What Do You Expect? Don't Tell Me, Show Me

December 15, 2013

Susan Adams

Advent 3     Isaiah 35:1-10     Matthew 11:2-11

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It's the third Sunday in Advent, Nelson Mandela is to be buried today, and I don't know why I am standing here talking to you. It feels quite the wrong place to be, for me, today. I keep hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu's words: Tell the world, show the world that we can (live Mandela's dream)... He uttered this challenge during his address at the Memorial Service For Nelson Mandela. What do I tell you that you don't already know? And to show you anything you would have to leave this beautiful building. 

 

Last week I left the building wanting to 'scream and shout and let it all out' - as my great niece is wont to say at times when anger and frustration rise in her. I heard Bishop John remind us that 'the axe was at the root of the tree' ; that there was no time to waste in getting stuff our sorted. But, like good Christians on a Sunday, we were quietly enjoying the beauty of the building, the beautifully modulated sound of controlled voices reading and praying, and of course, for us, the capacity to luxuriate in the glory of the music. I loved it all ... but gradually the feeling I should be doing something grew.

 

I should be 'Putting my body on the line' somewhere, as we were challenged to do back in the 70's and 80's in the days of protest when the tangata whenua would confront us weekly with "don't tell me what you are going to do, show me!" or "walk the talk". I was feeling discombobulated by the stillness and the expectant waiting that is Advent.

 

This week the Gospel reading catches up something of that sense frustration and the need to be doing something that I experienced last week. 

 

John the Baptist demands from prison that Jesus explain himself ... (he must have been frustrated being in prison and out of the action that was beginning to unfold as Jesus ministry, so different from his own began to take shape).

 

Jesus, with some sharpness it seems to me, tells the messengers from John to go back and tell John what they were seeing! and then,

 

Matthew reports that Jesus continues with a bit of a tell off, saying that those who don't take offense at the healing, the life-giving activity that they see, will be blessed! 

 

(We know from later stories that there were those who were annoyed with Jesus' healing and feeding and life-enhancing activities. So annoyed that, eventually, they killed him.)

 

It seems Jesus was keen to get on with what needed to be done, he was 'doing what needed to be done' to begin a process of change in people's lives. The links between Jesus ministry and the prophet Isaiah are clear as we hear the two readings side by side, and the images Matthew uses to tell us about Jesus ministry activity resonate with those from the prophet that describe the transformation of the wilderness and the transformation of those who are 'saved': who work for righteousness. 

 

Matthew is at pains to convince his hearers that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, the one that would bring about a transformation in the world they knew - Jesus, the Messiah, the transforming one has come!

 

"'Don't tell me, show me' the saving work of justice making", was the challenge that have motivated thousands to join protests and sign petitions to bring about justice-making change.' Tell him what you see' says Jesus to John's messengers: Tell him the blind see, the lame walk, the outcasts are included, and those who have lost hope are enlivened! 

 

How can this be anything but 'good-news'?

 

Jesus turns again as the message-carriers go back to John; he turns to the crowd, and accusingly quizzes them: "What did you go into the wilderness to look at? What then did you go out to see - a reed shaken in the wind, soft robes?" 

 

Those questions cut right to my heart when I read about report after report on child-poverty, on inadequate wages, on the lack of social-housing (including for the elderly), on the disproportionate numbers of Maori in prison, and on women raped and abused by those whom they know, and children by those charged with their care. What do we expect to see when we look about at our community, at our city and land?

 

We don't need to go and look at them over and over again in the wilderness we have created for them, but we do need transforming action.

 

We don't need to be told over and over how dreadful life is for some, but

 

We do need you and me to be concerned, to be saying 'no more', to be calling a halt to abuse and exploitation of people and land. 

 

We do need you and me to demand, and be prepared to take action, to dismantle the insidious network of attitudes and behaviours and expectations, that push members of our society to the places of wilderness.

 

Our little country was laughed at when we refused hospitality to nuclear ships and submarine; we said 'no' and we took action, and many put their bodies on the line. We stopped those war-ships endangering our cities and we added weight to a world movement.

 

Mandela and those of the ANC put their bodies on the line for justice and were imprisoned, silenced - so the power-holders of the day thought.

 

Anti-apartheid protesters acting in solidarity in this country were jeered at, and held in contempt by many; 

 

Waitangi protesters demanding the Treaty be honoured and end to racism here, were ridiculed and imprisoned. 

 

Those who want to save whales and stop deep sea oil-drilling, who want to the stop further deforestation and pollution of our land are often marginalised and laughed at.

 

Those who demand a Living Wage are dismissed as unrealistic.

 

But change happens, and now these are concerns are hallmarks of our national identity that we are learning to guard.

 

On this third Sunday of Advent, this third Sunday of preparation for the Christmas celebration of life and hope, I want to paraphrase Jesus' question "what are you looking for, what do you expect to see?"

 

If life and hope is to come to the wilderness places that are to be found amongst our neighbours, and if the dessert places in our communities are to blossom abundantly, we will need to ask ourselves what we expect to see; and what story we will tell of life and hope in our land.

 

As Christmas rapidly approaches, and we wait expectantly for life and hope to born anew amongst us, be assured of this, for this I do know: we are expected to walk the talk! Those who look at 'we who proclaim the good-news of God's loving ways', expect to see what we do, not just hear what we say.

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