Decreasing in Order to Increase

2020-12-13 – Year B – Advent 3 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 126; John 3:22-30

Lord Jesus help us to make a way in our hearts to receive you. Help us to see our brokenness and long to be made new. Help us to point to you in our daily lives and to long for the things of heaven over the things of the world. May you shape our lives to be directed to you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today our gospel passage brings us to the interaction of John the Baptist’s followers with the work of Jesus. Here we see the imagery of a wedding feast. Did any of you ever watch the wedding of Princess Diana Spencer and Prince Charles? When they got married the world watched with fascination at what was being dubbed a fairy tale wedding. During the nuptials Princess Diana mixed up the order of her husband’s name and seemed to reveal the reality of her nervousness. No one could blame her for number one he has so many names and two with the intensity of the occasion with all the eyes of the world watching her every move and word spoken. 

But this small moment highlights the reality of most weddings. While they are glorious celebrations of joy over the joining of a couple they also typically encompass a lot of other emotions as well. Typically there is nervousness, sorrow over the apparent loss of a child, and stress over seeing family members that perhaps cause one to feel rather at a loss for words. There also can be a person who is present at the wedding who longs to marry either the bride or groom, and for the sake of this couple has sought to put on a good face meanwhile suffering quietly inside. There might be others who are mourning the loss of their own marriage or the marriage of another couple close to them. This is the situation that we find John the Baptist today in the gospel. 

John has been working hard for the kingdom of God. John has been baptizing people for the remission of their sins. John has been crying out for others to comprehend the depth of their brokenness. He has struggled long and hard for people to notice him and notice what he has to say. His work went unnoticed for quite some time however he persisted in doing what God had called him to do. He was different, set apart at birth to be a holy man or a prophet for others. God made and specifically called out John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Jesus. John was to prepare the way for the works of God through the life of Jesus Christ. John struggled to get people to hear his message, he worked long and hard and lived a hard life. No luxuries for him as Father Chris said last week that he wore an outfit of camel’s hair to constantly make himself uncomfortable.His skin would have been constantly irritated. Nowadays clothing is made to be as soft and comfortable as possible. Tags are often not placed in clothes due to the irritation that they provide to many people. Just from the time I was a kid to the time I am raising children there has been a drastic change in kids clothing. I joke that clothes today are essentially pajama material. Everything is soft, stretchy and seeking to be comfortable. Most of my childhood was spent in uncomfortable jeans, corduroy pants, and stiff shirts with buttons and collars. It is hard for us to imagine his constant uncomfortableness for the sake of drawing near to God.

  He ate locusts and honey to barely sustain him in order to keep himself separate and unstained from the world. He was raised to believe that what you eat affects your whole body and should be clean with tight restrictions in order to keep your body holy whole since what you put in it matters. He lived separate and apart from people so he could keep his spiritual ears open to the Lord. When you don’t have people to talk to then you talk to the Lord and listen for his voice. John lived the ultimate socially distanced life. People began to hear him and heed his words. Have you ever worked really hard and really long for something? Not getting noticed, not being listened to, maybe not getting the job or being given the chance to be heard? Have you ever struggled for something for such a long time and wondered if you would ever get to see fruit or how your life’s work really mattered. 

This was John’s life for a long time. Living a very weird and different life so that he might hear the Lord and proclaim his words of correction and healing. God does not dole out the entire plan for our lives. God does not tell his prophets or ministers everything that is going to happen or even anything that is going to happen. There are no promises given for understanding your life’s calling and how it might progress. John was just being faithful doing that which he thought the Lord wanted him to do. He is an example to us about being Christians. In recent years there has been a rash of pastors or great theological teachers who it has come about that they were living highly ungodly lives, with great sexual and relational brokenness. These christian men had been raised up on a pedestal and revered by many people, only to bring about great sadness and sorrow by the rest of the faithful chrisitans. Many pastors of my generation are beginning to question if anyone should have such a large platform as to reach so many people. Or whether we might be called to live quieter, weirder, more different lives in order to point to Jesus.  

