What did you go out to see?
2017 01 10 – Rockway Mennonite Collegiate chapel service
Scripture: Matthew 11:1-15 John the Baptist inquires about Jesus
Land Acknowledgement – In Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge we are on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnawbe and Haudenosaunee peoples.
Kitchener-Waterloo is located on the Haldimand Tract. After the American Revolutionary War of Independence, this land was given to the Six Nations of the Grand River.
It was compensation for their role in the war and for the loss of their traditional lands in Upstate New York.
Of the 950,000 acres given to the Haudenosaunee (six miles either side of the Grand River, mouth to source), only 46,000 acres (less than 5%) remains Six Nations land.
As we open this time of worship, let us consider what it means for us to meet in this territory. (slide)
Candle Lighting – God of Light, of your goodness set us aflame with that same fire of the Spirit that Christ brought into the world and longs to see blazing. Through the one who was, who is, and who is to be, Amen.
Scripture – Matthew 11: 1-15
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
CPT Intro – Before I share with you my reflections on the text, I want to introduce myself fully.
‘Creating partnerships to transform violence and oppression’
CPT began 30 years ago – experiment in active nonviolence
Working at the invitation of activists and organisers who are threatened by violent power and war.
In Turtle Island/North America our main project work is supporting Indigenous Nations taking direct action to reclaim or maintain rights to land, language, and culture.
Indigenous Nations are ‘land based’ – their identity comes from the land they inhabit. When that land is destroyed – logging, mining, pipeline leak, housing development – their culture is also under attack.
They resist nonviolently. CPTers and other allies support them.
Elsipogtog First Nation – resisting fracking that threatened the water supply for all people in New Brunswick
Toronto River Run – demonstrating our support for Grassy Narrows First Nation who demand a solution to the mercury contamination of their water and fish
South Dakota – building alliances to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline (Standing Rock) (2015)
St Catharines – standing between Haudenosaunee hunters and people protesting their hunt.
Each of these has a long and powerful history. There are many more happening all the time.
Main text – Why do we acknowledge the land – not just because it’s trendy
Situates us in an ongoing story. Naming the reality we are participating in. Indigenous people have had their names erased for generations, their languages stolen, their lands destroyed. Saying these words does not help bring any of that back, but it resists the temptation to forget and it
But by saying it, we acknowledge that this is part of our reality. This injustice is part of who we are at this time in this place.
“It’s important to know the story that you are part of”
Jesus knew the scriptures. He knew them well enough to argue with the teachers of the law as a child.
But as a young man he did something different. He stops trying to argue with these people. He turns his back and walks away. And he goes out to the Jordan river where his cousin John is working.
John the Baptist is one of my favourite figures. Here is a man who is raised into the absolute elite. His father is a priest in the temple, the holiest place on earth. An angel appears to him and tells him he will have a son. John is born into power, and wisdom and connection. John is also the cousin of Jesus, and we can speculate if they would have known each other as young men.
Despite his potential, John doesn’t become a temple priest or a Torah scholar- when we catch up with him in the Bible he is living in the desert, eating bugs and saying some very rude things to people!
And the people come to him. In large numbers they leave the cities and go into the desert to be baptised. One day Jesus comes to him. John says ‘I should be baptised by you!’ but Jesus insists, and John baptises him, and the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove, and a voice says ‘this is my son, in whom I am well pleased’
Jesus begins his ministry and John continues him. Eventually he angers the wrong people. He is arrested, put in prison, and eventually killed – not legally executed, but murdered to impress King Herod’s crush.
But before that happens, John is in prison, and he is hearing about Jesus, and he sends people to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah – the one anointed by God to bring liberation. And that’s what our Bible reading explores.
What went wrong in John’s life was – too much reading. Did you know the Bible warns you against doing too much reading? It says ‘be careful, my child, for people are always writing books, and too much study will make you tired’
Well, John did too much reading. He read the history, how the judges and the prophets led the people in times of trouble and war. He looked around and wondered – where are those leaders? We are under occupation. Our people face violence and oppression. Where is God?
Do you ever ask that question – where is God? You are in good company.
John sees that there is this other tradition in the scriptures. The prophets like Elijah, Moses, Isaiah, Deborah, Judith, Esther – these women and men who spoke the word of God against kings and empires.
And he simply starts to copy what they did. He goes out into the wilderness, he eats the food of the land, wears wild clothing, and tells people that God’s Kingdom is on its way.
He rejects worldly power and he connects to God’s power. He rejects the story he was born into and starts to imitate the prophets of old. And suddenly, he is a prophet.
And Jesus comes to him to be baptised. Why was it important for Jesus to be baptised? Up until now, he was a human with a mysterious birth story and a knowledge of the scriptures. But at this moment he choses the story his life will take. God has already descended into our reality and taken the form of flesh, but now Jesus descends into the water, he enters creation itself, the ancient story of the people of Israel.
Baptised in the Jordan – immersed in the world he came to save. Not just God in the flesh, but God dripping with cool mountain water in the desert sun, arms stretched to the heavens as bright wings embrace him and a voice calls out love and pride in irrepressible tones.
And a few years later, John is in prison, wondering if it was all worth it. Will Jesus be the promised liberation? Jesus answers his disciples, telling them that John was right, the Kingdom is near, because healing, cleansing, liberation and good news are flowing.
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
When it was time for Jesus to begin his ministry, he came to see John. He came to find a prophet, to find the one who had prepared the way. And now Jesus tells the people ‘that’s why you came too. Whether you know it or not, you came here in an act of faith to find out what God is saying, what God is doing. You were looking for a prophet – because who else would you find here?’
Jesus offers them a chance to acknowledge the truth of why they are there. In this moment, these people can decide to be part of this story, or they can walk away. It is important to know the story that you are a part of.
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you come into chapel to hear? What did you open your Bible to learn? What did you go to your pastor to ask?
Jesus acknowledges the truth, naming the injustice and violence of his time, and inviting others to recognise this. At the beginning of this service we acknowledged the colonial injustice of the theft of Six Nations land, and I invited you to recognise this.
This is also a moment of decision. Will you be a part of this story? Who do you intend to be here on Haudenosaunee territory? Who do you intend to be in this school?
It is our job to look for these moments of insight and acknowledgment. To invite others to see the truth. To see where there is evil and injustice in the world, to name it, and to build communities that will resist it.
Not everyone can join Christian Peacemaker Teams. But some of you will. Not everyone can offer support to Indigenous nations. But some of you will. Not everyone can stand up and say ‘we are on Haudenosaunee land’ at the beginning of every meeting. But some of you will. Thanks be to God.
Song – 407 – we are people of God’s peace
Benediction – our time together is at an end. Now our service begins. Go in peace.
Blow out candle