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Hespeler, 8 December 2019 © Scott McAndless – 2nd Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12
I suppose you’re all wondering why you’re here today. In particular, why you are in this rather desolate and lonely place on the shores of the Jordan River. I know you have come here from busy lives. Some of you came here from Jerusalem, the city that never sleeps. And many of you came from other towns and villages in Judea and even a few of you provincials came from Galilee. You all have things to do back there. It’s the busy season. But you have left all of that behind and come to this desolate place. What’s more, you have left behind that land, the PromiIsed Land that God gave to you as a people and the particular plots of land that have been passed down in your families for generations.
How could you do that, abandon the land of your own ancestors? Well, isn’t it obvious? The Promised Land is no longer your land. It’s no longer the land that God gave you because it is ruled by foreigners who serve only the gods of Rome and the emperor. It is no longer Israel but Roman Judea. Therefore, you stand here on the ancient and sacred border of the Promised Land as outsiders. You are just like the children of Israel back in the days of Yeshua who came to this very spot and stood on the banks of the river and looked into the land that God had promised them, and it was not their land.
And what happened to them? You all know the story. As Yeshua stood there before the people, God went before them and the priests stepped into the water of the Jordan River carrying the sacred Ark of the Covenant and the water stopped flowing. Right there, just upstream from this this very spot, the water stood up in a heap and the bed of the river ran dry so that the people might enter into the land that God had given to them.
Maybe you didn’t realize this when you left home, but you have come here today because it is time for that to happen again. Once again, God will make a path through this river for you. Once again God will give you back the land that is promised.
Now, it will be a little bit different this time. We do not have the priests with us here, for the priests have given in to the powerful of this world and they work with the forces of darkness. The priests and the temple are lost to us today. They do nothing but pacify the people so that the Romans may rule undisturbed. So the priests are not here to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the waters and so the river will not run dry. But this will not prevent us. This time you shall pass through the waters of the Jordan and you will enter into the land as new people.
In a few minutes, John, God’s messenger, the baptizer and the voice that cries out in this wilderness place will get around to this group. He will take you into the Promised Land. But, since you must pass through the water to do so, this is what you must do. To prepare yourself for the chilly waters of the Jordan River, you must repent. That is the only way for you to enter into the land as the force that will take it back. You cannot enter as the person you have been, you must enter as the person you will become.
Now, I hear some of you asking each other, what does that mean? How do I repent? I have spoken to a lot of groups like yours, and I know how you talk. I know that sometimes you seem to think that repentance is all about how you feel. Now, granted, I understand that some of you may feel bad about how you behaved in the past. You may have disappointed yourself or others. You may not have lived up to God’s expectations of you. If you feel guilty about anything like that, or if anyone has made you to feel guilty for it, that is fine. God forgives and sets you free from your guilt.
But I’ll tell you something, John is not particularly interested in your feelings of guilt. He’s not interested in the past. He doesn’t talk about wrath in the past tense, only in the future tense. We’ve all messed up in the past. John is interested in the now and in the future and that is what repentance is about.
Repentance is about changing your mind, changing your heart and, thus, bringing about a change in your actions. Repentance is about you, yourself, being and becoming the change that is actually needed in our land. But (and here I’m going to give you guys a bit of a warning) if any of you just happen to belong to the party of the Pharisees or the party of the Sadducees, well, John really doesn’t like you guys. I mean, really. “Brood of vipers,” that’s what he called the last batch of Sadducees that came through here. And, I want to let you know, that it’s not really personal. It’s not that he doesn’t like you. It’s not even that he really has any problem with the teachings or the practices of those two groups. In theory at least, he knows that the Pharisees are committed to follow all of the various commandments of the law. He knows that the Sadducees have committed themselves to serving God in the temple.
His problem is not with any of that. His problem is that you have been so willing to put all of that aside and work with those who would exploit this land and its people for their own gain so that they might be secure and comfortable. So I am warning you Pharisees and Sadducees, when he sees you, he will not just ask you to repent. He will ask you to show fruit worthy of repentance. He will demand that you show him in your actions that you have changed your minds about what really matters.
