There’s something that we all have to watch out for every time we drive. Lately for me I’ve had to watch out for it whenever I head to the interstate on Sudley Road. Other times I am careful to watch out for it when I am actually on the interstate. It comes up at unexpected times, in places where I am not ready for it, and it seems like no matter what route I take I’m going to run into it someplace. What is it?
That’s right – construction. The dreaded orange barrels. At least on the interstate they usually give you some warning, either from the overhead signs or a mobile sign set up along the side of the road. On the smaller roads though, the four lane roads, sometimes the barrels appear out of nowhere and you have to slow down quickly and then wait forever to get over into the open lane.
There is one piece of the construction process, though, that is only there once in a while. There are always orange barrels, there are almost always signs of some sort, there may or may not be traffic depending on the time of day and such, but there is one part of the construction process that is usually only there if the construction is on a two lane road. In fact, if it’s a two lane road like the country road I grew up on, it’s the first thing that you pay attention to as you approach the construction zone. In fact, where there is one it’s the most important part of the construction zone from a driver’s standpoint. Any ideas? Here’s a hint – it’s almost always a person.
It’s the flagger. It’s the guy or the gal either holding you up or waving you through. If you don’t watch for the flagger, you don’t know what to do. If you don’t watch the person with the flags you don’t know when to stop, when to go, or if it’s safe. If you ignore the flagger, you can get in a lot of trouble.
Luke starts out our scripture reading with a long list of dignitaries; there’s the Emperor Tiberius, and Pontius Pilate and King Herod, King Philip, Lysanius, Annas, Caiaphas – these were all important men in their time, all powerful men. These were men of wealth, men of learning, men of influence. Some of these men were the religious leaders of their day.
If Luke were writing now, he’d say “It was the seventh year of the term of President Obama. Terry McAuliffe was the governor of Virginia, Lawrence Hogan was the governor of Maryland, and Muriel Bowser was the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Ban Ki-moon was the Secretary General of the United Nations, Francis was the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Stanley Noffsinger was the General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, and Gene Hagenberger was the District Executive of the Mid-Atlantic district.
Then, though, Luke does something unexpected. He’s listed all the heavyweights of his day, all the men that his world would call important, and then he gives us a surprise. Luke says, “At that time the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert.”
Tiberius was probably the most powerful man in the entire world at that time. The word of God did not come to Tiberius. Pontius Pilate was Tiberius’s hand-picked governor, with almost total authority in Judea. The word of God did not come to Pilate. King Herod’s family had ruled Galilee for many years. The word of God did not come to Herod. Annas and Caiaphas were Levites, members of the priestly tribe of Israel. Annas and Caiaphas had been trained and schooled and prepared since birth to serve God in the temple, to read and interpret the Holy Torah, to lead the people of Israel in all matters of faith. The word of God did not come to Annas or Caiaphas.
The word of God came to John. The word of God came to some wacko, some wingnut or moonbat who lived out in the desert. The word of God came to some guy who didn’t eat anything but locusts and honey and wore clothes made out of camel’s hair. The word of God came to a man with no money, no home, no power, and no friends.
The word of God came to John. What did John say? Well, in a way he talked about construction. “Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel: Every valley must be filled up, every hill and mountain leveled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth.” John is the flagger at the beginning of the construction zone. John is telling you what’s coming up, what you’ve got to do, how you’ve got to act.
At this point in the journey, John is holding up a red flag telling people to stop. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized, (stop) and God will forgive your sins.”
John is telling us to get ready for what’s coming. What’s coming is the Messiah. What’s coming is God’s love and grace and salvation, coming to earth in human form. What’s coming is Jesus, and John warns us to get ready.
My family on my Mom’s side is from near Lebanon, Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I grew up in Ohio and we went to Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents every year. My parents used to talk about how hard that trip was once you got to Wheeling, West Virginia.
That’s because it’s when you hit Wheeling that the mountains start to get serious, and Mom and Dad would tell about winding their way up and around and up and around and up and around the mountain on a little two lane road that hugged the mountain on one side and was a sheer drop on the other.
Then of course they had to go down the mountain, and gear down so they didn’t have to ride their brakes, and since it was before power steering how they had to fight the car all the time to keep turning and turning and turning to go down the mountain. It sounded like the mountain at Wheeling was the worst part of the trip out to Pennsylvania.
I wouldn’t know. By the time I am old enough to remember the trip there was a tunnel. A nice four lane tunnel right through the mountain. I-70 goes through Wheeling straight and slick as a whistle; no big hills, no sudden curves, no sharp drops. The valley has been filled up, the hills and mountains made level, and the old winding road has been made straight.
So we have two things really to think about. 1) Who does the word of God come to today? 2) What is that word?
The last two or three weeks we’ve had a special message on our sign out front in support of Syrian refugees and their potential immigration to the United States. Usually we have the title of the sermon for Sunday and the preacher’s name underneath, but it’s worth changing our practice from time to time when something important is going on. I told Care that especially this week it would be good to leave the immigration sign up because otherwise the sign would say, “The Word of God Comes to… Jeff Davidson.” I thought that might sound a little self-important.
It’s true, though. The word of God comes to me. The word of God comes to you. The word of God comes to each of us, one by one. The word of God comes to each of us together as this congregation.
That’s why you’re here. There are other congregations you could go to for worship, congregations that are larger or have better parking or more programs. Even if you are only interested in Brethren congregations, many of us pass some others on the way here. The pastor at the Manassas congregation is a friend from college and seminary, the pastor at Nokesville is one of my favorite people in this district, I drive past my former congregation at Oakton and another church where I did pulpit supply for several months at Arlington. Those are all good congregations, with good pastors, and good people in them.
But I come here. The word of God speaks to me in this place in a way that it doesn’t in other places. The word of God comes to me here through each of you. The word of God comes to me in the intimacy, the closeness, the relationships that develop in a congregation of this size. The word of God comes to me in the fact that almost all of you had to make an intentional decision to come here. People might drive by the McLean Bible Church and say to themselves, “I wonder what that place is like. I’ve heard that guy on the radio, you know? Not a sermon…. Just a thought. I don’t know – do you want to stop in and see what it’s like?” That means it’s a choice for you to be here, not a whim, not just curiosity. The word of God comes to me in part in the commitment that each of you make to be a part of this community of faith.
The word of God comes to me, the word of God comes to you, the word of God comes to us. What is that word? Well, as a body we’ve said that it is “Seeking justice, wholeness, and community through the gospel of Jesus.” As a congregation that will mean different things at different times, but that line will keep us pointed at what is important, the gospel of Jesus, and what we want for ourselves and for others through that gospel: justice, wholeness, and community.
That’s worth keeping in mind in a world where we deal with gun violence, religious discrimination, hunger, scapegoating, poverty, injustice, exploitation. Those are things that God calls us to address. Those are some of the valleys in our world that need to be filled in.
What is the word of God that comes to you? I don’t know for sure, but I suggest that it might be similar to the word that came to John: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”
What are the paths that you need to make straight in your life? What are the mountains, the obstacles that need to be made smooth? What are the things in our lives that keep the word of God from shining through us, that keep others from seeing the word of God within us?
You might be the woman with the hardhat and the flag, warning someone who is about to enter a rough spot in their life. You might be the one who brings the word of God to someone else, who helps them through a dark valley, who introduces them to the justice, wholeness, and community that the gospel offers.
The word of God comes to Jeff Davidson. The word of God comes to us. The word of God comes to you. Amen.