Scripture for Sunday: Luke 3:1-22
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Notes on The Text:
This week we begin a new sermon series based on some biblical characters that represent the nine personality types of the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient personality typology that is supposed to help us discover or become more fully aware of our methods of coping with life which often hinder our potential for growth and for life. These methods were our ways of handling difficult feelings in childhood. Yet, in adulthood these same methods end up hindering our ability to fully love or be loved. Our work during this sermon series is to become aware of our thought and behavior patterns and to bring them into the light of Christ. We cannot transform these patterns ourselves. What we can do is to expose them to the light, which lessens their power and grip over lives. The light and love of Christ are the only forces strong and yet gentle enough to transform and heal us inside out. Knowing ourselves on the soul level takes some intentional work because our egos and personalities often get in the way. In traditional language, we talk about this as sin, not just the actions that separate us from God and from others, but also the motivations behind them which often separate us from our true selves.
There are nine types of personalities according to the Enneagram and this week we will start with the Ones. We all have all nine types in us, but only one is dominant. Also, most of us have wings (two other personality types we go to) and so depending on the situation, we may act as a different number.
We begin this journey by looking at John the Baptist because he is the archetype of number 1 on the Enneagram. I hope that John will help you understand this type well. In their book Biblical Characters and the Enneagram, Diane Tolomeo, Pearl Gervais, and Remi De Roo write, “If we see Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Mary, Deborah and Martha, not solely as figures in biblical history but also as representing aspects of ourselves, we begin to understand their stories as intimately connected with our own stories, and they can become mentors in teaching us about our inner lives. Their stories are particular examples of universal narratives about faith and meaning, and all of them point beyond themselves to something much greater than their immediate details.” And so we look at John the Baptist today to help us understand Type 1: The Perfectionist or Reformer.
John saw a world rife with mistakes and corruption because people were not following God’s commands and rules. He was born into the household of a priest, yet he saw the Temple in Jerusalem as the epitome of evil and corruption because the leadership there was cooperating with the Roman Empire, the occupiers of the land at the time. As a result, John set out to fix the problems of the world. He started or joined a movement of reform in the wilderness. The wilderness had a special appeal to him because it was a place where people could go back to the original ways which God gave to the people of ancient Israel when they left Egypt. As an Enneagram One, John set out to reform his religion and his country. He was harsh and austere in his way of life and his method of preaching and teaching.
John confronted the powers and principalities of his day: The Roman Empire, the immoral rulers of his region, and the corrupt religious leadership of the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, his ministry was conducted outside the halls of power in the wilderness so that he could be detached from the values of corruption in his day. His words were not gentle because he wanted the people listening to him to pay attention to the grave situation in which they were living. What is amazing is that John’s call to repentance and change was something which the people liked and welcomed in their lives. They wanted to know what to do. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages’” (3:10-14).
The biggest impact John had was on his cousin, Jesus. He ended up baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. He prepared for the ministry of Jesus and showed the way to many people so that they would follow Jesus after John was gone from their midst. John paid dearly for his commitments. He ended up being imprisoned and executed for his truth-telling and criticism of those in power. But he left us a shining example of what an Enneagram type One personality could accomplish when they are spiritually transformed.
Type 1 personalities are often known as the Perfectionist or the Reformer. They care about setting things right. Rules and justice matter so much to them. In childhood when the world around them seemed threatening, their natural coping mechanism or instinct was to follow the rules and to do things perfectly. At their best, ones are ethical, wise, honest and reliable. At their worst, ones are judgmental, rigid, and critical of others and of themselves. Ones have a fear of being bad, corrupt, evil, or defective. Their core desire is to have integrity and to act ethically. The core message they received in childhood is that it is not okay to make mistakes. When they are healthy and transformed, they can lead amazing reforms in society. But when they are unhealthy and unaware of their tendencies, Ones could be very judgmental/self-righteous and difficult to deal with. They could suffer from intense feelings of disillusion, rage, intolerance, and even depression.
Here are a few lessons for Ones and for all of us to learn from John:
- Prayer and Community: John was a man of prayer. He belonged to a spiritual community in the wilderness who were very disciplined about their prayer lives. Prayer helped him stay hopeful and focused on God’s greater mission instead of becoming resentful of others. John also avoided the pitfall of many Ones who think that only their ideas are right because perfection for him came from God and not from his own ways. His need to see perfection and justice in the world was satisfied through his relationship with the creator of the universe and the quality of perfection that is present on a deep level in the universe. His sense of inner peace allowed him to live and do well even when the world around him was chaotic or corrupt. John also belonged to a spiritual community (the Essenes) who helped shape and support him.
- Flexibility and Maturity: Even though John had a large following, he did not put himself above Jesus. He was flexible enough to open himself to the leadership and ideas of someone else. Even though he had strong convictions, he did not put himself above others. When Jesus had a different approach to prayer and ministry, John was open to learning from him. This is essential for Ones because the temptation to think that they are always right is so powerful and alluring.
- Truth and Righteousness: John helps us see the power and importance of upholding God’s vision for justice and peace in our world. When most of us are afraid to rock the boat or cause any problems, we can find strength and power in people like John the Baptist who are willing to sacrifice their own comfort and safety for the sake of God’s good news in the world. John also teaches us to live by God’s vision for the world instead of our vision.
Prayer from Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill:
Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love,
and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.