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Road works ahead

September 7, 2013

John 1: 19- 23

I didn’t initially know what I was going to talk about this morning, but as always it seems God has a plan.

Those of you, who took seriously my call to embrace social networking when I last spoke, may be aware that I have been blogging through John’s gospel. In the past month I’ve made sterling progress and now find my way quite a long way through chapter 1.

When I went to a prayer meeting 3 weeks ago some of the ladies there shared some verses which were very similar – and I realised that they echoed words that I had been reading in John 1, so I pretty much decided straight away what to speak on. The difficult bit is exploring where we were going to go this morning.

John chapter 1 is an extraordinary bit of writing, in which the author, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, sets the scene for his Jesus biography. But whereas Mark starts his account with Jesus’s early ministry, and Luke and Matthew start with the familiar Christmas story, John excels them all. He tells us that Jesus was there right at the start of everything. He was with God and he was God.

He uses all those words to describe Jesus – the Word, the Light, the Life etc. It’s a passage where its richness is wasted by a hurried reading at a carol service.

But in the midst of all this talk of Jesus, John introduces us to another Character. The other Jesus biographers present him more colourfully, for example with his dodgy wardrobe and strange diet, but it is clear even here that John the Baptist made and impact. He had picked up a following.

We are reminded that the people of this day were waiting. Waiting for someone God was going to send to rescue them. So impressive was John that the thought had crossed people’s minds “is this the one we’re waiting for”. Or maybe he just thought he was God’s anointed one – he wouldn’t have been the first.

But actually John says over and over again “I am not the Messiah”

And so as we read, the Jewish leaders send some priests and Levites to ask John “Who are you?”

“Are you Elijah?” “No.”

“Are you the prophet?” “No”.

As a fact finding mission it was a bit like 20 questions. Were they only allowed to ask questions with a yes or no answer? John was very good at saying who he wasn’t. He could have said “I’m John the Baptist, son of a priest and my cousin is going to be very famous”.

His answer when it came was mysterious but humble. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness”. “Yes it doesn’t matter who I am. It’s my voice that counts. You don’t need to know about me – you need to listen to my words.

And this morning I want us to hear John the Baptist. A lone voice crying out. For he has something to say to us today, just as much as he did 2,000 years ago. If we’ll listen.

My daughter has just got back from her stay in Romania. In amongst all the hard work, there was some time to see the sights and explore the country. Part of that day was spent on the Transfagaran, on what the boys from Top Gear have christened the best road in the world.

 

There are various YouTube clips you can see of Top Gear on the Transfagaran.

Big boys in their cars love the Long and Winding Road, but this morning that is the exact opposite of what we are looking for.

John’s words are brief “Make straight the way for the Lord”. This is not just a random phrase that John has dreamt up. He is echoing prophetic words from Isaiah 40 v 3. The full quote is:

“Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”.

So John is not asking his audience to listen. He’s not there to entertain them with fine words. He is commanding these people to act. This is a call to work.

And I believe the call is there for us too today. God isn’t looking for the thrill of a not very fast but very windy road in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini driven by Jeremy Clarkson. He wants a straight road. A highway. In your company and mine.

Yes it’s time for us to don our hard hats. Because for us there are road works ahead.

With all our continuing ministries, it is worth reminding ourselves that none of these things are ends in themselves. It is God who is going to do the work. We’re talking about a “way for the Lord”. It’s his work. Whatever plans and specifications we draw up it is the God we worship, the creator of the universe, the God who made you and me, the God of miracles, the God who lives in us by his Holy Spirit. It is God who is going to do his stuff.

It is only because of his power that any of what we do can ever be worthwhile. So that takes some pressure off us, because it’s not about our own organisation, our own charismatic personalities and our strategically placed buildings. It is all about what God breathes into us.

But none of us should come away from that thinking “God’s going to do it, I can just sit back and watch.

John the Baptist says to us   there is preparation to be made. There is work to be done. There is a road to be built. A straight road.

I believe this morning that we are being told that God’s people are that highway for the Lord. Our church building is that highway for the Lord. Our places of outreach are that highway for the Lord. It is through all these things that people will find their way to God. We are the road workers. God is the miracle worker.

But the thing that I keep coming back to is that God doesn’t want the Transfagaran. He wants his road straight. I am not sure if we are building a road or just straightening the road, but it seems to me that the emphasis is on straightening things out. And maybe as we prepare ourselves for our next steps together, there is some untangling work to be done.

What are the things we need to be straightening out? There are just a few that occur to me, but I am sure there may be more.

  1. Straightening out pre-conceptions. As church fellowships we have a unique opportunity to be a visible presence in the community. Maybe there are some things we need to dismantle. As people look at us they will have their own thoughts about what church is about. Who is welcome and who isn’t, how they are expected to behave around us. What sort of issues the church is and isn’t interested in. Time to be Jesus to them, time to be authentic in living out our faith. Prepare to surprise people.
  2. Straightening out ourselves. You know deep down that you need to take a close look at you. I need to take a close look at me. Am I living out my faith? Are you? Is Jesus at the centre of my life or have I allowed other things to become much more important? Do we have time for God, time for his people, time for those around us? As we thought when we looked at Psalm 119, where is our focus? When we straighten ourselves out, God will be visible.
  3. Straightening out relationships. One of the great visible signs of God’s love for this world is in the relationships of his people. Even those who looked on the early Christians had to admit “these people love each other”. And our fellowship is important to us. We’ll all agree to that I am sure. We can all share examples of how members of our church family have demonstrated love to us. In practical ways. In sacrificial ways.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he was thrilled that not only was their faith growing but there love for each other was growing too. Church is a loving environment, but perhaps there is some straightening out to be done as we move forward. If we are honest there are people in our churches who are carrying hurts and carrying grudges against others here. I don’t need to speak it out – you’ll know if that’s true.

Now this might sound much easier than it is in practice, but as I read these words this morning, there may be some straightening up to do. There are people here who need to do business with each other. To heal the hurts. It’s time to move on. And the challenge is to not put it off. Deal with it today. Surely we want nothing that will undo all the good things that God has in store for us.

Today we take communion together which of course is a reminder of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for us. It is also though a reminder of our fellowship as a family of Christians.

Jesus himself challenged his listeners in the context of their worship practices “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

We can be clever some times. This week I was wearing my father of the bride suit and shoes to work. My wife looked at my shoes and said you’re not wearing those again until you’ve cleaned them. What she obviously intended was that I cleaned my shoes, but I decided I had better wear my old suit and shoes instead. Ingenious but somewhat back to front thinking!

I have known people twist the words of Jesus and decide not to take communion because of the wrong relationship. The challenge is to deal with the relationship and come to worship. Maybe as we worship, as we prepare for communion God might actually be telling you this morning to deal with your brother or sister. Seek healing. Worship together.

As we draw near to God may he draw us closer to one another.

We all have apart to play in our churches and their ministries. We’ll all be different. Some will be hands, some will be feet. Some will be very visible and others working invisibly. But we are all workers together.

We all need to put on the hard hats, up tools, and prepare ourselves for the road works ahead. For as we work together we build a highway for the Lord. A road that brings God to the people and the people to God.

Let’s build – and build straight.

 

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