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Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Week 1 of Things They Said to Jesus

The Rev. Megan Collins

June 30, 2024


As many of you know, Dave and I just got back from traveling for about three weeks with our two sons. Thank you so much to each of you who made it possible for us to truly step away by taking on responsibilities here at the church. Our youngest son just graduated from high school and we had such a great time away as a family. We were able to explore our way through Ljubljana and Lake Bled in Slovenia, the Istrian peninsula in Croatia and then finished the trip in Padua, Italy and a brief stop in Venice. We wandered the cobbled streets of places like Rovinj. We saw historic cathedrals and Roman ruins. We hiked gorges and mountains. We toured olive oil groves and vineyards. We ate our weight in bread and gelato and maybe drank a little Prosecco. If you would ever like to see our photos, there are just about 900 of them. 


We just kept saying how lucky we were to be able to go. I do absolutely love to travel, but it took me a while to get comforable flying on airplanes. I still don’t love it but I used to be suuuuuper anxious on flights. Tell me all the physics you like, it’s still a heavy metal tube hurtling through the air way above the ground. I think I believed, somehow, that my vigilance as a passenger was necessary to get us there safely. It wasn’t rational, but everytime I would hear a strange sound, or feel a thump, I would strain to see out of my tiny round window to find out what was going on. It's as if the engine was on fire or had fallen off completely they would need the passenger in 41A to inform them of that. I got you, Virgin Atlantic. I’m keeping an eye out. 


But I’ve gotten better about flying. On this trip, we were an hour into our second flight of the day, and I was completely immersed watching a show on my phone, blissfully oblivious to the fact that I was 40,000 feet above the ground. Suddenly the plane plummets downward!


Okay, it did not plummet downward. We dropped a foot or two and then bounced around in the air for a few minutes.


I know that turbulence is a normal part of flying. I know it’s not really dangerous if you are wearing a seat belt, and that the air density when you fly is very high, so it’s like the plane is in jello and won’t just fall from the sky. I also know that turbulence doesn’t mean the pilots aren’t in control or aren’t paying attention or don’t care about us. It’s just that the air sometimes gets bumpy. But when we hit a big bump in the air, it was easy to wonder what’s really going on up there with the person in the cockpit. 


It’s not so different on the ground, with you, and with me. 


We are living our lives and things are going pretty well. Everything is under control. Then we start hitting some pretty big bumps. You get sick, or money is tight, or the world just doesn’t look the way you think it should. Then you realize things are not in fact under your control, so you take the next natural step.


You question the pilot. 


All right God, are you paying attention? Do you know what you are doing? Do you need my help up there? Or should we get someone else to try flying this thing because it’s pretty turbulent over here and I don’t like it. 


Unlike the pilots on a plane, we believe that God can do anything. The pilots on my flight that day immediately got on the intercom and said “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry for the turbulence back there. But it was clear air turbulence, so we couldn’t have seen it or prevented it.” No matter how good your pilot is, it may still be a rough flight. But God could make things smooth for us all the time, so why on earth does our life have so many bumps? Why don’t things go the way we want them to?


I have good news and bad news for you.


The bad news is we don’t have a very clear answer to this question. We have some direction on what we can do, and we’ll talk more about that, but we don’t have a clear answer on why things happen the way that they do. We can ask all the questions we want of God (and I’d encourage you to do that) but we may not ever get an answer that satisfies us.


The good news ispeople have been asking that question for a really long time, longer than you and I have been around, and because of that we do have some direction on this. 


We are starting a new sermon series today where we look at different things people said to Jesus. We’ll look at what they said, and how Jesus responds, and think a bit about how we may be saying or asking some of these same things. Today’s story is about one of the famous heroes of the faith, John the Baptist. 


John was the miracle baby of two older parents who had never been able to have children. His birth was foretold by the angel who said he would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born. John’s mother and Jesus’ mother were related, so he comes from a pretty important family. When John grew up he began his ministry proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. People flocked to hear him and he became really popular. Jesus asked John to baptize him and as Jesus came up out of the water a voice from heaven spoke, and John got to hear it.  So far, so good, right? John is faithful and everything is working out really well for him.


But then things take a turn. John rebukes a political leader because he had married his brother’s wife.  This landed John in prison for questioning the king’s authority. He had been so faithful. He had done everything right. Now he is in prison, and that’s where we pick up our story:


Matthew 11


11 Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. 2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 


This question from John is what we’ll look at today. 


“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”


John the Baptist, hero of the faith, is asking Jesus if he really is “the one.”  Maybe John is asking this question based on what he had seen out in the world. They weren’t exactly sure what the Messiah they had been waiting for would do, but in many ways Jesus wasn’t what they had been expecting. Jesus wasn’t going around challenging earthly kings and consolidating power as many had hoped he would. In fact, a lot of the everyday persecution and hardship in their lives was about the same, if not worse, than it had been before Jesus had come. Was Jesus really the one, the Messiah, or were they still waiting on someone else?

