December 14, 2003
When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: "Brood of snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskin is going to deflect God's judgment?  It's your life that must change, not your skin. And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as 'father.' Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there - children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants.  What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire."
 The crowd asked him, "Then what are we supposed to do?"
 "If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food."
 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, "Teacher, what should we do?"
 He told them, "No more extortion - collect only what is required by law."
 Soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"
He told them, "No shakedowns, no blackmail - and be content with your rations."
 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, "Could this John be the Messiah?"
 But John intervened: "I'm baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.  He's going to clean house - make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."
 There was a lot more of this - words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message!
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1. Lives and structures must change. Lineage and ideology no longer cut it. This occurs when character and behavior mature. For United Methodists, we need to cut out this tendency to see who can line up the most John Wesley quotes or otherwise contend for the honored title of "Wesleyan."
John the Wesley was no saint, but snakeskins were shed following his practical approach to imitating Christ. He applied Jesus and Early Church experiences to his time. John the Baptist, a saint, applied Abraham and Hospitality to his time.
Saint or no saint, the work is the same - take a basic and go beyond it.
2. So what does that mean, practically? Have an extra coat? Don't just take it to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul or a consignment store. Be so involved in people's live that you will give your coat where it is needed because you have a relationship. The presence of your relationship will be an extra layer of warm in cold times and an extra layer of repellent in wet times. Such involvement needs to be both local and global.
Do you have the authority and power and opportunity to redistribute wealth so those who have little won't have too little and those who have much won't have too much? Well, follow that course. If you gain, while all about you lose, it won't be long before you have negotiated your own greater loss - loss not only of income but relationship and security and soul.
Now, what about you and me? What would you question J.B. about? Careful, you know what he's going to say and how you will have to molt from cunning survival to practical justice.
3. All this straight-from-the-shoulder talk without the self-justifying forked tongue (apologies to brother snake whose external characteristics are here exploited) is intended to give strength to people. "There is something you can can do whether you be a lonely person, an economically oriented person, or a person with power." Find your gift, your place, and you will not only transform your own life, but you will be part of the general re-ordering of life from getting one's own to bringing us together in the tradition of Abraham's hospitality and GOD's abundance.
No wonder folks thought of Messiah when they thought of John Boy. They heard larger, rather than smaller, truths about who they were and who they could become.