Something was going on down by the river. Jesus' odd cousin John was there ahead of him and causing quite a stir in his camel hair (scratchy!) duds and that locust breath. mmmmmmm.
Every one who could get loose was heading down to what was happening. There were people with nothing else to do. There were people desparately hoping for something new. They were looking for entertainment, energy, connection, healing.
So people responsible for keeping order, the pastors and pillars of the community, followed them down to see what was going on. (We always have to keep our eyes open for where we pop up in these stories). Some of them probably really wanted to be baptised, renewed, refreshed. Others surely wanted to remind the folks they were watching.
John's reaction to the newcomers was an emphatic welcome, right?
John was the shock jock of his generation, not motivated by fame and fortune, but with his back up, his hackles raised against inauthenticity and injustice.
In scripture, it seems as though people either live with hearts open and ready for annointing or hearts so hard they have to be broken open. From John's reaction, we catch a clue of how tightly the leaders were clinging to control. maybe they were afraid. Roman authority was pretty good to those who stayed in line, but awfully hard on those who strayed out of line. Maybe they were frozen in habits that had sustained them through years of struggle for minority identity in a bigger stronger culture. Whatever it was, John was ready to crack it open.
And this was the act Jesus had to follow!
Two young men, called to unusual work on God's behalf, sons of mothers pregnant under strange circumstances, They were full of infectious enthusiasm if you were ready for them.
And if not, well......
I found myself thinking about a video this week while grapping with what the relationship between these two might have been. Take a look at "Frst Follower"
When Matthew describes John and Jesus, he's showing us two young men who have each others' back.
World War I fighter pilots, would say I "got your six." If you picture yourself at the center of a clock face, the area directly in front of you is twelve o’clock. Six o’clock is what lies behind you. Your “six” is the most vulnerable. So, when someone tells you that they’ve “got your six,” it means they’re watching your back (and you have theirs). Its the kind of trust that develops in service to a common mission.
What did it mean to say, “I’ve got your back” when both of these young men would die horrible deaths? John’s head on a platter, and Jesus’s body outstretched on a cross? What could be more important than their very lives? What was worth following, one after another was God's vision of authentic living. They were men on a mission.
Yesterday Jeff and I attended the funeral for an extroverted, mischievous, generous 20 year old. We listened to 3 generations of men, fathers, mentors, friends put into words what it meant to watch, and to help, a boy become a man. Ways they had each other’s back, ways they inspired each other to follow, first one, then another, on the sometimes winding path of learning to lead the life God gave them.
THey shared what it means to lose sight of a life, for one you love to disappear over the horizon of our sight line and trust that, just as the earth is not a flat plain from which we can fall, the end of life as we know it is not the end of life as God knows it.
This week the world has been watching South Africa as her people farewell Nelson Mandela. In the midst of mourning, reporter Grogory Warner said……..there is a sense that people feel that they're ready to take on a future, and as they say, “take the bait,” be the next Mandela. A lot of people talk like that.
The people in South Africa have been dancing for days. Dancing for joy, dancing for grief, dancing for life. Its a resurrection-dance that is infectious, that catches up ready hearts and breaks others open to God's grace. Chidren dancing, college students dancing, grandmothers dancing, former jail guards dancing....
This is the startling claim of our faith. Death is not stronger than life. Life is infinitely larger than what we can see.
 Gregory Warner, NPR 12-7-13, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=249434909
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist