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Next Person In Line, Please (Video and Manuscript Sermon)

The sermon for this post was preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church on January 13, 2012.  The sermon is titled: “Next Person In Line, Please.”

You can watch the 21 minute video of the sermon “Next Person In Line, Please” when you click this hyperline now…

…or you can read the manuscript of the message below.

 

Next Person In Line, Please  – Luke 3:15-18, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

 

“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

James Parker, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, asks the question:

“How do you handle yourself while you’re waiting in line? And I’m not talking about a nice line, a dainty little three- or four-person affair such as might be found at Trader Joe’s on a Wednesday afternoon: I’m talking about a straggling, misshapen, hostile, sclerotic, old-school DMV-style, inch-by-inch marathon of a line – a real life-sucker. How do you deal with a line like that? Do you fidget, sweat, curse under your breath? Flash homicidal glances at the person in front of you?

As I read Parker’s paragraph my memory harkened back to my younger years, reminding me of my many excursions to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida – just a couple hours from my home in Daytona Beach.  I was a part of many trips to the theme park –  family trips, church youth group trips, my high school senior class trip.  Then in college, I dated a girl whose entire family worked at Disney World – so I was blessed with dozens of free passes to Disney.  All tallied, I have made 42 trips to Walt Disney World before I graduated college – and the one thing that sticks out in my memory about all those visits were the lines.

There were lines of traffic on the highway; lines to park your car; lines to board trolley cars that would take you to lines where you would purchase tickets which would lead to lines to board the monorail that took you to the lines that would allow you to actually enter the park.  Then there were lines for every ride, lines to every show, lines to buy lunch and dinner, snacks and a soft drink.  There were even lines to use the restroom.  Wherever you turned at Walt Disney World there were lines, lines, lines, lines, lines.

Ralph Waldo Emerson one asked: “How much of human life is lost in waiting?”  Modern research has answered Emerson’s question.  Whether you are stuck in a line of traffic, waiting in line to buy groceries, wedged between several cars in a line at the gas station waiting to pump fuel, or held up in any of the other lines that fill our day, researchers tell us that by times a person reaches the age of 70, they will have wasted three years of their lives waiting in some sort of line – three years.

Think about that the next time you are standing in line with 60 other people, at Wal-Mart, when only three checkout lines open, and two of those lines are calling for a manager to do a price check.

I don’t like lines.  I don’t like lines at the DMV.  I don’t like lines at the cafeteria.  I do not like to stand in lines to pay bills, buy groceries, or get popcorn and a soft-drink after standing in line to get tickets to see a newly released movie.

If you are one of the few who like to stand in lines, I congratulate you.  You are either extremely patient or very well medicated.  The rest of us, however, hate standing in line – and we are typically not fond of those with whom we share the line standing experience, especially when they are in front of us.

But the one person we despise more than anyone else is the person who is managing the line.  It might be the bureaucrat at the DMV; the cashier at the grocery store; or the ticket agent at the box office – but whoever it is, that person receives a extra portion of our loathing and dislike.

And here’s what I dislike most of all.  It is the way that person yells out the phrase: “Next person in line, please!”

It’s like there is nothing special about you.  You are just another person in line.  I am not just another person in line.  I am the Reverend Dr. Bill Nieporte, Pastor of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  Do I get special recognition and fan-fair when it’s my turn to step forward?  No I don’t.  I hear the same thing everyone else hears.

“Next person in line, please!”

Lines are the great equalizer.  Have you ever been stuck in a line of traffic at rush hour on I-95?  When you are stuck in traffic, it does not matter whether you are in a  1985 Yugo or a 2013 Mercedes Executive Limousine.  If you are stick in traffic, you are stuck in traffic.  You are just another person in line.

“Next person in line, please!”

Lines are the great equalizer.

That’s what makes Luke’s statement so strange.

“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

Luke paints a picture of John the Baptizer standing in the River Jordon.  Stretched out before him as far as the eye can see is a line of those who have come to receive baptism.

Each of these people are standing in line and John dunks person, one after the other, and as each newly minted baptized individual comes up out of the water, you can almost hear the Baptizer say:  “Next person in line, please!”

