The service at church this morning revolved around John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. The pastor preached on Luke 3:1-18.
We sang a worship song, “Here Is Our King.” The song talked about spring arriving and healing the ground, and someone saying something that causes the rose to unfold. The song calls what is coming—-presumably Jesus—-“A trace of what we’re looking for.”
Jesus is what we’re looking for. Jesus will satisfy our needs. Is that actually in the Bible, or is that evangelicals projecting consumerism and self-esteem onto the biblical text? I do not see this theme in every single book of the Bible; the synoptic Gospels, for example, seem to assume that people should repent because that is the right thing to do, not because it meets their personal needs. But the idea that Jesus or God satisfies our hunger and thirst is in some places. Jesus in John 4:14 says that people will never thirst again after drinking the water that he gives them. Jesus in John 6:35 states that people who come to him will never be hungry. Isaiah 55:2 has: “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (KJV).
We have this worship song about Jesus being what we are truly looking for and, presumably, satisfying our needs. But, as the pastor noted, John the Baptist sounded pretty harsh in his sermon to the people. John was not preaching a seeker-sensitive message! According to the pastor, John was doing this to shake people out of their complacency so that they can be prepared for the Messiah’s coming. Similarly, the pastor said, many of us can become complacent, in our comfort, about the suffering in the world. John was calling people vipers and was warning them about unquenchable fire, but there was also a positive aspect to his message. John in Luke 3 was predicting the salvation of God, and he was exhorting people who had two coats to give one of those coats to someone who had none. As the pastor said, a person only needs that one coat! John also talked about the uplifting of valleys and the lowering of mountains, and the pastor interpreted this in reference to (among other things) people who are hurt becoming healers.
Our church is giving to people who lack. Someone was telling us about a ministry in our church that gives long underwear and socks to the needy. That helps them, during this winter season.
The pastor did not preach about the recent shooting, but he did make some remarks about it earlier in the service, during the prayer part. He encouraged us to think about how we are connected with those mourning the victims, and to ask God what we can do in response. The pastor said that he would not be preaching about the shooting in the sermon, because the shootings happen so often, and he does not want focusing on the shootings to detract from focusing on Jesus during this Advent season. Jesus, for the pastor, is part of the solution for these kinds of ills in society.
The pastor may have been responding to what some atheists and progressive Christians have been saying online about prayer, in light of the recent shooting. Essentially, they have been saying that prayer should not take the place of action. The pastor was encouraging prayer that leads to action. The thing is, however, that many of us do not know how to solve large-scale problems. The pastor himself, in a blog post this past week, confessed that he does not entirely know what to do, and he said that, while he supports gun control, he does not see that as the end-all, be-all solution to the problem.
Other than prayer, I am not planning on actively doing something about the shootings. I do not know what to do. I still agree with trying to feel some human connection to the victims and their loved ones, however. Last week, ABC News was showing some of the victims of the shooting, and they looked like regular people, good people trying to get through life, the sorts of people I know. When it comes to the shootings, I plan to pray. Maybe I can see if there are public policy options that can expand access to mental health treatment, especially to those who cannot afford it (and not just the poor, either, but for those who spend so much on necessities that there is not much left over for therapy), and to encourage lawmakers to address that.
Rather than stressing out over things that I cannot control, because the problems are bigger than me, I can look at what I can do. I can donate to a charity that gives long underwear and socks to the needy, for example, or to another worthy cause.