Sermons 2003-2004

Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Advent 3A 2004 Matthew 11:2-11

Last Sunday our Gospel reading was about John the Baptist. John the Baptist had just come storming out of the desert, eyes blazing, and breathing fire. He announced that Jesus was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. For John the emphasis was on baptism of fire, not entirely different from the sense in which we use that term today.

Certainly in my experience in the Army during wartime we often spoke of baptism by fire. We meant when a soldier or a unit had been tested in the fire of combat and had survived. Part of John’s expectation was that Jesus would come on a great war horse, waving a flaming sword, and leading this people, the Jewish people, into battle. Jesus would lead his army to throw off the Roman yoke and rid the land of the petty kings and kingdoms whose thrones were secured by the presence of Roman power in the heart of the Holy Land.

And then the Kingdom of heaven would be established on earth. But this kingdom would look exactly like the kingdoms and empire it replaced. And the new King Jesus would be very much like King Solomon or king David except that it would be more theocratic and faithful in nature.. All of the lands of ancient Israel would be united under one rule and the glories of King Solomon’s court and especially the temple would be renewed and restored.

After all, the stories of the briefly successful revolt led by the Maccabees almost two hundred years earlier against the Hellenistic Seleucid kings had been written down and were still circulated among the Jewish people. As an aside, for those of us who have Bibles with the Apocrypha, the Books of First and Second Maccabees can be found therein. And as a further aside, the Jewish Feast of Deliverance – which we know as Hanukkah, now underway with our Jewish brethren – commemorates the restoration and cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BC, after the Seleucids were driven out of most of Jerusalem and much of the Holy Land. An independent Jewish kingdom was established that first flourished and then declined until sixty years later the Jewish people were once again Seleucid subjects.

That glorious period was still very much alive in the nationalist memories of the people and John expected it to happen again, this time to last for ever. But something happened. The Gospel stories tell us that John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned by King Herod shortly after he baptized Jesus, perhaps during the time that Jesus was undergoing his forty days in the wilderness.

So John is disappointed with the way it all came out and realized that he himself was to die soon – unless Jesus turned out to be the kind of warrior Messiah that John and much of Israel was expecting. Part of John’s difficulty is that what he expected and what is actually happening are quite different. His expectations are not met. He is very shaken. He begins to doubt and fear the future. His own future looks very bleak. There is no reprieve, no rescue in sight for him. Had he been in a Roman cell he could have had some hope for a rudimentary justice, but not in the prison cells of this petty king, Herod. John is without hope, filled with despair. This is not the way it was supposed to be.

And as John sits in his dark damp smelly prison cell, he begins to have doubts about a lot of things. He begins to think that he was wrong about his cousin Jesus whom he thought he knew so well. Jesus is not acting like the expected Messiah. So John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" And that really was a very basic question for people of the time, not just John the Baptist.

I don’t suppose there is a one of us who hasn’t had doubts about such things. And our doubts can arise almost without us knowing. This story is about a woman named Shelly, who was a new Christian. She had just gone through a religious experience that totally changed her life, and as a part of her new life she wanted to become a part of the church. She was running on high speed, and had high hopes. She was going to save the world, or at least the part of it she could reach. She watched her language. She pronounced Jesus with seven syllables, and made sure to use the word "blessed" at least once in every sentence. She started attending Bible studies and promptly made everyone there uncomfortable.

But she meant well and people accepted her and tolerated her hyper enthusiasm. No one blamed her for her enthusiasm, because she had just recognized who Jesus was, and the other church members could all remember how that felt. But then Shelly came to a church board meeting.

She bowed her head during the opening prayer, and then studied the minutes of the previous meeting like they were holy scripture. She listened intently to the various committee reports, and nodded as though she understood it all. Then came Henry. Everyone knew that when Henry opened his mouth, they never knew what would come out. Everyone knew this except Shelly. That night the topic was the new church budget. Henry started out on the money being wasted on those expensive children's bulletins "that don't do anything anyway!" and ended up reminding everyone of how different it was back when the beloved former rector was there. Everyone grinned at each other. "There goes Henry again. He'll get tired in a minute and wind down." Everyone grinned and bore it – all but Shelly.

She was stunned. This was the "church." The church wasn’t supposed to be this way. Her bubble had been burst, and the air fizzled out all over the room. That was the night Shelly began to wonder who this Jesus was, all over again. This wasn't what she expected from a Messiah or the people of the Messiah, so maybe she had been mistaken. Maybe Jesus was a "good man," and still worth reading about, but not really a Savior. (1)

And so John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" What kind of Messiah are you any way, Jesus? Why are you letting this happen to me?

I suspect we all have been there. Perhaps we haven’t been in quite the same desperate situation as John, sitting in jail. But perhaps we have. And we wonder, “Jesus, where are you? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Help me. And help my unbelief. I remember the time at seminary when it happened to me, this last question, Oh Lord, help my unbelief. It’s called the crisis of integration that hits many seminarians when their childlike faith begins the final stages of integrating what has been studied in learned in seminary.

Some, a few, a very few, don’t make it out the other side, and they leave the whole enterprise. Many others somehow avoid this crisis altogether. And others pass through it and don’t ever struggle again. But still others struggle and question and wrestle with the basics of their faith and belief: -- scripture, tradition, and reason – all their lives. I count myself among these latter, fully aware that there is so much I can never know, so much that remains wrapped in mystery, and may always be. I may never have my questions answered fully, certainly not in this life and perhaps not in the next. But I don’t know.

But I will say this, out of the wrestling and struggle, which are necessary for my faith and belief and spirituality to strengthen and grow I have learned that the time and energy spent in it are worth it all for me.

Jesus never promised that it would be easy. All he promised was that we would have a hard time of it if we were faithful believers. But he also is with us in the struggle if we just look and listen and see and hear.


1. Adapted from eSermons Illustrations for 12 December 2004,