Good News of Promise ~Canon Jason Lewis

Sermon Given December 5, 2021

Advent 2, Year C – Sermon for St. John’s by Jason Lewis 

  1. The late night TV host Johnny Carson was once asked what made him so successful. 
    1. He said, “Well, who wouldn’t be a knockout if he was introduced by Ed McMahon every night.” You might remember the famous, “Here’s Johnny!” 
    2. Seems like each late night TV show since has gotten this as a part of their shtick. You need a great intro to kick things off before folks flip over to binge watch the latest streaming hit show. Cohen Obrian’s into: “here’s Cohen.” And he comes out all spry and spinning and jumping, “We got a great show tonight!” 
    3. In mypublic speaking class in college one of the speeches we had to practice was introductory remarks – how to welcome and invite someone up for a keynote. We learned about what made a good into speech and what made a bad into speech. Good introduction is short, simple, highlights who is to come, doesn’t draw attention to oneself, but prepares the crowd to hear who is to follow. Warm folks up, get them connected to what is going on and ready to hear the next person to follow.  
    4. I’m sure we’ve all heard some pretty bad introductory speeches before. 
  1. I’ve heard some that are too long and too complimentary. You know it is bad when the main speaker gets up and says, “Well, I hate to stand up and offer my remarks in fear of interrupting such a wonderful introduction.”  
  2. Probably the most startling introductions I have ever heard was when the President of Columbia University introduced the President of Iran. Columbia’s President basically outlined all the reasons why they probably shouldn’t have invited him, and all the problems his country has caused for the world. And then he raised a bunch of questions and admits the fact that the President of Iran is so closed minded that he won’t ever answer them. Can’t say I ever heard an intro like that before! 
  3. We know a bad intro when we hear one. 
  1. I have introductions on my mind, because this morning we get to hear the introduction speech for Jesus. Every year on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we get to meet  John the Baptist – this camel skin, crazy haired, locus and wild honey eating, wilderness man. The church in its schedule of lessons for the year has us him because it is Advent –  a time of preparation, expectation. John is our introduction speech guy.  We can’t get to Jesus without first hearing John. 
    1. In all our estimations and sensibilities of good and bad intro speeches John could be a pretty suspect candidate. 
      1. His message is stark, direct, and well, “raw and rough” – “Repent. Turn 180 degrees. You better get right. Don’t claim you got it all together.. Don’t you be claiming Abraham as your father. Quoting your religious pedigree in self-assurance. Turn now – You need real life change.”
      2. To us, John can sound like an unrefined revival preacher. 
      3. John stands up and starts to preach, and I can image folks getting up and heading for the door. He says, “Don’t think you got it all together.” And some could respond, “but, I helped found this church. I tithe. I worship every Sunday. John says, “Its no matter – look at your life, you need to turn, repent get it right.” 
    2. If we were to go to any church growth seminar I image we’d hear the going wisdom: folks don’t come to church to be criticized, confronted, challenged. I guess John didn’t get the memo. John starts with: “get your dirt little selves down into this water. You all need cleaned up.” 
  1. So, it raises the question: why would anyone stay and listen to any sermon after an introduction like John’s? What does the Church insist that we meet John before we meet Jesus? 
    1. Karl Barth, one of my favorite theologians, once said, John is good for us because he preached that he must become lesser and Jesus must become greater. All Christian life is us becoming lesser and Jesus becoming greater. Sure. But still, no one is going to get this lesser great business if they don’t stick around for the main act, Jesus sermon. It seems John is ruining the sermon of Jesus that is to follow. It seems John just doesn’t get his role as an introducer.
  1. Why would the Church have us be confronted by John before we can meet Jesus? Why John each year in Advent? 
    1. If we were to be truly vulnerable, open and honest with ourselves and with one another I think we can start to understand why we need John. There is something deep within us that knows this is the message we need to hear. Even in our better moments there is this sensibility within each of us that something is out of kilter, something is not right, something else is needed. 
      1. We all know things in this world are not as they should be. Things are going down like it was not suppose to happen. And we all take part in this. Things are NOT perfect within our world, within our families, within our inner lives. We need change. 
      2. We are all works in progress. I am not into judgment and criticism for its own sake. I grow up in a church and many of us in here grew up in churches that got the judgment and criticism thing down pat. And it wasn’t redemptive. That is not what we are talking about here. 
    2. John tells us that we need change and it is a change that is about bringing more of God into our lives, the lives of others and into our world. It is about turning away from those things in our lives that draw us from the love of God, just like it is said in our baptismal covenant – will we turn from forces of wickedness, will we turn from the powers which corrupt and destroy, will we turn from the desires that draw us away from loving God more deeply, more fully? 
    3. Only a preacher like John tells us the truth about ourselves that we need to know. 
      1. This is why we need historic rooted Christianity that puts folks like John before us each year. Something about a faith that has the courage to insist that we actually read the Gospels in order. That we don’t get to Jesus first without have John’s introduction, as hard as it might be to hear. I find a faith that is willing to have us hear things we don’t want to hear more credible, more meaningful, than one that only tells us what our itching ears want to hear. 
      2. John stands up and tells the self-sufficent religious folks of his day, “you need change.” And sure some might walk out the back door. But, for us who know we need this change in our lives…it comes as a difficult message, but it is the truth. We need the truth of John in our lives. 
  1. But John’s introduction isn’t just about truth telling. It is about Good News telling. 
    1. The message is Not only that we need change, but that we can change. John’s introduction and proclamation all happens in the context of PROMISE. 
    2. We hear this GOOD NEWS of PROMISE it echoing in the Canticle of Zechariah – 
      1. God has come. God has promised to save, to show us mercy; God will remember God’s oath to set us free. 
      2. Zechariah sees in the birth of his son John the beginning of this fulfillment. John has come to prepare the way, to bring knowledge of God’s salvation. And all this to a people sitting in darkness, whose path ways are dark; and God is breaking in like the dawn, the dawn from on high has brook upon us!, and shed God’s light on us. 
      3. The God who promised all this is now delivering. The God of Promise is also a God of Action. John is proclaiming for us “The Promise-Keeping God of Action”! 
    3. And take note of start of John’s sermon. The Excavator God. This God will bring down mountains on high, low valleys will be brought up. 
      1. Here John is evoking images of how kings would travel to their new providences. King would conquer and then have road built so he could go see his new land. 
      2. John is picking up on this use of imagery to say: God is breaking in, making a new kingdom, and the road way is being built. God is coming, the road way, the path way is being made; God will get to you. 
      3. You need change…God’s coming to enact, live out, make that change possible. 
      4. Here we find the difference between condemnation and conviction. Condemnation is judgement without hope. Conviction course correction with the promise of change. It is alway with hope. John’s call for turning 180 and our need for change is about conviction and redemption, not condemnation and judgment.
  1. So, maybe not such a bad intro at all. 
    1. Yes, it is Little rough around the edges, needs some deeper exploration to help us hear it correctly as promise. Sure, maybe it is not as slick and exciting as Ed McMahon, “here’s Johnny” or Cohen’s jumps and spins. 
    2. But it is an introduction we need indeed. And its an introduction we hunger for. We will sit for John, stay within earshot of his intro sermon because, yes, we know we need this; but even more because we know God is with us in all of this; In God there is HOPE. We can say, Yes, I will, with God’s Help!  It all takes place in the context of Promise and Good News of God bring change in our lives.  
    3. This morning Johns says, :”the road of God is being paved into your life…the God anointed one is coming…get ready!” 


May we receive the Grace to hear it, and receive the Courage to pursue what God seeks to accomplish in our live. May be show among us people of St. John’s!