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The Good, the Bad, and Us - Sermon on Luke 3:7-18

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God loves all his people. Some that we believe hopelessly bad of us have the potential to do good things, and the rest of us have the potential to do bad. And both good and bad are in each of us.  

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

December 13, 2015  -  3rd Sunday in Advent

"Take a Moment".  Text is from Luke 3:7-18

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.  

What started out as a kind of a side show has morphed into something that's taken a different direction altogether.  The people came out to the Jordan River to witness this unusual character named John the Baptist, because they knew he was going to shout at them and tell them that they were nothing but a brood of vipers. But when they start to hear then thing that he says, they become agitated. And even hearing him berate them and telling them that they were doomed he also offers them some kind of hope. That even despite the sins that they have been doing there is an opportunity for them to turn it all around. 

This baptism of water, is a baptism of repentance of forgiveness for the repentance. The ills that they have accumulated can be just washed away, but they have to do something to follow up that baptism, because what else is repentance here but the literal translation of the original Greek word for Repentance: "Metanoia" To turn one's heart. To change one's life in a spiritual manner.  

The resources of the earth are enough to be shared among all, yet there are yet people who don't have anything.  Those people who have been hoarding, who have way too many items of clothing in their closets are to give their extras away to those who are cold and those who are naked.  Those who have been making a killing by collecting taxes for the king are to no longer benefit at the expense of others by accumulating the funds. Those who are extorting the weak are to uplift them instead.  These are things that they should have naturally known, things that should not have to be explained. But such was life in the 1st century Judea. 

Yin Yang geometryJohn was dealing with a particular group of people at a particular time, people under the thumb of an evil empire with corrupt puppets and politicians and a religious institution more interested in preserving their own way of life than tending to the spiritual needs of those for whom they were charged with. 

 In John's worldview, poverty is not something that simply happens by random chance, nor is it something that happens by virtue of what the people who themselves are poor have done. It is something that is clearly done to them. People suffer because resources are being withheld from them. In order to reverse that suffering, the people who are withholding the resources must turn from those evil ways, have the change of heart they so desperately need, repent, so to speak, and begin conducting business fairly. 

But this is a miracle, the gift of this humble king who is laid before the people on the manger, that goodness is now in the world and that people no longer have to act on their own base impulses.  God is with us, Emmanuel. And through the small child that is Jesus Christ we become the people that God means for us to be. Fulfilled and sanctified, we are given the means to be saints. 

But we do not do it on our own, and we do not do it by simply being. Indeed not. While we can take comfort in faith, we can be granted glory that God loves his creation, just being is not enough to fulfill the mission that God has set forth. By virtue of the gift that God has given us, we must do more. We must trace the wrong that we put out, because John's words about the wheat and the chaff are most certainly not about whole people being separated from one another. 

Human nature is far more complicated to simply relegate people into categories of good and evil, because even the most ungodly of individuals are capable creating helpful and wonderful things while each and every one of us good-intended persons are nevertheless able to engage in harm. We hear it all the time. Some famous person, maybe a politician says something awful, and someone we know turns around and affirms their agreement with that awful thing this person said. And we are left baffled by this person, who we thought was a really great person to begin with, and how can they come out and agree with something that is so harmful to other people.  How can they participate in a culture which promotes alienating certain minorities and kicking people who are already down to the ground? I know that there is this little voice inside of me that says to me, well, maybe they're just awful people. And it makes it easy for me to separate individuals into good and bad people. 

But to be brutally honest, this is one of those places that really used to trip me up about scripture when I was younger. Because I would have to wonder how we could base everything so simply on faith alone when it seemed that people were capable of doing very good and very bad things no matter what their faith. And that I would read passages such as the one about the wheat and the chaff and have to wonder about myself, was I wheat? Was I chaff? Particularly at the darker times in my life when I was consumed by certain activities and behaviors. What about the people I have hurt in my life, what about the wrong I have done to others? Didn't that make me an awful person to be thrown into the fire like the three that bore bad fruit? 

Theology can be boiled down to simple concepts, but God's relationship with humanity involves a deity that is very simply all encompassing, all-knowing, all powerful, and all loving. And God is dealing with these wonderful things that God, in what must have been a particularly inspired moment, created: human beings, who are so very complicated in our imperfection. Good and evil are very real concepts but they are not something that separate human beings from one another because they are what helps to make us so very complicated entities of God's creation. 

I found this quote online when reading about our text from the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about this very thing: "If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." 

That which separates the wheat and the chaff is the very fire and spirit John is sharing with us on this passage. That promise of God's divine baptism is a promise of sanctification, which makes us into the holy being called to be God's people.  And even amid those systems around us that would deny that our truth exists, those of us who are gifted with faith are also gifted with this wonderful opportunity to change the world for the better on account of this good news of this messiah come to us.  This expectation founded in God's promise that we are to be ourselves the herald of a new world, proclaimers of the news of Christ, the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father and prince of peace. 

Now is the time for this Advent, this expectation, because this world seems all so scary at times, and we need to remember that God is drawing ever closer to us.  Now is the time that we need to see that amid all the harsh words that John the Baptist is sharing throughout this passage, it nevertheless ends up: "So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people." That we have been given a forgiveness by a baptism in fire and the holy spirit, that is good news. That we have been given the power to repent of human ways, that is good news. That we are able to become the human beings that our God has created and the human beings that our God wishes we are to be, that is good news. That we are yet granted the grace to make mistakes and not be perfect, that is good news. That by the death and resurrection of Christ we become sanctified, and our failures are made whole, those branches of our efforts that do not bear good fruit are burned away in the fire, and the rest of us are grafted on the tree of life, that is good news. That we can rejoice wondrous expectation that the Messiah is on their way and all our fears are comforted, our worries made nothing, and our hopes realized, that is indeed, good news. 


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