Although they were cousins, and very close in age, and born to mothers who were both very unlikely to even be mothers, and on a very similar trajectory concerning God and God’s way, John the Baptist and Jesus were very different characters.
At times we lose sight of the fact that John the Baptist had a bigger personality, a more strident approach, and, perhaps, a more unique methodology. And in their day, before John’s head was handed over to a ruthless woman, John was more popular than Jesus. Jesus really got his start as a disciple of John. Why, Jesus even showed up at one of John’s riverside baptisms to be dunked by him.
John the Baptist, however, tried to make it clear – his job was just to pave the way and clear the path for Jesus. John understood his role was to prepare the way.
John announced to all who would listen that there would be one that would follow him who was the Real One. But I’m guessing most folks were just confused about all of that. They latched on to whomever they could, for someone to help direct their way. The early Christians saw it as their main job to follow Jesus’ way and, hence, they became known as Followers of the Way long before they were known as Christians.
I have often said that I wished we were still called that – Followers of the Way - but after doing some thinking and studying about John the Baptizer this week, I have thought that perhaps an even better label might be Waymaker.
That’s what John the Baptist was – a Waymaker for Jesus.
And I’ve decided that that’s what I want to be – a Waymaker. I’ve always thought of myself as a Follower of Jesus, but I’m now wondering if I should learn to see myself going before him instead of hiding behind him.
My mother recently spent some time in the hospital. The day she was scheduled to come home, they were calling for a big snowstorm. So I went to the grocery store for the bread and the milk. I turned up her heat to the cozy 78 degrees like she likes it! And then I got the broom and swept off her long sidewalk, clearing it of the leaves and limbs that had accumulated while she had been gone. I was preparing the way for her to come home.
I also want to be the one that paves the way and clears the path for Jesus to still be alive and well and at work in the world. I want to prepare the Way. And it goes without saying that I’d like to do this without being beheaded, but I think John the Baptist’s story is a powerful reminder that Waymaking is a risky job. You won’t always be liked. You won’t always be understood. You won’t always be accepted. Everyone won’t agree with you. You will ruffle feathers. But perhaps Waymakers are more needed in this world than simple Way Followers.
What got John the Baptist in trouble was speaking truth to power. But death does not have the last word in John’s story; blood is not the final legacy of the Baptizer. John had succeeded in making a way for Jesus. The one who “came as a witness to testify to the light” (John 1.7) had completed his purpose and his call, giving himself with complete abandon. “He himself was not the light,” the Gospel of John points out, yet John the Baptist shimmered with steadfast purpose and with the joy that had marked his life from the moment he met Jesus.
Today I try to picture what it would look like to live the life of a Waymaker. If John’s job was to clear the path for Jesus, and if we’ve come to understand that each and every person holds that divine spark within themselves, and if we are to believe the passage from Matthew’s gospel which talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting in prison, and that each and every time we do that it is as if we have done it unto Jesus himself; then logic would tell us that being a Waymaker today will require us to clear the path for those whose lives are cluttered with all the challenges this life can present.
I think about all the people who have obstacles preventing them from achieving their goals and their hopes and their dreams – obstacles that keep them from the abundant life that Jesus promised. They don’t have enough of something – money, education, healthcare, you name it. They are burdened by not enough - or too much - and there are not enough hours in the day to do what they need to do to make a way for themselves.
I think about those who have opinions, strong opinions and good ideas, but they have no voice that is recognized. How will we clear the path and a make a way for them? I think about all the people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. I think about all the people who fall through the cracks.
I think about the people in prison. I think about those in the hospital who have no one visiting them. I think about the people who are treated differently because of race or gender or sexual orientation. I wonder how we will be a Waymaker for them. I mean as a church, how will we be a Waymaker? I can think of so many ways we already do this, but there always more to be done.
But it’s never easy and it’s almost always risky.
So let me challenge you today – maybe it is time to let go of the title “Christian.” Maybe we should even let go of “Follower of Jesus”. Perhaps we should all take on the title of Waymaker.
May it be so.