Theme: Looking out for other people
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, help us to look after the needs of others, always mindful of the compassion of your son, and in so doing, we will further the coming of your kingdom, changing the world, which began with the birth of your son, Jesus Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.
“Minutes after takeoff, both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 went dead, and Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the commanding pilot, knew he had just moments to save the 155 people aboard.
“The plane had hit a large flock of birds, and Capt. Sully determined that returning to New York’s La Guardia Airport was impossible. As the towers of the city loomed, there was only one option--landing in the Hudson River. Six minutes after takeoff, all aboard were rescued, with only five serious injuries. Capt. Sully waded through the flooded cabin to check for stragglers and collect the maintenance book. He was the last to exit the sinking plane.
“Sully found himself hailed as a savior--a title he continues to shun with typical selflessness. ‘I was just doing my job,’ he said to grateful survivors and their families (sic) hours after the rescue.
“Those who know him say a lifetime of preparation gave him steadiness under fire. ‘He was cool because he had all this experience,’ said Jeff Zaslow, who co-wrote Sully’s memoir, ‘Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.’ ‘He knew the most important thing he could do was make the right decision early on, and he made it...He is very smart and he has a good heart, and I think it all came together that day.’
“After the crash, Sully told Congress how airline industry cuts affected safety. He said his pay was cut 40 percent, and after 30 years of service he had lost his pension. He lamented that today’s pilot salaries could not attract the best candidates.
“Since the landing, Sully has been lauded by everyone from presidents to his hometown fire department in Danville, Calif. And he still deflects much of the adulation that comes his way. ‘What is it about this event that has made people feel the way they do about the event, about themselves, and about me?’ Sully has asked. ‘I think the answer has to be that something about this gave people hope. It reassured them that good could still happen in the world. It was life-affirming.’” (Beliefnet)
Sully answered a call to reach out to others. John the Baptist called those that went to him, and us, to reach out to others.
No one wants to be chastised by John the Baptist this close to Christmas. But here we are. John the Baptist traveled all along the Jordan River Valley baptizing repentant people and forgiving their sins. He was preparing people to welcome God. John was not always hospitable. He yelled at those coming to be baptized, “Children of poisonous snakes! Who warned you that you are about to die in your sins? Is that why you are here – to come groveling to me for your life?”
I suppose that if I yelled at people who sought baptism here, there would be even fewer baptisms. Baptismal instruction is probably a more pastoral approach. Notice John is saying that he is not going to baptize them. He is questioning their motives in showing up.
John gives us a vision of snakes fleeing a fire. Vipers are poisonous. It is not comfortable to be called a poisonous snake and it is not comfortable to stand in front of them. Yet John is going to stand up to these vipers. John makes it clear that forgiveness is not automatic.
Then John gives them some advice. He tells them that they should change their lives demonstrating their repentance. It is not enough to promise to lead a good life worthy of God. They need to show how they have already done God’s work in the world. Claiming ancestry with Abraham won’t cut the mustard. God can make anyone an ancestor of Abraham.
For those Jews, John is saying that being Jewish is not good enough. They do not get a pass. The same is true of us. Going to church isn’t good enough. Changing the parts of our lives that we would be ashamed of if they were on the front page of the Mountain Democrat is what is required. [File this under the heading of Tiger Woods.] But going to church renews us to do Christ’s work during the week so we don’t get our picture in the paper for something we didn’t want people to know about.
John continues with a warning. The time of reckoning is now. If we don’t bear good fruit, we are destined for the fireplace, which actually might have felt good last Monday. We bear good fruit when we keep the promises we make in the Baptismal Covenant: faithful church attendance, resisting evil, active repentance when we do wrong, share the good news with others, love others as if everyone is Jesus, and advocating for justice and peace.
Wanting to bear good fruit, the crowds ask John what it is they must do. John tells them that if you have two coats, give one away to the one who has none. This reminds me of Channel 10’s annual holiday coat drive. But coats are not good enough. We are to do the same thing with food. This is repentance in action.
Tax Collectors get a bum rap in the gospels, probably because it was one thing everyone in Jesus’ time could agree on – everyone hated them, except Jesus. That is why they are mentioned. If Jesus could favor a tax collector, then anyone can receive Jesus’ favor. In other words, there is hope for all of us.
So here is Luke’s first mention of tax collectors. These people mentioned here are actually the employees of the tax collectors. They make the calls to collect the taxes for minimum wage. It was assumed by all, especially their employer, that they skim some profit for themselves, just like Afghani government officials. They ask John how even they can be saved. John gives them a simple reply, “Don’t take more than a person owes.”
Soldiers were not popular with early Christians. They arrested Christians and many Christians died at their hands. And they were not popular with the Jews. They are an occupying army. They are foreigners. Occupying soldiers are never popular in any nation.
So the soldiers ask John what they should do. John tells them, “Don’t shake anyone down. Don’t blackmail anyone. Be satisfied with your pay.” Soldiers were famous in Judea and Galilee for extortion. In other words, no one is to use their position of power or authority to take anything away from another person. Everyone should treat their neighbor as they wish to be treated.
John the Baptist really impressed people. So much so, that they began to be filled with expectation that their deliverance from bondage was near – much like kids are being filled with expectation about Christmas Day. So these people began to speculate, “Could this John be the Christ?” John Christ. It doesn’t exactly roll off the lips, does it?
Well John got wind of what they were thinking and saying, so he set out to make it clear what he is there to do. He explained, “I am here baptizing with water. But you haven’t seen anything yet. There is someone who is much more powerful than I am. I am not fit to shine his shoes. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to harvest the good grain and put that grain in his storehouse. The remaining stubble he will burn with a fire that can not be put out. Its smoke will choke even the Sacramento Valley.”
John’s baptism was a one time event. Those who were baptized are prepared for the restoration of God’s people. John said a lot more than that, proclaiming the good news to the people. The ever burning stubble thing doesn’t sound like good news, but the people who are most hated are getting a free pass, if they do what is right. That sounds like a lot of good news to me.
It is up to us to practice John’s humility and acknowledge our limitations and be willing to live within those limitations. John focused on God’s call on his life. He fully participated in the Advent mystery and knew he was not the center of it. Arriving at the manger cannot happen until we take stock of ourselves and recommit ourselves to God’s service.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of responding to other’s needs, even under stress, like that of Captain Sullenbuger, who gives us an example of humble service for others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 3:7-18 (NRSV)
7 John 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? 8 Bear 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. 9 Even 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.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers 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.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,d 16 John 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 withe the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His 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.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.