Monday, December 14, 2009

Dec. 13 Sermon, John the Baptist: Hatchet Man or Burier of the Hatchet

Sermon Texts: Zephaniah,

Philippians, and Luke

John begins the passage by speaking about a severing of identity. The people of Israel had grown so accustomed of being God’s people, they had grown lazy and unappreciative.

Have you ever had that experience of realizing how incredibly lucky you are? I was raised in a great family. I had support and encouragement and discipline and all my physical needs were met.

I never feared for scarcity. I never doubted my parents’ love. I never felt out of place. When I meet others who have experienced these things, I sometimes feel an intense insight into my own fortune.

Israel hadn’t remembered their fortune. They had stopped living like it meant anything to be the children of the Living God. They weren’t bearing fruit. They had nothing to show for their connection to the tree.

he speaks about the axe at the root of the tree. Israel is threatening her own rootedness in God. They are in danger of forgetting who they are. Without that connection to God, they will certainly bear no fruit.)

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so

John spoke about rocks. He assured the people who had come to be baptized and reborn as children of God that God could raise up the rocks into children if they failed to start acting like God’s children.

So, the Gospel writers tell us about God finally sending his own child to live among them and show them how to bear fruit.

John gave them the jumping off points.

John answers questions from tax collectors and soldiers and crowds. Gives them practical advice. Live an upright life. Jesus will come and minister to tax collectors and soldiers, who are mentioned in the scriptures and even join Jesus as disciples.

Tax collectors and Soldiers, both have prominent places in the story. Think about what they represented to the first hearers of this story. Think about how despised both of these groups were in that society.

It would be akin to us hearing about Jesus attracting and making his disciples out of pimps and gangsters.

Would you follow a man who healed a pimp’s prostitute or hung out with gangsters based on the truth that he spoke?

This is the kind of man John is, and it’s the kind of man Jesus is. He embraces the despised

John gives practical advice, and then Jesus comes and shows them the spiritual path. It involves the same kind of practical advice that John gives. It’s something akin to what John Wesley called the “three simple rules: Do good, Do no harm, and stay in love with God.” (Actually Wesley says, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”—but that takes some explaining.)
But it involves more than practical rules of conduct. It also involves a spiritual opening.

It involves that kind of feeling of gratitude that I mentioned earlier. I take caution here, because we all “feel” differently and have a variety of connections to our emotional and spiritual lives.

John hopes for a refiners fire. My children love it lately when I take them out of the bath and get them dried off as quick as I can and then hold them under the heating vent, which dries them off completely. They’re ready to step out into the cold-feeling house.

Perhaps this is a good way for us to think about the work of the Spirit, which Jesus comes to baptize with. It makes us ready to go out into the cold-feeling house and live as children of God, bringing warmth and light of the Christ child.

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so over the course of the camp, our worship area included a large king sized sheet that on the first night, the youth stamped their hand in green paint, and then stamped them on that sheet. That night they spoke about identity. The next night they heard about Christ as the "vine" that gives our identity meaning and Real Life by showing us the Way of Grace. The Way directed us to the Ground of all Being, God our Maker. That night, the youth watched as their handprints were connected by small twigs and then larger branches to a great full trunk. Christ is the Tree Trunk. The next day's theme spoke about being rooted, and we oriented small group discussions and that night's "Catacomb worship" service around the sacraments, which we believe root us in the God who gives them to us for that purpose. At worship that night, I'd painted in some roots that wove together and spelled "Rooted." The following day we spoke about the practices of faith as being the fruit that we are told to bear. The youth cut out what kind of “fruit they were” and wrote why on the back of the fruit. Then they positioned that fruit around where they had stamped their hand.

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