With reference to Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12
Two weeks ago today, I was on a bus traveling through the barren hills and fertile valleys of the land where Jesus lived. We passed an empty stretch of land, marked only by a few warning signs: Danger – do not enter! Land mines.
Just past the barbed-wire fencing that marked the land mines, we pulled into a parking lot, joining other tour busses, walked past a meeting pavilion with some postcard kiosk and there, over the bank – there it was – the Jordan River. Or, what remains of it.
Each Advent season we get to meet John the Baptist. We get to hear him call for people to clean up their lives, starting with a baptism in the Jordan River; we recall, usually in January, Jesus’ journey to the river to be baptized by John as his public ministry begins.
The Jordan River it’s self is in desperate need of a cleanup. I learned that 150 years ago it was wide, wild and clean; in fact there was a rafting expedition in which one raft overturned in the rapids and some died. The only way you could die today while rafting the Jordan is if you drank the water!
Well, I threw off my sandals and went into the water, and thanks to the generosity of my travel mates, was given a bottle, and I brought back some water from the Jordan River. Back home, I let the `brown stuff’ settle for a couple days, then poured it carefully into a pot, rinsing the sludge at the bottom into the Salmon Arm waste water system, then boiled the water for 7 minutes, poured it through a coffee filter… and have it in my study. I think with that process, it’s now safe to use for baptisms.
What process do we have to go through to clean up our lives as we try to truly follow a path to Holy Love?
What do we have to do with our lives? What can we do that gives us hope? What can we do to give hope to others? I ask these questions in the wake of the announcement of the death of a great light in the world this past week, Nelson Mandela.
At our Conference in Jerusalem, that week, Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying “The treatment of the Palestinian people is the greatest moral issue of our time.”
This week, the world lost a great leader and a great light in the death of Nelson Mandela. But what made the difference for Mandela was the choosing not to hide his light under a bushel, but to let it shine. Remember that’s what Jesus called us all to do in what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. This is the same choice each one of us make on a daily, sometimes minute by minute, basis. In the image of the peaceable kingdom, we are both lamb and leopard (rather than lamb and shepherd) we are both predator and prey. We make choices in our thoughts and actions. Mandela said, that if he chose to hate those who imprisoned him, even though set free, he would still be imprisoned.
While in prison, to help stay sane, he read a great deal. One of the things he read, that made a huge shift in his life, was a poem by William Ernest Henley called Invictus.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Mandela made a choice to let his goodness shine through all the mess and pain of his life. John the Baptist calls us to do the same. The life of Jesus, and the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit are ours to call on for shaping our lives.
Our commissioning for this week comes from the wisdom of Nelson Mandela who encourages us with these words: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” Amen.