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Fickle Folks - Sermon, 7/5/2020
July 7, 2020, 11:09 AM

I find the English language completely fascinating.  It is full of great words, like supercilious, balderdash, and antidisestablishmentarianism.  Today’s word of the day is “fickle.”  Admittedly, “fickle” is not as fun as balderdash, but “fickle” is a good word in its own right.  I think of fickle people as being shifty, hard-to-pin down, and hard-to-please sort of people.

We hear about some seriously fickle folks in Matthew’s Gospel today.  Jesus says, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’”  Remember that when John the Baptist originally shows up in the Gospel story, he is judged as pretty strange and rather unusual.  Honestly, the whole eating-wild-locusts-thing and wearing a camel hair shirt probably doesn’t help much in improving John the Baptist’s social standing.  Because John the Baptist doesn’t eat much or drink much, people accuse him of being possessed by a demon.  How else, they figure, how else could someone survive fasting so long? 

Certainly, some people accept John the Baptist’s message and call to repentance.  The ministry of John the Baptist is overall successful because he paves the way for Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist fulfills many prophecies from the Old Testament.  He baptizes Jesus – one of the events that kicks off Jesus’ public ministry. 

Overall, though, John the Baptist is largely rejected.  And we know how the story of John the Baptist ends.  Unfortunately, the “head on a silver platter” thing is not a cheerful ending to John the Baptist’s story.  He is eventually executed for his strangeness and the fearless ways he challenges the unjust power structures in the world around him.

Then, Jesus enters the scene.  Jesus seems to be the complete opposite of John the Baptist in some ways.  Jesus doesn’t seem to enjoy locusts and wild honey.  He doesn’t wear a camel hair shirt.  Instead, Jesus eats and drinks – like the real, embodied person he is.  But this bothers the same seriously fickle folks who judge John the Baptist – this time for a different reason. 

In contrast to the demon-possessed, fasting prophet John the Baptist, Jesus has a different reputation.  Jesus says, “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”  The same people who judge John the Baptist for his fasting and suspect him of being possessed by a demon now judge Jesus because Jesus eats and drinks.  A lot. 

And I don’t think Jesus is being accused of just drinking too much water or grape juice.  The word used in the original Greek for “drinking” is related to “getting drunk on alcohol.”  In the King James Version of the Bible, the word translates as “winebibber.”  Another great word!  In fact, Jesus is being accused – not only of eating and drinking like a real person – but of being gluttonous and a winebibber – of eating and drinking too much. 

Jesus is a party animal and this ticks off the same fickle folks who accuse John the Baptist of being a party pooper.  Just as some people listen to and respond to John the Baptist’s call to repentance, some people certainly listen to and respond to Jesus’ call to new life.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be sitting here today as followers of Christ.  But it seems that Jesus’ excessive eating and drinking really bother some of the fickle folks around him.

And, as if it’s not bad enough that Jesus eats too much food and drinks too much wine, Jesus also carouses with tax collectors and sinners!  Remember that tax collectors are generally accused of cheating their fellow citizens out of money and sinners are, well, sinners.  Tax collectors and sinners are to be avoided at all costs and certainly should not be invited to dinner parties.

The bad reputations of tax collectors and sinners don’t stop Jesus from enjoying their company – even seeking out their company.  Even though it results in Jesus being shunned by many people, he doesn’t stop.  Even though the company Jesus keeps leads people to call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard,” he doesn’t stop.

Jesus is not stopped by the opinions of fickle folks. The same people who accuse John the Baptist of being possessed because he doesn’t eat are the same people who call Jesus a glutton because he does eat.  There’s just no pleasing these fickle folks.

Sometimes, people have specific expectations for how God should be, how Jesus should act, and how the Spirit should move.  Certainly, these fickle folks say, the God we encounter in Jesus should never interact with tax collectors and sinners.  Certainly, these fickle folks say, the God we encounter in Jesus should never eat too much or drink wine.  Certainly, these fickle folks say, the God we encounter in Jesus should never call tax collectors and sinners “friends.”

Jesus has no time for fickle folks, like the ones who judge both John the Baptist and Jesus for their eating and drinking habits.  Instead of allowing the fickle folks around him to change him into something he is not, Jesus remains completely authentic to his divine charge.  Jesus is true to who he is in God and is not sidetracked by fickle folks.  Instead, Jesus is guided by God to continue the mission of love and salvation.

It is a blessing – both to us today and to the whole world – it is a blessing that Jesus has no time for fickle folks.  If Jesus pays attention to the deceitful, fickle folks around him, it might curb his enthusiasm for doing God’s work in the world.  Jesus might listen to the naysayers and stayed contained in a well-behaved, well-mannered, and never-surprising world.

We give thanks that Jesus does not listen to fickle folks.  Because Jesus frees himself from the fickle folks who surround him, he is free to share a message of love and he is free to offer salvation in his name.  Jesus could live his life to please others.  Instead, Jesus lives and loves freely.  He eats too much.  He drinks too much.  He enjoys the company of tax collectors.  He calls sinners friends.

He calls sinners – even sinners like us – he calls us friends.  And for that, we give thanks.  Amen.   

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