Good News? - Sam Buehrer & Hafidha Saadiqah - SylvaniaUCC - Dec162018
December 16, 2018
Sermon was done jointly by Pastor Sam Buehrer and Pastor Hafidha Saadiqah.
No audio available for this sermon.
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Sermon “Good News?” December 16, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
We are now in the season when we receive Christmas cards from friends far and near. Many of the cards show pictures of serene scenes of winter. Some have depictions of Santa Claus. There are cards with the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels and some with the shepherds. But every year I wonder if someone will send a card with a depiction of John the Baptist on it, since according to the gospel of Luke John played a central role in the coming of Jesus. If I ever receive a card with John the Baptist on it, I imagine that the card will read, “Greetings from our house to yours. Our thoughts of you at this time of year are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist, ‘You brood of vipers!’ The axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown to the fire.” - Merry Christmas.
In like manner, if a Christmas card depicting Mary and utilizing Luke’s gospel is ever written, the card might read, “Our holiday wishes for you were expressed by Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said: ‘He has scattered the proud…He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.’ - Merry Christmas.
As we move through the Advent season and wait for the coming of the Christ, the last thing that we want to encounter is a prophet who calls us out comparing us to a ‘brood of vipers.’ We would much prefer that this season be one of mirth and good cheer, where everyone gets along and all is well. The reality is that this is exactly what John the Baptist wanted as well. He wanted all to be well for everyone. But it wasn’t. John was living in a time under Roman rule where the wealthy and powerful were taking advantage of the poor and powerless. The wealthy were making laws that benefited them at the expense of the poor. As a result more and more people were falling into debt, and more and more people were going hungry. The rich were becoming richer and the poor were becoming poorer. Does this sound familiar? Since the 1980’s, the same thing has been happening in this country. More and more people have fallen into debt and are at the mercy of pay day loans, loans that were none existent before that time. The rate of children living in poverty has risen so much so that now almost every school in the nation (with the exception of those in wealthy districts) is now serving free lunches and breakfasts to children so that they will not go hungry. The powerful have rewritten the tax codes to benefit the wealthy and at the same time rewritten policies to cut the provisions of food and healthcare assistance to the poor so that fewer and fewer meet the qualifications for assistance. As it turns out, we are living in a similar time to that of John the Baptist. The time is ripe for a John the Baptist to come among us and to call us out so much so that we ask the same question of John, “What then should we do?”
I suspect that John’s answer to that question 2,000 years ago would also be his response today. You who are wealthy enough to have closets full of clothing, share with those who are cold because they do not have the funds to buy clothes. Today some of you have done just this by purchasing gifts for one of the family members from the Grace Community Center. You who have never gone hungry in your life, consider giving of your abundance of food to those who go to bed hungry. And if you are in a position of power or authority akin to that of the tax collector or soldier in John’s day, where your decisions can affect the poor and powerless, be fare and generous in you decisions.
It is worthy of note that John was not concerned with how the people worshiped or what they believed. His concern was how they treated the poor and the powerless. John’s teachings were very much in the tradition of that of the prophet Micah. When Micah was asked, “What does the Lord require of you,” his response had nothing to do with right worship or right belief. His response was, “The Lord has told you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” May we be found faithful in doing justice, in loving with kindness, and in walking humbly with God. If we do this, then what we have been waiting on has arrived and there would be no need for one to come among us calling us out as a brood of vipers.
by Hafidha Saadiqah
16 December 2018
I can hear a sigh of relief rumble through the crowds that followed John when he said: (1) “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none”, (2) “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you – when you are collecting taxes”, and (3) “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” They may have said amongst themselves: “That’s it? That’s all? We can do that! After all, we do have scruples. We have morals. We aren’t soul-less thieves and cowards. Our religious principles, although strained by this forced allegiance to the Romans, they are still there. We know that we are at a tipping point. The Roman occupation of Palestine is coming to an end. And we know that it’s not going to be pretty. There will be blood. So, we’re here to “Get right with God”, so to speak before the absolute bottom falls out. So, each of us, we’ll make our public confession of wrong-doing. John, we’ll comply with your orders from now on. And all will be well! This is indeed good news.”
Not quite. We heard that when John got wind of their thinking that he was Messiah – God’s messenger among them, the one who was going to make everything right – he breaks out the not so good part of his good news. It’s harsh and judgmental. It’s definitely how NOT to “win friends and influence people. Not a good church growth and retention strategy either. In a nutshell, his words about chaff, a winnowing fork, a threshing floor, and unquenchable fire seem to be the opposite of the message of inclusion that he and Jesus would be preaching. In reality he is saying: Some of you will not survive this struggle. Some of you are not sincere. Some of you will prove to be nothing more than empty husks, casing that fall from grains of wheat in the harvesting process. You just don’t have it in you to be in the movement. That’s John’s “Good News.” Right.
Ya’ good love him, though. A tough man with a tough job. While there are ministers who have no compunction in making such declarations, I am not one of them. It’s not my job to say who is or is not fit, genuine, appropriate, ready, or sincere enough to be part of the Jesus movement. Nevertheless, John points to what I call the rough and often overlooked theme of Advent and baptism: struggle.
It is a struggle to wait. It is a struggle to stand by and wait for the reign of God in our lives and in our world. Truth be told, it’s not clear and discernable most of the time. The rough and raw stuff of life, as well as the delightful stuff, often keep us transfixed and stuck. Baptism seems to be a quick and convenient ticket into the next world, or so we hope. Giving to the poor, standing in a protest line, making restitution, or the many hundreds of ways we can live into being a person who freely follows Jesus seems very easy …very sensible things to do. The idea that connects verses 7 through 14 and verses 15 through 18 is the notion of “vocation.”
A vocation, or an avocation – it’s not just a job whereby you earn your living to pay the bill. It’s a gift, skill that has become a calling, an irresistible urge that if you couldn’t do it you would die. Well, maybe not die, but your life would be poorer if you couldn’t live into it. This is the thing you HAVE TO DO!
Advent is a vocation, a calling, an itch, a drive to work as well as wait for God’s new day in and among us. Baptism is a vocation, at least the one we’ve witnessed at this font or others similar to it. The baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that John spoke about is a daily vocation, one that entails burning, washing, cleansing, recreating, filling. The implications of our daily baptism by and into the Holy Spirit points to a vocation where we live a life that cuts across the grain of cultural, religious, and all other conventions. As ones who follow the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth, our vocation is to allow our lives to be transformed by the raw urgency of the Gospel, by its unwavering call to accountability in every area of our life, in a respectful deep intimacy in our relationship with others, and the cultivation of a vision that the way things are in our world are not the way they have to be.
So, what’s the “good news” in these verses? It’s that I can change. I can choose to go deeper into the life of God, if I desire it. There is another way to go. There is another way that you and I can be. Another place where we can stand and declare that we have aligned our lives with Jesus’s radical call to inclusion and deep love. I can out myself as a follower, or, I can let the flames of hesitation and fear burn me up. I’ll take the former.
Good news? The Christ-child is/can be born in me… again. Now that’s good news if I ever heard any. Amen, and joy to the world!