When I say weirder I mean more holy lives, not living as the culture but rather being intentional in all your life choices. Where do you live and why? What do you do with your finances, do you have debt or tithe? How do you raise your kids and what do you do with your intimate life in your marriage? John lived a life totally in submission to what God had called him too, holding nothing back and living with a purpose. His whole life was for a purpose. I know he seems so different from us, so obscure and random. But I would love to challenge you to spend some time this week asking God if he might want you to live a bit more radical or with more purpose. 

Do you know what you are on this earth to do? Do you know why the Lord has you here? If you have breath to hear me say this then you have a purpose on this earth. You are not an accident but rather a beloved person of the Lord and He longs to give you a mission to work towards. It will not always be easy but doing hard things makes us better humans in the world. Keeping at our purpose in this life allows us to remain humble and soft towards the things of God. Offering those parts of our hearts that we keep from God seeking to manage ourselves can bring about powerful change in our lives. 

Throughout the years of Fr. Chris and I being ordained we have often been given the chance to live lives of faithfulness in the midst of difficult situations. We have often given up financial security, personal privacy, and opportunities to advance in order to serve in places that we long to see the kingdom come. All of our years of service to the church have come with a constant need to rely on the Lord for whatever outcome He might want to have in our lives and in the lives of people we serve. And in all these years I can say God is faithful and good. God provides when it appears as if doors are closing. God has given us grace just when we needed it and God has given us a deep desire to fight for our marriage and fight for our family relationships, the things that matter. The Lord will care for you when you cling to His purposes in your life.  

So John has been slogging away in ministry and slogging away in living the life that God has asked him to do and finally he is seeing traction in the ministry that he has given his life to. People are coming out to hear him speak. People are longing to prepare themselves for the coming of a king. People are longing to see the Messiah come and set his people free. Their hearts are soft and longing to make their lives right. All the time, all the energy, all the giving up, and all the sacrifices are beginning to pay off. People are lining up to have John the Baptist, baptize them for the forgiveness of their sins. Over and over again he is getting the chance to set people’s lives back on track. John has also acquired followers or people who long to be about his work. John has a team to help him in the kingdom work that God has called him too. 

If we are honest it must have felt kinda awesome to get to see good things coming about from all your years of sacrifice. However the followers come to John seeking wisdom on purification rights and also on their concern for the “other guy”. They see people going to Jesus across the river whom John has already pointed towards as the Lamb of God. Have you ever noticed in the Eucharist when the priest lifts the bread and the wine and says, “Behold the Lamb of God behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.” The priest is inciting the words of John the Baptist. They are lifting up Jesus and pointing to the way of everlasting life. 

John instructs his disciples or followers to look upon what is really happening or the truth of the situation and not just their own emotions. So often we as humans live very emotionally charged lives, getting offended easily, sharing harsh words of criticism quickly, and getting jealous of what we perceive others to have or to be our enemy (which is usually not true). We are quick to lose our way emotionally and not to take responsibility for our words and actions. We are quick to judge others, explode when “pushed too far”, silently judge, or verbally criticize when we should be silent and submit ourselves and ideas or feelings to God. John speaks truth to his followers. John was only human and I am sure he felt much like the groom’s man at a wedding who watches friend after friend get married and he himself longs for that life but does not have it. John must have had his own feelings and emotions watching Jesus begin his ministry and many turning away from him to Jesus. And yet he responds,” A person can not receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John reminds himself and his followers of the truth of what Jesus is doing. In himself he cannot do anything miraculous unless God the Father calls him to it and makes it happen. Jesus is bringing about the kingdom of heaven here on earth through preaching, healing, and baptizing. 

