Tell me, What Do you See?

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Are you the one that is to come, or are we to wait for another?

John’s words come to Jesus, a question spoken through the mouths of his messengers, simple but powerful. It was not that long ago that the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan, delivering his fiery sermons to all who came close to listen, offering baptism of the waters of repentance and proclaiming judgement on the hypocrites of the faith. It was not that long ago that John prophesied that he was preparing the way of the one who was to come, the messiah, the one who would bring a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit. It was not that long ago that Jesus was baptized by John’s own hand, as God opened up the heavens and revealed to all who could hear that Jesus was the one, the Messiah, God’s own anointed.

It was not that long ago. But now John was in jail.

Now John was in jail and the once assured and confident Baptist was no longer quite so sure; no longer did he feel the same burning confidence. Now John was in jail and the brokenness and suffering of the world was no longer at a safe distance from his place in the wilderness. It was as close as the walls of his cell, as close as the knot of hunger in his stomach. Now John was in jail, and he was unsure and afraid, wondering if he had gambled his life on the right person, wondering if he would ever feel the sun on his skin again or breathe the fresh air of his wilderness freedom.

So, he sends a message to Jesus, seeking assurance, seeking the strength to hold onto hope.

Are you the one that is to come?

It is a question that strikes a chord in our own hearts. Whether we have tried to keep the faith our whole life or we are just beginning on our journey of faith, it a question that we all must ask. Even if we profess that Jesus is the Messiah with all the gusto and confidence of John the Baptist, a part of us inevitably asks the question, must ask the question, how do I know if I got it right?

After all, there are so many things in our world that promise us salvation—whether it is the acquisition of material goods, or our jobs, or raising children, or travelling, or collecting life experiences. And as we look around, we cannot help but see that our world is broken. We cannot help but see the suffering that is so evident in it.

Jesus promises salvation, the Isaiah speaks of the new Kingdom, yet evil still prevails and has not been vanquished. The wicked surround the righteous and swallow them up[1] with impunity. How are we to know that we have gotten it right when so much is wrong around us? How are we to know that we have gotten it right when brokenness and suffering is as close as our own self?

Are you the one that is to come?

Jesus’ answer was perhaps not the one that John was seeking. Perhaps it isn’t the one we were seeking either. Jesus gives no easy, direct answer of yes or no. “Tell him what you see,” he instructs instead. “Tell him what you see,” Jesus answers, “that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

John, who was now in jail, was perhaps hoping for a bit of vanquishing of his enemies, for the proverbial calvary to come charging in and save him. We are perhaps hoping to at least see evil put in its places and for the wicked to receive their comeuppance. But Jesus points instead to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, indeed the very same words we have already heard this morning.

How will we know that God’s salvation is at hand? We will know because the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame will leap like deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing with joy![2] How will we know that Jesus is the one that was to come? It will not be because he tells us he is the one. We will know by the work that he accomplishes. We will know because he brings healing and wholeness. We will know because he calls us into the new Kingdom, where the old ways and the old divisions and the old justice is no more. We will know because in him and through him we will see glimpses of the new creation that is unfolding before us.

But, my friends, it is not enough for us to know that Jesus is the one. We must also be faithful disciples! It is not enough that we proclaim that Jesus is the messiah to those who hunger and ache for the good news. We are called to be Christ’s presence in the world! But how are we to know that we are being faithful in our discipleship? When the world watches what we do as the church, how are they to know that we are the Body of Christ?

And if we’re being honest, far too often, what the world sees is not a glimpse of the new creation. Too often the world has seen the church hurting and oppressing the poor and the meek. Too often the world has seen the church committing atrocities and spreading fear and hate in Jesus’ name. Too often the world has seen the church use Jesus’ teachings to shame and punish and persecute others based on their race, or their gender, or their orientation, or their nationality, or their political affiliation. Too often the world has watched as those who would call themselves disciples use their religion to vanquish their enemies and punish those who disagree with them.

Too often the world has failed to recognize the Body of Christ because too often we as the church have failed to recognize Christ being born into our midst.

But not always.

Just as Jesus invited John and the disciples to know him by the fruit that he bore, so too Jesus calls us to be known as his disciples by the fruit that we bear. As you look around this community, this part of the Body of Christ that we call St. Faith’s, I wonder what you see?

I’ll tell you what I see.

I see a community that observes this holiday season by collecting food to support refugee families as they seek a new life away from war and persecution and hunger. I see a community that comes together to work on Halloween, when everyone else is out celebrating, to raise money for youth who are homeless in our city so that they might know that they are not alone and receive the support they need to find stability in their young lives. I see a community that opens its doors on a late winter night to raise money to help the people of a country on the other side of the world who are besieged by war and devastation and hunger.

I see a community which chose on Thanksgiving, a holiday normally spent with family, to set a festival table and to fill it with good food so that neighbour and stranger, wealthy and homeless alike could sit with us, side by side, and taste and see for themselves the sumptuous feast of God’s great banquet. As I sat there that night, eating a meal with new friends, with people who had never celebrated Thanksgiving, with people who had no one else with whom to eat that night, I saw a community that shown, perhaps unbeknownst to itself, with the light of the Holy Mountain of God.

And I am not the only one who sees it.

I know I am not the only one who sees it, because new faces, new people, new members have sense something here and are seeking it out. I know I am not the only one because we have celebrated new baptisms as people hear Jesus’ call into discipleship. I know that I am not the only one, because people, old and new, are catching glimpses of the Kingdom of God.

And my friends, we’re just getting started!

We’re just getting started because in the New Kingdom, even greater things than these are possible. Even greater things than these will be done. We’re just getting started, because Christ is coming and is being born to us, and in him nothing is impossible.

Tell me, what do you see?

Preached by Adam Yates

[1] Habakkuk 1:4,13

[2] Isaiah 35:5-6