That is why you have come here. That is why you have left behind everything that is familiar and comfortable to come to this desolate place, because the time has come for us to take this country back. And I’m warning you, John will talk about this in some pretty wild terms. He will not just say that the tree of this nation is rotten and doesn’t produce any fruit. He will say that, right now, the axe is about to strike the root of the tree and it will be cut down and thrown into fire. Oh, John loves talking about fire! Don’t get him started.
But, I’ll tell you, I’ve been listening to his spiel for a while now, and I have noticed something. John willingly admits that he’s not the one who’s going to carry all of this out. He’s just here to prepare everyone, to prepare all of you to be part of it. But someone else is going to make it happen.
So, I thought a lot about that and I think I’ve figured it out. We needed a Yeshua to take this nation the first time. To use the old Hebrew language, we needed a Joshua. That’s why I believe that John is here to prepare the way for a new Yeshua – a new Joshua, or maybe for you Greek speakers in the crowd, a new Jesus. It’s all the same name. But actually what his name is and where he comes from doesn’t matter, this is about what he’s going to do. And what he’s going to do is take the nation back for God.
Now, it’s pretty clear what John thinks that’s going to look like. It’s going to be like the first time, with fire and destruction and death. I get where he’s coming from, but I’m beginning to think that he’s not quite right about that. This new Yeshua is going to be different, I think. I actually don’t think that it really worked the first time, taking this nation by violence. The new Yeshua, I think, will not take the country by violence, but rather by love, peace and hope. But whatever it is, just understand that John is just preparing the way for what God is about to do and you are here in order to prepare to be part of it. So, into the water you go!
I suppose you’re all wondering why you’re here today. In particular, why you are in this rather desolate and lonely place that it sometimes seems the world has forgotten. I know you have come here from busy lives. Many of you have demanding jobs and schedules. I know some of you are retired, but sometimes I look at your lives and think you might be even busier than those who work. Nevertheless, you have set all of that aside to come apart to this place at this time. Why are you here?
You are here, quite simply, because it’s time to take this nation back. And you may think that I’m talking about taking the nation back from the forces of secularization, but actually I’m not. Yes, it is true that this nation is less explicitly Christian today than it has been in the past and of course that does present certain challenges to Christians living in it.
But that is actually the kind of thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees were working on. Remember them, that brood of vipers? Their problem was that they were so obsessed with the place of their religion in the culture that they missed a much more insidious danger. They allied themselves with powerful political force, not challenging the evil that it did, in order to advance their tamed version of the faith, a version that would not disturb the powers-that-be and that allowed the mad emperor to do whatever he pleased without check or balance.
No, this conquest is different. It is about confronting the truly evil forces at work in our world – the forces of greed, of power for the sake of power, of hatred and tribalism. And, for that reason, the Yeshua that we follow will not lead us in a conquest of violence and hate but of love and hope.
You are here because you have been called here to be a part of the nation that should be. You stand on the borders of that new nation, on the banks of the river, to prepare to enter. And just like those pilgrims who came to the river in the days of the Baptist, you shall enter by passing through the water. Indeed, most of you have already passed through.
So there is one thing that remains for you. You must repent. And though I know that all of us carry around regrets for our failures and shortcomings in the past, repentance does not mean merely how you feel bad about those things. And, though I promise you that God does forgive and doesn’t seek to hold against you what has gone wrong in the past, repentance is not merely about seeking forgiveness for the past. All of that is merely the prelude to repentance.
True repentance is about how you choose to be today and tomorrow and in the weeks and months to come. It’s about how you change your mind and your heart and ultimately your actions so that you begin to live according to the change you want to see in the world. That is what it meant when you were taken and dragged through the waters of the river from one side to the other. That’s what it meant when you were baptized and that is what it will mean when you are baptized.
That is it. That is what you have come here for. I know that there are some who would add other things on top of that. They would tell you that there are certain things you have to believe, certain ideas that you have to sign on to. I have no problem with any of that. But the fact of the matter is that we are never all going to agree about all of those things. Where we must agree is here on the banks of this river. We are here because the new Yeshua has come and we are part of the army that will take back this land to a place of peace, hope and joy that will be for all.
