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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
Advent 3
December 14, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
There’s  a  road-sign  on  the  way  to  our  house  in  Hickory.  The  sign  is  on one  of the
main  streets – Springs Road – and it  looks  like  this




Whenever  I  give  someone  directions  to  find  our  house   I  mention  this  sign.  The  
sign  lets  people  know  that  Wandering  Lane  is  the  next  turn.  Without  it,  most  
people  would  have  a  hard  time finding where  we  live.  Out  in  our  area,  Springs
Road  has  traveled  a  good  ways  past town  and  few  people  are  familiar  with  the  
Whenever  I  give  someone  directions  to  find  our  house   I  mention  this  sign.  The  
crossroads.  Wandering Lane,  as  the  sign  indicates,  only  goes  in  the  one  direction;  
to  make  matters  worse,  it  comes  right  after  a  slight  rise-in-the-road.   It’s easy to
miss.   But  you  won’t  find  the  street  we  live  on - Creek  Point  Drive – unless  you   
first  turn  onto  Wandering  Lane.   Miss  that  and  you’re  headed  off  into  the  boon-
docks.   So I always  give  people  two  markers  to  look  for  –  the  Open  Door  Baptist  
Church  on  the  left,  and  then  this  sign  on  the  right.  If  they  can  find  those  two  
things  they  should  be  okay.  

A sign  is  a  thing  that  points  us  to  something  else.  But  not  only  that,  a  sign  also  
represents  the  thing  to which  it  points.  If  there  was  a  blank  sign  like  this  





in  the  same  place  as  the other  sign, it  would  not  be  very  helpful.  I  could  still  
refer  to  it,  but  it  wouldn’t  prepare  people  visually  for  the  alignment  of  the  coming  
streets;  it  wouldn’t  stand  out  as  a  particular  sign.  The  purpose  of  a  sign  is  to  be  
a  “go  between,”  an  aid  that  stands  between  one  who  is  seeking  something  and  
the  object  she  seeks.   For  the  sign  to  work  it  cannot  simply  be  along  the  path  to  
her  destination,  it  must  have  some  identifying  marker  that  tells  her  she  is  on  the  
right  track  and  advises  her  which  way  to  go  from  here.  

The  Gospel  of  John  is  big  on  signs.  Readers  sometimes  misunderstand  this  and  
think  John  wants  to  be  mystical  and  secretive.  Not  at  all;  John’s  intent  is  to  show  
us  Jesus  and  convince  us  who  Jesus  is.   One  could  say  that  John’s  Gospel  itself  
is  a  “sign,”  in  the  sense  that  its  purpose  is  to  point  to  Jesus,  to  the  good  news,  
to  God  revealed  through  God’s  Son.    When  you  read  the  Gospel  of  John,  always  
be on  the  look-out  for  signs;  they are  everywhere  and  their  purpose  is  to  
illuminate  Jesus  as  Christ,  the  Savior  of  the  World,  so  that  we  can  believe.    We  
could  even  say  there  is  a  sign  in  the  opening  verses  of  our  gospel reading  for  
this  morning.  We  read: “There was  a  man  sent  from  God  whose  name  was  John.  
He  came  as  a  witness  to  testify  to  the  light…”   Right  there  we  have  one.   John  
the  Baptist,  himself,  is  a  sign.   What  was  his  purpose  in  life?   To  point  to  Jesus;   
God  sent  him  to  be  a  witness.  

What  does  it  mean  to  be  a  witness?  That  doesn’t  sound  very  hard,  sort  of  like  
Fred  McMahon,  Johnny  Carson’s  side-kick  who  sat  in  the  next  chair  and  laughed  
at  all  of  Johnny’s  jokes,  then  later  stood  at  a  counter  with  a  box  of  Betty  Crocker  
cake  mix  to  set  up  the  next  commercial.   Is  that  being  a  witness? -  being  Robin  
to  Batman,  Tonto  to  the  Lone  Ranger?    Well…  not  according  to  today’s  gospel  
reading.   

A  preacher  of  an  inner-city  congregation,  somewhere  like  Baltimore,  told  a  story  
about  baptism.  Baptism  makes  us  new  people  in  Christ,  it  kills  the  old,  sinful  
person  within  us  and  raises  up  a  new  version  of  us,  one  more  able  to  live  by  
grace, in  imitation  of  Jesus.  We  should  look  a  lot  more  like  Jesus  once  we  have  
been  baptized,  our  lives  be  visibly  different,  she  said,  but  how  often  does  that  
happen?   Then  she  told  about  Jimmy  who  had  been  a  thief  and  life-long  criminal.  
While  in  prison  Jimmy  went  to  Bible  study.  When  he  got  out  of  prison,  he  began  
to  attend  this  pastor’s  church.  After  a  time,  he  decided  to  get  baptized  so  he  
went  to  a  series  of  classes  that  taught  him  the  Christian  faith.  He  learned  about  
Jesus;  he  learned  that  through  baptism  his  life  would  be  forever  linked  to  Jesus,  
that  in  baptism  he  would  die  to  sin  and  rise  to  new  life.  

