Guiding Light 3
Passage: Matthew 11:2–11:11
In 2009 Emillio Bonifacio became the starting third baseman for the then Florida Marlins. He began the season on a tear hitting over .400 for the first two weeks of the season with an OPS of over a thousand. If you played fantasy baseball, he was the definition of a hot pickup. By April 15th, everyone wanted him. And since April 15, 2009, he never played baseball that well again.
I don’t play fantasy baseball. I do play fantasy football. And I listen to a fantasy football podcast called Fantasy Focus Football. And on that show, whenever a formerly unknown player has a hot streak they ask one simple question: Is it Bona Fide or Bonifacio? Is the player’s current level of performance going to stick around, is this player going to be this good for the rest of the season? Or is this player another Emilio Bonifacio, destined to fizzle out? So this season they asked the question that I hope will resonate with most in this room: Rob Kelley, Bona Fide or Bonifacio?
Now I was warned that starting my sermon with a fantasy sports reference would have limited resonance at best. So I came prepared with other analogies that will make the point of this question seem clearer. Over the last few years a lot of social media companies have gone public with stock offerings. Facebook, Twitter, etc. And every time in the week leading up to the IPO I basically heard the questions asked, Twitter: Bona Fide or Bonifacio? Is Twitter forever changing the way we interact with and receive information? Is Twitter the new medium through which we receive news and commentary? Or is it just another website destined to one day be listed with other such tech darlings as Alta Vista and MySpace and Ask Jeeves.
Here’s another one that I know all of our parents are asking themselves at this time of year. Is that hot new toy that your kid wants bona fide or Bonifacio? Who remembers the rainbow loom? If you bought your child a rainbow loom a few years back, does your child still play with it? And as you buy them their desired present this year, does the thought of the rainbow loom haunt your every decision as you worry whether this year’s gift is destined for the back of some closet?
And while this all sounds facetious, while these questions sound silly, there are real implications to the ultimate verdict. If fantasy sports or stocks or children’s toys are your thing, the verdict bona fide or Bonifacio will have consequences for your choices. If Rob Kelley is bona fide, you gotta pick him up. If Twitter really is going to change the world, or at least how we communicate, you gotta buy that stock. If this year’s “it” toy winds up being Bonifacio, eventually you will run out of closet space. The outcome of our verdicts will change the way we make our choices and change the way we live.
Our Scripture lesson this morning has John the Baptist asking the same thing about Jesus.
Matthew 11: 2-11
John is sitting in prison getting status reports on Jesus’ ministry. So he makes sure to get word to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” Put another way John’s question is this: Jesus: Bona Fide or Bonifacio?
John’s question is one that the world asks of us as followers of Jesus. Is Jesus really the Messiah? Is Jesus really the one who is to come? Is following Jesus really the way to live a meaningful life instead of the soap opera it often seems we inhabit. We as disciples of Jesus are often confronted with this same question: is this real?
We are in the midst of Advent. We are in a season of waiting, wondering, anticipating what it would look like for salvation to come into the world. And our Advent Scripture today asks the question has salvation come into the world? I said last week that often our lives can feel like soap operas. Without God, without Christ, life can seem like a meaningless drama in which we are swept up in the random twists and turns that are outside of our control. Advent is about realizing that we need a guiding light to help us escape our Guiding Light. Yeah, I brought that back.
John and his followers have already come around to the idea that they need salvation. They have already figured out that a life without God is hollow. But their question quickly becomes is Jesus the guiding light? Is Jesus the way to that salvation? Is Jesus the way salvation comes into the world?
There are a lot of people in this world who are like John and his followers. There are a lot of people who sense the hollowness to life without God. People searching for meaning. People searching for purpose. People who are spiritual but not religious. People who are on a spiritual journey. They’re looking for something. They have a sense of something more, something greater. And they want to know is Jesus what they are searching for? Is Jesus the way? Is Jesus their salvation?
Their question to Jesus is John’s question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus’s answer to John’s question of is this real is not academic, not philosophical or theological. It doesn’t involve a recitation of a creed, listing a set of doctrines. He doesn’t give a dissertation on the virgin birth or break into apologetics. Jesus’s answer is located squarely within the realm of lived experience.