Our GivingTuesday #GivingTuesdayWR campaign continues to run for the month of December! Have you thought about how you can give generously? Here's a few ideas: give a financial donation to a charity of your choice, give of your time and volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen, etc.; do a random act of kindness, hold the door open for someone, teach someone something good. Use your imaginations, use your gifts and talents. Thank you for making our community a better one!
Hespeler, Dec. 1, 2019 © Scott McAndless – Advent 1, Communion
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
You brought a sleeping bag and wore your long johns and your warmest coat, but after sitting out here for many hours, you are completely chilled to the bone. How many times have you asked yourself over the last few hours, are you crazy to do this? I mean, what kind of fools put themselves through this kind of trial of their own free will? If your boss ordered you to go out and sit on a cold sidewalk from midnight until six in the morning and then fight off a bunch of other people in order to get your hands on a certain piece of merchandise, you would refuse. You would file a grievance with the union. You might even just quit right there on the spot. But here you have chosen to do that very thing of your own free will.
And why do you do it? Because your life actually depends on getting that particular piece of merchandise at a low, low price? No, not really. You do it because do you know that it’s just what people do. Besides this, you know what time it is. It is Black Friday and the doors will be opening in just a few minutes and those door crasher specials are waiting for you and you have vowed that this time you will get them. It is just what people do at this moment in time.
And that is just one example of people doing strange things at this time of year just because they know what time it is. You know very well that on December 19th, just a few minutes after midnight, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people lined up to see the biggest movie of the year, which I’m guessing will be Star Wars, the Rise of Skywalker, and they will do it simply because it matters to them to be the first to see that movie on the day that it opens. It just will not mean the same thing the next day when it’s not the right time. This time of the year is, more than any other, the time when we do things just because this is the time when we do them. “‘Tis the season,” isn’t that what we say. We gather with friends and family at this time of the year, not because it is always the most convenient time to travel (travelling can be horrible!), but because you are just supposed to do it and you will drive through the snowstorm to get there if you have to because you know what time it is. We give gifts to people, not because they are things that they need but just because this is the time when we are supposed to do it.
And, you know what, so much of that is great. I do so look forward to so many of those things that we do just because it is the right time at this time of year. And while I am not particularly interested in some of those events that take place at certain times (you will never find me crashing the door at a Black Friday sale, for example) if those things do bring joy to you during this season, by all means go ahead and make the most of them. There is great power and advantage to be gained by knowing what time it is.
But there is a question that we need to ask, maybe especially at this season of the year: what if you are wrong about what time it is? What if what the world is telling us about what time it is is wrong? That’s not my question, by the way; it is the Bible’s. In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives several examples of people who thought that they knew what time it was – who believed what the world was telling them about what time it was – but who were horribly and tragically wrong. Jesus speaks of the people in the days of Noah – people who were living just before a looming disaster but just did not recognize what time they were living in. If they knew what time it was, they would have been busy building ships like Noah and his family, but instead they were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”
He speaks of two men working in the field and two women grinding grain at the mill when it is clearly not the time to take care of those everyday tasks but instead a time to be prepared for a looming disaster that takes one of the two in both cases. And of course, Jesus gives the example of the homeowner who thought that it was time to relax and go to bed when there was actually a thief who was casing his house and getting ready to rob it; it was a time to be vigilant and prepare to resist intruders. The point of all of these illustrations seems clear. You had better not just take for granted what the world tells you about what time it is. To get that wrong could be very dangerous, even fatal. So, the stakes are very high.
In fact, some of these passages we read this morning really seem kind of annoying at this time of year. After all, it is Christmas time. There are so many disturbing things that are going on in the world all the time, can’t we, just for this one season, forget all about that and celebrate and have a good time?
I don’t think that any of this means that we are just supposed to ignore whatever the world says about what time it is. By all means go ahead and plan your special times with family and friends. Enjoy those special times and events of the season. But Jesus would say that, even so, you ought to keep your eyes open for any indication that God is operating under a different timetable.
