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January 19, 2020 

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY 2020 A

I am reading the Gospel in preparation for today’s message and hear John the Baptist say, “I didn’t know who he was.  However, I came to baptize with water to show him to the people of Israel. I saw the Spirit come down as a dove from Heaven and stay on him.  I didn’t know who he was. But God who sent me to baptize with water, had told me, ’When you see the Spirit come down and stay on someone, you’ll know that person is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen this and declared that this is the Son of God.”

Excuse me John.  Just what do you mean by saying that you didn’t recognize Jesus the Savior, the Son of God?  I seem to recall that their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth were cousins who knew each other well.  They both talked to each other about visitations by angels giving prophecies, right? The two boys must have attended family gatherings together.  I think what he’s saying is that John just didn’t recognize Jesus as THE CHRIST, THE CHOSEN ONE OF GOD. Here’s where a bit of irony sets in.

Yes, it’s true that Jesus was not your ordinary SPIRITUAL LEADER.  He wasn’t surrounded by a mystical cloud(at least not until the baptism, anyway).  He didn’t talk in mystical language that only a few could understand. Jesus emerged from amongst the people.  He was a DOWN-TO-EARTH HOLY MAN.  

But then, John wasn’t exactly your NORMAL prophet either!  He lived in the desert eating honey and locusts. His clothes were made out of camel hair—poor camels!  He virtually SCREAMED out his message from God.  

What John didn’t notice about Jesus, the Christ that is, was Jesus’ INCLINE.  SAY WHAT!? You might be asking yourself either, 1)What’s an incline? Or 2)What does that incline have to do with Jesus?  Let’s start with what an incline is.

An incline is the ANGLE OF LEAN between two objects.  I used to have a weight bench in my garage. The bench let you set differing angles of incline to adjust the level of difficulty.  The word comes up in verse one from the Psalm 40 reading where it says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he INCLINED towards me and heard my cry.”  Literally, that means that when we cry out to God, God LEANS TOWARD US. To help us understand this concept of INCLINING TOWARD PEOPLE, I am going to talk to you about COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUES WITH PEOPLE.

Three of the most common ways that people communicate with each other in ascending order are first of all, WHAT WE SAY.  Certainly, the words we say have a lot of weight in trying to communicate with people.  We can strive to positively build people up with the words we use, or we can strive to cut them down with our words.  But they are not the only way we communicate. 

 Our TONE OF VOICE can communicate a lot of whether we are AFFIRMING others or trying to ATTACK them.  You could say nice words, but say them in an AGGRESSIVE way and your message could be misunderstood or unappreciated.

John the Baptist certainly was not known to be one who calmly delivered his message.  He was very honest and really challenged people, but he also put people off with his yelling and screaming.

Finally, we CAN communicate with our BODY LANGUAGE.  This is where our ANGLE OF INCLINE comes in. If we fold our arms, so as to close off our body to others and then LEAN AWAY from them, we are saying that we want people to stay at a safe distance from us.  We are not giving the impression that we are INCLINED TO LISTEN to the people in front of us, even if the words we have chosen or the tone we are using are reasonably pleasant.

On the other hand, if we are INCLINED FORWARD, if we are leaning toward the people we are talking to, our tone of voice is pleasant, and our words are positive, people will think that we care about them, and will be likely to also be INCLINED toward trusting us.

At the point of Jesus’ baptism, we had no INCREDIBLE MIRACLES recorded about him in his growing ministry.  But, if John had known what to look for, if John had taken the time to MEASURE JESUS’ ANGLE OF INCLINE, he would have noticed something truly remarkable.  Just an aside: When I substitute teach mathematics and the students think math is not very important to them, I tell them, “Math is all around us if we only know what to look for.”

A second aside:  We only have one story about Jesus growing up in the Bible.  That’s where Jesus is 12 years old and goes with his family to Jerusalem for Holy Days.  They start to head back home and realize he is not with them. They go back and find him talking to the elders who are amazed at his wisdom and knowledge.  I can ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE that part of what also holds their attention is Jesus’ ANGLE OF INCLINE. He is not leaning back or having his arms crossed. Jesus words show his wisdom and his posture show he cares about them.

You know, I’m kind of INCLINED to get back to our Gospel story.  After Jesus’ cousin, John, has seen God’s Spirit incline towards Jesus, he is also now rather inkling towards Jesus, too.  John says, “LOOK! This is the Lamb of God!” John’s two disciples see John LEANING towards Jesus, they are immediately INCLINED to follow Him.

Then, notice what Jesus does NOT do, and what DOES do.  Jesus does NOT strut off and let these LOWLY followers walk behind this SUPER STAR SON OF GOD.  Instead, what Jesus DOES DO is INCLINE his attention towards them and say, “Come with me and you’ll see.”  So, they checked out where Jesus was staying and SPENT THE REST OF THE DAY WITH HIM!(ten in the morning till nighttime!)  They didn’t get an autograph and get sent to the back of the line.  

What does all of Jesus INCLINING bring about in these disciples? It brings about MORE INCLINING.  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, INCLINES towards him and says, “WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH!”(which means, “We have found the CHRIST!”)  Then Jesus renames Simon, Peter, which means ROCK, and Peter eventually becomes one of the two most prominent disciples to spread the GOOD NEWS in the history of the EARLY CHURCH.

So, are you catching what I am INCLINED to share with you?  When you and I are not just comfortable LEANING BACK in our conversations and interactions with people; when you and I are INCLINED to really sharing and caring with the people we meet every day, in every way, we can do what Jesus and the disciples did.  We can be INCLINED TO CHANGE THE WORLD.  Before you think I am talking TOTALLY CRAZY, I honestly think that if we are PROPERLY INCLINED, you and I can change the world in SMALL, or even NOT SO SMALL WAYS.  

Yesterday, I noticed that I forgot to change the church signboard, and it’s still announcing about Christmas.  It made me think about what has happened in the short time since Christmas in our church calendar.  

On Christmas, angels were inclined to tell some COMMON SHEPHERDS to announce that Jesus, the Savior of the world, had come to us.  They didn’t shy away, but rather were INCLINED to go to Bethlehem and give Jesus, Mary, and Joseph their WELCOME and SUPPORT. Then, 3 Wisemen did not shy away from the invitation to follow the STAR.  They were INCLINED to go visit a king born, not in a palace, but in a HOLY STABLE. Finally, John the Baptist, wearing his favorite Camelhair outfit, was shown that his INCLINING cousin, Jesus, was actually THE CHRIST.  IMMEDIATELY, John INCLINED toward Jesus, and his followers INCLINED also.

So, if you and I are SO INCLINED, every one of us can change the world in LARGE or SMALL ways.  All it takes is noticing that God is INCLINING our way. Jesus is saying to you and to me, “Come and spend some time with me.  I will incline myself to listen to what you care about.” And if you really believe that Jesus is INCLINED to your needs, then you can be INCLINED to do what those first disciples did.  You can tell people, “WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH, THE CHRIST…COME AND SEE!

And all of God’s children are INCLINED to say…AMEN!  COME AND SEE!