Over the past few days of the New Year, I have watched on social media as people post inspirational quotes and messages from all sorts of resources. They are normally accompanied by nice pictures to draw attention to the beauty of the quote. Then I read today’s Gospel lesson and find John the Baptist dressed like a wild man….and HE is supposed to inspire us?
At that time, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3.1-6
The other day I also saw a Twitter thread in which people were arguing about how the clergy should present themselves, either clean shaven in suits, or beards and robes. This is not a new argument in America as many immigrants work tirelessly to blend in to avoid discrimination. But, today’s post isn’t taking sides on how someone dresses, since clearly there are holy men and women in both categories of appearances.
It isn’t how people dress that should be our inspiration, but how they live that inspires people to follow. I need not remind you just how many slick preachers there are with empty messages about the so-called prosperity gospel. Even their followers eventually see through the disguise and scandalous lives. We’re also reminded of them in today’s reading from St Paul’s letter to Timothy.
TIMOTHY, my son, those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
So, here we have to make a choice. There have always been, and always will be those who teach deceitful things pulling people from the Church. There have always been, and always will be those who preach the truth about God pulling people into the Church. Sometimes they will dress like wild men in the desert, and other times they will dress as clean-slick preachers. They key won’t be in how they dress, but how they live.
If you see people living a life devoted to Christ as the Church teaches, pay them some attention. St Paul lifted Timothy up as an example to others, and Christ told the whole world that John the Baptist was the greatest man ever to be born of a woman. If you’re looking for people to inspire you, don’t look to modern self-help gurus. Look to the Saints of the Church, who have lived Godly lives. Some of them were in the desert, and some lived in palaces. The one thing they all had in common, was they lived for Christ, and not for themselves.
When you want to put a quote on your social media this year, choose a quote from a Saint. You can find them in the Church calendar every day. Pick a book written by a Saint and read a short passage each day. You can then share the inspiration you received from the Saint with others. It is far better than some random social media meme. The Saints can be trusted to inspire.