Sermon from Sunday, December 11, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: Matthew 11:2-11
Our lesson this morning comes from the 11th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Hear these words:
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing. He sent word by his disciples and said to him, are you the one or should we seek another? Jesus answered them, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them and blessed as anyone who takes no offense at me. As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? a reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes. I tell you more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written. See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way before you. truly, I tell you, among those born of woman, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
May God… Now I’m going to get this right. The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks Be to God. Amen.
I couldn’t figure out what happened. I think Major League Baseball got a little jealous that they had been thrown off the sports page. Nobody was paying attention to Major League Baseball. Everybody was focused on football, as they ought to be. But there it was, Monday, it was announced that Major League Baseball is in the middle of a scandal. A scandal. It was announced that Rawlings, the official maker of the official Major League Baseball in the year 2022, had three different baseballs in baseball games. there is an astrophysics list that has received 204 baseballs that came out of Major League Baseball games. The physicist has studied the balls and there are three types of balls. There is the dead ball. It is a dead ball. It is slightly smaller than the other two balls in this. and the dead ball. It doesn’t matter how juiced the hitter is, how much of a tailwind there is, that ball is not going to go out of sight Stadium. It’s going to stay in play. Dead ball.
Then the juiced ball. Juiced ball is slightly larger. Flies further. You can hit an infield fly that will fly out of the ballpark in San Francisco on a windy day. That’s why some major league parks and some major league hitters are having such great statistics. They’re playing with the juiced ball. And Dr. Wells determined there is a third ball. It’s called the Goldilocks Ball. It’s just right. It’s the way the Major League Baseball ought to be. Who would have thunk it? Rawlings, the official baseball maker of Major League Baseball, has put into play two fake baseballs. Why are we surprised? We’re used to fake stuff. We come from a country that invented fake news. You’ve got real news. You’ve got fake news. And you got Saturday Night Live News. You can see and hear whatever you need to see and hear.
So, John, who is in prison because he has pointed out some of Herod’s inappropriate behavior; John’s been there a while and he hears what Jesus is doing. And he asked that question, Are you the one? Are you the real messiah? See, we thought the Messiah was going to come and kick the Romans out of Palestine. We thought the Messiah was going to cleanse the temple and run all of the people who were not faithful to God out of temple leadership. We really thought the real Messiah was going to turn things upside down, bring in the day of the Lord in the Kingdom of God. We thought the real Messiah would ride in on a white charger and have the sword pulled out and would start a war, which we would win. We don’t hear that from you. Jesus. Are you the real Messiah?
I think we read John the Baptist, this passage in parallel passages during Advent because the stories of John the Baptist remind us of the truth of Christmas. There is great expectation. I mean, you are sitting there, you’ve probably checked your phone once or twice today to see what Amazon is going to put on your front porch before you get home. You are expecting something to arrive, something to be delivered. You are anticipating that wonderful, perfect Norman Rockwell painting Christmas morning. But the reality is that you’re more likely to get a note from Amazon saying, hey, that thing you ordered way back when it’s still on back-order. You, if you have children or grandchildren, have all experienced the time when you work so hard to get them the perfect gift. You got them the perfect gift. You watch them unwrap the perfect gift. You saw the joy on their face. And 2 hours later, rather than playing with the perfect gift, they were playing inside the box that the perfect gift was shipped in. We know the expectation and we know the disappointment. It’s just part of the season we’re in. and we see it so clearly in John the Baptist and his sending of the messengers to Jesus. back in the nineties, seems so long ago to say that; back in the nineties there was a radio station in Baton Rouge, and they publicized a phone number where boys and girls could call and talk to Santa and the number was 621-HOHO. And that’s every commercial break, 621-HOHO, 621-HOHO. So the kids in Baton Rouge, you’re supposed to call this number. In case you don’t know what, the letters are on the phone, 621-HOHO is 621-4646. At the time I was pastoring the Blackwater United Methodist Church, the church number was 261-4646. It started Tuesday morning. We get a lot of phone calls with children snickering. We get a lot of hang up phone calls. Wednesday, the secretary called me, and she said, we just got another one of those phone calls. And it was a little boy. And he obviously was holding a phone. Oh, mom, it’s not Santa Claus. It’s some old church.
