I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test.
Believe it or not those lyrics were pretty much where I found myself as a young man in my late twenties. I was chasing my career thinking that the goal of life was to die with the most toys. But every time I achieved, or got that “toy”, the victory seemed hollow. My thinking at the time that the answer was that I needed more and more and more. A “crowning achievement” of mine, or so I thought, was when I got a big raise and a promotion and got to work and live in the mega-metropolis of Philadelphia. I was going big and my future was so bright I had to wear shades. But things don’t always go as planned do they. I thought so much of myself that my arrogance took over and I wasn’t treating people very well. In reality, most of the people I met while working I was really using to further my own ends. I wound up not having very many friends and quite a few enemies. I fell. Not a rock bottom kind of thing, but my pride took a big hit. In fact, I was falling for quite some time, I just didn’t know it. A very wise man once said to me, “While we’re falling, our faces are pointed downward, but finally when we hit, we can change our direction and find God.” That’s exactly what happened to me. When I finally took a big hit, my direction changed, and behold, there was God. That trip to Philadelphia very much served as an Exodus for me, Joanne, and our family, because it really was our journey through a spiritual desert, where we could see things differently and come to truth of our faith in God.
Today’s Gospel is that same kind of wakeup call. (Btw Christmas and Easter) John the Baptist is telling his followers “Hey! Him! Over there! That’s the guy I was talking about! Now it begins!” But there’s really something interesting here in our Gospel as John the Baptist says “I did not know Him”. At this point you may be saying “Wait a minute Deacon, I remember from my CCD classes that Jesus and John the Baptist were related, so how can John say he didn’t know Him?” Some scholars believe John says that he did not know Jesus because his father and mother (Zachariah and Elizabeth) were advanced in years and couldn’t travel much. It was around 90 miles between Judea, where John the Baptist lived and Galilee, where the Holy Family lived and things back then weren’t like they are now, travel was very difficult. Other scholars suggest that John the Baptist didn’t quite grow up like a typical young Jewish man, as the Gospels suggest John grew up in the desert and scholars trace him to living in the community of the Essenes, kind of like a monk (certainly not like a Benedictine though). Those theories may hold some truth, but it begs the question why St. John (the author of this Gospel) would mention it. The more theological scholars contend that St. John brings this up in the Gospel because it was more of a case where John the Baptist was surprised to find that it was his cousin, Jesus, who was the Messiah. Some of the Bible translations actually use the word “recognize.” To translate into modern day English, John probably would’ve said something like “we used to hang out together at family picnics and all kinds of other things, I had no clue that Jesus was going to become the Messiah.” Things changed for John the Baptist. The reason they changed is because John fully devoted himself to living a life of faith, to living a life in a communal relationship with God. It was through that relationship that God was able to help John the Baptist change, see through the eyes of faith, see God in the unexpected, and recognize his own cousin as the Messiah. This Gospel is very much a continuation of the same theme we heard over Advent and Christmas. Jesus has come, the world, our world, has been changed.
Collectively as a Diocese we’re about to embark on a program of change in the On Mission For The Church Alive. A little over a year from now, we will be members of a new and different parish. One possibility is that we may be attending Mass in another location. Then the changes will be obvious. But another possibility is that in the summer of 2018 we’re still sitting right here, I may very well be preaching (so you’ve been warned) and nothing will necessarily seem different on the surface. But it will be. And even if our surroundings don’t change, we’ll still need to have faith and see beyond and embrace and welcome those whose worlds have been changed. A subtle message of our Gospel today is to open our hearts and minds in love and to welcome change, because we understand it as coming from God and being an integral part of our journey home to Him.
We may not like it and maybe we try not to think about it, but things are constantly changing for us whether we’re conscious of it or not. When we stop and think about it, we’ll come to the realization that we change to get better, to become that “Best Version of Ourselves,” we certainly don’t change with the goal of getting worse. You’ll leave this Church this morning a different person. Hopefully this liturgy will move you closer to God. Hopefully this homily didn’t totally confuse you and move you further away from God. But, we never stay in the same place. We’ll also be different tomorrow, it never stops. This year, I’ll hit some milestone changes. I’ll turn 50 and I’ll have worked 30 years for the federal government. Please don’t congratulate me, I’m just getting older. By no means are either of those things an achievement, I’ve mostly just shown up. But, to be really honest, if it weren’t for my faith in God, I’d probably be going nuts and having a crazy midlife crisis of some sort. Because without God, this just ends. What a hopeless thought. But with God, and with a relationship with the Lord and Savior of the World, there’s always a future, there’s always hope and we know that the best day we’ve had here on earth doesn’t even scratch the surface of what heaven will be like. But to get there, we need to change. I’d like to leave you with a little saying I came across: “There are 3 C’s of life; Choices, Chances, Changes. You must make a choice, to take a chance, to make a better life through change.”