But maybe this question was also a little personal for him. 


Jesus, I have spent my life being faithful. I had tons of followers and I pointed them to you. I paved the way for you and I even baptized you but now, it’s awfully turbulent. I’m sitting here in prison and you could free me with one word. But you haven’t. Are you really the one? Did I have it right? Or is there someone else?


We ask this too. Are you really there God? Are you really good? Can I really trust you with my life? Why are things like this if you really are who you say you are? If you really love me? 

And this is what Jesus said in reply: 


4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 


Jesus doesn’t give John (or the ones reporting back to John) a direct answer. He doesn’t say, yes, I am the one, I am the Messiah. Instead, he points to what he has done to answer him. Look at what you have heard and seen from me. Look at how I have healed the blind and the lame. Look at what I have said to the poor.  It might not have been what they were hoping Jesus would do. 


Turns out, God doesn’t often do things the way we would. We look at what’s going on in our world today and if we were writing the script God would swoop in and bring justice and stop all the violence and hate and just take care of business. If God is looking for advice, we’ve got it.  But God is working today the same way Jesus was working then: changing people, one at a time, proclaiming the good news that God is with the people on the margins, then sending out God’s people to do the work. Just before this passage about John, Jesus sent out the disciples. With everything happening in the world today, we ask what John asks. “Are you really it, Jesus? Or is there going to be like another Jesus who comes and helps you get this whole situation on track?"


God is working in the world.

Where?

Through you. 


If our question and John’s question was just about the world, this answer would have been enough. Jesus is the one they were waiting for.But his question is not just about the world. John’s question is personal too. Where is Jesus while he sits in prison, while his life is so bumpy? Then Jesus says this:


6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’


Let’s look at this phrase a little closer. Blessed translates as happy, or even better, to be envied. Blessed is the place you want to be, that thing we see other people that we want for ourselves.  Blessed is who? Blessed is anyone. This happiness is possible for any of us.


Blessed in anyone who what?

Who doesn’t have hardship? No.

Who everything works out for? No. 


Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. 


This word translated take offense means blessed is anyone who is not caused to stumble or

Blessed is anyone who has not fallen away.  But he finishes it by saying “at me.”  This is a hard one. 


Happy is the one who doesn’t fall away, envied is the one who doesn’t stumble, when you know who Jesus is, and what he can do, and you choose to keep following him, even when life is hard and complicated and Jesus doesn’t do what you want him to do.


Remember he is saying this to the messengers who are going back to John, who is in prison. So is Jesus mad at John for questioning him? Or did he do something to deserve being left in prison? 


7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,   who will prepare your way before you.” 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 


In the final part of our passage for today, Jesus talks about John the Baptist. What does he say? That “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John.” Jesus loves John. He thinks John is the greatest person who has ever lived. But he doesn’t rescue him.

Here’s why this is so important. When things take a turn in your life, there will be people who will say it’s because of something you did, or because you just aren’t trusting God enough. 

John was faithful and good. There was no one better. Jesus loved John.  But he doesn’t rescue him. 


His lack of rescue doesn’t mean a lack of love. 


Why doesn’t Jesus rescue John from prison? We don’t know.

Why does Jesus not intervene everytime we face hard times? We don’t know.

But it’s not because you asked God a question. 

So what now? What do we do then?


Maybe you are thinking you’re tired of the turbulence in your life when God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Maybe you’d like to fly the plane myself, or at least find a new pilot. God won’t stop you. You can go and do it on your own, or follow someone or something else. But I promise you, it won’t be easier. Philip Yancey writes a book about this he calls Disappointment with God. I love that title, because before you even open the book it makes room for our disappointment that God doesn’t always fix it. Yancey writes this:


"The only thing worse than disappointment with God is facing disappointment without God." - Philip Yancey


The disappointment in your life is inevitable. But the choice you have to make is do you want to go through it alone, or do you want to go through it with God. 


I’ve been a pastor for almost 20 years now. In my second year of ministry, Dave and I served a small, neighborhood church together. The majority of the members when we started out there were in their 80s, and we were just in our mid twenties, making us younger than most of the members by six decades. Over time, we got to know them really well, and learned more of their stories. I’ll never forget one particular Sunday. I sat watching the small but mighty choir sing the anthem. I have no idea now what song they sang. But as I watched them I found myself thinking about each of their lives. The people they had lost. The hardship each of them had seen. The struggles they were facing. But they got up, week after week, and sang about their faith. They trusted God with their lives, even if things were rough or didn’t always work out the way they had hoped. And they seemed, happy. Blessed, even.


What do we do when the world seems out of control? When our lives are turbulent? Two things:


  1. We trust God even when things are hard. Jesus promises is if we do that, we will be blessed, happy even. 

  2. We get to work doing what Jesus sent us out to do: to heal people in any way we can, one at a time, and to come alongside those most vulnerable in our world today. 


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