Friday of that week, we’d called the radio station. We said, we don’t know what’s going on, but we’re getting a lot of these phone calls. And on Friday that week, the staff went home at noon, I was still in the church office trying to get the sermon done because that’s what preachers do on Friday afternoon. And the phone rang. Blackwater United Methodist Church. And I hear this little voice giggling, Are you Santa Claus? No, kid. I’m not Santa Claus. Do you want to know what I want for Christmas? Not really. Well, let me tell you what I want for Christmas, Because I know you know Santa Claus. So I said, what do you want for Christmas? And I couldn’t keep up with him. Several things. I mean, he was he was precise. He was specific. I said, slow down. Let me write this down. So I got it all down. I read it back to him. He said, what are you going to do? I said, I’m going. Send it to my super-secret Santa Claus fax machine number. You think Santa will bring it to me? I don’t know if you’ve been a good boy. Oh, yeah. Okay. Merry Christmas. Ho, ho. Don’t call this number again. Click. I can’t imagine that week how many people called and were disappointed because they didn’t get the real Santa Claus.
John was saying to Jesus, Are you real? That’s still a question we all ask. Are you real? Are you authentic? Can I trust you to be who you say you are? Can I trust you that the behavior I’m seeing in you will be consistent? And when I thought about it, I thought about Margery William’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit and the conversation between the skin horse and the Rabbit. What is real? I asked the rabbit one day when they were lying side by side, near the nursery fender before Nana came to tidy up the room. Does it mean that you had things inside that buzz, and you have a stick-out handle? Real isn’t how you’re made, said the scan horse. It’s something that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time. Not just to play with, but really loves you. Then you become more you. Does it hurt? Ask the rabbit. Sometimes, said the skin horse for he was always truthful. When you’re real. When you’re real. You don’t mind being hurt. Does it happen all at once? Like being wound up, he asked, or bit by bit. It doesn’t happen all at once, said the skin horse you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you’re real. Most of your hair has been lobbed off. Your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you’re real, you can’t be ugly. Except to people who do not understand.
Jesus. Are you real? Are you the real Messiah? And Jesus gives an answer to John’s disciples, and they go away, and they seem to be satisfied. And then he turns to the crowd, and he speaks to the crowd about John. What did you go looking for when you were looking for John? What did you expect to see? What did you see? You saw a prophet. And he says, yes, and more than a prophet. this is the one about whom it is written. See, I’m sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare the way before you. And then Jesus said, Truly, I tell you. Among those born of woman, No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Here’s what I want you to hear. Yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than He. Yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than He. That’s you. That’s me. At least in the Kingdom of God. But we’re greater than this great prophet. We’re more important than this great prophet. We’ve done more for the Kingdom of God and for the calls of Christ than this great prophet.
So while John was worried about Jesus being the real Messiah, I wonder about you and I. Are we real? Really? Disciples? Really disciples. And I want to say two things about real disciples.
First of all, a real disciple has a sense of place. A real disciple has a sense of place. We’re talking and we will talk more about Bethlehem, about going with Joseph and Mary to the manger and looking in the face of Jesus. We get all romantic and nostalgic. Hearing the stories of the shepherds who come, and we never know where to put the Magi. Are they there or not? Or does that come later? So we’re familiar with the stories of Bethlehem and we’ve read the travel narratives in the Gospel of Jesus, in the places he went and the people he saw and the things he did. And then his ministry ends at Calvary on the Cross, and that hurts us and breaks our heart that the king of creation who came down is lifted up on cross and dies a sinner’s death. But that’s okay, because we all know that Good Friday is there, but Easter Sunday is coming, and the tomb is empty, and it is still empty. And it will be empty because Christ is not there. He’s not in the manger anymore. He’s not in Bethlehem. He’s not on the cross anymore. He’s not at Calvary. He’s not in the tomb anymore. He hasn’t been since Easter Sunday. Jesus is not there. There’s no place. He’s gone. So he can live in our hearts. That’s where Jesus is. He’s in our hearts. We have become the Temple of the Holy Spirit that Jesus dwells with us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that we take Jesus wherever we go. Jesus is at home in our hearts, if we have invited Him in. a real Disciples place is with Jesus. That mean I have to go to church? No, I just said that Jesus dwells within you. He is in your heart and in your life all the time. You have a place at the table of God. You have a place in the Kingdom of God. You have a place as a child of the King. You belong. You have a place.
Some of my colleagues have started talking about the R word, and they’re planning for retirement and what they’re going to do and how they’re going to enjoy it and all this other kind of stuff. And I was talking to a fellow Saturday yesterday, texting that’s the new talking, texting. And he told me to look up a piece of property he’s thinking about purchasing for his retirement. And so I went, and I looked at it and it’s a huge it’s a storefront, two story storefront, got all kinds of square footage. And he was telling me how much they wanted, how much he was going to offer, what it cost him a month. And I said, what are you going to do with that? He said, well, in the back there are a bunch of offices and we’re going to take the offices and we’re going convert the offices to our home. That’s where we’re going to live in the back. Okay. What are you going to do with the rest of it? Well, he was in the nursery business before he listened to the call of God and followed God into full time ministry. He said, my wife and I are going back to the nursery business, so we’ll have, you know, the nursery and all the stuff you have to sell with that and pots and dirt and rakes and saws and all kinds of stuff. And he’s talking about that. And he’s getting excited because he’s making a plan for retirement. And then if I was talking to him, I’d be able to see the twinkle in his eye is he went on about this plan and said, and then I’ve got so much space, I can start a church in that building.
