Sermon Archives

Voices in the Margins ~ Matthew 3: 1-12

A voice of one, crying in the wilderness
A voice of one crying
A voice of one
A voice

Wilderness – lonely.
Wilderness – John is calling people back into the wastelands – where the Jews wandered for forty years wondering and waiting.
Wilderness – the place of formation. Exodus – freed but lost.
They became a people in the wastelands. Many people died in the wilderness. Moses stayed in the wilderness.
They met their God in the wilderness.

The worst of times and the best of times in the wilderness, looking back now – a time of miracles, liberation from slavery, Red Seas parting, manna from heaven and water from a rock.

A memory, a place – but no one wants to go back.

And yet the wilderness beckons. John the Baptist – a voice of one – crying.

John – eating insects and wild honey – the food of the scavenger, the food of the poor, the food of people on the run – not even Bedouins eat this. This is the food of the prophets who were ridiculed and ignored and run out.

John – wearing the clothes of the marginalized, those on the fringe who didn’t have cloth, who couldn’t afford robes. Yes, it was camel hair but not that kind of camel hair, the soft kind. No, this would have been rough and hairy.

John – outside of the towns and villages – outside of community; in the fringe places, in the desert, away from the centers of power. Not in the church, not in the senate, not with the soldiers, or the kings and princes, not where the money is, or the influence.

A voice of one that no one listens to. And yet they do, with John. A voice of challenge, of judgment, of change. A wake-up call.

Not that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming – but that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near! It is here, people! It is here. It has brushed by – it may have passed by – but it is spatial not chronological. This is not about the past, this is not about the future, this is about the now.

John draws them out from the city – those who are aware of their own brokenness, they own sin – they want to be washed, they want to be clean, they want their life to have some sense – they want to see God – they want to know.

It is not that life is all bad. It is not that they feel guilty. People are people – but they come because they hunger and thirst for something deeper and richer and truer than anything they are getting now.

Even the religious people come – but if you read the text carefully, if you read the Greek carefully – a little three-letter word tells it all – “epi”

That is the word used to describe what the Sadducees and the Pharisees are doing there. Are they coming epi-“for” baptism or are they coming epi-“against” John?

I think it is against John. Sadducees and Pharisees are the insiders, the ones with power. The ones who control the institutions and the structures. But now they are not on their home turf, they have been lured into the wilderness. They usually control the message but no longer.

John – challenging control, challenging the status quo, challenging the voices that keep everything calm. Not too different from Isaiah, although the prophet uses other words and paints another picture, uses different metaphorical language, but if you think his peaceable kingdom comes without revolution, without a refining fire, without a shake down; you missing it! Isaiah envision an overturning of the natural order! Pharisees and Sadducees, preachers want to tell you that if you just wait you will get to the lion and the lamb lying down together – but there is nothing passive here.

John knows – you brood of vipers – unclean of the unclean – like the serpent that fed the apple to Eve and Adam – the religious leader as snake.

No one has cover – you can’t claim heritage, or status, or wealth; there is no identity politics, no special class, no entitlements. It is all being laid bare.

Are you sure you want to go into the wilderness to listen to John?

John is still crying out from the fringe – calling out to you and me to repent – not to run away from those places of sin and guilt, and dirt and shame – come to the wilderness, get back to the emptiness – heed the voices on the margin – the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the voice of one crying, the voice of one, the voice.

Maybe the voice inside you – the lonely voice, the marginalized voice, the voice that you really don’t want to listen to because it may lead you away from safety, may lead you to change, to repent. It may lead you to want to wash and be clean. It may lead you to tell the truth. It may lead you to lay your burden down. It may lead you – wherever it leads you – and I don’t know of anything more frightening then heading into the wilderness without knowing what you are going to find, what you are going to have to do – you hope and trust God is there.

It may lead you to salvation. It may lead you to break on through to the other side.

Maybe you and I need to listen to other voices on the fringe: those who are on the margins of our society, the outsiders, those whose voices are crying but seldom heard, the poor, the disenfranchised, those who don’t fit into categories, who don’t see themselves as a him or a her, or a beloved of God.

This whole past election was listening to voices on the margins,: of the rural poor, of the White Working Class, of the fearful. But that doesn’t mean we stop listening, or reject the voices crying out in the inner cities, the Black Lives Matter, the folks most threatened by stop and frisk, and extreme vetting.

The voices we listen to must lead us to the desert, to the now – for the Kingdom of Heaven is brushing by – it is here among us.

And if you and I take this at all seriously – we will be shaken and stirred for the Holy One is on the way – the holy one is here – the Holy One takes your sin seriously, your brokenness seriously, your need seriously.

There is a story of a little boy who worked all December on a pottery project from school; a present to his parents. On the last day of school, his parents were there to pick him up and the little boy trying to hide his gift, tripped and the gift fell and shattered.

The father didn’t know what to say: “It is ok. It doesn’t matter.”

The mother said: “Oh honey, it does matter. It matters very much.” And she held her son and cried with him.

God takes your brokenness very seriously, and cries with you.

Jesus is coming. Jesus is here – he too comes to the margins, especially to the margins. He too wants to be baptized. He wants to be with the broken and the left out – especially those. He too feels your pain and wants to heal you and save you and love you; if you would let him. He wants you to listen to the voices on the margin.

Jesus wants to baptize you with fire and the spirit refine you in the fires of adversity – and bring you through. He’s “comin’ to liberate you, confiscate you, he wants to be your man.”

Jesus wants to prune your dead branches, and sift you like wheat, shaking all the chaff away so that you can be who you were called to be. He wants to purge your excess, and clean the clutter, and straighten the paths, and set you right. He wants to re-align you. He wants you.

A voice of one, crying in the wilderness
A voice of one crying
A voice of one
A voice

Listen to the voices on the margin.

AMEN

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