John’s in prison.
He’s in prison because the leader of the land was thin-skinned and did not want to be criticized. John sent one too many tweets about Herod’s questionable character, and it got him locked up. Tyrants do that to people who speak prophetically about the misuse of power. Be ready for it, John’s example warns us.
But news of Jesus had gone viral. The healings…the teachings…the Sermon on the Mount…the pigs falling into the ocean. Everybody’s social feeds were on fire with the news of this man. You couldn’t scroll down one inch without seeing some new mention or comment.
And John knew him. Personally. He was there at the River Jordan.
But now he’s locked up. Alone. Waiting. Waiting to die, yes. But also waiting for the thing he was always waiting for: God’s Kingdom.
Isaiah describes the kingdom as a desert which rejoices and blossoms. Barrenness, come to life. In this kingdom, when God brings justice to a world poisoned by injustice and sin, all kinds of incredible things will happen.
Incredible. In-credible. Not credible. Difficult to believe or conceive of logically from where we stand.
Like the ability to behold the beauty and holiness of color after living a lifetime only seeing value in what is considered to be white. Like the willingness to embrace harmony, a multiplicity of voices, after having only ever listened to people who are just like us. Like the ability to speak after having been silenced, to dance after years of having felt ashamed of our own bodies, to sing praises to God for our liberation while still living under a system of subjugation and oppression.
It is no wonder then that John asks, “Is he really the one? Is this the Kingdom that we’ve been waiting for, or should I keep waiting? I mean, I’m sitting here in prison. The system that oppresses the righteous and uplifts the oppressor to the highest position of power in the land — well, that system is still moving right along, just as it was designed to do. What has actually changed? Has Isaiah’s Holy Highway been paved yet? Is the desert lush with rain and crocus blossoms at the moment? Have the weak and broken bodies been refashioned and repaired? Jesus heals, but there is still corruption. Jesus restores sight, but there is still an industry of deception making tons of money crafting fake news. How am I supposed to believe in Jesus when I can’t believe in anything else I read in print? You could tell me that the Messiah has finally come, but humanity, the planet, our individual hearts buckle under the weight of the sin which we have yet to acknowledge, let alone repent for. Yes, I said — the kingdom is at hand, the kingdom is at hand….but is it?” John wonders, from prison.
It should also be noted that Isaiah also said that the Messiah would free the prisoners. So did Psalm 146. I’m pretty sure John knew that.
How do we cultivate hope? How do we faithfully wait for the coming of the Lord? What is actionable during this season of waiting? How do we resist tyranny in this world — this nation — while at the same time having hope for the world that is to come?
James simply says, “Be patient.” A farmer does not harvest freshly planted seed. She has to wait. She has to wait, and tend the soil, and return to the stories of last year’s harvest as a reminder — yes, if I put seed in ground, water, and wait, food will grow. I have to trust that life will flourish.
Trust that life will flourish.
That’s the Gospel.
Life will flourish. God will see to it that it does. Beyond death, even, life will flourish. This is God’s promise in Jesus.
So, the hope we have to cultivate, we have to till into our own hearts, is a hope that proclaims that no matter how dead we might get — to ourselves, to the world — that, through God, life will flourish.
We have to plant that seed in ourselves, and in the hearts of others, and we have to be patient like farmers. Patient, and active. We have to wait, and we have to plan. We have to lament, and we have to rejoice. Because we are alive right now. We, in these bodies, in these pews, in this church are, by our very being, evidence that life flourishes. We are the only proof we need that God’s kingdom of Love is near.
God bless the John the Baptist in each of us. God bless that part of us that is willing to say — is this it? — and God bless the other part of us that, like Jesus to John’s followers says — Yes. This is it. The kingdom of God is at hand. Make your paths straight. Get your house in order. Love one another furiously. Wait for it, but do not wait more than you need to. Trust in God with your whole heart, your whole soul, the entirety of your being, because God is moving through this world, and life will flourish.
God will soon be born into this world again, and when that day comes we will be ready because we will have already been practicing what it means to live in the kingdom of Love.
That is what we do here at Saint David of Wales Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. We break bread, we pass the cup, we love one another in defiance of the absurdity of this world, and we confess with all of our strength that Jesus is the only True King in the land.