Sunday, 17 December 2006

A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

“You brood of vipers,” says John the Baptizer.

Actually, I don’t think you’re a brood of vipers. I’m rather fond of you all. The only viperish things I encounter occasionally is someone putting another down—gossiping or criticizing—words sting and are poisonous like the bite of a viper.

“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

I did and I do. It’s my job. Only my warning is not to flee or run away, but to run to Jesus. Salvation is not to be found in anyone or anything else. Being good, being a member of StB, of the Anglican Church of Canada (or any other denomination or organization) will not save us.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Confess your sins to Jesus. Repent of them. Return to Jesus.

Produce fruit. What is fruit of repentance?

Repent, believe and we receive the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22).

John also describes some fruit of repentance:

Repenting of greed, of holding on to having too-much, so we can produce the fruit of sharing our plenty—tunics and food.

Repenting of greed, the fruit of which is not to collect, to gather, to consume too much—such as too much energy, in a world facing global warming; too much food, in a world in which many go hungry.

Repenting of greed, the fruit of which is to be honest in our business dealings.

Repenting of greed, the fruit of which is not to extort more than we are due—in money, in attention, in relationships.

Repenting of dishonesty, the fruit of which is not to accuse people falsely, to put them down, to gossip, to bite and sting like a viper.

Repenting of greed, the fruit of which is to be content with what the Lord has given us.

“The ax 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.”

Are there any such trees in our lives? Is there anything we’ve allowed to grow in us which does not bear good fruit? Any habits? Any ways of treating our spouses? Is there any pruning we need to do before the Lord comes—in our lives, relationships, in our parish?

These days I find myself wondering about the Anglican Church of Canada and whether the decline in numbers—both in membership and finances—might be the ax at the root of that tree and a warning to produce fruit in keeping with repentance by responding to the Windsor report without fudging, by holding to the authority of Scripture, and disciplining, or at the very least voicing unambiguous disapproval of those who have acted in ways which have put our membership in the Anglican Communion in jeopardy.

And people must have thought, “Wow! This John is spiritual! This guy is good! Maybe he’s the one.”

But John directs them to Jesus, the hero of every story in the Bible, the author of our salvation. This is what he says about Jesus:
    Jesus is more powerful than him
    Jesus is so exalted, so majestic, so holy that John is not worthy even to untie his sandals.
    Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
    Jesus will separate the wheat—those who will be saved—and gathers them into safety
    Jesus will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.
We get to decide which we want to be.

We also heard about Jesus from Zephaniah:
    Jesus has taken away our punishment
    Jesus has turned our enemy back
    Jesus is with us
    Because of Jesus, we need never again fear any harm
    Jesus is mighty to save
    Jesus will take great delight in us
    Jesus will quiet us with his love
    Jesus will rejoice over us with singing
    Jesus will remove burdensome and reproachful religious observances
    Jesus will deal with all who have ever, are, or will ever oppress us
    Jesus will rescue the lame
    Jesus will gather the scattered
    Jesus will give us praise and honour in any situation in which we have been put to shame
    Jesus will bring us home
    Jesus will restore our fortunes before our very eyes
So. Paul in Philippians 4:
Rejoice in the Lord (Jesus) always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord (Jesus) is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (in Jesus name). And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.