Three weeks ago I introduced you to a Hebrew word Aboda. Aboda means, it is translated three ways. When it’s translated out of Hebrew, it’s translated. It is either work or worship or service. And my friends figured it out in one building. He’s going to live. He’s going to work and he’s going to serve God. And that’s the point of having a place. He has this great sense that he is being led by the Holy Spirit, that He is walking with Jesus, that Jesus is with him, and He is going to plant his life in this community and live richly and fully right in the middle of this community. Sounds like he’s retired and going to have a great ministry in retirement. What if we lost that notion about going to work, going to school, going to church, going home, that we understood aboda that God has called us to live wholly and completely, that God is called us to our place in the Kingdom of God, that our work and our worship and our service all take place and can all be blessed and all be a blessing in the same place? A real disciple of Jesus understands that that since the Holy Spirit dwells within you, you are always in the presence of God.
Then the real disciple. They have a sense of place, and they have a sense of purpose. not a cause, a sense of purpose. And their purpose is to live fully and victoriously for Jesus Christ to live authentically for Him. Friday night, I was forced to do my annual husband duty. It was the Bank Christmas party, and I’m required once a year to go to the bank Christmas party. I am the trophy husband. It’s a participation trophy, but I’m the participation trophy husband and I would tell you; I’m also arm candy. It’s Laffy Taffy, but I’m arm candy. and I grouse all week about it because truly, I can preach to a thousand, but I am a horrible introvert and it’s like I’m energized by being by myself. And when I had this afternoon, I’m just gonna to almost spend 4 hours holding on to a car steering wheel, not talking to anybody, because that’s how I deal with crowds. But parties send me into apoplexy. because I don’t know what to do but I look good. I want, you know, five people ask me where I got my tennis shoes because I wore these Friday night. It was my way of protesting. Walked in the room and they had a wine wall. A wine wall. Little wine glasses were called on the stem. They were all filled up sitting there and you could just go to the wine wall, and you could snatch one wine for this hand and one wine for this hand and go stand there and drink. Or you could go to your table and drink. And obviously there were a lot of Presbyterians there because many people were going back to the wine wall two and three times. I was watching. there was an open bar and Lord only knows what was going on there. I had drink tickets. I still have drink tickets, didn’t use them, but there were people use them. We were at this long serpentine table right in the middle of the room. Tamara was sitting right beside me, but because of the geometry of the table, she kind of had her back to me. So I’m sitting there by myself, and people are trying to talk. felt a tap on the shoulder. And I hear you’re a preacher. Will you pray the prayer? Oh, Lord, the prayer over a bank Christmas party. I’ll think of something. Glad to do it. So I got up, prayed the prayer. So I’m just. I’m just rung the bell. Everybody knows I’m a minister now. It was a beautiful prayer, by the way. It’s really good. Wish you could have been there. We got to prayer prayed, we ate. I have sat there for as long as my introverted body can sit there. I can’t hear. I mean, they’ve got they’re trying to talk on their very bad sound system. They’ve got Mariah Carey singing. All I Wanted for Christmas Is You followed by Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. I am just hmm. So I got up and disappeared, went and sat in the lobby. It was quiet. It was very quiet. It was glorious. And that’s where they were hiding the creme Brule, which is what I was looking for, anyway. So I had me some. It’s quiet and I’m texting some minister friends. We’re talking about Christmas parties. I listened; Mrs. Tamara won an award. She got a gift card that I haven’t found out where she’s hidden it because I was gonna swipe it from her. She got another thing because she’s been there 15 years and one fellow walked by me and he was kind of saying, you know, we’re really proud of Tamara. He had made the connection because I’d prayed the prayer. We’re really proud of Tamara. She did a great job. And he told me the church he goes to in Shreveport, he’s a Methodist, and he’s on their disaffiliation committee. And he started talking about that. I thought, I’m at a Christmas party that’s got a wine wall, and I found the only Methodist in the room who wants to talk about disaffiliation. And I think he saw the look on my face because it went dark. He was a very nice guy. He was just telling me their struggles and I’m nodding. And then and, and, and I thought about it and you’re going to get all the information you can possibly dream of in January. And I’m never going to say anything about it ever again, because I won’t be allowed to.
