Comfort – November 29, 2015


Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8


Let me begin with a conversation I had one day with a very successful business entrepreneur. He had been in Columbia the previous day as part of the crowd of about one-thousand who heard Walter Isaacson speak to the Liberty Fellows. Isaacson is the author who wrote the popular biography of Steve Jobs…and other best selling biographies about Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin. He is also the CEO of the Aspen Institute…a non-partisan leadership development organization. The Liberty Fellows program is affiliated with the Aspen Institute. Its focus is on developing rising young adult leaders in South Carolina…people who are largely in senior management positions yet early in their professional careers. In his speech Mr. Isaacson emphasized his belief that America is divided into too many what he called “tribes”. He described these tribes as voluntary groupings that have been created based on some narrow characteristic or set of characteristics…political….social…geographic… business…race…gender. He said that until many of those tribes come together America…and the world…will continue to flounder in many ways. My friend said he had seen the same tribalism….getting more pronounced and more destructive….and he asked what could be the answer. Think for a minute. You’ve seen the same sort of divisions growing more pronounced in our communities…state…nation and world. What would you have offered as an answer to his question? How would you have told my well-educated…highly successful….community leader…friend to break down this destructive tribablism? I suggest we look to Isaiah and John the Baptist. Isaiah brings us the message. John shows us how to deliver the message. The message from Isaiah is that God brings comfort…and faith in that coming comfort brings us hope. The message is also that God will come to be among us to show us the way. Isaiah’s message came even though he knew that God’s people were to be punished with exile in Babylon…a severe punishment for their sins. Even though they might think that God had abandoned them. But…because the people had abandoned God…Isaiah said …”No, God remembers you and will bring you comfort.” Isaiah said that even though God may punish you…God will remember you…and bring you comfort. God will send a shepherd. That shepherd will feed his flock…gather the lambs…carry them in his bosom…and gently lead the sheep. That shepherd is Jesus Christ. Isaiah also said God will send a messenger to show the way. That messenger is John the Baptist. It was John who showed us how to share the message with others…the message that breaks down the tribablism…the message that leads others to the comfort…hope…and salvation of repenting….repenting that means confessing our sins and turning to Christ. All of John’s life and actions bore out what he was. John lived a life of continual repentance and uncompromising devotion to God. He did not put a family…a job…a team…a political party…an economic philosophy…tradition…or anything else ahead of God. John put nothing ahead of God. What’s first in our daily living? What do our thoughts…words…and actions show about what we place first? John was fearless in his proclamation of the message…so fearless that even his clothing showed it. He didn’t wear the flowing robes and ornate jewelry of those who were religious leaders of his day. In fact…John rebuked the Pharisees, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Are all of our leaders and want-to-be leaders producing fruit that is in keeping with repentance…confessing their sins and turning to God as their first priority? If not…have you called any of them on it? Ignoring is not a step to repentance. For the common people… John offered instruction in giving, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none.” How many extra tunics are in our closets? When was the last time we made a trip to a Goodwill donation center? John told the tax-gatherers to be fair. When was the last time we told a legislator about the injustices of our tax systems at the federal and state levels? How have we helped them change those systems? John was as fearless as he looked! Are we? John was also…in keeping with his seemingly strange and simple clothing…self-forgetting and humble. Like John…we are to live…and preach…the whole message…both law and grace….repentance that leads to salvation and God’s comfort. We are to do it in such a way that the character of our lives matches the message we preach…to believe it so much…and with such sincerity…that others will clearly sense the ring of truth. I’ve suggested just some ways each of us can do this. There are many more. This recent story from NPR will show us how Julio Diaz did it. “Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old Hispanic social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early…just so he can eat at his favorite diner. “But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform… his evening took an unexpected turn. “He was walking toward the stairs when a Black teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife. “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says. As the teen began to walk away…Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'” Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome. “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says. Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth. “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'” “No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'” Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?” “Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said. Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says. The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to. When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.” The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.” Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.” Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.” “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.” Like John…Julio Diaz lived the message. In so doing…he also preached the message. The message is turn away from sin…turn toward God…for comfort in knowing that true faith in the messenger sent to us …faith that is demonstrated in our daily living with others…without regard to tribes…leads us and them to salvation and comfort.