Jesus sends word back, sends his answer back, by listing off everything that’s going on. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. All of those were markers of the Messiah according to the prophesy of Isaiah. We have no record of what John makes of his answer, but I can only believe he was satisfied. To John, Jesus was bona fide.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, you must also consider this question. Jesus: bona fide or Bonifacio? Who is Jesus to you? You have two weeks to figure this out. Is Jesus the Messiah, the savior of the world, or are we to wait for another? Are we celebrating the birth of Immanuel, of God with Us, of the one who will die for our sins and rise on the third day forever destroying death or are we just gonna hand out some presents and drink some eggnog? Is Jesus bona fide or Bonifacio? You have two weeks.
But let me issue a word of caution while you consider this: Rob Kelley or Twitter or a child’s toy might change a finite amount of discrete choices you make, but Jesus is different. If Jesus is bona fide, that changes your life.
Because if Jesus is bona fide, we must take seriously what he said about loving our neighbors, even the ones we’d really like to hate. We can’t stand idly by while there is hate in the world. We have to return hate with love. We must take seriously what he said about feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick. We can’t stand idly by while people are hungry, or blind, or sick. We have to feed them, give them sight, and heal them. We must take seriously the fact that Jesus being bona fide is good news to the poor. We can’t stand idly by while there are poor people. We have to make sure that they have enough to live a fulfilling life.
If Jesus is bona fide, we must take seriously what Jesus said about being perfect as God is perfect. We must take seriously what he said about living a righteous and holy life. We must live lives patterned by righteousness and holiness. We must abide by the Sermon on the Mount, we must seek to do good, we must seek to love others.
If Jesus is bona fide, we must take seriously his words about being the resurrection and the life. Now. Today. We must take seriously his own resurrection and his promise that those who believed in him would have eternal life. We must stop trying to get out of live alive. We must constantly remember that death no longer holds sway over us, that we don’t need to live in a world of scarcity, that we don’t need to compete for survival with our neighbor. We are not pitted in a life or death match with each other because our bona fide Jesus has promised us that our live continues on in eternity. We can share. We can cooperate. And funerals can be a celebration: a celebration of the resurrection and eternal life. Because Jesus says that after death there is life.
But this, all of this, will take our whole lives. It will take our whole selves. If Jesus is bona fide there is no more you and me, there is only us being the hands and feet of Jesus. All the time.
Now Pastor Matt, that was some serious preaching and I mean, I love your passion. And I agree with you in theory. But in practice, being the hands and feet of Jesus all the time, that seems like a lot.
And you’re right. It is. But here’s why it’s necessary.
Remember a few minutes ago we were talking about people looking for purpose? People looking for meaning. People whose question is the same as John’s: Is Jesus the one who is to come of should we wait for another? People are still asking that question. And we are the ones who have to provide the answer.
But just as Jesus didn’t answer talking about faith or belief, neither can we. Just as Jesus answered with things they could see with their eyes, so must we. Just as Jesus’ answer was squarely in the realm of lived experience, so must our answer be. If we claim that salvation has taken hold in this world, then we must show people that we are saved.
If people are going to believe that the way of Jesus is the way to true meaning and purpose, if people are to going to believe that the way of Jesus is the way of salvation, if people are going to believe that Jesus is the Guiding Light, we have to embody that in our lives. We have to show that being a disciple of Christ bears meaningful fruit. We have to show that being a disciple of Christ makes the world a better place and makes your life a better life. We have to show that our life is built on more than meaningless drama, but on things that are right and true and beautiful.
People asked Jesus if he really was the one. He replied, look around. See what is happening. The blind are receiving their sight, the sick are being healed, the poor are receiving good news. Look at all that and then decide for yourselves if I’m for real.
Before people recite our creeds, before people believe our doctrine, before people profess the faith they are going to look to your life. What will it tell them about Jesus?
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” There’s someone in your life who is asking the same question. And they’re looking to you for the answer.
So there you have it. That’s the whole story, that’s the whole truth.
Jesus: bona fide or Bonifacio? You have two weeks.