John has acknowledged in the past that he is not the Christ but the one who was sent before. John reminds them that it has never been about him but rather pointing to the One who is to come. There isn’t a single person on this earth who can save themselves or others without the help of God the Father. Each and every person needs a Savior and no matter how much we do, pray, or give can possibly save ourselves. We are not called to be the savior but rather to be people who point the way to the Savior. It is very easy to lose our way in this life and to get the wrong perspective even if we are doing good things. Do you serve and look down on those who you serve? Do you thank God you aren’t like “those people”, walking in darkness? Do you harbor any sense of division from others when they sin or are quick to give advice in how they can “fix” their situation? It is so paramount to our faith that we ask ourselves questions like this so we can have a humble heart before the Lord longing to be shaped and formed by Him. Humility keeps us on our knees needing God and being reminded to extend grace and monitor our mouths before we speak. John remembers the truth of why he was put on the earth and keeps it to the forefront of his mind. 

John likens himself to the best man or attendant to the bridegroom at a wedding. He does this to put away any notion that he is jealous of Jesus’ ministry. He himself has done what he had to do. He is like the bridegroom’s friend, the ‘best man’ as some cultures call it. He has no intention of trying to steal the bride at the last moment.  In Jewish custom during a wedding there comes a point in which the bride and bridegroom are to go off and have time alone. The best man is to wait by the door and to express the bridegroom’s joy in his wife by reciting out loud scripture that points to fulfillment of God’s promises. John is very aware that his ministry is for a time and not for ever. His followers seem less aware of this but John the Baptist seems keenly aware that His time is limited. 

John the evangelist also intends us to see, not for the last time in the gospel, the way in which different characters in the story of Jesus have to learn, as C. S. Lewis once put it, to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. All of our lives are filled with big moments and small. Sometimes we are called into seasons of great influence and change and other times we go through large seasons of life living in the modest small mundane moments of this life. All of us will lose our adult work whether it’s in a long career, child rearing, or going from job to job. Even if your life is filled with work there will come a point when the work fades away and you need to live in the quiet moments of meal making, conversation with loved ones, and general care of your body. What matters is that you remember that you are serving Jesus. 

In the Westminster Catechism it asks what is the chief end of man? The response is to glorify God forever. All of our lives are to bring glory to God whether they are in large moments of notice or in the small moments of our lives. For each of us there are seasons of abundant service and there are seasons of abundant quietness. Live into each season with faithfulness seeking to point to Jesus in your life. For if you do you will feel his love for your life and a sense of purpose in what He has for you. Perhaps you have a ministry of praying and walking your neighborhood, praying for the spreading of the Gospel. Perhaps you are a peace maker and would make a great reconciler get involved in your church governing body. Perhaps you manage your finances well, help teach others the gift of good stewardship. God longs for you to share with the world your gifts that He has given you.

John appears to be celebrating the work of Jesus and not being jealous or miserable for Jesus’ growing successive ministry. John is willing to have his ministry decrease for Jesus’ ministry to increase. I have been ordained for close to 13 years and I hope and pray I will have many more years to serve as a priest in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I also hope and pray that I will be able to calmly walk away from ministry and decrease so that others might increase in their reach of others for the Gospel. It is very tempting to assume that no one can do what we do. It is tempting to believe that we can’t stop doing things because others can’t do them the right way. It is tempting to believe that our worlds will end when we stop functioning in them. But the truth is that others can fill our jobs but no one can fill your personhood. Who you are and how you give of yourself can only be done by you and God wants to shape the world with your love, kindness, generosity, and willingness to decrease so that He might increase in the lives of others. 

It is my prayer for each and everyone of you that you might come before Jesus this week submitting your hearts, lives, and minds to His scrutiny and care. Let Jesus show you where you are missing the mark and need to repent and turn from your sins. Let Jesus show you where you need to be set free from unruly emotions that are not steeped in truth. Let Jesus show you faulty attitudes you have that need to come under the gracious submission of Jesus to be made more like him. And may you know the gracious love of the Father that calls us back and gives us another chance at life. May you know God’s goodness in allowing your life to be poured out for Him and so that you might decrease for Him to increase in your life and the lives of others. And may you be able to step aside in moments of grace for others to shine. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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