a Sermon for Advent 3C
Text: Luke 3:7-18
(audio will come soon)
Hearing of Tragedy
I couldn’t go to sleep Friday. Most of the day, I avoided the details that were flowing in about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I picked Sophia up from preschool and took her to the park on a sunny and warmish day. I had been determined to give her time that day. When my phone beeped and notified me of the tragedy, I blocked it out. This is not the time I thought. We played. I took her out for ice cream.
When we got home, Rose and I spent much of the afternoon giving each other knowing glances and guarded our language, not knowing what to say to one another.
It wasn’t until the kids went to bed that I really ventured online to see what others had written. What they were saying. And one thing was made clear: regardless of one’s politics, nobody wanted new angels in heaven Friday. Nobody wants any more.
The sermon I prepared for today continues the conversation about the apocalyptic language of John’s proclaiming of repentance and the coming Kingdom of God. But I couldn’t preach it the way I wrote it. Not the way it came out of me before Newtown.
What we saw Friday was evil. True evil. And in witnessing evil, we have two obvious tendencies: we look for answers and scapegoats.
We are to have neither.
In this morning’s gospel, we are treated once again to John the Baptizer. And what does he have to say?
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
First words out of John’s mouth in the gospel show him barking at the faithful people. The wrath isn’t a hail of bullets, and it isn’t children that John is speaking to, but the faithful, the just. The people who think they have the world figured out. They come to him looking for answers and he yells at them! And when its done, they are baptized in the Jordan!
In the midst of these words that may be hard for us to hear or that convict us for our own unfaithfulness, John challenges us to change. He says “Bear fruits worthy of repentance”. Amazing words.
The word repentance isn’t a word we’re used to, but we might think of it this way: it is a relationship word. In the way John is using it, we can repent by turning away from our selfish old lives and turn toward a new one given to us by GOD. Repenting then is an act of rejection of self, of evil, and of our past. And GOD replaces it with forgiveness and mercy and a new future. When we repent, we are entering into a new relationship with GOD, setting new ground rules, and becoming something else.
What John is speaking to, therefore, is not something any of us can do on our own. It isn’t some piece of good work or some important badge that can be applied in our personal lives. We can’t read The Secret or watch some Oprah and be different. We do it by becoming vulnerable enough to tell GOD that we’ve screwed up. That we need some help. That we can’t take this anymore.
And GOD not only listens, but GOD says OK. It’s done. Like a chalkboard that is wiped with a wet sponge.
John gives us a way of understanding how we bear those fruits of repentance. And they are totally in tune with Advent. With bringing the Kingdom. It has a lot to do with rejecting greed. But I hope we hear a different Word today.
The fruits are found in being Kingdom people. In the standing up, in hard times and in tragedies, and saying enough! This world is not my real home. This society isn’t good enough. And bringing change to the world.
On Friday, the usual destructive statements were made about GOD’s punishment, and many faithful Christians believe that GOD is vengeful and wanted those children to be murdered because GOD has been expelled from schools. Well let me tell you something. GOD is not into murdering children. And GOD has not been expelled from school. The real GOD can’t be kicked out. Mike Huckabee’s god has, and for good reasons. But not the real GOD. Revealed to those first followers as YHWH or Yahweh. This GOD that is present with us in our worst moments, that comes out of us when we show real love for one another. That god can’t be kicked to the curb. That god is here with us, whether called or not. That god is with the families of the victims and the perpetrator. GOD isn’t punishing us. Our selfish culture is. This is the reason John came preaching repentance. This is why he warned that one following him is much more powerful. This is why many of us have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To bear fruits.
We have been called to bear fruits worthy of repentance. Repentance that we must seek and repentance that is joyfully given. It is not a reward for good behavior. It isn’t earned or achieved. It is given. And it begins with our sacrifice—our will to be changed. To be so vulnerable before GOD.
To Bear fruits that come from following Jesus, from helping the victims of tragedy, and in changing the way the world works. To be people that don’t stand for this. That protect children and eliminate violence in all its forms. That care for the physical, mental, and emotional needs of all of our neighbors. That seek not to take advantage of the weak, but give generously of our abundance. To be worthy of repentance, that place, that intimacy with GOD is to be different than this.
As Advent continues, as we pick up the pieces broken in tragedy, and as each day brings us closer to our celebration of the incarnate Word, may we open ourselves up, accept that GOD hopes for more from us, and let us become worthy of that mercy and grace.
- Change Every Thing (drewdowns.net)