiah.
Thanks be to God.