Christianity is a faith that meets people where they’re at. We welcome the believer and the one who has questions and doubts, the agnostic and the atheist. We welcome all people with whatever lifestyle they have. We welcome everyone with all their shortcomings, failures, mistakes, poor choices and sins. The Church says, “Come and find a loving family, a home in which you can feel belonging and love. Come and find inspiration and guidance for life. Come and find forgiveness, healing, and new life. We won’t judge you and surely have no desire to condemn you. We welcome everyone as you are. Come!”
If one accepts the invitation to come and be a part of God’s Church, however, it’s an invitation to discover something new about yourself; it’s an invitation to change, to grow, to become “a new creation”, to discover and fulfill the divine potential that God has placed within each one of us! It’s an invitation to come and discover that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God. Come and discover the precious and beautiful promises that God gives us to inspire our lives. Come and discover the divine potential each of us have deep within ourselves, a potential to become one with God, to become more and more like Jesus Christ in His love, mercy, grace and goodness. Come and become the saint, the holy one God calls you to become!
Our Orthodox Christian journey is not a journey to maintain the status quo. If one only wants to stay as you are and are not interested or open to change, then the Church and our Christian faith is not for you. If someone is content with who you are or even stubborn with holding on to your arrogance and pride, with your brokenness and shortcomings, saying, “this is who I am and you have to accept me as I am,” then the Church and our Christian journey of transformation is not for you. You are welcome to come and discover something new but the welcome will be fruitless if you come and stubbornly stay as you are!
Saint Paul reminds us “ if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; The old has passed away and the new is here!”
The problem is that too often we become comfortable with “the old,” with who we are, even with our shortcomings and our ugliness. Maybe we don’t want to honestly and vulnerably look at ourselves as we are and acknowledge where we need to change. Possibly we’re afraid that change is too hard or even impossible, so we just give up and stay the same. Maybe we’ve fully adopted the worldly view to “love ourselves as we are” and we’ve lowered our standards to what the world offers us instead of raising our eyes to what God calls us to become.
Remember the story of Jesus encountering the man blind for 38 years and the strange question our Lord poses? “Do you want to be made well?” It’s not so strange to ask that question because many of us don’t want to change and be made well, we don’t believe we can change who we are. We doubt the power and inspiration of God in our lives to become new creations.
Today, on August 29th we remember the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the greatest prophet and messenger of our Lord. He prepared people to get ready to encounter and receive the Messiah, yet he did it in the ancient style of prophets of Israel. He was a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” He lived in the desert, was clothed in camel’s hair and ate locust and wild honey. He was not your typical worldly religious leader. He was a prophet of God, a messenger of the Lord, and he boldly and bluntly preached a message to get people to wake up and turn back to God. To help people change and begin their transformation.
His words offended people because he was so blunt. “You brood of vipers,” he chastised the religious leaders of his day, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bear fruits worthy of repentance… the ax is laid to the root of the trees and every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire.”
He was afraid of no one except God and revealed evil and sin and brokenness all around him. Whether it was hypocritical religious leaders or corrupt political leaders, he candidly spoke the truth. He called out King Herod and declared publicly his adultery when he said “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
When the crowds asked him what they must do, he clearly told them, “If you have two tunics, give to the one who has none. If you have food, feed the poor… Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
He warned tax collectors who often stole from the people, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you,” and to soldiers he said, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely and be content with your wages.”
The Prophet John surely offended people and uncompromisingly pointed out people’s shortcomings and hypocrisy, calling them to deep and sincere repentance, to authentic change in their lives. He didn’t accept the status quo and surely didn’t believe it was enough to be a “typical” religious Jew who would go to the Temple or synagogue, make an offering, and do the minimum of one’s faith tradition while living a life away from God. He challenged the norm and put the spotlight on hypocrisy of the religious leaders and pseudo-faithful.
Now the prophet comes in and stirs up the pot. He is not a pastor who gently meets people where they’re at or carefully challenges them and slowly guides them in the direction of a new life in Christ. The prophet speaks the truth bluntly and unapologetically, no matter if he offends or ruffles any feathers. He is the mouthpiece of the Lord speaking the truth.
We need prophets today! We need to hear their prophetic voice of divine truth calling us to change, to repent, to turn back wholeheartedly towards God and the path that leads into the Kingdom of heaven.
Yet as a pastor and shepherd, I honestly cringe sometimes at the prophetic voice because I’m afraid it will scare people away. It comes across quite judgmental and harsh. In our society today, let’s be honest, we’ve become too soft spiritually and often aren’t ready to hear the Truth naked and unabashed. We aren’t ready to listen because our ego and pride won’t allow us to vulnerably look at ourselves and our society and see where we have utterly fallen away from God and His ways. We quickly dismiss any prophetic voice as too fanatic and extreme.
The true prophet of God, however, like Saint John the Baptist, was extreme, but extreme in his love for God and in his faithfulness in obeying God. He preached his message because he wanted the people of Israel to see how they had fallen away from God and to turn back toward Him so that they could be healed and renewed and given new life.
So how do we reconcile this – on one hand the Church warmly welcomes everyone as they are and where they are, with all our brokenness and sinfulness. Yet the prophetic voice bluntly calls us to repentance and change. These two approaches can go hand-in-hand.
Remember, the Church welcomes everyone as we are and where we are but with an invitation to discover who we can become. The invitation of the Church is to embrace a journey of change, of healing, of transformation, of new life. None of us should stay as we are but all of us should strive to fulfill our divine potential and become who God wants us to be.
This is how we can honor Saint John the Baptist today. We listen to the greatest prophet of the Church through our repentance, by following his call to change. Let’s not get offended by this call. Let’s not be deceived by those who say we don’t need to change. Let’s discover and strive to walk down the path of life that leads to true, eternal life – a new life in Jesus Christ that constantly changes us into a new creation growing more and more into His likeness.
Come everyone and discover this path of new life!