Line’s are the great equalizer.  They put everyone on the same playing field.  They make everyone the same.  So where is Jesus while all this baptizing is going on?  He is right there in the line with the rest of the masses.  He is waiting for the Baptizer to say, “Next person in line, please!”

“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

There is no private ceremony.  There is no special recognition.  There is nothing unique, exclusive, or exceptional.  Jesus is in line with everyone else.

“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

Jesus is just standing in line.  How do you feel about that?  Do you want Jesus standing in line with everyone else?  Or do you think he should be pulled out of line, moved to the front, and given some special fan-fair or recognition?

“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized.”

Jesus is not given any special place in Luke’s narrative – and he doesn’t seek any special favor or recognition.  He seems right at home with the mass of individuals.  He seems content to wait his turn.

There are lots of people in line with Jesus.

“Next person in line, please!”

She’s a poor widow with little in the way of food, shelter, or opportunity.  Her was not kind to widows and she has often been a victim of  injustice.  But she is there in line, hoping to begin again.

“Next person in line, please!”

Forward stepped a rich young man.  He has a nice home and plenty of money in the bank.  He has influence and power.  Why is he standing in line waiting to be baptized?  Maybe he’s discovered that a pocket full of $100 bills cannot buy purpose for living.  “There has got to be something more!” he says to himself as the Baptizer lowers his head under the water.

“Next person in line, please!”

The Reverend Doctor So-And-So was there in line, too.  Does that surprise you?  It shouldn’t.  Most of the clergy have studied theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and biblical languages.  They can even sing many of the songs from the hymnbook by memory.

Can I let you in on a little secret, though?  Sometimes we clergy can fall into the rut of religious routine.  We can prepare beautiful sermons and say eloquent prayers almost on autopilot.  We can go through all motions for a long time and then wake up one morning and discover the passion has left.

The clergy were there standing in line.  They were the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  They all probably started out following their call with a great passion to honor their Creator and encourage people to believe.  On this day they were standing in line with everyone else waiting to be baptized and start again.

“Next person in line, please!”

The soldiers, and carpenters, and fisherman were there…

“Next person in line, please!”

The teachers, physicians, and tax collectors made their way…

“Next person in line, please!”

The pimps and the prostitutes came to the river to be baptized…

“Next person in line, please!”

The young came to the river, and so did the old…

“Next person in line, please!”

Then Jesus is standing before John.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus begins his ministry as just another face in the crowd.  Nothing stands out about him in the moment that seems in any way to be out of the ordinary.

Yesterday, we finally “dechristmased” the house.  I really do not like the way that sounds: “dechristmased!”  I know it is not a real word, but we all know what it means.  The wrapping paper from Christmas morning was finally put in the house.  The ornaments from the tree were carefully wrapped and put away for another year.  The crèche complete with the baby Jesus, farm animals, and newly arrived Magi were carefully wrapped in tissue paper and put back into storage.

We “dechristmased” our house, but we did not “dechristmas” our lives.  The truth about Christmas is something that is central to our entire year.  Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God With Us!”  In Jesus, God “becomes flesh and makes his dwelling among us.”  God comes to us as one of us.   Jesus stands in line with us.

Jesus stands in line with us to reveal the truth nature of the Divine.  He stands in line with us so that we can know the true nature of his Father and the Spirit.  He even said as much.  “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.

So what do we learn about the Father when we look at Jesus?  We see that the Father is kind and loving, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding with love.  If we did not see God revealed in Christ, we might be tempted to understand God as far removed, distant, an ogre being who stands over us with a stern eye to cast judgment.  But the picture of God we see in Jesus is that of a Father, who loves his children, and comes to stand in line with them in the midst of their humanity – with all of its struggles.

Jesus comes as Immanuel to reveal to us the true nature and character of God.

I was in an airport in Tel Aviv many years ago, waiting to board a flight that would take me from Israel to Greece.  Our group sat together in a corner, tired from several weeks of travel to famous tourist sites, as well as out of the way archeological digs.