Jesus’ reference to the days of Noah makes me think of all of the ways in which we often deal with potential or looming disasters in our modern world. A majority of people, for example, accept these days that we are facing some serious environmental crises, but many go on with their regular activities and make their usual choices as if there really was nothing to be concerned about.
Yes, I know that there are some who will deny that there is anything at all to worry about, but it seems to me that the more common response is just to not think about it and to go on “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” as if the worrying signs all around them didn’t exist.
I believe that that is what the Genesis story of the flood is about. I think the point of the story is that the world was on a course for destruction and it was plain for anyone to see. The problem in that story wasn’t environmental destruction; it was the spread of deadly violence. But the reaction seems to have been the same.
And I know why we react that way; I do it too often enough. Sometimes you just have to act as if the terrible possibilities didn’t exist in order to get on with your life and keep from going insane. But Jesus may be warning us that there are consequences for failing to recognize what time it really is. So, yes, carry on with your life, by all means, but remember that your life does not simply stand alone. You are part of a much larger system and your actions and your activism matter. And, somewhere deep down inside, you really do know what time it is.
But I don’t mean to just talk about dire or looming threats here. I do not think that being a follower of Jesus means that we have to be people who are constantly thinking of the worst thing possible that could happen. In fact, it is mostly the opposite. Knowing what time it is in God’s timetable, also means joyfully embracing the opportunities that God places before us. What that means is that, when we are busily going on with all of the things that the world tells us that we must do, God will interrupt us.
And you all know what that is like! You have just managed to get a couple of hours out of your busy schedule to get to the mall and finally finish all that Christmas shopping, or you’re heading to the grocery store and you absolutely have to concentrate and get everything you need for the big meal this time when something just happens to break in and disturb your flow. Say it is an opportunity to help someone – someone who needs a little kindness or a little bit of help and you, all of a sudden, are in a position where you can do something.
Oh, that’s frustrating, isn’t it? Here I’ve got a million things to do and then something unexpected comes out of nowhere. It’s enough to make you cry. But if you know what time it is – if you are sensitive to God’s time – you know that those things don’t just happen by accident. They are God’s timing. And, if you see them that way, you will be able to respond with joy and your joy this season will multiply. If you don’t, they are just another annoying interruption and the frustration will multiply. That is the difference that knowing what time it really is can make.
I’m going to lay another case of God’s timing on you – another challenge. The world is telling you these days what time it is – it is a time to buy and buy and buy. It starts on Black Friday and continues on Cyber Monday and all the way to December 24 as we count down the real 24 days of Christmas as the world defines them. It’s about buying and then receiving on Christmas Day, a frenzy that will lead to many a meltdown between now and then.
But we have discerned God saying to us that it is a different time. After Black Friday a couple of days ago and Cyber Monday tomorrow, the next day will be Tuesday – Giving Tuesday. We have joined in the Giving Tuesday campaign this year because we believe that, while the world is saying that it is time to exercise purchasing power, God is saying that it is time to exercise the practice of generosity. And if you can hear what God is saying about what time it is, you will find the greater joy of this season.
I do not say this because I am afraid that St. Andrew’s is not going to be able to pay its bills. That’s not what this is about. Sure, we are behind, but it is God who will provide for the needs of this church as we remain faithful to the work God calls us to do, so I’m not asking you to give because we need it. We will be sharing with you some of the amazing things we do here at St. Andrew’s for our community and you definitely want to say after the service and join us in a celebration of those ministries, but this is not about making sure that you give to support those things.
Give prayerful thought about where God wants you to give and what God wants you to support. If it is not to St. Andrew’s, that is not an issue at all, but just don’t miss the opportunity that God is placing before you. I am calling on every single person here, on Tuesday or whatever day you can make it work for you, to give in some extraordinarily generous way as God has enabled you. I don’t want you to do it out of compulsion. I don’t want you to do it out of our need (that is in God’s supply), I don’t want you to do it grudgingly. I want you to do it joyfully because, besides you know what time it is.