At this point, my fascination with John the Baptist is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. Perhaps that is why I want to feature Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon “Wherever the Way May Lead.” If you desire to read the sermon in its entirety, I recommend you purchase Home By Another Way, it is the second sermon of thirty nine that she includes in her book. What I would like to do here is to highlight portions that demonstrate some of her strengths of storytelling and ability to put words together in ways that not only keep our attention but open us up for truth.
She wants to tell about the good news of Jesus. And she starts like this “Mark’s Gospel does not begin with angels whispering in Mary’s ear. There are no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no wise men from the east following a star, no big-eyed animals standing around a straw-stuffed manger…“ For Mark, “the good news of Jesus Christ begins in the wilderness of Judea with an old-timey prophet named John.”
Brown Taylor tells us that from what she knows about John she would have gone out of her way not to see him. He reminds her too much of “those street evangelists who wave their bibles at you and tell you that you are going straight to hell if you do not repent right now.” Yet, she does point out a big difference between them and John. While a street evangelist is likely to get in your face and dare you to ignore them, John set up shop in the middle of nowhere and people had to go to a lot of trouble to hear what he had to say.
This is especially interesting for those who are from Jerusalem. Why not just stay, attend extra services at the temple, or make an appointment with a priest. To go out of the way to hear John meant people were looking for something that temple was not supplying for them. She spells it out like this “The Holy Spirit had gotten all but covered up in Jerusalem, with pretend piety and temple taxes and priestly hocus pocus. The flame was all but snuffed out under the weight of all that foppery, so God moved it – out into the wilderness, where the air was sharp and clean, out under the stars where it was fanned by the most socially unacceptable character anyone could imagine.”
John was announcing an arrival. “Someone was coming, someone so spectacular that it was not enough simply to hang around waiting for him to arrive. It was time to get ready, to prepare the way, so that when he came he could walk a straight path right to their doors.”
John was the messenger. “And the message lit him up like a bonfire in the wilderness. People were drawn to him, apparently, not only because of who he was and what he said but also because of what he offered them – a chance to come clean, to stop pretending they were someone else and start over again.”
By “setting up shop in the wilderness, he proclaimed his freedom from so-called civilization, with all its rules and requirements. He called people to wake up, to turn around, so that they would not miss the new thing God was doing right before their eyes.
“The gospel always begins with a messenger, whether it is an angel whispering in Mary’s ear or a parent telling a child a story or a skinny prophet standing knee-deep in a river.” She goes on to say “The good news is always beginning somewhere in the world, for those with ears to hear and hearts to go wherever the way may lead.”