As we waited I watched people.  A little girl was with her mother, watching as passengers deplaned from a flight that had just arrived.  Finally, she saw the one for whom she was waiting.  It was her father.  We she saw him she took off running in his direction.  “Abba, Abba, Abba!” she shouted, which is the word for “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy…Papa, Papa, Papa!”  Her father dropped his carryon bag and ran in her direction.  When they met, he picked her up, embraced her with loving passion.  They hugged and kissed and squeeze each other tightly.

Do you know the number one term Jesus used for God the Father?  It’s a word that was unheard of in the Hebrew Bible…unheard of among the scholars, and teachers, and preachers of his day.  It is a term of intimacy, of embrace, of tremendous and abiding love.  It’s the word Jesus taught his disciples to use when they offered their prayers.  It is the term the Apostle Paul used to describe the kind of intimacy we all have now as we relate to God in heaven.

You know the word.  Jesus came as “Immanuel – God with us!” to reveal the truest nature of God to as being “Abba” – “Papa” – “Daddy!”  We may “deschristmas” our home and churches and places of business by removing the decoration until next year, but let’s never “dechristmas” from our awareness that in Christ we see the truest nature of God as loving Papa who embraces us all with Divine love.

But that’s not all Jesus does.  Yes, Jesus reveals to us the truest nature of God as Divine, fatherly love.  But as “Immanuel – God with us as one of us,” Jesus also takes all humanity up into himself, and recreates us.  As the “human son of God” Jesus stands among us to redeem us.

That Jesus stands in line with us, as one of us, is the central truth of the Christian gospel that we celebrate today in worship.

Jesus is standing in line.  Jesus is standing in line in solidarity with all humanity.  Jesus is standing in line with the broken and broken-hearted.  Jesus is standing in line with the sin-sick and downtrodden.  Jesus is standing in line with those who are damage and needy.  Jesus is standing in line with each of us to identify with all of us.

Doug Marlette, the late author of the Kudzu comic strip, and the former cartoonist for the Atlanta Constitution, once published a comic during the Christmas holiday of a group of people standing in line, waiting to receive food from a church sponsored soup kitchen.  In the comic, Jesus pictured standing in that line, waiting to receive food.  The caption simply read, “He shall be called Immanuel, which means ‘God with us!”

Jesus is standing with us in the brokenness of our human condition, so that our broken places can be restored, and our lives be redeemed.

The Apostle Paul wrote:  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive…”  (1 Cor. 15:22) He goes on to refer to Jesus as the ‘Second Adam.”

He aim is to point out that human death in Adam was reverse in Christ.  Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, came from God to “take away the sin of the world,” says the Fourth Gospel (John 1:29).

Jesus came to identify with us.  Jesus came as “Immanuel – God with us.”  Jesus came to “stand in line” with us.  He came to take away our sin.  He was broken with us in our humanity – even to the point of death on the cross – so that in him we might experience the blessings of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration.  That what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness” (John 10:10).

Do you want to know the abundant life Jesus came to bring?  It is God’s gift to you.  It’s your birthright in Christ.  Jesus came to reveal his Father’s grace, to let you know that you are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted into Papa’s embrace.  Jesus came to present you to the Father – as one of the Father’s dealing loved children, with whom he is well pleased.

Jesus stands in line with all of us today so that we can all experience intimately the wonder of knowing that “God is with us!”  That experience with God’s love and grace can be made real for you through simple faith.  Are you ready to express that faith, confidence, and trust?

“Next person in line, please!”

 

I Am Not a Televangelist!: The Continuing Saga of Reverend Will B. Dunn
by: Doug Marlette
publisher: Longstreet Pr, published: 1988-09
ASIN: 0929264002
EAN: 9780929264004
sales rank: 776357
price: $31.51 (new), $0.01 (used)

“The Continuing Saga of Reverend Will B. Dunn. Doug Marlette, creator of the comic strip ‘KUDZU’, featuring the irrepressible Reverend Will B Dunn, was raised Southern Baptist. He grew up attending Sunday School, Morning Worship, Training Union, Evening Worship, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, Thursday Night visitation, and Monday Night Volleyball………………..”

 

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