Jimmy  was  baptized.  He  kept  coming  to  church  and  Sunday  school.  The  economy  
got  tough  and  he  lost  his  job.  As  an  ex-convict,  it  was  hard  to  find  another  job.  
One  day  an  old  friend  looked  him  up.   They  went  for  a  beer  and  talked,  and  after  
a  bit  his  friend  asked  Jimmy  to  join  a  small  group  that  was  planning   to  rob  a  
bank.  It  would  be  easy,  the  group  had  worked  together  before  --  including  Jimmy.   
Jimmy  said  “I  can’t.”   His  friend  said  “why  not.  You’re  out  of  work.”   Jimmy  said,  
“That’s  true,  but  I  can’t  do  this  with  you.”  His  friend  said  “you  need  the  money,  
don’t  you?”  Jimmy  said  “yeah,  but  I  can’t  do  this.”   The  friend  said  “ya’  scared?  
You  don’t  want  to  go  back  to  the  joint?”  Jimmy  said, “no,  it  aint  that.  I  got  
baptized.  I  can’t  do  this  kind  of  stuff  any  more.”

It’s  easy  to  talk  about  our  faith  here,  surrounded  by  other  people  who  share  our  
love  of  Jesus,  who  agree  that  God  is  mighty  and  good.  But  how  much  harder  it is  
to  be  a  witness  on  neutral  ground,  and  even  more  so in  hostile  territory.  We  can  
talk  to  fellow  Christians  about  our  faith,  but  how  do  we  effectively  and  lovingly  
point  to  Jesus  among  people  who  are  not  believers?   This  is  a  tricky  subject  for  
most  mainline  Christians  who  have  no  desire  to  mow  people  over  with  our  
testimony,  to  be  pushy  or  inappropriately  personal,  and  certainly  not  to  imply  that  
if  others  don’t  see things  the  way  we  do  then  they  are  going  to  hell.   So  how  do
we  witness  faithfully  to  Jesus  Christ?  

Two  possible  situations  are  presented  in  this  morning’s  gospel  reading -  those  
where  we  are  specifically  questioned  about  our  faith  and  those  where  we  are  
not.    When  we  are  not  directly  questioned  about  our  faith,  or  put  on  the  spot  as  
Jimmy  was  by  a  friend  who  wanted  him  to act  in  a  manner  inconsistent  with  his  
faith,  we  can  be  like  this  sign (hold  up  prop).  The  sign  sits  where  it  has  been  
placed  and  does  its  job.  By  its  very  being  it  tells  you  what  is  coming,  it  
witnesses  to  reality.  Throughout  much  of  our  lives  we  are  like  that  sign.  We  
witness  to  Jesus  by  being  who  we  are  --  baptized  people.  We  have  died  to  sin  
and  been  raised  to  new  life.   We  strive  each  day  to  live  as  new  people  in  Jesus,  
to  be  like  Jesus  in  how  we  speak,  act,  think,  respond  to  the  world  and  relate  
with  people  in  the  world.   As  we  strive  to  be  faithful  to  Jesus  in  our  daily  lives  
we  become  better  and  better  witnesses  in  our  very  persons.  

But  at  other  times  witnessing  comes  at  us  in  the  form  of  a  direct  question.  “Who  
are  you?”  the  priests  and  Levites  asked  John.  That  is  precisely  the  heart  of  the  
matter.  There  will  be  times  in  our  life,  as individuals  and  as  a  congregation,  when  
we  will  have  to  own  up  to  who  we  are.  Are  we  friends  of  Jesus?   Are  we,  like  
Jesus,  lovers  of  truth,  workers  for  peace,  light  in  the  darkness?   Are  we  willing,  
for  Jesus’  sake,  for  the  sake  of  the  good  news,  to  risk  our  standing  with  our  
friends,  to  put  our  safety  on  the  line  and  say  “I’m  baptized,  I  cannot  do  those  
things  --  steal,   judge  my  neighbor  based  on  his  race,  on  her  sexuality,    lie,   I  can’
t  harden  my  heart  and  refuse  to  forgive,    I  can’t  be  glad  that  I’ve  got  mine  and  
just  let  others  fend  for  themselves…      I  can’t  do  that  anymore  because  my  life  
belongs  to  Jesus  and  that  is  not  the  way  of  my  Lord.”  /   It  comes  down  to  the  
question  “who  are  we,”  and  are  we  willing  to  witness  to  Jesus  with  our  whole  
selves  instead  of  only  in  church  on  Sundays  when  it  is  safe.

