This sermon was preached on Dec. 8, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.
The texts were:
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Matthew 3: 1-12
Children’s sermon: How many of you have made a new friend, or remember when a new baby sibling came home? New relationships in our lives change us don’t they? Most of the time, those things are good-we learn that we like different foods, or we like having a sibling to play with. Or sometimes we have to change how we do things, like if we now share a room, we can’t have the light on whenever we want it or with a friend, we have to do things that they like and not just what we like. It can be hard to be in relationships and we’re never the same after we meet different people!
There’s a church word for that and we are talking about it today: righteousness. It’s kind of a long word; can anyone tell me what they think it means? And it has a couple of different ways it can be used. Yep! It’s about God. We hear the word righteousness in two of our lessons this morning and although it’s not in our gospel story, it’s at the heart of our gospel story. The word righteousness is about being in right relationship with someone-to care for one another, which God says is holy-or important. Righteousness is about “love in action.” So, when we talk about God’s righteousness, we’re talking about God’s love in action with us. God loves us so much and wants us to always know that God cares for us more than we can ever know. John the Baptist in our gospel story is telling the people to look for God’s love in action in their lives, that’s why he tells them to repent, which is another big word we’re talking about today. It can mean to be sorry for things we’ve done that we shouldn’t AND it means to “turn around and change our minds.” John says to the people, turn around and see God’s love in action coming to your life through Jesus! Jesus brings us into relationship with God and you will never be the same! Jesus shows us how to be God’s love in action with everyone we meet, even if it’s really hard, but we can’t do this love thing alone. One way that we are going to practice that today is I have these Christmas cards. You can each have one and give to someone who you think needs to know that God loves them. It can be anyone-even someone you don’t really know. You can write a little note and you don’t even have to sign your name. What matters is the message of God’s love. Let’s pray:
A spiritual practice for me is to occasionally take the time to unsubscribe from emails that I don’t really want to get and junk up my inbox. In my personal email account-I would never delete any important OSLC business. 😊 It’s a spiritual practice partially because many of the emails tend to be consumer related. It’s amazing how many emails I get from retailers and most I’m not even sure how I ended up on their list! So, I go through and unsubscribe from the ones that are of zero interest to me and with all of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails, I decided to even unsubscribe from the ones who were of interest to me! I realized that the bold letters with the exclamation points of discounts caught my attention far more often that I would like to publicly admit right now…OOOO it’s 50% off…maybe I DO need one more pair of my favorite comfy yoga tights…the reality by the way is that I do not! It would be altruistic for me to think “well maybe a good idea for a Christmas gift for someone will pop up in my email…” yeah right. And then Giving Tuesday hit, and don’t get me wrong it’s a good thing to highlight all of the non-profits doing great work, once again, my inbox was inundated by organizations that I didn’t even know had my email! So, unless it seemed a true interest, I unsubscribed from a bunch of those too. My hope is that fewer emails, fewer distractions, will allow me spend less time on things that don’t really offer me substance or connections and to spend more time on things that matter. I’m finding for myself, more and more, I want to focus on what matters in every aspect of my life, listen to the voices that matter. Even in my email.
This email dilemma is really a microcosm of my life in 2019 almost 2020 and I wonder if you feel it too. There is so much and so many people pressing for our time and attention that mindfulness and focus are the casualties of 24 hour news cycles, smart phones, social media, shopping apps, and even our simultaneously beloved and hated emails. And let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, many of these things are needed, helpful and can be powerful forces for good…in proper balance. The reality is that I sometimes intentionally use these devices to drown out that lone voice that is trying to call me to what matters, it’s as if I can cocoon myself and ignore the hard things in my life and in the world with just a click of the tv remote, the FB app, or Amazon. I can pretend that what the world tells me is important, whether it’s getting just the right gift, outfit, house remodel, can make me feel less overwhelmed, fix my relationships, ease my grieving, make me eat healthy and make me happy. Sometimes it works, for a while anyway….
The specific distractions might have changed, but the experience of not paying attention to the things that matter and getting caught up in worldly schemes, seems to be ancient. John the Baptists cry cuts through 2000 years of human distraction to rudely awaken us to the truth of what God is up to. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was sent to get our attention for God with harsh words and images. He proclaimed repentance, as I told the children, which means to turn around, to change our minds, to see ourselves differently than we have before. We tend to think of that word as negative, as an act of abject unworthiness, but John never says that. John baptizes people to help them unsubscribe from what is separating them from what really matters in their lives. To the Pharisees and Saducees, groups of people who thought that they were focused on what mattered, their connection to Abraham, John says, bear fruit worthy of repentance, that is, you are already worthy, you can turn around and try again. You can be righteous, God’s love in action-you can be pay attention to what matters and show others this love too.
God’s love in action, is coming, in Jesus. Jesus baptizes to not only turn you around and cut through the distractions of your life, Jesus baptizes to connect you to what matters-God’s love and presence in your life through the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God that fills you and brings you to true life. And the reality that somethings about your life will need to go, be burned away and it won’t be easy or comfortable. When we listen for what matters in our lives, other concerns such as ego, self-image, our emotional armor, addictions, whatever is not our true selves created in God’s image, are all drowned out by God’s loving voice.
When we turn around and know that we are already immersed in relationship and righteousness with Jesus, we can hear that voice cutting through the noise and distractions. That voice will call us to live differently, to care about what God cares about-to know what is truly important as we live in the time when the Kingdom is indeed near but not yet. We bear fruit that serves our neighbor, that creates the bold vision of Isaiah that there is indeed life and hope where the world proclaims all is lost. Transformation of both predator and prey can happen. Those who benefit from the weak will turn around, be content with less and sacrificially offer care, dignity and equity for all and those who have been hurt and oppressed will turn around to see trust, safety and affirmation restored. Fruit that all can partake in and no one is left hungry, without or neglected.
No, we’re not there yet, and this is hard and uncomfortable work. And it might seem overwhelming and not possible so we might as well just worry about our own happiness. Only, that’s not how it works. Whether we like it or not our futures, our lives, our joy and our happiness are bound up in one another. Jesus gathers us all with his winnowing fork for what matters, to call us and the world to turn away from death and destruction, to sift out of our lives what distracts and from what we need to unsubscribe in order to hear God’s voice of love, mercy and hope that cries out to us. Thanks be to God.