What must we do?
Sermon, Advent 3C
r 16, 2012, St Petri
What must we do?
Luke 3: 7-18
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 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 barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
Have you ever met someone who has an intensity and conviction about a cause that you find a little hard to take? Have you come across someone who seems to have one agenda and one agenda only – the cause. The cause is so consuming for this person that there is little chance of discussing anything like the football, the weather, the joy of a hobby and etc. There is only room for the one thing – the cause.
We had a guy in our soccer team a few years back who was a bit like this. He unfortunately had a car accident and suffered major injury. From that time on all he ever seemed to be able to talk about was his cause to change the road rules. Gone were the jokes about various footballers. Gone was enjoyable banter about life. Now it was only about the cause.
I think if you have met someone like that you might understand what it must have been like to meet John the Baptiser. He was a man of great cause and great intensity. He was totally committed to one thing and one thing only – the truth of God and faithfulness to it. Talk about commitment of faith! Every part of him was given over to his calling to turn people toward God as they could receive the truth – the new day, the new dawn of new times.
When the average person in the street came out to hear this fiery man, all they could do was respond with a heartfelt question: “What should I do?” they pleaded. What should I do to be truthful, honest, truly free in a good conscience before the Messiah – the new king coming?
Same for those most despised rip-off merchants – the dreaded tax collectors. Even they had a moment of truth and found a new humility. “What must we do? they urged.
And then there were those people who were used to getting their way by force – feathering their own nests at the expense of others – the Roman Soldier. Astoundingly they stopped pretending they had some God-given right to pressure people into paying up for their own selfish gain. They “got real”, as we say, and asked that same driving question, “What must we do, John?”
Jackson Browne, a great singer-songwriter of days gone by wrote a song called The Pretender.
It is a call to thing on your life and how content you are with the truth of things…
I want to know what became of the changes We waited for love to bring Were they only the fitful dreams Of some greater awakening I’ve been aware of the time going by They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye Caught between the longing for love And the struggle for the legal tender Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring And the junk man pounds his fender Where the veterans dream of the fight Fast asleep at the traffic light And the children solemnly wait For the ice cream vendor Out into the cool of the evening Strolls the pretender Are you there? Say a prayer for the pretender Who started out so young and strong Only to surrender
Is that you? Is that me? Did you start out so well only to lose it now? Was there a fire in your belly and a light in your eyes lit of the truth and love of Jesus in you and for you, but did life get in the way and overwhelm you – so much so that you have settled for a faith locked in the past, a life of little faith, a life of selfish gain with a veneer of faith?
This is John’s pointed questioning. It is uncomfortable. He is uncomfortable in his insect diet and camel hair shirt. He is meant for this. He is the last OT prophet. He is a truth teller – no pretense, no escape, and they knew it.
Are you asking their question yet…..”What must I do?”
John’s responses are worthy of our self reflection. John’s responses show his cause, his heart, his fire, his commitment and total trust of the Lord – a true prophet in the Old testament way – another Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah…
What must we do to prepare for Jesus arrival in our lives? Ask the huge crowds of listeners.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Share, give, be generous, be just. Give away your selfish dreams and turn your life over to God’s justice and compassion. How could they resist this call to rely on the Lord for their everyday and give up their possessions and what they represent, especially when the guy calling for this all in response is the guy without the shirt or the food!?
To the despised rip-off merchants who were in it for themselves and making a mockery of God’s fairness and compassion John says,
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,”
Simple and direct. Stop doing what you are doing. Stop the injustice you are adding to and this will prepare you for the Saviour who is here.
To these soldiers who were used to gaining whatever they wanted by force – being responsible for the oppression of the poor and the silencing of a nation….
“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Another moment of truth telling, clear and simple. Simply decide not to do that any longer. No pretending to protect the innocent or uphold justice. Actually do what you are called to do – no more, no less.
Do you get the sense that with John there is no room for pretending about anything – especially being a Christian? When the Jewish people immediately went to their default position to avoid all this talk of change and truth and true turning toward the Lord in humility and faith – for real, John heads them off before they can even utter the words. They want to say that they are above this call to repent. They want to keep pretending that they are just fine the way they are. They are in the family. They are guaranteed to be ready for the coming moment of truth when Jesus turns up and starts to speak the truth about human beings and God.
Same for us? Is our default position to say, “Well, I am baptised and a member of the church, so all this talk of heart change, behaviour challenge and call to be honest, humble and committed to God’s cause is for “those” people – those people who are not members, not Christian, not like me?
Friends, John is troubling because he is true and he has no favourites – even Christians! He says it in one line. God can make fine upstanding members of the church from rocks on the ground!
In other words, none of us can pretend that we don’t need to respond to the Lord in deep humility. None of us are worthy enough on our own merits to not enter into repentance of sin. None of us can claim name, family, heritage, church membership and even baptism as a reason to run away from the truth of Jesus, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – please help us, God.
And this is where John gets us ready at Advent. This is where John opens us up for a new insight, a new appreciation, a new faith, a new lifestyle ads we ponder the startling scene of God becoming a d human being not to condemn us but love us! That is why at very end of this fiery truth telling word, St Luke can say this:
18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
John’s truth telling and call to change is good news because he helps us stop being pretenders.
He arrests our smugness, our comfortableness, our avoidance of the holy Spirit’s calling to change, to adjust, to repent, to humbly receive the grace and kindness and power of God.
And now we are ready for new man and his new life. We are ready for an open-hearted reception of the King coming to us again and we are in his cause, shirtless, foodless, powerless and content – content in reliance of Jesus for who we are and what he is helping us become as people and as his church.
And now we are producing the fruits of reliance and commitment to Jesus – the fruit worthy of our repentance and reliance on him.
A heart full of life
A mouth full of the message of the Spirit
A true follower of Jesus
A true member of his body
Just people. Fair people, compassionate people, expectant people.
Watching and waiting for the Spirit’s calling and direction daily as we see Jesus sorting his world out until it is finished and we are content with him.