I have always been a fan of John the Baptizer. You just have to love that quirky character who appears in the scripture readings during the weeks before Christmas. He dressed in camel’s hair clothing, ate locusts (yuk!) and wild honey, challenged those uppity Scribes and Pharisees (But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” – Matt.3: 7-8) and pointed everyone toward the one who was to come, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.
As a kid I loved the fact that he was different (don’t all adolescents feel different!?!?), that he challenged authority (doesn’t every kid love to challenge authority!?!?), but I also liked his humility.
But when I was in seminary, I became more than just a fan of this prophet. I was seated in a classroom at Northern Baptist Seminary, listening to Dr. Charles Cosgrove (Professor of New Testament, my seminary advisor, and former interim preaching pastor at St. Peter UCC in Elmhurst). Charlie startled the class by proposing that the most authentic model for the church was John the Baptist! I remember thinking – does this mean we should all dress in strange clothes (I could be allergic to camel’s hair!), eat bugs (UGH!!) and challenge authority? (Okay, I still like that part!)
Now while Charlie was a fan of the Apostle Paul, he really loved the Baptizer! And he went on to explain, that instead of the somewhat presumptuous claim that "we are the body of Christ," (One of Paul’s well known metaphors for the church), focusing on being Jesus, the church would be better off if we all were more like John the Baptist. Charlie said, “Our job as Christians is forever and always to point to Jesus with our words and our actions. We are to join together in our life, ministry, and mission to be preparers of the way. We are to always be preparing the way for Christ to be known and to enter the lives of other people who don’t yet know him!”
That afternoon in Charlie’s class has never left me as I struggled and still struggle to live into what it means for us to be “the church of Jesus Christ”, to be a community of people who believe in the Good News of Jesus. Imagine what this church, this faith community might become, might look like, how it might transform lives, if in our shared discipleship, we were always just pointing toward Jesus, and always working at becoming preparers of the way for our living Savior?
We don’t have to wear strange clothes or eat bugs to do that. But sometimes we do need to challenge authority. And we do need to be fully aware that it’s NOT ABOUT US. That’s the humility part. Realizing that if the church is to grow and grow God’s Kingdom, it must always be about Jesus.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. – Matthew 3:11