Mt3v1-2 Looking at the 'first words' the gospel writers put in John the Baptist's mouth, 'repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand'. The knowledge of the reality and the proximity of the divine constitutes the confession Jn1v20 'I am not the Christ', it is Jesus who is Mk1v4 'mightier than I', I am no longer my own. This is what it is to repent. And Lk3v7-8 'bear fruit in keeping with repentance', your mercy justice giving is part of the same movement towards this true God. God's proximity begets our humility and longing, our stretching towards the horizon of this God's work. This the life oriented towards Jesus, preparing and participating in His way.
Mt3v3 Would you pray for the young man at Vauxhall who would not give his name, who, under some complex chemical influence, was rendered devastatingly incomprehensible, except bizarrely to apply 'straight' as some aspirational quality to irrelevant objects, I don't even think we were talking about sex for most of our painful exchange this evening. Oh fury at the forces that bend and break people so, and a dull ache at my helplessness for his search for an abstract quality. What are these desired straight paths? Surely not some Ville Radieuse, nor indeed some GHD'd conformity. But an as-the-crow flies sense of directness in the mission to get the gospel from A to B; an un-pot-holed compassion for cyclists and the vulnerable; a religion-free abandonment of traffic-calming rituals, wriggles and street-clutter in my life; a straightforward war-time lifestyle for living and loving well in straightened times.
Mt3v4 Why are we told about John's diet and wardrobe? The anecdotal curiosity of one particularly called? Why is Matthew recording this for perpetuity? And what would I like recorded for perpetuity? What would I like my grandchildren to recount about grandpa Phil's diet and wardrobe? Did it help make paths straight? What is the diet of a path straightened? What is the wardrobe of a path straightener? Intentionality, eccentricity, simplicity, locality, conspicuity, tactility, urgency.. You are what you eat?
Mt3v5-6 People came from far off, and people were baptised, and these people would have taken the journey home as well, a journey altogether transformed by baptism's choice. In the work of the Kingdom, we desire to draw human hearts towards the choice and the delight of baptism. We can draw them on their journey towards baptism, stand with them and participate in the holy moment of baptism, and we can resource and run-with the journey from the moment of baptism. In the work set before you today, each of these possibilities may open themselves to you, in all and any human dimension, question or choice. You are commissioned to draw-to, to baptise, and journey-out-with, today.
Mt3v7-8 Harsh? As the discussion of Judas last night, it is possible to become hung up on the eternal destination of these characters and miss the cautionary tale that is urgently relevant to our own lives. Becoming Pharisaical is so easily done, indulging my own bad character, comforting myself with religion, measuring my own works and ultimately plotting against Jesus.. If you catch me in the act of any of these, I will not consider it simplistic or judgemental if you 'you-brood-of-vipers!' me. This Word, profitable for rebuking 2Ti3v16, is needed to correct bad brooding. And who is my brood, my gaggle, my parliament, my pride? What pathological modes of fellowship do I adopt to hear what I want to hear from well-educated, well-intentioned sympathisers? As the Judas discussion, the aim is no mere remorse, but fruitful repentance, which looks like Jn21v17 feeding his sheep.
Mt3v9-10 Important thoughts of Shadrach Meshach & Abednego's Dn3v18 staking of their life in the but-if-not, but again this morning the reminder that 1Cor13v3 the commitment of oneself to the fire without love means nothing. A potted definition of love: wanting the other's best, (the other as other, not as an extension of self)...of even wanting to want the other's best. And Christ bids us come and die with such an attitude, these unholy things, resentment and bitterness are the antithesis fo love because they do not want the other's best, they cling to self. The fruit of repentance is a death to old ways, let us long for v10 John the Baptist's fire, for the axe to our selfish roots, for the death we must die, and upon our resurrection the new-again miracle that can only happen with God: Eph3v17 be rooted and established in love, this is the only fruit-bearing soil.
Mt3v11-12 Don't wordplay with fire. Not a tame lion, not lukewarm, not scaremongering. Don't wordplay with fire.
Mt3v13-14 Just as this mysterious verse Eph1v23 – the church... is the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere. So here, the Christ who asks us. The Christ who asks us to do things for him,not as slaves but as friends. The Christ who asks us to do greater things than he did. Jesus always dignifies us rather than patronises us, he always has mercy rather than pity. Important this remembering what God is like, and so being able to articulate what God is like, often do we offer a Christian God who merely tolerates us, where worship seems a pandering affair. Not this God, not this God, this God elects to baptise him, elects to partnership, elects us to glory. We! Hesitantly by the Jordan river. This is good news, this is a reason to live.
Mt3v15-16 What is the doveliness of the Holy Spirit? Female Gen8v9, innocent Mt10v16, lovely So2v14 5v2, moaning/cooing Is38v14 59v11 Ez7v16 Nah2v7.. groaning/praying Rm8v26? Do I desire such a genie? Does such a spirit dwell in me? How can one make oneself available to an alighting dove, but by standing still. So then perhaps to hear her groans too deep for words.
Mt3v17 Behold beheld be held to be, be held to hold. Behold, hold God in your being, see God, touch God, taste God, don't let go of God, hold on to God, let God hold on to you. Perceive, comprehend, gaze at. Let God take hold of you, let God take possession of you, says Sister Wendy, let God hold you and take hold of you, let God be your stronghold, behold, be seized and surrendered. 'Behold' from the Danish: haven, refuge. Look! indexical, demonstrative, look! Behold!! Here! Now! This! GOD. Lay eyes on this CHRIST, be stilled by this SPIRIT. So God speaks: you I love I love I love because I love because I love because I am love, love is what I do what I am, look! We trinitarian lovers, all here present, Father Spirit Son. I AM well pleased beloved, I love I love I love you. I love you.