Days Of Our Lives
John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)
I’ve been considering retirement. That’s early retirement I should emphasise. In some ways it seems as eternity since I started teaching. In other ways it seems like no time at all. Sometimes it seems the years have just slipped away. The fact that my wee baby son is now a young man in his early twenties seems almost incomprehensible. I suppose I’ve reached that point in life - especially after my father died - when you really start to realise that you only have so many days here on this earth; in this life. These are the days of our lives. What are we meant to do with them? I’ll come back to that.
It’s an interesting thing that three of the four Gospels don’t begin with Jesus: they begin with John the Baptist. Even here, although Mark’s opening sentence begins “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” he doesn’t actually start with Jesus. He starts with John. John who appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In some ways this is the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that we are forgiven everything we’ve done wrong if we will only open up to God about it and seek his forgiveness. The big difference is that the forgiveness we have as Christians comes to us, not just by baptism but by the Cross of Calvary and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Either way, though, what John proclaimed was the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of God - the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: a Gospel that offers us hope of eternal life with God.
Why do both Mark and John the Evangelist start their Gospels not with Jesus but with the ministry of John the Baptist? Why does Luke go even further back and begin with the proclamation of the coming of John by his father Zechariah? Why is this figure of John the Baptist so important to all these three gospel writers? Maybe it comes down to this verse from Mark: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.
Who were the evangelists writing to? It’s the second half of the first century. There are groups of Christians in towns and cities all around the Mediterranean and their numbers are swelling rapidly. Why? Because people were sharing the Gospel with others: they were passing on the message of a loving God who offers grace, mercy and forgiveness to anyone who accepts them in Christ. People were sharing the Gospel that offers eternal life to all who find that loving, forgiving God in Christ. Because they were doing what John the Baptist had been doing. John was a prototype for all the folk in the time when the gospels were being written who were proclaiming the love and forgiveness of God.
Who were these folk? You can read any number of lives of saints that will tell you that they carried the gospel here there and everywhere, but if you read the historical accounts carefully you find that when these great evangelists turn up to places there were already Christians there.The locals know about Christianity. Word has come to them not by great theologians or spiritual superheroes but by ordinary people. It’s come to them through captured slaves and traders. It’s come by sailors who’ve put in at Ephesus and fallen in with folk who’ve shared their faith with them. It’s come by ordinary folk doing ordinary jobs leading ordinary lives. It’s come by people like you and me.
These are the days of our lives. What are we meant to do with them? If we take the gospel-writer’s emphasis on John the Baptist seriously it means we should be proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should be telling people around us - or maybe better, showing them - about the love of God for his children; about his grace and forgiveness. Are we doing that? I don’t just mean as the Church, but as people?
These are the days of our lives and we can use them to show folk what the forgiveness of God is like. How do we do that? By living it out. By forgiving folk when they cause us pain. I ‘m not saying that’s easy - it’s not. You might think that someone doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Sometimes we even do that for folk we’ve never even met - someone who’s committed some particularly awful crime and you can start to think, “They should bring back the rope for folk like him”, or “Lock him up and throw away the key”. That’s the conventional view of the world. When we take a different way, speak a different language - the language of grace and redemption - we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These are the days of our lives and we can use them to show folk what the love of God is like. How do we do that? By living it out. By caring about the people around us enough to show them that they matter. That’s getting harder and harder as people stay more and more in their houses and don’t interact as community the way they used to, but there’s nothing to stop you, next time someone moves in on your street, welcoming them and offering to help them move in. There’s nothing to stop you, next time someone says this country is getting full of asylum seekers, reminding them of the suffering these people have gone through.
These are the days of our lives and we can use them to offer them the prospect of eternal life with God. Maybe this the hardest thing because it probably means being open about our faith and sometimes our faith is personal to us. We’ve been trained, in this country, not to talk about politics and religion but that hasn’t led to tolerance - it’s led to whole generations of people who haven’t the faintest idea about what Christians actually believe: seriously, you’ve no idea about some of the things I’ve come across on internet discussion groups.
When it comes to it, what’s so wrong with speaking up for what we believe? Let’s for a moment imagine we’ve got it all wrong. Let’s imagine the atheists are right. If we offer people the opportunity to live their lives loving their neighbour as they love themselves, of forgiving those who hurt them, of caring for the hungry and the homeless, will they have sent the days of their lives terribly badly? If they die - as they are going to - believing in an eternal life that isn’t there, is that such a terrible way to go?
I believe, though, that there is a God. I believe that he loves you and me and all his children so much that he came into this world in the life of a human being to bring us home to him: to show us who we really are - what we are meant to be. I believe that God gave us hands and feet and tongues and feelings and intelligence to do his work in the world and to proclaim his love for humanity in the choices we make, the words we say and the things we do. I believe that when these days of our lives here on Earth are done there is still an eternity to live.
Whatever you believe, these are the days of our lives. They are the time we have to make a difference in this world. They are the time we have to show people that they matter. They are the time we have to release the folk who’ve hurt us and embrace them.They are the time we have to show the folk we meet that what really makes a difference in this world is love. They are the time we have to proclaim the love of God.
Lord God, help us, in these days of our lives, to proclaim your love for your children; to proclaim the Gospel of your Son.
Preached at Gretna:St. Andrews Parish church