John the Baptiser speaks

December 4, 2016

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Preached by Revd Howard Mellor, Ecumenical Canon at Winchester Cathedral, using Isaiah 11.1-10 at Choral Eucharist on Sunday 4th December 2016 the Second Sunday of Advent.

Prayer:

Speak to us O Lord, as we sit under the Word, that with open hearts and engaged minds we may perceive your word for us today. Amen.

Thank you for the welcome of Acting Dean Roland Riem – it is a pleasure to bring you the greetings of the whole Methodist Church Hong Kong, consisting of 10,000+ members worshipping today in 25 local churches, ministering in evangelism, social action, education, pastoral care and speaking out in the political turmoil of Hong Kong.

A pastoral and prophetic ministry of which I judge John the Baptiser would approve!

Matthew’s gospel makes clear that John was distinctive and courageous in proclaiming the word of the Lord. Were he to turn up here today in worship sporting his wardrobe or offering his diet in the Cathedral Market, we would find that rather shocking!

Indeed his demeanour and diet spoke of the prophetic heritage which attracted many to listen to him and scandalised others. He spoke from the wilderness, the desert place, to the city, for it is there that we see the city in proper perspective.

What would John have to say to us today?

John is a Pointer – a signpost of disturbing grace, a herald of good news. He declares that the kingly reign of God has come near – the challenging and life changing good news that we are loved, forgiven and set free. He points the way to Jesus – the one who is to come. Nothing brash – he speaks with humility, indicating he is ‘not worthy’ to carry the sandals of the one who is to come. John is a voice of hope to people in need.

John cries – Prepare the Way! He calls people to turn, or return, to the Lord. Speaking to the ruling class, to whom he reserves his sharpest criticism, he charges them not to look to status or heritage. To the poor and disadvantaged he offers hope and justice. John dressed like the poor, eating the diet of the poor, proclaimed that God in Christ will bring justice and hope to the poor and marginalised. Indeed the one to whom John points and in whom this hope comes will find his family flee their home and certain brutal murder to be a refugee in a distant country. So prepare for the coming of Christ whose teaching challenges us to the core of our being.

John offers prophetic challenge – He speaks to those in power highlighting the responsibility of leaders to rule with justice – for the common good. It is a prophetic challenge we need in our world today: in the confusion of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, political turmoil in S. Korea, unjust practices in the Philippines, uncertainty in United States and post-Brexit Britain.

We need Christian leaders to speak out courageously for justice, to struggle for peace and challenge those in power to seek and legislate for the good of all. This week Archbishop Justin Welby has published a book entitled Dethroning Mammon. As yet I have only read a revue but it is in my judgement a book all of us in this city should read with care.

So as we journey through Advent, may we:

  • be people who point the way to the child of Bethlehem, be signposts of grace and truth.
  • prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming and hear the challenge of John the Baptiser to turn, to return, and look to Christ for truth about ourselves, justice and peace in the world.
  • speak courageously, along with Christian leaders, to those in power in this city, in our nation and to those who have influence in the world.