Don’t  think  it  was  easy  for  John  to  answer  the  priests  and  the  Levites.  He  was  
outnumbered,  and  they  had  the  weight  of  authority  on  their  side.  John  was  the  
one  outside  the  norm,  not  the  priests  and  the  Levites.  Imagine  the  police  coming  
in  force  and  pounding  on  your  door,  demanding  that  you  explain  yourself,  asking  
“who  are  you,  anyway.”   The  first  thing  any  of  us  would  want  to  do  is  prove  we  
are  an  ordinary  citizen,  not  some  terrorist.  But  not  John.   John  simply  answers  
honestly.  He  tells  them  he  is  not  the  Messiah,  nor  the  prophet  Elijah.  He  is  a  
witness,   a  sign,  one  preparing  the  way  for  and  pointing  to  God’s  anointed.  He  
doesn’t  duck  and  he  doesn’t  blink.   He  doesn’t  scrape  and  bow  and  say  “oh,  you  
priests  and  Levites  are  always  right;  whatever  you  say,  that’s  what  I  will  do.”  John  
tells  the  truth  whether  they  want  to  hear  it  or  not.  “One  stands  among  you  whom  
you  do  not  know…” he  says, “I  am  not  worthy  to  untie  the  thong  of  his  sandal.”    
John  owns  up  to  Jesus.   Although  it  may  sound  strange  to  the  authorities  to  hear  
this  little  known  man  from  Nazareth  referred  to  as  God’s  chosen,  John  tells  what  
he  knows.   He  stays  true  to  himself  by  being  a  faithful  witness.

In  ten  days  we  will  gather  to  celebrate  the  Nativity  of  our  Lord,  the  birth  of  the  
baby  Jesus.   There  is  no  more  blessed  event,  no  more  wondrous  story  than  what  
we  will  hear  on  Christmas  -  that  to  us  a  son  is  born,  to  us  a  child  is  given,  and  
his  name  is  Wonderful  Counselor,  Mighty God,  Everlasting  Father,  Prince  of  Peace.  
On  Christmas  Eve  we  will  hear  that  God  has  looked  out  upon  the  world  in  all  its  
misery,  in  all  its  brokenness,  all  its  hatred,  its  divisions,  in  all  its  fear,  loneliness,  
and  shame  --  and  God  has  chosen  to  come  to  earth  to  embrace  us,  to warm  us  
and  redeem  us  with  his  love.   God  has  not  judged  us,  not  sent  us  away  as  
wicked  and  unlovable;  God  has  looked  at  us  and  what  God  has  seen  is  proud,  
stubborn,  hurting,  people,  people  whom  God  dearly  loves.   And  so  Jesus  comes,  
to  be  with  us,  to  heal  us  and  to  save  us.   This  is  news  the  world  needs  to  
hear.    

What  God  sees  in  the  world,  in  us --  beloved  people  who  are  talented  and  able,  
but  also  burdened  and  weary  --  we,  too,  can  see  in  our  neighbors,  because  we  
have  received  such  great  love.   Seeing  that  our  neighbors   --  all  our  neighbors  --  
have  gifts  and  cares  as  we  do,  and  yet  may  not  know  the  goodness  of  God’s  
love  in  Jesus  Christ,  how  can  we  not  wish  to  be  like  John  and  point,  with  all  our  
being,  to  our  Lord  and  his  love?

Then  let  us  be  witnesses  and,  like  John,  prepare  for  Jesus  to  come,  clearing  
away  the  things  within  and  around  us  that  keep  us  from  lives  of  faith  and  
service.   Let  us  be  witnesses  and  make  ourselves  into  a  sign  that  ever  shows  
the  way  to  Christ  and  always  reveals  that  Jesus  is  the  Light of the World.   Let  us  
be  witnesses,  asking  ourselves  again  and  again  “who  are  we?”  and  pushing  
ourselves  to  respond  by  giving  everything  we  are  and  everything  we  have  to  
imitate  Jesus  Christ  and his  never-ending love.     May  God  sanctify  us  and  use  us  
to  witness  to  his  son,  Jesus,  that  the  world  may  be  blessed   as  we  are  
blessed.                  amen.