The past few weeks have been an adventure in terms of ministry. There have been a lot of moments of sudden ministry where the phone rings and off I go into whatever it is that that need to get into. There has been a lot of grief. A man dies an unexpected death in a far away city and then only days later his mother dies in an accident on a dark street in your own city. Another young man chooses to end his life and there is no one to explain why, leaving a lot of unanswered questions for his family. Even in my own life there has been a moment, where in caring for family members, making a simple left turn suddenly becomes a major incident trying to miss a wayward pedestrian and feeling the impact of a truck on the back end of my van.
It surprises some I guess that life is like that. There are moments that shock and surprise us. John the Baptist wasn’t fooled. He saw the life of the people around him and the way of the culture and the country and in his preaching he didn’t pull any punches. He went to the heart of the problem and he challenged the people around him to do what they needed to do where God was concerned. They knew what they needed to do because of his preaching but failed to head what scripture teaches and would not listen to anyone but themselves and their own rules; rules they invented for themselves.
John was not confronting the “down and out” poor who were looking for relief and rescue from God but the “up and outs” who were looking to make sure that they had done what was necessary to have a good life, a blessed life and a nice, tidy reward at the end of it all. John wasn’t speaking to the non religious or to the irreligious person of his day but to those who were active in the faith community and to those who were actively seeking God. He was speaking to the people who were looking to be built up spiritually and for people who were looking for the kingdom to come in some great and awesome manner. John told them all, “You are a bunch of snakes, really big and awesome sinners before God.”
The interesting thing is that the people were ready to hear such a message and they accepted the verdict, “You’re right. We are separated from God. We are a bunch of snakes. What can we do about it??” This is the call to repentance and to allow God to work in our lives. People so often fear God, as if he is Simon Cowell or another celebrity on a reality show acting as a judge of what is before him. God’s judgement is tempered with mercy; that is God is reaching out to you and to me with his love and his grace that we might be diverted from the coming disaster. With God there is forgiveness for missing the mark and for falling short of who and what we are supposed to be. He offers not just change, or even regime change – though these things will happen. God is offering us transformation of our hearts and our minds that we might be totally different people, new creations. And if God is offering us that in Christ shouldn’t that give us hope for the future and confidence in the present to be the people of God?
Are you ready and waiting for God to come to you with a word and with his presence? You be the preacher. The presence and the witness to his coming and allow him to come through you. It will shock and surprise many but will they respond to God?