So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
-from Luke 7
What’s really going on in this passage? That’s probably something I should have looked at before I told Julie I would speak this morning…because there’s a LOT going on here, and I’m feeling pretty inadequate at the moment. But bear with me. There are three distinct – but related – conversations happening in just 17 verses. Hopefully what I’m going to say this morning makes as much sense to you when you hear it as it did to me when I wrote it!
In the first section, verses 18-23, John has asked this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Have you ever asked a question like this before? We’ve been interviewing candidates on campus for a faculty position in the history department, and I felt like I asked this of the last candidate on Thursday when she showed up for coffee. I hadn’t met her before, no one else from the search committee was there, and when this young woman walked into Kava Haus, I assumed she was the person I was waiting on. She looked the part. She looked like what I expected a young female history professor to look like.
For John, there’s some hesitation, though. Jesus doesn’t look like – or hasn’t been acting like – what John and others had expected. Jesus hasn’t been toppling governments, overthrowing empires, or setting the oppressed free – at least not in the way John and others expected the messiah to – so John is asking with a little bit of surprise…but that surprise is also tinged with hope. Jesus brings grace and healing, and while that may not be what John was expecting, just because Jesus doesn’t look like what he expected, that doesn’t mean that John doesn’t believe Jesus is the one they’ve been waiting for, he’s just not entirely sure.
A couple of weeks ago, Julie asked the kids if they would recognize Jesus if Jesus walked into their classroom. What if Jesus didn’t have a beard? What if Jesus was a kid like them? What if Jesus was a girl? We all laughed at their reactions, but…
What do we do when Jesus turns out to be someone other than who we thought or hoped Jesus would be? I think I know who Jesus is, what Jesus is doing in the world, what Jesus stands for, but sometimes I look around and see someone who makes me uncomfortable, who challenges my assumptions, challenges my comfort and my understanding, and I wonder…are you the one? Or should I look for another?
So if that’s not enough for you to process this morning, then there’s this second section, verses 24-30, where Jesus is really clarifying not only who he is, but who John is, their respective roles. Jesus asks the crowd what they came out into the desert to see. He essentially says, “You came to see a prophet, right? Guess what…you got WAY more than you bargained for!” Jesus says that John is more than just a prophet. John is the one who is preparing the way for Jesus himself. John’s not just talking about what’s to come in the future, but is here to tell you about what is here now.
But this isn’t like paying for a value meal and getting more fries than you ordered. This is more like going to the pet store for a kitten – something comfortable and cute and expected – and coming home with a lion – something beautiful and majestic and terrifying and WAY beyond what you were planning on, way beyond your capability to care for.
So what is it we are looking for? When we look to a leader – a leader of any sort, political or religious or social or cultural – are we looking for someone who can tell us what’s coming, someone to inspire us, to give us hope for the future? What happens when we get more than we asked for? When instead of talking about an indefinite future, we’re confronted with the message that the time is NOW? When the message is that there is no more time for contemplation from the comfort of your couch or your pew? When the message is that the time for action, the time to march, the time to write, the time to call, the time to speak, is NOW?
So…ponder that…but not too long, because now there’s this last section, verses 31 to 35. We get so wrapped up in looking for the answer, looking for the person we’re expecting, that when that person is right in front of us, but doesn’t look or act like what we expect, is telling us the time for action is NOW, not some indefinite time in the future, that we ultimately can’t see what is right in front of us?
Verses 31 and 32: “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’”
John says, “The kingdom is here and now, and Jesus is the one we’ve been waiting for!” But none of that looked like the expectations that others had for the fulfillment of God’s promises. So, like pouty children, they sat on the sidelines and refused to join in the game. As different as John and Jesus were, neither satisfied the people of that generation. Because God had not acted as they had expected, they refused to respond to Gods’ call for them to leave the sidelines and join in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes for that generation and for generations to come.
Do we refuse to respond to the kingdom announcement? Have we, like the people of Jesus’ generation, let our expectations for what God can do and is doing, and our restrictions on what passes for proper church life, prevent us from seeing how God is still at work in our own generation?
Do we recognize the surprising and sometimes even shocking ways in which God is at work in our time? Do we reject the conventional expectations that may otherwise prevent us from responding to God’s call to join in the work, struggles, and celebrations of the kingdom?
We need God’s grace to see what’s right in front of us. “Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.”
And we need to hear over and over that we’re not alone, we’re not the only ones who haven’t seen or heard. “Tell me the old old story…” Going back to the beginning of this whole passage, it’s not enough to just see and hear and believe. We’re charged by Jesus to tell others what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, what we believe.
We have a responsibility to GET IN THE GAME.