Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 
Do not presume 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.

What are we to make of John the Baptist?
He is a formidable character.
He is challenging and harsh.
He doesn’t mess about, he hits us with how it is, how it will be,
and most worryingly, how it will be if we don’t get it right.

He tells us what the coming messiah, Jesus, is going to be like.

His winnowing-fork is in his hand,
and he will clear his threshing-floor
and will gather his wheat into the granary;
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

In John’s mind, Jesus will see the world as a threshing floor.
He will keep those who get it right with God,
and will lose those who don’t.

It is a stark image.

Even now the axe 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.

John must have been confused when Jesus started speaking of God’s forgiveness,
of God’s love for all people.
We know, because later, while he is imprisoned,
he will send messengers to Jesus asking him if indeed he is the one.

What John thought was going to be and what was where somewhat different.

They were different, but not as entirely as we maybe would like.

It is easier for us to think about forgiveness and love than it is about bearing good fruit,
and the ultimate result if we don’t.

As we heard last week, Jesus also speaks of a final judgement,
where some will be left and some taken.

We can’t ignore this, even it makes us uncomfortable.

Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume 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.

Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

To repent,
of how we are,
to say sorry,
to turn away from the way we have been is not really enough.

Repentance is vital in our lives, I believe in everyone’s lives,
but if it is hollow, if it is only words that we say, it is nothing.

True repentance will consist of a true change of heart,
it will bear good fruit.
It will not be a simple rote phrase that is spoken and then forgotten.
Repentance is an internal change that makes the past impossible to go back to.
The fruit of repentance is forgiveness itself, loving all, caring for the sick, the poor, the imprisoned.

Martin Luther spoke about this:
 “Good works do not make a person good, but a good person does good works.”
Being a good person comes first,
the fruits are what grows from that goodness.
From repentance comes the good works.
Good works without repentance are not enough in this case.

John follows up this comment with a pointed barb:

Do not presume 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.

This was pointed for the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
It is equally as pointed for us today.

Those he rebuked believed that their ancestry was enough.
Their holiness in life was enough.
Their obedience to the Law was enough.
They were right with God because of who they were.

We can be like this.

I’m ok because I keep the church running.
I’m ok because I tithe the right amount.
I’m ok because I go to church every week.
I’m ok because I arrange the lawn being mowed.
I’m ok because I make sure the church is cleaned.
I’m ok because my family left the church some money.
I’m ok because my Dad was a warden for 20 years.
I’m ok because I’m a priest.

John the Baptist looks at us and spits.
He calls us a brood of vipers that we would dare think we have it right.

None of these things mean we have it right with God.
None of these things mean we have truly repented.

If you place where a pew is as being above forgiving someone,
it may be time to look into your heart.

If your heart is more interested in keeping things comfortable for yourself
rather than looking into the eyes of someone who you need to forgive,
it may be time to be still and listen to what God is saying to you.

If you are more interested in holding on to power
rather than walking alongside someone who is in pain,
it may be time to contemplate what all this Christianity stuff is all about.

John the Baptist reminds us that it is not about being right,
it is about being right with God.

He reminds us that sometimes we can think we have it right when we may in fact be far off.

And John the Baptist is indeed the greatest reminder of how to get it right.
His mission was to prepare the way for the coming one.
His function in God’s plan was to point all towards Christ.

In Advent, we await the Coming Christ.
Like the Baptist, we are to point all toward Jesus.

The way of pointing to Christ for us to be Christlike to those around us:
 to walk with the lonely,
feed the hungry,
care for the sick.

Those are the fruits that are worthy of repentance.

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