Acts 13:13-26; Luke 1:57-67, 71, 76-80
Today, in the church calendar is when we remember the life and mission and ministry of John the Baptist and all the lessons today relate to John the Baptist. Even before his birth,
John's birth and his work and mission we foretold. The title of my sermon, "Before, During, After" relates to his life and his mission and how that relates to our lives.
In the Old Testament reading from Malachi, we see it's foretold that John will be a messenger to prepare the way for the coming of Christ-not the birth of Christ, but the mission of
Christ. John prepares the way for the mission of Christ which begins with John baptizing Jesus as an adult which then begins Jesus ministry as an adult, the ministry of which we know.
And then in the wonderful passage from Acts, Paul recounts the history of the Jewish people up to Christ, and then mentions John the Baptist who was preaching 'a baptism of
repentance." And Paul tells how John himself proclaims that he is not the Messiah, but that he is preparing the way for the Messiah, the Christ who is about to start his ministry.
In the Gospel lesson from Luke we have the story of the birth of John, the naming of John, and again, John's mission in life is foretold-"you will go before the Lord to prepare his
John's story is not only recorded in Scripture for us to know about John and his mission, but his story is our story. We are being told something for us to do the same way Jesus gave
us a commission to go into the world at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.
So, here, John's story is our story. We know from the Psalms that God knew us even before we were born. God knew us in our mother's womb. God has a plan and purpose for each one of
us. It is not a 'predestined' plan; that is, one that is set for us and we cannot vary from it: We were not created as puppets, we were given free will, and as we lead our lives, the
many gifts and talents we were given at birth are there for us to explore and develop. Those we choose to explore and develop God helps to us use them and accomplish something.
God has a plan for us. God has a purpose for us even before we are born. It's wonderful to know, then, that during our life time we are given power through the Holy Spirit to explore
and develop our many gifts. It's also wonderful to know that some of our gifts are developed during our lives but we are not using them, and when we get to a certain age, we can no
longer use some of our gifts that we've been using, and lo and behold, the others that God has helped us develop, kick in later in our lives.
That's why I've said before to you, that no matter what age you are, God still has a plan and purpose for you and me as long as we are still here. Even folks who later in life have
dementia or Alzheimer's have a purpose from God. In my years as a Chaplain in nursing centers and assisted living centers, I worked with folks who could no longer remember their own name
or the names of beloved relatives, and maybe even couldn't recognize them. Even they have a purpose-as they change they are still part of God's plan and purpose.
That is, they still have love to give, and they still allow others to feel love and compassion in caring for them. Many of those folks had no one left to visit them. They had so much
love to give and when they were given the opportunity, they showered it on me and the staff. We all need to GIVE in our lives. We were not created physically, emotionally, spiritually to
just receive. We have to be able to give as well. And that giving just wells up in a person who is not given the chance to give, but only to be on the receiving end which happens so much
in care facilities. So, when they are given the opportunity to give, the love just gushes out. I was the recipient of that love over and over from dementia and Alzheimer's folks.
That doesn't mean there weren't times when they had bad days, and whatever was going on in their mind worked itself out in how they expressed their actions and words, which were not
positive on 'bad' days. But that's when the staff who cared for them had an opportunity to give them love by being caring and compassionate, giving the staff a chance to be giving love.
You know, there are many people in the world who don't receive love. Many times staff who work in nursing care centers lead very difficult lives at home. Many times they are not on
the receiving end of love at home, nor given the chance to show love. We all need to give, to show love and to receive the same. And working in a care facility allows the person to both
give and receive love. How wonderful is that? We know that Jesus tells us there is nothing greater than to give and receive love. So, even with dementia, that person is still part of
God's plan and purpose.
We live in a world of fallen humanity. God created the perfect world, but humans messed it up in relationships to one another and relationships with all of God's creation. We continue
to do that. So, we are affected by the world around us and we contract particular diseases because humanity has messed up the balance of things. But God never deserts us. God STILL helps
us develop and use our gifts no matter what our physical state or mental state might be. God still works through us to both give and receive blessings.
So, like John the Baptist, we are known by God before we are born, and God has a plan and purpose for us, for our entire life. We help God develop that plan during our life as we
explore, develop, use and share those gifts given to us throughout our entire life.
And what about the "after"? Because John recognized his gifts and developed them, and because he believed in who Jesus was, the Messiah, his "after" became his "now." It didn't become
his future until his "now" was finished. That is, once you recognize who you are-a child of God, created in love and sustained through love-and you recognize the love you have received
through Christ as a Savior and continue to receive through the Holy Spirit, your "after" is right now. It isn't only when you die that you receive the fullness of salvation, you start
receiving it right NOW.
In the "Order for Confession and Forgiveness" the Pastor's response of assurance from God that your sins are indeed forgiven by God, ends by saying, "...and by the power of the Holy
Spirit keep you in eternal life." That means you have eternal life NOW, not just at some future date.
So, God knew you before you were born, God sustains you during your life, and because you're a believer, you have already begun to experience the joy of life after this life. You and
I are forgiven now through Christ, and are now given by Christ to the Holy Spirit for safe keeping. The power of the Holy Spirit keeps us safe and alive in our ever changing gifts that
God has given us to use as part of the plan and purpose God has for each one of us.
So, like John the Baptist, rejoice in your 'before, during and after.' Give thanks to the Lord. Share the bounty of your gifts and talents with others. Give and receive love through
the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of the Lord. And by all means, continually rejoice in the Lord!