Nativity of John the Baptist, 4 Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B
Homily by The Reverend Delia Faye
It is our patron saint day! The feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. We get a trip whammy of people today beginning with Zechariah and Elizabeth and ending with John himself.
These are people we are to study and learn from and in certain cases emulate.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah in the temple. His response was one of doubt and he unfortunately paid for it by being struck dumb for nine months. I guess in my life I'd prefer to have Thomas to emulate instead of Zechariah, but we've got Zechariah for today.
And he's not a bad role model. Sometimes it takes a long time for our doubts to fade and our belief to come to the fore.
Zechariah was going through the motions of his faith while not actually believing it. Practicing but not believing.
Sometimes that's us: practicing but not really living into our faith.
Zechariah came to believe, but it took a two by four approach, and it took time. At the end of nine months we have a chastened Zechariah but a believing Zechariah.
Elizabeth is a different story. I often think the angel would have gotten a better response if she had gone to Elizabeth in the kitchen instead of Zechariah in the temple.
Elizabeth was too old to have children, but like Sarah before her (Abraham's wife) she has a child in her old age. God seems to like to do that.
Elizabeth's faith was never in doubt. She is the cousin that hosts a pregnant Mary while living up in the hill country away from Nazareth. Next to Mary, Elizabeth is the second to recognize who Jesus will become: the Messiah and Lord.
John and Jesus may have been cousins but you can be sure John was taught by his mother from a young age who and what Jesus is.
Elizabeth lays the groundwork of the faith John will end up preaching about.
And John gets a great theological education. After all that has happened, there's no way Zechariah, a temple priest, is going to neglect his son's religious instruction.
John becomes the last great old testament prophet. He brings a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The faith that started with his father and mother he offers and passes on to the multitudes who come out to hear him.
For those of us who are cradle Episcopalians, and there aren't that many left at this point, our faith is informed by all the people we grew up watching. We grew up with the liturgy and it molds who we are.
We have ancestors in the faith like John had his parents. We were taught, formally and informally about faith and belief and we took what we needed for our own faith.
We continue in that practice as we come to church.
For those who are not cradle Episcopalians, we chose to be here. There was something that drew us here.
We have a faith, but it is seeking understanding and expression and the Episcopal Church feels like ti works for us.
Many people coming to the Episcopal Church talk about “Coming home.” For their faith the church is a place to feel comfortable in. The way the Episcopal Church understands faith informs their faith and belief at a deep level.
Both groups have their faiths informed by what the Episcopal Church does, just as John had his faith formed by his parents.
But it can't stop there. Just as we have people of faith we look up to and a church that helps form our beliefs, we must pass those beliefs on. We must become Elizabeth and Zechariah to someone else. We need to be the ones who are looked at, the ones looked up to.
“But my faith isn't that great,” I hear some people cry. Or it's not big or strong or whatever. Fill in the word.
That's all right. Zechariah's faith didn't start out all that great. He was going through the motions of his faith. But belief came to him. It can come to us as well. Sometimes just going through the motions is the best we can do until faith finds us again.
Going through the motions is enough to model for someone who is searching, too. It does mean, however, that we need to be here in church even when we're tempted not to be.
We all need to model our faith to others. We do that by living it—coming to church, doing deeds of mercy and goodness, talking about it.
It's our job, like Elizabeth and Zechariah to educate the next generation of faith. And if they're not in church then we need to be like John and take the faith to them.
I'm not talking about being a firebrand, but gently sowing our faith in our lives and letting people know about it.
Faith is a very personal thing, but we need to be able to share it with people. Passing on our faith is part of our job as Christians.
Our patron saint John was taught faith from his parents. We are to emulate them and pass our faith down to our next generation.
We do this the best way we know how: by living our faith from day to day.
That way faith can be born in the next generation just like it was inJohn. Our faith echoes Elizabeth and Zechariah. Their faith influenced John and we are able to see its outcome.
We may not be able to see the outcome of modeling our faith and passing it to the next generation, but we are not to lose hope that there is a result. Just because we don't see it doesn't mean its not there.
And that is part of faith too.