Delivered to the United Church of Jaffrey
December 11th, 2016
Readings: James 5:7-10 | Matthew 11:2-11
A reed shaken by the wind.
This morning’s reading from eleventh chapter of Matthew contains a curious image.
It is curious…
But I love it!
I suppose I might as well simply admit to you that I love it because it is curious!
I can say, with some assurance, that one of the chief reasons I am a Christian – and a minister, to boot – is that I really appreciate how utterly surprising Jesus can be.
I like thinking about him and preaching about him, because he never fails to surprise…
In fact, Jesus himself, is a surprise!
We are particularly attuned to this truth during Advent.
I remember once, when I was a kid, asking my mother who was the most famous person ever.
She thought about it for a minute, and then she said:
“Well I suppose it would probably be Jesus.”
I hope that if one of our Muslim or Buddhist brothers or sisters wandered into the sanctuary this morning, they would not begrudge me that right to say that the child, whose birth we anticipate during this season, lived to become one of the most influential individuals to ever live.
Jesus Christ’s life has been celebrated in word, deed, art and song for generations upon generations for thousands of years.
Lofty cathedrals beyond number have been built in his name. Humble churches, like this one, can be found in every corner of the planet – each forming the beating heart of a local parish — each dedicated to the daring notion that something in the life of this man is recognizably transcendent – that something in his teaching leads us to a truth far beyond the fray of our daily lives.
Billions of people in this world, find real meaning (real comfort) in the idea that one of us – one of us – one child, who, in every respect looks like the rest of us, with legs to walk with and hands to fashion wood, eyes to see and ears to hear – that this child, born of a woman – is also divine…
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
God with us.
But weren’t we going to talk about a curious image?
A reed shaken by the wind…
We were going to talk about this curious image that Jesus invoked in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, but we got distracted.
At least it was Jesus that distracted us!
That, perhaps, is one of the wonderful things about coming to church on a Sunday morning – here, at least, if we are to be distracted, we are distracted by something of real value.
Too often, in our lives, we are distracted by things that, when it really comes down to it, have very little value.
May I recall you too the unison litany of confession that we recited together this morning?
That prayer was written by the great South African Anti-Apartheid leader Bishop Desmond Tutu.
In his prayer, Bishop Tutu does not use the word “distract.”
He uses the more troubling word “disturb.”
Disturb us, Lord,
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
This is odd, isn’t it?
According to Tutu the abundance of things we possess, is not something we should enjoy – it is, rather, a reason for God to disturb us.
What’s wrong with our things?
Is it wrong to enjoy the pleasure and convenience that we get from our things?
The new washer/dryer set that Cary and I bought last year is really incredible. I love it. And I must say, I’m really pleased that I don’t have to spend an entire day with my hands in a soapy sink washing all my clothes by hand.
I am a washer/dryer appreciator.
Why should my washer/dryer appreciation be disturbed?
But we were talking about a curious verse.
A reed shaken by the wind.
Allow me to remind you where the image appears.
In the eleventh chapter of Matthew, we are told that John the Baptist is in prison.
Hearing of Jesus’ deeds, he sends one of his disciples to Jesus to find out if he, Jesus, is really “the one who is to come.”
In reply, Jesus does not say “Yes I am the one.”
Instead Jesus tells John’s emissaries to simply report to John what their senses tell them – what they “see and hear.”
Jesus trusts the truth to the evidence of the senses.
The blind receive sight.
The deaf hear.
Jesus does not say “Yes I am the one.”
The dead are raised
The poor receive good news.
What did John’s emissaries conclude from this?
We don’t know. The text does not say.
But as soon as they depart, Jesus turns to speak to his followers and asks them about the evidence of their senses.
“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” he asks.
What, Jesus asks, did his followers expect to see in the wilderness?
“A reed shaken by the wind?”
Why would anyone go out to the wilderness to see a reed shaken by the wind?
To be sure, it is likely enough that one would see a reed shaken by the wind in the wilderness…
But it seems unlikely that a person would go out of his or her way to travel somewhere to see such an unremarkable thing.
Jesus then asks if they went to the wilderness to see Someone dressed in soft robes?
This idea he dismisses impatiently. The wilderness is clearly the wrong place to look for such personages. “…those who wear soft robes,” he says, “are in royal palaces.”
Finally, Jesus answers the rhetorical questions himself, and says “A prophet? Yes I tell you, and more than a prophet.”
A prophet. And more than a prophet.
If you are looking for soft robes, go to a palace.
But if you are looking for a prophet
Go to the wilderness.
If you are looking for distraction
Become a washer/dryer appreciator.
But if you are looking to be disturbed by the LORD
Go to the place where the reeds are shaken by the wind.
A reed shaken by the wind.
These words disturb us.
They disturb Washer/Dryer appreciating America.
We like soft robes – we find them distracting.
The wilderness is not soft. The wind buffets us. Our skin dries and cracks.
We prefer our soft robes. We honor people who wear soft robes.
But our God disturbs us.
Jesus reminds us, that if we want to know God, we must look in unexpected places.
We do not find God in a penthouse suite on top of a tall building.
We do not find God in a White House.
If you have ears, listen:
We hear about God in the rustle of the windblown reeds.
If you have eyes, see:
We see God in a makeshift crib fashioned out of hay stuffed in a feeding trough.
This is, perhaps, the most surprising thing of all!
That Almighty God does not becomes incarnate in an expression of power, but in purest form of vulnerability.
And now we bring these two images together – the wind shaking the reeds, and the child in the hay
And what do we get?
A disturbance of Joy.
God disturbs us with Joy.
This is the essence of the Advent season.
We are not distracted.
We are disturbed – shaken out of our despair – by that one thing that is most likely to give us joy:
A newborn infant.
This too, is God.