That was an aside that you probably weren’t supposed to hear. But as I started thinking about what all this is about, I thought, you know, that’s the key to reviving the church. See, what happened in the Methodist movement is, is John Wesley started these bands two and three and four people who got together for prayer and fellowship to hold each other accountable, to ask, how is it with your soul? Are there any besetting sins? What are you repenting of? How are you seeing the hand of God in your life? And the bands formed up and they were small groups, intimate gatherings that were people living together, living in community together, living in spiritual community together. Then the bands kind of formed classes, which were more bands clumped together, and the classes ran over 15 to 20 people maybe, and they would meet to do what we would call ministry. They would meet to study, they would meet to pray, they would sing, they would be exhorted. It was kind of like a Wednesday night prayer meeting in some churches that used to have them. very small, very intimate. But it’s still how is it with your soul and what’s going on? And these classes would get together and form societies, and the societies would do what you and I would call church. They were bigger groups, 50 to 75. Their worship services would last a couple of hours. There’d be a sermon and an exhorter, and people would share testimony and faith. And it was a warm, wonderful community. There would be members of the bands in the classes in the society. The societies would buy property, but because they were not all Methodists, there was some Presbyterians in there, there were some Anglicans in there, there were some Baptists in there, John Wesley decided that if he’s going to protect the movement and protect the property, he would have each society hold in trust, the property. And that’s basically what the Methodist Church is down to arguing about now. It’s called the trust clause that’s been in existence since about 1737, 38, 39, something like that. It’s just been a part of Wesleyanism. And as I thought about that, what I thought is that trust clause needs to point us as a church back to how the Methodist church started. It needs to point us back to the bands of the two and three and four people who come together weekly to pray for each other, to talk about how is it with your soul to hold each other accountable, to walk this journey of faith together?
And what we’re the staff is working on? I said in the early service you’re going to start seeing. And I thought, That’s not true. We’re going to start forming up bands and it’s going to take a year and a half to two years before you even notice it, because we’re not going to form 500 of these things. We’re going to start really small and form them up and we’re going to tell the bands, you stay together, you do your thing, you do the ministry, and if you want to not divide, but if you want to multiply, go and multiply. So you can be in multiple bands at the same time. And the goal is to create community and connection. to go back and recapture the essence of the Methodist church. And that’s even wrong to say, because John Wesley never wanted to start a church. He wanted to start a renewal and revival within the Anglican Church. And that’s what I want is a renewal and revival within the Methodist Church. So when you hear about the trust clause, I want you to think about bands. I want you to think about holy gatherings of two and three and four people come together, coming together for prayer, coming together to hold each other accountable, to lift each other up, to walk the journey of life and faith together.
This guy named Jesus did it. Sent them out two-by-two. Sent 70 of ‘em out two-by-two. And I know because those are Christians. What happened? Two here kind of saw the two up ahead of them, said, can we join you? So the two by two became a 4×4, and Jesus said, where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them, and we’ve made that a strategy for prayer when in fact it’s a strategy for creating bands. It’s a strategy for creating these small groups that pray for each other, that come together to walk the journey of life. You read the Book of Acts and you’ve got all these triads and people going out and doing ministry together. You got Paul and Silas and Barnabas, you’ve got Luke and John-Mark and Barnabas, you’ve got Timothy and Titus and Clement. You’ve got Euodia, Syntyche and Paul, you’ve got Epaphroditus and Paul and Demas, you’ve got all these groups. What are they doing? They’re getting together and starting a church. No, they’re small bands. They’re small bands of people who want to live holy lives. They’re small bands of people who know that Jesus is their Lord and savior. There are small bands and groups of people who crave God. That’s how you change a church. That’s how you transform the world. You recapture that which started this all. Are you the one or should we look for another? And Jesus says, Go tell John. You tell him what you see and hear; the blind receive their sight. The lamb walks.
The lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. not in mass, one at a time, not through programs, through relationships. How are we going to change the world? One person at a time.
One band created at a time. One group of people who come together to love Jesus and to know more about Him. So when we start talking about this trust clause, I want you to think about how the Methodist Church started and how the revival changed England and how the revival spread to North America and how the revival has cascaded all the way down to where you’re sitting. I want you to help me reclaim our Methodist heritage and change one life at a time.
Would you stand and pray with me:
We’ve read your word and we know that you are the real Messiah Lord. and we pray for ourselves. That is, we live in your world as we serve your church, as we proclaim your Gospel, that we too would be real, authentic, transparent disciples of Jesus Christ. Bless us to that we pray.