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He must increase…


Today is the commemoration of St. John the Baptist…his birthday celebrated exactly six months before Christmas Eve. The reason for the date is linked to the Baptist’s own words from John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” …a reference to Jesus and the necessity of his emerging ministry as John fades from prominence in the Gospel narrative. No surprise then that we celebrate his birth in these first few days after the summer solstice as the days decrease in length (here in the northern hemisphere)…just as we celebrate Jesus’ birth during the darkest days of the year as the days are beginning to grow longer.

The Baptist’s words, however, are more than just a convenient way for us to organize the liturgical calendar. They are also a call for those who would be the friends of Jesus in this day and age to humility and true discipleship…an opportunity for honesty about who we are and what we are called to do as God’s people in the world.

Case in point: I’ve had a hard time writing these blog entries recently. I’ve missed a couple of my usually posting days, after sitting and staring at a blank computer screen for a while…finally convinced that I just didn’t have anything left to say. (After reading this post, you may well conclude that the streak continues.)

Yeah…sure. Everybody hits a dry patch once in a while. But this has been deeper and has gone beyond blog writing: On one hand, there is the weariness and frustration that comes from preaching/teaching/working towards a goal that seems all too elusive. (The Kingdom of God, in case you hadn’t heard, has not yet arrived in Elmore.) And on the other hand, there is the hubris…me being convinced that somehow the whole project of being faithful church in this place rests on my shoulders alone. This is foolishness, of course…self-defeating and an absolute dead-end. But it took me re-reading the Baptist’s assessment of his own ministry to hear it.

Before I can do what God has called me to do, I must be what God in Christ has made me to be: one who has been granted a new life, a fresh start, a living hope. Who I am in Christ (a redeemed sinner) overflows into what I am in Christ (grateful, humble, ready). And what I am in Christ leads to what I can do with the gifts I have been given. My mistake was trying to run this little bit of logic backwards…trying my best to work my way into humility and thanksgiving. Take it from me: It doesn’t work. Christ’s ministry to and within me comes first; and then my response makes sense. “He must increase…”

Having sorted all this out, I’m feeling a bit better about myself and my call to ministry this morning. But somebody keep a copy…because I’ll probably forget all too soon, and end up back in the same grumpy and unproductive place. (I have a tendency to do that.) In the meantime, I invite you to examine your own ministry as one of the baptized. How is it that Christ must increase in you? And how might that increase set you free to be the person God has intended all along?


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