Advent 3 B: Sacred Leadership

John 1:6-8, 19-28 Dear Partner in Preaching, Oh, for a few more folks like John the Baptist these days! That was my overriding reaction when I read of John’s unusual, even odd, and certainly negative “confession.” John the Baptist’s role in the Fourth Gospel is a little different than it is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Starting with the fact that he’s not actually identified as John the Baptist. Yes, he baptizes. But while in the Synoptics he baptizes Jesus, he does not do so in this account. Instead, his primary role is to witness. As it says, in what can feel like a misplaced verse in the prologue – although I think it clarifies...

Advent 3 A: John’s Blue Christmas

Matthew 11:2-11 Dear Partner in Preaching, It’s quite a change, isn’t it? I mean, last Sunday’s gospel reading all but brimmed over with John the Baptist’s confidence and his clear and compelling call for repentance. Yet John’s tune changes markedly in the reading we will be preaching this Sunday. Now, sitting alone in a dark and dank cell, John questions his earlier confidence and perhaps his very mission and identity, and so sends a disciple to go and ask Jesus a poignant, even heartbreaking question: are you really the one who is to come, or should we look for another? The movement from last week’s reading to this one is both...

Advent 2 A: Reclaiming Repentance

Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-10 Dear Partner in Preaching, What do you think: Is there any chance we can reclaim the value of the word “repentance” this Advent? Or, for that matter, Advent itself? Here’s why I ask. I’m guessing that most of our folks assume repentance means saying you’re sorry. Or better, that you’re really, really sorry and will never do it – whatever “it” is – again. And, sure, that’s a part of repentance but, honestly, a pretty small part. As you know, the heart of the word repentance means turning around, starting over, taking another direction, choosing another course. All of those actions by their...

Advent 3 C: Ordinary Saints

Dear Partner in Preaching, I was interested to see a brief segment on the Today Show about what values we want to teach our kids. Honesty topped the charts (43%), followed by kindness (29%), a strong work ethic (11%) and a variety of others. What struck me as interesting about this survey was that it lines up pretty closely with John the Baptist’s preaching in this Sunday’s passage from Luke. This is, as you’ll recall, the second Sunday in which we are spending time with John. Last week, Luke introduced us to the adult John the Baptist, taking pains to anchor John’s preaching in the historical context of the day. We noticed that Luke...

Advent 2 C: Audacious Historians

Luke 3:1-6 Dear Partner in Preaching, I just love Luke’s audacity! He is, as you probably know, of all the Evangelists the one who identifies most self-consciously as a historian. (Not a twenty-first century historian, mind you, but a first century one!) For this reason, Luke writes a formal introduction to his Gospel, the only one of the four to do so. This also explains Luke’s concern with naming various political leaders on the scene in Luke 2:1ff. and in today’s reading. As a historian, he wants to anchor the events he describes in the larger political and historical scene of the world. And that’s where his audacity comes in....