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The Proof of the Pudding
a sermon based on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
by Rev. Randy L. Quinn

The eleventh chapter of Matthew opens with John the Baptist sending people to Jesus. He wants to know if Jesus "is the one" they are looking for or not.

Jesus doesn't give him a direct answer. Rather, he tells John to look at the things he's doing and decide for himself. The blind see, the dead are raised, and the poor hear good news (Mt 11:4-5). You decide for yourself.

He knows what we all know to be true: actions speak louder than words. As James says, "by my works, I will show you my faith" (Jas 2:8).

John's disciples leave, and Jesus turns to those around him.

They, too, want to know who Jesus is.

But it seems to be only out of curiosity. It's only an intellectual question for them. It is all theory and no practical application in their minds.

Like we who live at the beginning of the twenty-first century, they are mere spectators who have no intention of joining in the game.

I spoke with a little league referee this week. He talked about how easy it is for parents to sit on the sidelines and tell everyone else what to do and how to do it: they yell at the kids, they yell at the coaches, they yell at the referees and umpires. Theirs is the easy seat, and they have no intention of being a player, a coach, nor a referee. The costs for getting involved is too high for them.

Or as Jesus says it, 'this generation' is like children who yell at one another in the marketplace rather than playing games because no one wants to play according to their own particular set of rules.

I particularly like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage:

How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.'

Jesus looks at the crowd and reminds them that they didn't like John because of his austerity and they don't like Jesus because of his flamboyance. Both John and Jesus rock the boat a little, both John and Jesus upset the status quo. Both Jesus and John could be called extremists.

But the real issue is that both John and Jesus demand a response. We cannot sit by and watch. We are either a part of the Kingdom of God, or we are not.

Being a Christian is not a spectator sport, it's a participatory, team sport.

I may know the rules of baseball. I may know the rules of football. I don't know all the rules of soccer, but I could learn. But knowing the rules does not make me a player. Knowing the rules isn't enough to become a coach, either. If I want to play, I need to practice swinging the bat or kicking the ball. If I want to be a player, I need to be in the locker room and on the field during team practice and available during the game.

In his book, The Secular Squeeze (p 138-140), John Alexander reminded me that Jesus said "by this all people will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35). He didn't say, "by this all people will know you are my disciples: if you have the right beliefs."

If you have love.

And love has recognizable deeds. Love is commitment to the other person. Love is giving to and for the other person. Love is entering into a relationship with the other person, a relationship in which both parties are affected.

But love is not a set of rules. I read about a couple who had a 34 page pre-nuptial agreement, as if that would make them love each other longer, love each other better.

No, love can be experienced. Love can be recognized. But there is no way to make a set of rules that will encompass all there is to love.

And even if we could come up with a set of rules, just knowing the rules wouldn't make us loving people.

Our love of one another and our love of God are no different. There must be some expression of it, or it is not love.

Shortly after my wife and I met each other first, her aunt Dorothy was telling about a new recipe she had found. And every time I talked to her, she had another recipe that she wanted to tell me about. I never tasted her cooking. I only heard about her recipes. Some of them sounded strange to me, but my wife tried to assure me that Dorothy was always a good cook, that her recipes were all tried first. But for me, I've got to taste it to believe it.

The proof of the pudding, for me, is to taste the finished product. A recipe is only a set of words until it is put into reality. And when done correctly, it can become a marvelous and delicious meal.

I also know that some people can take the same recipe and make an even better meal out of it than I can. Some people can add just enough of who they are to make even the most simple meal into a royal treat.

Jesus was one of those people.

He took the basic recipe for life, the basic outline of faithfulness to God, and lived it in such a way that we still recognize in him the fullness of God.

Some of that was because he refused to be a spectator in life. He was a participant. He fully participated in all of life -- both it's ultimate joys and it's ultimate sorrows. He was at the Wedding feast in Cana and the Funeral of a friend in Bethany (Jn 2 & Jn 11).

His passion for life and in life is the proof of the pudding. It's what gives meaning to life.

It's that passion that makes our burdens light. It's the passion that Jesus invites us to take up and carry.

I talked with a man this week whose daughter spent all of last summer sitting around the house complaining about how bored she was. She slept in. She watched TV. She rarely left the couch. And she was bored.

This summer, she has a job roguing spinach. She's up early every morning. She works in the fields all day. She's tired when she comes home. And she is no longer bored. She has found some sense of passion in life.

I know you have all seen the change that comes over people when they begin to speak with passion about something. One woman was dying. Everything in life seemed to be a burden. But when I asked her about her family, her eyes began to twinkle. A smile came over her face. She sat up in bed. Life returned when passion returned.

Friends, we can sit on the sidelines of life. But there won't be much to our lives.

Or we can get involved in life. Then we'll experience the heights and depths, the breadth and the length of God's love (Eph 3:18).

As we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion today, we are reminded that Jesus got involved in life. Jesus showed his love for us by the way he lived and by the way he died.

And we are invited to become a part of this -- the fullness of life.

Thanks be to God. Amen.