“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”

The words of John the Baptist.

I wonder what the crowds that went to hear him expected?

Were they really ready for John?

Did they expect to hear someone who would tell the truth about God and their lives?

Did they expect to see a man dressed in camel’s hair eating locusts and honey?

Did they expect a wild man who was willing to say whatever it took to save their lives?

He held nothing back.

He told them how it was.

He even called some of them names.

He spoke honest, if not harsh, words and told the truth even if it hurt.

For some it may have come as a relief.

They could see a way forward.

For others it may have seemed an intrusion, an annoyance, a meddling preacher who needed to mind his own business.

So what if I preached like John the Baptist?

What if I spoke the truth in the way John did?

“What brought you slithering in here today?

You reptiles.

Why are you here?

To get out of the cold?

To see your friends?

To make yourself feel better about how faithful and good you are?

Are you here to give God that wish list you call prayer?

Don’t even start about who you are or how long your family has been in this parish.

I don’t care what you’ve done for this church;

 or how much money you’ve given.

I want to know what you are doing with your life?

Don’t give me some polite banal answer.

This is serious and there are consequences to the way we live and the choices we make.

So if you are here to change your ways, to live a different life, to open yourself to God, then show it.

Live it.

Let that be seen by the choices you make, the priorities you establish, the actions you take, and the words you speak.

If that’s not why you are here, clear off.

Go on.

Crawl back to the hole you came from.”

What if I preached like John the Baptist?

What would you think about that?

How would you respond?

What would you feel?

I suspect there would be several different responses.

Some would sit quietly, smile, nod appropriately, and let it all go in one ear and out the other.

There would probably be a few meetings during the week to discuss,

“What got into him and what are we going to do about it?”

Ben would probably get a few phone calls.

Bishop David may even get a few letters.

That kind of preaching, those words, are not what we expect when we come to church.

We don’t come to church expecting to be criticised or made to feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes it’s even too much to be challenged or told we are accountable for our selves.

 “What if I preached like John the Baptist?”

may be the wrong question.

The better question is why don’t I preach like that?

Why don’t you demand and expect that of me or any other preacher?

I am sure there are lots of answers to those questions.

Some of our reasons are legitimate, others are not.

I wonder though if the real reason we don’t like that kind of preaching is that we are usually content with life as it is.

I don’t mean we are content in the sense that everything is perfect but that we don’t want anyone messing with our life.

We don’t want any change.

So we show up at church hoping, wanting, and expecting to receive some affirmation and approval.

To be told how much God loves us.

We want to be told that we’re fine just as we are and we shouldn’t change a thing.

After a while, however, that message starts to wear thin.

Deep down if we are really honest we know better.

We know ourselves and we know our world.

We know the deep wounds that still hurt.

We know the relationships that are struggling and broken.

We can recall our words and actions that have hurt others.

We see hunger, poverty, and injustice but offer explanations, excuses, and blame rather than our time, our money, and our efforts.

We don’t need that kind of affirmation and approval.

That message maintains the status quo and its business as usual.

It stops us moving forward and leaves us hopeless.

We need someone to speak the truth about our life, to awaken us, to challenge us.

We need a truth that says life does not have to stay like this.

A truth that offers us hope and a way forward.

We need to be reminded that we can and should change.

To be told that God accepts as we are does not mean we don’t need to change.

John the Baptist’s words disturbed the people of his day and should disturb us.

Self satisfaction can blind us to the life God wants us to have.

It distracts us from that which is most important.

It deceives us into believing there is nothing we can do about poverty and injustice.

The real issue for most of us is not that we are bad people but that we are too content.

That’s why, at the beginning of a new church year, we hear about John the Baptist.

We see him before we see Jesus.  

We hear his words before we hear Jesus’ words.

John is the gateway to Christmas.

We cannot go around him.

We must face up to him, to our selves, and to the One who is coming.

This facing up is at the heart of John’s message,

 “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

A warning.

Be careful here.

Far too often we have been told or led to believe that we must repent in order for the kingdom to come.

That’s just not true.

It’s the exact opposite.

What did John say?

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The kingdom has already come near.

Repentance is not what makes the kingdom arrive.

Repentance is our response to the coming of the kingdom.

Through repentance we turn to Jesus.

We say yes to the coming of the One who is more powerful than us.

That means we must change the direction and purpose of our life to share in the kingdom of heaven and the life of Christ.

The good news in John the Baptist’s message is that the Kingdom is here.

If you are waiting until you die to get into the Kingdom of Heaven you may have missed the boat.

Let’s not let this happen.


Turn around.

Look again.

The kingdom is right here.

So what if I preached like John the Baptist?

What if you expected and demanded that every preacher preach that way?

Or would you be one of the first to complain that your comfortable life was being disturbed.