A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent – 2016

Stanley Hauerwas, as you may remember is my favourite theologian, he grew up in small town Texas.  Now life was pretty good and it was the kind of town where everybody knew everybody else’s business – and if you didn’t you just made something up!  Old Billy was the craziest character in town – his lack of sobriety was legendary – as was his love of being baptized.  You see every summer the tent meetings would be held.  Some fancy city evangelist would roll into town, set up tents just like the circus, and for the better part of a week there would be something to do in the evenings for a change.  Most of the town would roll out to see the show.  And usually by Thursday night Old Billy would be whipped up into such a state of remorse for the way he’d been living that he’d ask, no he’d demand to be baptized.  And the preacher would always comply.  Folks had long ago lost count of how many times Old Billy has been baptized.

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”     It’s worth stopping for just one second and note – all four of our Gospels begin with the story of John the Baptist – only two say anything about Jesus’ birth.

John is important – his message more so – because his sermon –“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” was picked up by Jesus and he made it his own.

We preachers love John – the honest amongst us all have that little voice in our heads that says go ahead do it  – “”You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  Trouble is we preachers came from “you brood of vipers.”  We’re not better and likely we’re worse!    And what if that brood of vipers were really no worse than old Billy from Texas; folks who know what they’re supposed to be about, who try hard to be about God’s work in the world, and just find themselves failing at it all too often.  Are they – is Billy – really all that different than you and I?

We hear John the Baptist’s charge.  And maybe it’s you and me and our way of being about the religious life that has to change. We are the ones who must look at the fruit of our faith and what it is or is not bringing about in our community.  John’s questions aren’t for anybody else, but for you and me.  Have we for too long stood on the shoulders of our ancient traditions and ancestry as Anglicans? Are we bearing anything that looks like good fruit for the commonwealth of God?    If Advent is about preparation – maybe the preparation we need is some self –reflection on our faith and on our lives.

We want preparation to be about hanging Christmas Decorations, buying presents or maybe sending out cards – the church gives us John the Baptist – and the demand that we put all that aside and think about our lives for just a moment.

John came and preached; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  After his death Jesus came to Galilee and preached; “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  Same sermon.

Some folks have trouble with the kingdom of God.  For starters it’s not the most accurate translation of the Greek that the Gospels were first written in.   A more faithful translation would be “Realm of God.”  Some folks have trouble with that because it  puts God on top and us below in a hierarchical relationship that doesn’t square up with what Jesus taught.  What some scholars of the bible have landed on is “Commonwealth of God.”  If our repentance was real and extended to the ways in which we use language to either include folk or exclude them I think we’d land on commonwealth of God as well.  “The time is fulfilled, and the commonwealth of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”

So what about this commonwealth of God – if I’m going to repent – if I’m going to change my ways I want to know for what I’m doing it.  Unlike old Billy from Texas I haven’t got the need for an annual baptism.  But still wouldn’t it be good to know what we’re getting into?  A preacher put it this way: “ Repentance is only possible because a deeper, more powerful and superior attachment has come; the attachment of faith, the grip of the commonwealth of God.”

Trouble is neither John nor Jesus provided a lot of details about the commonwealth of God – the folks they were preaching to were better steeped in the prophets, in the scriptures  than we are – they didn’t need the details.  But we do.   One writer summed up the Commonwealth of God this way; “this is a world in which social or political rank counts for nothing and in which the norms of this world are reversed. All are accepted and included in a rich human fellowship. All are fed and clothed and loved. Religious barriers and boundaries disappear. Even family ties merge into those of the larger community. Rules of behaviour exist only to serve human need. People do not judge one another.”

If that’s the world as Jesus intends – I’m in – If that’s the commonwealth of God I need to repent – because I’m not there yet – let’s be honest – none of us are there yet.

But how long do we have to think about it before we can say with all honesty – we want to be there and soon.  And isn’t that why we’re here.  We want the world that John preached about – the world Jesus preached, and lived and died for.

John the Baptist preached; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  After his death Jesus came to Galilee and preached; “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

You and I as we ponder these words from John and Jesus surely we can see that they hold a clear message for us.  Surely we hear the call to be about creating the commonwealth of God in our lives – in our parish life together.    Repentance is great – folks cheered every summer for Billy from Texas as he got his annual Baptism.  We all know God is calling us for something more – God’s dream is surely that we’d be about the real works of faith.   And we don’t have far too look for those real works of faith….

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

I will, with God’s help.

 

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

I will, with God’s help.

 

 Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

 I will, with God’s help.

 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

“Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

 

            So it goes in the commonwealth of God, and with God’s help folks will say of St. Margarets, of you and of I, so it goes with those folks on Sixth Street.   And in that day commonwealth of God will have come so very near that our hearts will burn within us.

Sometimes it sounds like it’s just a dream…. But what a beautiful dream it is…..couldn’t we dream it together for just a while….

 

 

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