Monday, December 17, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from December 16, 2018

News for you!
...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays at 10 am December 23 and our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. Archdeacon Bette Kauffman will be assisting Father Riley for the Christmas Eve service!  Please join us and invite others.

…Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday at 10am Dec 30 and Jan 6.  Father Riley will return to lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Jan 13, 20; 27th.  Our annual congregational meeting will follow our service on Jan 20th.  

ADVENT III - C - 18                                  LUKE 3. 7-18

I remember a cartoon I once saw that showed a skeptic shouting up to heaven, ‘God! If you are up there, tell us what we should do!’ Back comes a voice: “Feed the hungry, house the homeless, establish justice.’ The skeptic looking alarmed responded, ‘Just testing.’ ‘Me too,’ replied the voice.

Last week John Baptist was introduced to us as the forerunner of Christ. In my homily, I remarked that his mission was to herald the coming of the Messiah, to make the people ready to receive him by straightening out the crookedness in their lives.

By setting the ethical requirements for one’s entrance into the kingdom of God, John in essence turned the self-satisfaction and self-righteousness of the people and the religious leaders of his day upside down in his call for repentance preceded by a confession.

His warning in today’s passage concerning the bearing of fruit worthy of repentance caused some of the people to ask what they should do. In response, John gives them concrete examples. If you have two coats share one with those who have none and likewise food.

To the tax collectors he said stop defrauding the people. Collect only what is required. Moreover, to the soldiers who asked John what they should do, he told them to be content with their wages and stop extorting from the people. To some, John sounded more like the Messiah than a prophet and they were not bashful in letting their feelings be known.

John was quick, however, to squelch such ideas. I baptize with water, he said, but One who is more powerful than I is coming. He will baptize with fire and separate the wheat from the chaff thus dispensing the judgment of God. “So, with many other exhortations,” Luke tells us, “he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

Well, we might say, I am certain some of the people heard what John said as “good news, “while many others did not and dismissed him and his message altogether and went about their business as usual. This picture of Jesus, with winnowing fork in his hand as the one who brings God’s justice to the world is not the picture that many Western Christians want. A baby in a manger is more to our liking.

However, to ignore it is to step outside of the biblical witness. It is one aspect of the truth we have to take seriously. When Jesus comes again in glory, he will come to judge the living and the dead as we proclaim each time we repeat the words of the Nicene Creed. Judgment is coming. This is often the furthest thoughts from our minds this time of year. Judgment, however, is evident in Advent.

The response of John is simple and clear and if his commands were obeyed, they would demonstrate that the people meant business. None of these things happens by chance. They only occur when people have genuinely repented of the small-scale injustices that turn a society sour. And then are intentional about changing their lives and the life of the world around them.

Our world today and our own society need to heed the prophet’s message. We don’t have to look vary far to find greed and corruption in politics and business. Nor do we need to look vary far to find hate and division among our own neighborhoods. Selfishness abounds as demonstrated by the whole “me” movement without any regard to another human being’s feelings, opinions, or needs.

As a student of history I do not see that very much has changed in this regard from the time of Christ and before to the present. Human nature being what it is, fallen, and unnatural, things will only get worse before they get better. This is not to say that there is no good in the world, or that are not any good people out there - there are, and there is.

Unfortunately, the bad and the ugly get all of the press. Moreover, with social media being so widespread, bad news travels much faster than it ever has. Sadly, our society today cannot seem to get enough of it. I wonder if it were any different in the time of Jesus.

Perhaps as Christians we need more than ever to take to heart Paul’s words of encouragement to the church at Philippi rather than focusing on all of the bad that is constantly being held up to us. That is, we need to rejoice in the fact that the Lord is near, nearer than when we first believed, and stop worrying about everything, especially that which we have no control over.

Instead in “everything by prayer and thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.”  Maybe that is what we should do. Maybe God is testing us to see if we will. What we are looking for, of course, is a sense of peace in the midst of a world filled with commercial and cultural turmoil.

That peace is to be found in our celebration of the birth of the Christ child and in our patient waiting and watching for the Day when He shall appear again to judge the earth. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds to receive with joy the coming of the Holy One not just the babe in the manger but the Son of the Living God in all of His glory.

We cannot ignore the fact that we live between these two Advents. None of us knows how many more Advent seasons we have been given by God to prepare for the final one. Let us not focus on the bad and the ugly, the darkness that surrounds us and often threatens to permeate our own lives.

Rather let us cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, looking with anticipation, and expectation for the coming Day of the Lord. Let us make ourselves ready for his appearing by following the exhortations of John: confessing our sins, repenting of our evil, and sharing what we have with those in need.

For the peace, we seek in to be found in Christ alone; a peace, Paul writes that surpasses all understanding; a peace that will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus and will keep us in His love until the Day of His appearing. Even so, come Lord Jesus, come. AMEN+

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