St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-16-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-16-2018

Looking For With Love

Third Sunday in Advent: Love

Isaiah 12:2-6, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

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

Oh what a difference a week makes! Last week I just couldn’t get the words to come together for my message on the Advent Sunday of “peace”. In part, I’m sure, it was because I had personal trouble finding peace, seeing peace in the world; and even feeling peace within myself.

But this Sunday; the Advent Sunday of “love”; now this is something I have no shortage of; it is my entire point of reference in life and in faith!

One of my mottos in life is “do all things in love.” Now, I can’t say I’m perfect at this but I do try hard to follow the teachings of Christ that call us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves! That part usually isn’t that hard; but I also take seriously Christ’s command to “love your enemy”. That one can get pretty tough to follow. But Jesus adds to that an explanation for why it is important for his followers to make this a part of their lives saying, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:46, 47 NRSV)

Being able to love those who show us love is easy. Being able to love unconditionally is hard. But it is what Christ did, and what he calls us to do. Not only is it the way he says it should be, it is what sets us apart from many others; it is what makes us, as he states in that same message, “children of [our] Father in heaven”!

Now, you can look at that one way and read something in to it about how it is our love; for God, for neighbor and for enemy; that makes God love us as if God’s love is something we have to earn, but that would be a reversal of the truth. Early in the Gospel of John we read “For God so loved the world…”. In the first Epistle of John we also read “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another”. (1 John 4:11) It’s not about how we earn God’s love; that is a gift we receive freely. It’s about gratitude, about giving to others what we have already received from God!

And is the call to love “one another” restricted to only those within the Christian faith? No, look at Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question “And who is my neighbor?” that was given in the form of the Parable of the “Good Samaritan” who was professed to have done the neighborly thing by showing love to a severely beaten man found along the road without asking if he was of the same faith, race, or nationality. (Luke 10:25-37)

When we show our love for others like this; as unconditionally as God has first loved us, we make this world a little more the way God intended it to be; not only for others but for ourselves as well. Love for each other, caring for each other, all people of his great creation walking hand-in-hand; that’s how God wants it to be! That’s why he gave us prophets, scripture, and his Son; to show us how God wants it to be!

This brings us to another thing about love as a central focus of God’s will.

When we read the Bible we have options for our primary frame of reference; we can view the text from, for example, a perspective of “sin and salvation” or even “sin and condemnation” as some I’ve encountered seem to prefer; we can focus on judgment and grace, justice and punishment, and so on.

But Christ calls us to see all things through the lens of love; emphasized when he also told the lawyer who asked “which is the greatest commandment?” and Christ answered “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40).

Looking at today’s Gospel reading then, we could focus on John’s words “you brood of vipers… the wrath to come… 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” And “His winnowing fork is in his hand… the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Thus we see only unworthiness, sin, condemnation, and punishment which foster exclusion, damnation and hatred.

Or we could look through the lens of love and hear more prominently the words “Bear fruits worthy of repentance… “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation”, and “be satisfied with your wages.” And the very special one “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. Through that view we see goodness, benevolence, equity, and justice which foster inclusion, grace, and love!

The choice is ours; the choice is simple, but it is not always easy. But because God so loves me (which may not have been the easy thing to do) I will choose to love God and neighbor… and enemy! I will choose love!

Amen

 

Isaiah 12:2-6
12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Philippians 4:4-7
4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18
3:7 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?
3:8 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.
3:9 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.”
3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”
3:14 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.”
3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,
3:16 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 with the Holy Spirit and fire.
3:17 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.”
3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.