Strangeness of faith - 4-6 - attraction/distraction
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
You can spot a tourist a mile away can’t you. The way they walk, often the clothes they wear, the way they look around at what are new things for them and not so for us the locals. And when they try to speak the language, well that’s a give away straight off the bat. If we think we don’t stick out like a sore thumb when we wander about Paris, Berlin or any other forgeign city, then we are fooling ourselves. Tourists are different to the rest of us.
John stuck out more like a sore foot than a tiny thumb. He was a curiosity and curiosities attract people. And we are all called to strangeness by Jesus. Ok He didn’t say exactly that but He did say a couple of things that are pretty close. Most notably John 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. And Peter in his first letter 1 Peter 2:11-12 calls chrsitians , foreigners and strangers. The root of the word is “not recognisable, strange, sometimes weird”
And strangeness can attract people. It’s not quite in the way of a “victorian freak show “ sort of strange. Not in the “Bearded lady” "The Four-Legged Girl" and "The Dog-Faced Boy," strange (real acts BTW). But the strangeness of John was an attraction to the point that the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Wouldn't be quite an attraction if it was something they had seen before? Or experienced before. I have loved the real explanation of the french phrase “de ja vu”. We take it to mean that what we have just experienced is a little spooky. “I’ve been here, or heard this before” kind of thing. The actual definition of “de ja vu” is more sarcastic. In a sense it means “really, well that’s nothing new, I’ve seen that before”.
So please don’t feel that your strangeness as a chrsitian is some kind of hindrance. It is not. In this world being “not of it” is an attraction. Our way of life, actions, attitudes, the language we use, and we might say lack of certain language, sets us apart and trust me it is an attraction. We don't need to be like everyone else to share our faith and the Gospel. John was certain of the Gospel, of the call God had on his life and he shared it in a way he knew how.
And what John shared was recognisable to those who heard him. Believe it or not and especially if we remember honestly, many of those we come into contact with are not much different than we were before we came to faith. It’s true, isn’t it? I know I was cantankerous, abusive, faithless and so completely lost to the world that I had no time for the Gospel but still I found recognition in people who had faith and shared it with me. We were no different to them, until we accepted the truth of Jesus Christ.
What John shared was the Gospel… Repentance, forgiveness of sins, baptism and recovery from the world’s strangle hold on us. And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. It is no different now than it was then. We make it complicated and think that by jazzing it up, making ourselves less strange, will convince others of the Gospels importance to them, well it doesn’t do that because it just makes it much like everything else around and they are then very much entitled to say “de ja vu” “I have so seen that before”
There is more to John and Jesus’ shared experiences as well. When we do all of this, we do have to remember that it isn’t going to be easy. The difficulties we might face may just be what causes us to stop and check our strangeness. The fear of ridicule and rejection is a strong force in stopping us from sharing. John did not get a good press everywhere. He was disliked as well as liked. Unfortunately the dislikes did end with an ultimately shared experience with Jesus, in death.
Now we don’t expect to share such a fate and given the likelihood we will not see anything even close to that it is important to note that our hope is not in the here and now anyway. And besides if we are not causing a little bit of a stir then what difference are we actually making? Conflict was and is always part of the Gospel. The last few words of the verse from John 15 I shared earlier is this: but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
That is what the strangeness of faith is… John was confident not in his strangeness but in the gospel and that is why he shared it as he did, and that is what attracted people… and there is a little of John in all of us that is just waiting to come out.