First, from our reading from Isaiah: 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  And from our Gospel text, John’s question of Jesus: “Are you the one?”  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

John the Baptizer’s question is a valid and very important one: “Jesus, are you the one?”  Interesting.  When Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, John had already identified Jesus as “the one.”  Now imprisoned and soon to be facing death, John seems to desire an affirmation that his cousin Jesus was indeed the long-awaited and much-anticipated Messiah, the one who had come to save.

Perhaps John had lost his confidence.  Perhaps he was one of the many who were shocked by what Jesus said and did, and ever more so by what he didn’t say or do.  Sure, he had fulfilled Isaiah’s messianic prophecies by giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame, and a voice to the mute.  But instead of coming “with vengeance, with terrible recompense” and rallying support to overthrow the Romans and restore power and prosperity to the nation of Israel, he taught about loving enemies, and praying for persecutors.  Instead of setting military operations in Jerusalem and its temple, he spent very little time there and spoke of the temple’s corruption and pending destruction.

So John is asking a valid question: “Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?”  We know the answer… don’t we?  Or do we really know the answer?  Are we even asking the question?

Let’s begin with that last question: are we even asking the question: “Is Jesus the One we have been waiting for, the one we need?”  So let me ask this question: Do you need Jesus?  If you say yes (which I assume most, if not all of us would say), think about this: are you just saying that, or do you really mean it?  Why do you need Jesus?

I personally believe that a life lived without Jesus is a life that is shallow at best, a life that struggles to find meaning and purpose, or to find peace in times of struggle.  I honestly don’t know how people do it… that is, live without experiencing the grace and peace of Jesus.

Which segues us to the next point: How well do we “know the answer” to John’s question, “Are you the one?”  I’m not talking about knowing the correct information.  I’m not talking about head knowledge.  I am talking about ‘heart’ knowledge, about whether or not we have a living relationship with Jesus.  The biblical concept of knowing involves relationship, even an intimate relationship.  Do you have a relationship with Jesus? 

There is a term that I use quite frequently among contemplative Christians, and that is “practicing the presence.”  This involves developing a real awareness of the ongoing presence of Jesus.  I believe this to be a greatly under-valued element among the children of God.  We tend to understand God as a fact, or as a distant being who we can send prayers to way up there in heaven, rather than an ever-present companion.

Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics all have a “real presence” concept that is part of our understanding and practice regarding the sacrament of Holy Communion.  It is one thing to nod our heads in theological understanding.  “Sure, that’s cool.  Jesus is truly present in His body and blood.  I believe that.  I don’t necessarily understand it, but I believe it.”

It’s one thing to believe that; it’s quite another to experience it.  In our Lutheran theological understanding, when God’s word is spoken over simple bread and wine, a miracle takes place.  Jesus’ body and blood become truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine.  When you take the bread in your hands, you are touching Jesus’ body; when you take the cup you hold in your hands the very blood of Jesus.  When you consume the elements, you are taking Jesus into yourself.  More importantly, Jesus is taking you into His arms in an embrace of grace, cleansing and healing and strengthening and loving you.  I realize I covered this in a recent sermon, but redundancy is a key to learning.

The point is, this is not symbolic.  Jesus said, This IS my body, this IS the blood of the new Covenant.  Paul wrote: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?”  When you come forward in faith, you are practicing the presence of Jesus.

But Jesus continues to be with us, not just here, not just in the Sacrament, but everywhere and all the time.  We just need to pay attention.  We can learn to pay attention.

Here’s a good resource: Jesus Calling.  I have a few copies.  You can borrow one and check it out.  They are available at Amazon.com. These short daily devotionals can really help you learn to be more aware, learn how to practice the presence.

Last week’s sermon was heavy on the topics of repentance and bearing fruit, with a hard and painful look at discerning whether or not we are truly bearing good fruit, and seeing how far we fall short.  Bearing more fruit is not really about a change of behavior.  Our focus needs to be on a change of heart, of a true and ongoing transformation.  We are not really talking about doing, but about being… about being a child of God, about living with an awareness of our brother Jesus, about seeking the transforming Spirit.

Practicing the presence can happen when we see or experience something beautiful, and stop and say thank you, or offer a moment of praise to the Creator and Sustainer of all that is beautiful in creation.  Practicing the presence can happen when we stop and count our blessings, and then praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Practicing the presence can also happen when we witness or experience something ugly or painful, and we commend it into the hands of our Father, or when we stumble and fall and turn to our Savior for grace.

In John’s Gospel we hear these words of Jesus:  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing

There it is.  That is how we bear fruit in our lives, by abiding in Jesus, by being intimately connected to Him, drawing strength and inspiration and power from Him.  May God bless us with an ever-growing awareness of His presence.  Amen.

   November 2018   
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