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Sermon: Showing Up

December 5, 2010

Matthew 3:1-12

The television show The Biggest Loser is in its tenth season, and I had never watched it until a month or two ago.  I am not a big fan of reality shows, but my daughter had been watching it, so I sat down to watch with her, and I was hooked.  Unlike many reality shows, The Biggest Loser doesn’t exploit the contestants and their desire to be television celebrities.  Instead, this show takes on a number of people who have serious weight and health problems and who want to get healthy.  It is a show about the resurgence of the human spirit.  We get to watch as lives are changed for the better.

Take 43-year-old Fredo, for example.  He is a former Marine—a veteran of Desert Storm—and a husband and father.  He suffers from sleep apnea and diabetes.  He says his turning point was the day his daughter asked his wife, “Mom, is Dad dying?”  In eleven weeks, Fredo has lost 119 pounds.  Whether or not he wins the competition, he will walk away with a newfound sense of self-esteem and hope for the future.  All the contestants share similar stories and leave the experience in a much better place, physically and emotionally, than when they began.

For me, one of the most helpful moments on the show was after a disappointing weigh in.  One of the contestants was sure she would have lost more weight than she did.  One of the trainers, however, tried to put things in perspective.  She said that despite the disappointment, the contestant had worked hard and had showed up to every workout.  The trainer said, “Just showing up is the most important thing.”

That was a really helpful insight for me.  In life, I don’t have to be the best in the world.  I don’t have to perform at my peak every time.  But if I show up, that’s more than half the battle.  It doesn’t matter how good I am or how talented I am, but if I don’t show up, then I’ll never get anywhere.  If I don’t come to the workout, come to the job, show up to spend time with my family—if I don’t show up—I’ll never get anywhere.  I’ll never accomplish anything.  Showing up is the first and most important step.

*     *     *     *     *

In those days, a man named John went out to the wilderness area of the River Jordan.  He shared one simple message with anyone who would listen: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  John was a strange man, maybe a little mentally unstable—he wore camel hair clothes and ate locusts—and he berated the people who came to see him.

The odd thing was that people did come out to see and hear him.  Many of these people confessed their sins, and John baptized them.  And they were all kinds of people.  Luke’s gospel tells us that in addition to the ordinary crowds, tax collectors and Roman soldiers came out to see John.  In Matthew’s gospel we learn today that Pharisees and Sadducees—some of the religious elite—went out to be baptized.  All sorts of people were strangely attracted to John’s news, and because John baptized them, we call him John the Baptist.

You have to wonder what made people leave their villages to go out and see this man who proclaimed an uncomfortable message: repent.  Turn around; change your lives.  Some must have been curious, looking for a diversion.  Some may have had a genuine interest in living a faithful life.  Others may have gone to see John only to gather up ammunition to use against him in the event he proved to be troublesome.  There must have been all sorts of motivations among the people who went to see John.  It’s a lot like people who come to church.  We’re all here for different reasons.

The ones I’m most curious about are the Sadducees and Pharisees.  The Sadducees were very conservative members of the priestly class, and the Pharisees were extremely diligent, faithful lay people.  Neither group seems to be of the character to go running after kooky prophets in the desert.  Yet there they were.  Matthew tells us that they were there to be baptized.  Even John seemed to be skeptical.  He said to them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  So were their motives pure?  Did they really care about the religious or spiritual experience?  Or were they there only to cover their bases “just in case,” or to figure out whether or not John was for real?  We don’t know.  We don’t have the information.  But we do know that they showed up.  And just showing up is more than half the battle, isn’t it?

*     *     *     *     *

One of my colleagues in another city told me a story about someone from his church.  There was an older man who had recently lost his wife.  Because he didn’t drive any more, after the death of his wife, his daughter would pick him up every Sunday and bring him to church.  Every Sunday he would show up and sit in his pew, and his daughter would be there by his side.  One day after worship as they were coming out of the sanctuary, the daughter shook the pastor’s hand and said, “I’d like to become a member of the church.”

The man and his wife—her parents—had been longtime members, but this was the first time the daughter seemed to be showing real interest, and so my friend asked, “That’s great, but what made you decide to take this step?”

She said, “I came here to be with my dad.  He needed me, but I realized that I was the one who needed to be here.”

Just showing up can lead to some wonderful things.  That woman had not been on an intentional spiritual search, but just showing up, week after week, she soon discovered that she had found something anyway.

You may sometimes wonder why you’re here in church week after week.  You may sometimes consider your motives for sharing worship with these other people in the house of God.  You may think that perhaps your search is not as genuine or as holy as the people who sit in the pews in front of you.  Maybe none of that matters.  You have shown up.  You are here.  That fact allows God to do something with you in this time and space, and in your life.  Maybe your prayer life is not all you hoped it would be, but you show up anyway.  Maybe reading scripture is a chore, but you show up.  Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed on a Sunday morning, to drag the kids out the door with matching pairs of socks, to drive past the coffee shops and waffle shops and past the people enjoying casual walks with their dogs.  There are a lot of places that you could be this morning, but you have shown up here.

You hear John’s message—repent!—and it works on you, and you pray quietly, and it works on you.  You sing the familiar hymns, and before too long you look back down the road you have taken and you discover your journey had more meaning than you ever intended.  You have traveled a lot further than you expected.  God had done more with you than you thought possible.

And all of it happened simply because you made a habit of showing up.

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