Zephaniah 3:13-20 Canticle 9 Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:7-18
Our reading from Luke this morning is John the Baptist speaking to a crowd of people who have specifically come to hear him. John had not come into town to preach repentance. He most certainly was calling upon people to repent, but he was a long, long way from any town of consequence. I know. I’ve been to the Jordan River and it took a bus ride through the country to get there. The people in the crowd clearly made an effort to be there.
John does not greet them with gratitude for coming. Instead, John says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Clearly John did not attend the program that was offered in our diocese – Invite, Welcome, Connect, on how to be a welcoming, open congregation. But then again, I think John knew why the people had come.
The people came because they knew they needed to repent. They did not come to have John make them feel better about themselves. They came because deep down in the hearts they knew they were not doing what God had asked of them. Sometimes I think we all need to hear the truth about ourselves, our sins, and we need to be challenged to be better.
John calls upon them, and all of us, to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” He warned them that simply being a descendant of Abraham, one of God’s Chosen People, was not enough. God’s Chosen People were not chosen to be privileged people. They were chosen to be share God’s love with other.
We can say the same about being called to a Christian. We are not called to receive God’s grace in abundance, we are called to share Christ’s love in abundance. For both the people of Israel gathered there and for us, John answers our questions about what we are called to do: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
The tax collectors and the soldiers ask John what they should do, to which he responds, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you,” and “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” So, John’s instructions are simple, share what we have with those who have less, don’t cheat, intimidate, or multiplate people into doing what we want, and to be satisfied with your what we have.
Simple instructions, but not so simple to follow. Some of us do take pride in calling ourselves Christian, but have trouble sharing, treating others with respect, and are far from being satisfied with what we have. Ironically, many of us find that when we have more, we want more. If one of something is good – two is better.
If we were to ask John what it means to repent, I think he would say, “share and live simply.” I can’t tell you the number of times that I have had trouble doing these things. In one of my moves, I gave away a coat. At the time I thought, I have too many coats and someone could benefit from having this one. But at times, I wish I still had that coat. It was the perfect coat for working in the yard and it would be just the right weight for walking the dogs on certain days. Never mind I have several other coats to choose from, I want what I no longer have. If I bought one like it tomorrow, would I give away one I have? Maybe now that I have thought about it and read what John has had to say.
John tells us to be satisfied with our wages, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. We also must learn to be satisfied with what we have and be okay with what we don’t have. This requires us to look at things differently. To repent is to turn our attention to God, to shift our focus back to the one who created us, the one who redeems us, and the one who sustains us.
This is the message of John and why, I think, John’s message is included in our readings leading up to Christmas. We are preparing for Christ to be our focus by turning our attention away from the latest and greatest anything – and turning it to the love of Christ.
Every day I receive advertisements by email with lots of items I have been wanting to buy – now on sale! In the church we talk about advent as a season of preparation, but it can be a season of distraction from the life I have chosen for myself. Last week I learned that my daughter has started a tradition with her daughter that fits well with John’s advice to the crowd. John says, if you have two coats “share with anyone who has none.” For the past two years now, Clara has gone shopping to pick out a gift to give away. The gift is dropped off at a collection site, so she doesn’t know who will receive it. What she does know now is that she has more toys than other children so she should share.
Part of shifting our focus to Christ is to see what he sees, and that includes the people who have less. Giving to help others is a practice that I believe changes us. Giving says that people are more important than things for ourselves. I have learned there is more satisfaction from giving, than buying for myself. It may be challenging to remember this – but as the Prayer of St. Francis says, “it is in giving that we receive.”
I want to close today with the Prayer of St. Francis, which is about sharing Christ’s love with others and what that does for us.
Let us pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.