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Oh to be ‘just like John!’

by Phil Wold (WordAlone board member, Mankato, Minn.)

December 29, 2008

photo of Dr. WoldDuring Advent we often think of John the Baptist, about whom Isaiah spoke when he foretold, "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

That's precisely what John the Baptist did: he prepared the way, making straight the path for Jesus to come. He worked to make straight the path—for people from Jerusalem and all Judea, the whole region of the Jordan. They sought out John so as to confess their sins and be baptized. Baptize them he did, all right, but he also pointed them to the "one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3:11)

John's assignment also was given to Jesus' disciples and to those who followed them (those of us who continue to name the name of Jesus) when Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:19, 20)

Consequently, our work order today is the same as was John's: Make straight the pathway for Jesus to access everyone's heart.

Given this clear assignment, why would we, or anyone in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, try to make Jesus' pathways to people's hearts more crooked (or complicated)? More rough (or contentious)? Do some in the ELCA as a whole think they can make that pathway so crooked that it will prevent Jesus from directly confronting our church or us? Do they really think they can divert Jesus from the mission He himself understood when He was only 12 years old? If so, they are the most audacious of people—and far from being a part of the meek who will inherit the earth!

A recent ELCA Church Council action seems to have made the pathway more crooked. The church council decided to propose for the 2009 churchwide assembly rules to require a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority to change rules concerning clergy behavior, ordination and rostering, specifically as regards homosexual behavior. This vote appears designed to cater to people's current personal feelings, sensitivities, priorities, frustrations and sense of self-worth.

But, actually following Jesus' teachings and God's biblical directives will dramatically change those feelings, sensitivities, priorities, frustrations and sense of personal worth. Jesus himself said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Matt. 10:10). Those of us who have been connected intimately with people as pastors, physicians or counselors repeatedly have witnessed dramatic changes when people begin following Jesus and making Him their priority.

As individuals and a church, our work order is not to make the Lord's pathway crooked. It is to make His paths straight—right to people so they can learn of Him. Pray that we (both individually and as the ELCA) be as faithful to our calling as was John the Baptist.