What’s Your Reflection?
(John 1: 6-13, 19-28)
Teresa and I love going on road trips. Over the course of our marriage we’ve seen a lot of country and rarely pass up the opportunity to get off the beaten path and see something we haven’t seen. When traveling down the interstate, like I-40, we’ll get off and drive down the old Route 66 through some small town looking for a local restaurant. If we’re lucky, we’ll stop for breakfast in some small county seat. We’ll look for the courthouse and then eat at a little café on the courthouse square where all the locals gather in the morning to swap lies and talk politics. One time, and I don’t remember if it was New Mexico, Arizona or Nevada, we really got off the beaten path. The road was straight and flat traveled mostly by long haul truckers. It was pretty desolate reminding me of one of those end-of-the-world movies. The landscape did, however, have a certain rugged beauty. We rounded a corner and I was struck by the image of a mountain way off in the distance, so I pulled off on the side of the road to take a picture. About thirty yards off the road there was a small camper trailer festooned with all manner of flags, banners and scripture. It looked like it had been there for a while and that someone was actually living in the camper. Bounding out of the trailer came a small, weather-beaten man who started heading my way. I looked back at Teresa who had this terrified look on her face and she was frantically motioning me to get back to the car. I hadn’t gotten my picture yet and he looked harmless enough as he was half my size and much older. We exchanged greetings and somehow, he quickly steered the conversation towards religion. He could tell that I might also know something by my responses, so he told me to wait right there and he’d be right back. As he hurried back to his trailer, I looked back at Teresa and she was still frantically waving at me, so I waved back. My new friend soon returned and gave me some religious tracts. I reached into my pocket and he told me they weren’t for sale, they were free. I knew that, but I wanted to give him one of my cross-cut pennies which he gladly accepted. I told him I had to go see what my wife wanted and that it was a pleasure meeting him. When I got back to the car Teresa told me, in no uncertain terms, to never do that again. She then asked me who it was that I was talking with. Who do you think I told her it was?
That’s our scripture reading for today, the story of John the Baptist, out in the desert proclaiming the coming of the Light of the World. The Gospel of John was written by John the Apostle, son of Zebedee and brother of James. It was written for new Christians and those searching non-Christians. Like the prophet I met in the desert, John the Baptist was unique. He wore odd clothes, ate strange food and preached an unusual message to the Judeans who went out to the wastelands to see him.
Our scripture reading starts out by telling us about a man named John who was sent from God. This John came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. We learn that John himself was not the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The writer of the gospel tells us that the true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
In spite of the fact that John the Baptist was out in the wilderness word of his preaching was beginning to spread. The Jewish leaders sent some priests and Levites out from Jerusalem to ask him exactly who he was. The Jews had come to believe that their own oral traditions were just as important as God’s inspired word. They came to see him for several reasons. The first was that it was their duty as guardians of the faith to investigate any new teachings or movements. Second, they wanted to see if John had the credentials of a prophet, i.e., was there weight and authority for his preaching? The third was due to the fact that John had developed quite a following and they were probably jealous and wanted to see why this man was so popular. They thought that there were four possible options to explain John. The first was that maybe he was the prophet foretold by Moses, the second was that he might be Elijah, the third was that he could be the Messiah, or the fourth that he could just be another false prophet. When confronted, John denied the first three possibilities. This prompted them to ask him who he was as they needed to give an answer to those who had sent them. What do you say about yourself, they asked? John replied, “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, Make the Lord’s path straight, just as the prophet Isaiah said.” They then pressed him asking, why he baptized if he wasn’t the Christ, Elijah or a prophet. John answered that he baptized with water, but that someone greater stands among them, whom they do not recognize. This person, he says, comes after him, but that he is not worthy to untie his sandal straps.
These men sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were more focused on who John was and not on what he told them he was doing. They failed to press John further for details on who this person was coming after him, who was among them that they did not recognize. They failed to seek the light, the light of the world.
We are not the source of God’s light; we merely reflect that light. Jesus is the true light; he helps us see our way to God and shows us how to walk along that way. Christ has chosen to reflect his light through his followers to an unbelieving world. The word witness indicates our role as reflectors of Christ’s light. We do not present ourselves as the light to others, but are always to point them to Christ, the Light. Just like John the Baptist and my prophet in the hot and dusty desert.
So, we have to ask ourselves, when people see us, what light do we reflect in our actions, words and the way we present ourselves in public. Would they be surprised to learn you are a Christian? Our United Methodist Book of Discipline says in paragraph 121, whenever United Methodism has had a clear sense of mission, God has used our Church to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness, thereby changing the world. In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples. When people look at our church are we a church that reflects the love of God, a church that loves our neighbors, and a church that seeks to make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world? Do they see a church that seeks to save people, heal relationships, transforms social structures and spreads scriptural holiness? Do they see a church that is doing all it can to transform the world in any and every way it possibly can? Do they see a church with a clear sense of mission? Do they see a church unafraid to enter the mission field no matter how troublesome?
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, thank you for sending your son, the Light of the World, to us to teach us your ways and how to live as children of the light. Guide us, through the Holy Spirit, to reflect the love of your son, our brother, Jesus Christ, as we seek ways to bring your peace, joy and love to those who are struggling in the darkness. Present us with opportunities to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. We love to tell this story because we know it’s true and it satisfies our longings as nothing else can do. In the name of your most precious son, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, we pray, Amen.