December 16 2018 Luke 3:7-18
You brood of vipers!
We cannot get around it, John the Baptist did not mince his words! He was angry.
Before we look at why, first I would like us to look at how we respond to anger.
How do you react to anger?
I know in my family of origin, there was no place for anger, no model for how we are to express our anger. Strange thing in life, soon into adulthood, I became a minister, where again there was no room to express anger. The minister was to represent the love of God to his congregants, no matter what they did!
I remember when I moved to Montreal and I was working for a NGO and I got angry at a board meeting. Of course, after the fact, I was racked with guilt. I remember talking the next day to the president of the board and told him how I felt. I will never forget his response. ‘Why, it was a holy anger!’ By that simple statement, he was helping me see that, it was not a problem, and there is, at times, a place to express anger.
John the Baptist had a holy anger!
So, what made him so angry?
I think there was first of all what he considered to be complacency. People seemed to think that since they were children of Abraham, the Jewish chosen people, the general expectation of the time that God would set things right would mean they were fine, it was the others that would face God’s judgement.
The second thing and possibly the most important, John the Baptist was angry at the social injustices that existed in his day.
What about today, is there reason for us to have a holy anger?
The answer is pretty obvious. There is a heck of a lot of things in our society today that should make us furious, to have, like John the Baptist, a holy anger.
The plight of refugees throughout the world, people like you and me, who have to walk hundreds of miles, for safety, for a chance to live with out fear of being killed, who want to work and have food to feed their families. A couple of weeks ago, the scene of Central Americans desperately running across the dividing creek with the US, hoping somehow to get through. We knew it was pointless, but they were hoping. Or the people in Yemen, starving to death, the emaciated children. We can cry seeing those children, but we can also get angry at countries that will fight in a foreign land backing one side or the other, destroying the country and its people.
In our own country, we have our own injustices. We talk about preserving the environment and peace, but our government invests billions in a pipeline and sells armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for its civil liberties.
In our city, the racial profiling by our police is wrong. The SPVM recognize it is a problem, but not how bad it is. Young men who are profiled by the police become later very angry men.
There are plenty of things we can and should be angry about. John the Baptist encourages us to be bold and not fear speaking out about what we see is wrong. It is the beginning of righting a situation when we name it!
Although I abhor violence of any kind, the revolt that France is experiencing over the last few weeks by their gilets jaunes, the yellow vest motorists must have in their cars, is an example of the people who are having trouble making ends meet. They are recognizing that the system is not working. They are saying no.
We too must name the wrongs we see!
Let’s continue then with today’s passage. The people, in response to his challenge, asked John the Baptist what should they do.
He goes straight to deal with the issue of economics, and specifically, poverty. Whoever has two coats should give one of them to the person who has none. The same goes for food, share with the one who does not have.
John the Baptist leaves no room for people to say I am not rich, so I don’t need to share. If you have two coats…if you have food…you share.
He does not see poverty as an accident of life, nor the fault of the poor but as the result of the actions of some.
There are systems in place that tend to make the richer, richer, and the poorer, poorer. Things have only gotten worse since John the Baptist’s time. You will remember the infamous fact, the globe’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, and it is just getting worst.
The Baptist was getting straight to the point, challenging the economic imbalance that develops with time and saying, SHARE!
To the tax collectors who wanted to know what they were to do, he told them not to collect more than they were suppose to. The tax collectors who worked for the state, traditionally would take more to line their pockets. They would exploit their position by exploiting the people.
To them, the Baptist said, BE FAIR!
The soldiers also asked what they must do. The Baptist knew that they often used their position of power to force people to get what they wanted, to exhort money. He tells them, ‘Don’t and be satisfied with your wages. DON’T BULLY’
Kind of what we learn in kindergarten, Share, be fair and don’t bully!
You see when it comes right down to it, the Bible is telling us what is most important is not what we believe but how we are live. What we believe can help us, and guide us, but it is how we live that is ultimately what is most important to God. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist or Christian, what is most important is how we live. How we treat others.
John the Baptist challenges us then to name the wrongs we see.
He reminds us that what is most important in life is how we live, how we treat each other.
Now the text does not end there. The people were wondering if he might be the Messiah they were waiting for. He clearly says no. He would be followed by one more powerful who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. He then uses a farming method to describe how the Messiah will separate the good from the bad, like wheat and chaff, and burn the chaff.
Now when I preached on this text when we celebrated St Jean-Baptiste in June, I suggested that John the Baptist did not get it quite right, since that was not what Jesus did.
This week, I was reading a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian novelist and historian who past away 10 years ago. He wrote: ‘Which one can truthfully claim to be all wheat, and no chaff? The Stronger one will sift and destroy the chaff within all people’.
He definitely has a point, none of us are all wheat. It is a beautiful image of Christ burning the chaff within us. But I get uncomfortable that if we rely on that interpretation, we absolve ourselves of our responsibility to sort out of our lives the chaff, the stuff that pulls us away from being the agents for good that God would want us to be. I believe we need to call on Christ to help us to sift through within us what is wheat and what is chaff. BUT SIFT, WE MUST!
I invite you then to call on Christ to help you sift the wheat from the chaff so you can bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Sisters and brothers on this journey of life, this journey of faith, John the Baptist models for us a man who could get angry faced with what was wrong. His example invites us to name what we see that is wrong in our world, the social injustices that oppress people. Name the wrongs!
John the Baptist reminds us that what is most important in life is how we live, how we treat each other.
Finally, call on Christ to help you sift within you what is wheat and what is chaff, so that you can be a people that will bear fruit for the Reign of God.