St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-08-2019

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-08-2019
Are You Ready
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

In the late 1960’s – early 70’s, when I was coming of age, a new idea sprang up and took root. It’s often called the “New Age Movement” that challenged the status quo of western culture and promoted alternative thinking in regards to the traditional ways of living.
It was sometimes criticized as being a counterculture movement, with the subliminal implication that it was anti-culture. But, as I remember it and as I’ve studied it from my perspective in this era, it wasn’t an effort to destroy the established norm, rather it was an attempt to get our society to recognize that change wasn’t only desired by those looking at life from a new angle, but also necessary for the survival of our culture and the world.
Remember: in that time the nuclear arms race was in full swing; environmental pollution had gotten to the point that Lake Erie’s ecosystem was dead, and a river in Ohio literally caught fire. It was also the time when the Vietnam War was dragging on, costing more lives than it seemed to be worth. And the equal rights movement (for both minorities and women) was beginning to roar.
With these, just a few examples of the new awareness in the era, it is plain to see that new approaches to living on earth were, indeed, desperately needed.
We call it “New Age” but there’s nothing new about it; the need for change, the need to turn things around, has come to human society many, many times throughout history. Just look at the number of times Jesus makes reference to the old age and the new, or to this age and the new. In fact, today’s Gospel reading shows us that a new age is beginning right then.
Following the Nativity scene, today’s Gospel selection is the dawning of that new age, as Christ’s ministry begins. The author makes it quite clear, right off the bat, that that ministry will bring change, positive change, as he quotes John saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Followed immediately with proclaiming John to be the fulfillment of ancient scripture about a previous time of change writing “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” and mentioning that those who came to John were “…confessing their sins”.
From there, John goes into his argument with the Pharisees and Sadducees, warning them (and all who hear his words) to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” or else… And, in telling them that their ancestry and their inherited beliefs aren’t sufficient, he places emphasis on the fact that something new is about to happen.
Now, I feel the need to explain here that we often confuse John’s command to repent, by equating it to confessing sin; but repenting and confessing are two different things.
Confession of sin is, I believe, well understood; it’s realizing that we’ve done something wrong that turns us or others from the way of God, or not done something right that would turn us or others closer to God, and admitting our guilt. For this we have grace and the assurance that once we do confess, we are forgiven.
Repenting, on the other hand, is a matter of making change. To repent means to turn around, to re-think, to change direction. In the context of today’s reading it refers to our need to make ourselves and our accepted norms different for the betterment of all affected. To repent, then, is active. It’s taking action to make changes within ourselves and within our society that will make everyone’s life better. Our help in this is not God’s grace, but God’s Word.

I’m sure you’ve heard that God’s Word does not change. That may be so, but God did continue, throughout history, to add to the Word.
And it is often the case that the additions are made necessary by humans contorting what was originally given.
This is the case being brought up in today’s reading when we hear quotes of ancient scripture (The Word) held in reflection to the Pharisees and Sadducees, staunch adherents to the Word, whom John calls a “brood of vipers”.
Though they believed they understood God’s Word completely, and were following it faithfully, and presumed that as descendants of Abraham they were justified, the Pharisees, Sadducees and those like them also needed to repent. In fact, as teachers and leaders, they were in most need of turning around, re-thinking, and changing their direction for the sake of those they burdened with their self-righteous efforts to make everyone else more like themselves.
Christ started his new-age movement, God’s new age movement, with a call for inclusivity; justice for all people, that would lead to hope, peace, love and joy for all God’s children. That movement isn’t complete, but it is still active. It is occasionally revived as it was in the 60’s and 70’s and it is resumed today when the faithful speak out against the tyranny, injustice, oppression, and exclusion that still thrives. And it is added to when those voices are raised in concern for our earth’s environment, the high rates of substance abuse, and the rise in suicides.
It’s obvious that new approaches to living on earth are still desperately needed. It’s obvious that we are still in need of repentance; we still need to turn around, to re-think, to change direction for the betterment of ourselves and everyone else affected. The question is; are we ready?
Are we ready to look at what we carry from the old age that isn’t fit for the new? Are we ready to get rid of old habits that stifle the implementation of the new? Are we ready to open our grasp on the way it’s always been so we can take hold of the way it should be? Are we even ready to realize that what we think it has always been is actually a distortion of the way it was and should be?
It’s not easy; it’s downright hard to look at ourselves in that way. But in this Advent season, as we prepare to receive the wonderful gift offered anew, it is necessary to be certain we are ready to receive it fully, unrestricted, and unrestricting.
Are you ready?

Isaiah 11:1-10
11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
11:2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
11:3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
11:4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
72:18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
72:19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Romans 15:4-13
15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,
15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
15:10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
15:11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
15:12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12
3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”
3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,
3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
3:9 Do not presume 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.
3:10 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.
3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”