Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 8, Sunday of Week Two of Advent

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing,  “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven! ... Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. (Matthew 3: 1-2, 7-9 - Common English Bible Translation)

St. John The Baptist align= Change your hearts and lives. Repent! I note that John the Baptist doesn't direct his prophetic message to the repentant people coming out from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River. He looks up and notices that the Pharisees and Sadducees are in the crowd. These religious leaders had differing views of how Yahweh's (God's) reign was to going to arrive but they seemingly were united in rejecting John's and Jesus' repentant vision of The Kingdom of God (Heaven). John recognizes something that many prophets do but I often forget. How I live my life as a person exercising religious leadership and possessing spiritual authority really matters. John implies that his opponents were resting assured in the ideological belief that the covenant they shared with Yahweh was more than enough to endorse their privileged and selfish lifestyles. John reverberates upon the proclamations of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah,  Ezekiel, and other ancient Jewish prophets. Change your hearts and lives. Transform your relationships with God and your neighbors or suffer the consequences. 

Watch Dr. Walter Brueggemann Part 1 "Practicing Neighborhood Amid Empire" from The Episcopal Diocese of Texas on Vimeo.
All Christians believers should intentionally consider the ethical and spiritual consequences of their behaviors, relationships, and comments. However, as an Episcopal priest, and as a person possessing some degree of political as well as religious authority, I'm humbled by, and cautious of the beneficial, inconsequential, or harmful impact I have in my work and actions. Who I am has meaning and influence upon the people I serve in the congregation with whom I work as well as the neighbors I interact with around the parish.   

Walter Brueggemann has laid out a poetic and empathetic prophetic understanding of God's character in the world for the ancient prophets and for religious leaders of yesterday and today. He suggests that the established Church and The Church's leaders must be acutely aware of ways in which they and their Christian communities are denying the consequences of humanity's impact upon Creation and one another. This awareness must not lead to anger and violence but rather to vulnerability and shared grief. We can be like John the Baptist I suppose by robustly demanding repentance. I suggest we should follow Jesus and enter into the suffering and fear that resides in each of us as well as our societies. Ultimately John and Jesus along with the Jewish prophets proceeding them wind up offering what we assuredly need: Divine Hope, Neighborly Reconciliation, and the birth of the God's Reign of Compassion and Justice.

Here in Advent, Brueggemann and John the Baptist prompted me  to offer a prophetic sermon earlier today with truthful candor. On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I invite all of us to picture ourselves as willingly going out to listen to Brueggemann, John The Baptist, and Isaiah alike. I invite preachers and pastoral care providers alike to ponder and pray about the manner of our shared leadership as well as the fear, despair, and denial existing in our churches. What would be the most truthful, empathetic, and hopeful ways for us to participate in Christ's mission for us when and where we reside. How may we guide and facilitate ourselves and the people we serve to live into more vulnerable and healthy relationships? How shall we most passionately and peaceably live in community especially with the people who reside outside of our churches' walls? How shall we awaken to a truly blessed, less consumer-based, and more openhearted understanding of Christ's birth between now and Christmas? 

I believe we must speak the truth even as we offer people two of the most important virtues Christ's approaching incarnation offers us: solidarity and hope. Such honesty will free us to embrace love through a process of shared tears in some cases. Such hope will empower us to embraces one another as mutual citizens of God's reign and compassion. May we in prayer and deed observe Jesus the Christ's powerful presence among us as John The Baptist did with repentant lives and bold righteous actions.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

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