12/13/2015 sermon “Living a repented life”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location:  Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia 
Text: Luke 3:7-18
3Advent, Year C

Living a repented life

El Greco, San Juan Bautista

Last week we ended with Jesus asking us, “How will you prepare for me?” followed by John the Baptist’s one-word answer, “Repent!”

Well, this week John gets a lot more vocal, a lot more expansive in his instructions. This week, John chastised the religious leaders of his day, telling them that their ancestry, their church attendance, and their leadership did not make them immune from the need to repent and “bear good fruit,” and to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.”

And then, when the crowds told John to be specific, he told them what repentance looks like in action. John told them what living a repented life looks like.

First, John said, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” In other words, we must share our abundance with those who have none. In other words, assist the poor. In other words, be generous.

This is NOT an instruction for the repented to become poor. Instead, what we have here is a practical way to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This is an EASY instruction to preach here at Church of the Resurrection, especially today, the day (coincidentally) that we bless the warm winter coats and hats and mittens and scarves and socks and toys that you have given us to share. This is doubly easy an instruction to share the day after the ALIVE! Last Saturday Food Distribution here at Resurrection. Surely WE bear fruits worthy of our repentance and are living a repented life? Or at least some among us are…

Second, John made the tax collectors in the crowd an example. He told them, “Collect no more than the Romans have authorized you to collect.” Notice that John didn’t tell the despised tax collectors to quit their jobs. Instead, he instructed them to stop gouging the people for far more than they were supposed to collect in taxes and pay. In other words, John told them to live within the rules. In other words, be equitable. In other words, be fair. Notice here that, even the despised can live repented lives.

Similarly, John didn’t tell the Roman soldiers to quit their jobs, either. He told the occupying army to live with integrity. In other words, be honest. Notice here that even those whom we consider enemies can live a repented lives.

So, in a nutshell, here are John’s instructions about how to live a repented life:

  • Be generous.
  • Be fair.
  • Be honest.

And recognize that those we despise—even those who we consider enemies—can live repented lives also, to the extent that they bear the fruits of repentance.

This teaching so impressed his hearers that they wanted to declare John the Messiah. Everyone then, apparently, deeply longed for the Messiah, for God, to come among them to free them from oppression. But John surprised them by practicing what he preached, by being honest. John told them, “No,” that not only was he NOT the Messiah, he was MUCH further down the hierarchy of human thinking. From John’s actions we can intuit a fourth instruction:

  • Be humble.

So, do YOU long for the Messiah to come? If so, why? What do you hope that God’s coming to us anew will accomplish?

John’s denial came with a warning, though. He told those who had gathered around him that the Messiah wouldn’t come in the way they expected. He told them that there would be judgment associated with God’s coming. The Messiah would sort the repented from the unrepented. And the author of this gospel called this “Good News.”

There was no indignation that there will be an accounting of our repentance. No denial of judgment in favor of universal love. For John, avoiding the “wrath to come” was a major motivator to live a repented life. If not the judgment to come, what motivates YOU to live a repented life?

The reason John’s words are Good News is that the Messiah IS coming: has come, is coming, and will come again. How will you prepare for his coming?

John tells us that, after we repent, we must live a repented life: Be generous. Be fair. Be honest. And John shows us that we must also be humble and respect those repentance-fruits in all who bear them, even the outcasts and the despised.

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