(From today’s sermon on Matthew 3:1-12)
..But it goes beyond simply giving out of the extra shirt or extra food we are able to give. When John addressed the Pharisees, Sadducees, tax collectors and the soldiers (Luke 3), he invited us to examine how our lives might be uniquely shaped to respond to this call of repentance. What stands in the way of you loving your neighbor? What keeps you from recognizing our equal standing at the foot of God’s throne together? Do you take unhealthy pride in your nationality or your past? Do you look down on others because they’re not cultured, or Hungarian, or not/too Westernized, or even Christian? John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that God can raise purebred Jews out of the stones on the ground. Repent – have a changed perception of identity/reality.
Or maybe like the tax collectors – Are you living in a way that sees others as sources of profit, rather than fellow brothers and sisters? For some it was the rise of the “Get rich quick” business and invention ideas. We wanted to start companies, or invent ideas that would lead to huge profits, gains, and often on the backs of others. High interest rates, disposable products that needed to be replaced, unfair wages for workers globally, and creating a need just so that you could solve it – were all seen as acceptable business practices. Today, we’ve added the desire to be an “Influencer”. To view all people as consumers that we can collect, followers we can claim, and social media reduces their value and identity to “likers” we can get paid to advertise to. To the tax collector’s heart, John’s message of repentance calls us to be content to have what we need, and to see the value in others apart from what they offer our accounts.
But maybe we resonate with his message to the soldiers. They were masters at manipulating people, and using power to their own advantage. They saw people as tools to be used to accomplish the will of Rome. However they could bend or shift a situation to benefit themselves, to bring things in submission to the ways of the Empire, they would do so. They used their positions of power and authority without regard for how it might impact the lives of others – dehumanizing others and denying their value apart from accomplishing the will of Rome. To protect themselves and not show any weakness, a soldier might be constantly on the offensive – bringing false accusations, often to their own benefit. Many of us live this way – entering our workplaces, our classrooms, or even our homes with our defenses up – or launching attacks at other people in order to stay in control. To the soldier’s heart, John’s message of repentance calls us to enter relationships with our neighbors vulnerably – not trying to control people, and not always being on the offensive or defensive. We let go of our own desires, stop trying to attack, and let go of defending ourselves – allowing God to be God fully.
When we live in these ways, we begin to show the fruit of having a transformed mind. The result of repentance. When we live in these ways, John shows us, we are preparing the way for what God wants to do in Jesus. We are “making the paths straight”. Which makes sense – when we live humbly in ways that serve and value the people around us – it connects our hearts to the hearts of others in ways that God can use to move through us into and through the lives of others. When I’m no good at loving my neighbor, my neighbor doesn’t want to know much about the God I claim to serve.
Still, it’s new to many of us to think that we can “prepare” for the arrival of Jesus. To realize that we can be used by God – and that our repentant heart might be something God can use powerfully for Jesus to arrive in New Ways to our marriage, our family, or workplace, our community, and our world. But it’s the Truth.
This is a powerful invitation – to realize so much of this was happening, and God was inviting repentance as a way of preparing the way for Jesus even before the Holy Spirit was given for all.
That means – as people who have received the power of the Holy Spirit (you have – it’s what allows you to understand “JESUS IS LORD”)…you are capable of even more than these people who were hearing John speak in the wilderness. The change that is possible in your mind and heart is not just something “you-sourced” (which John saw as powerful enough to invite and prepare what God is doing through Jesus). It can be something Holy Spirit sourced. The fruit of repentance, combined with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) arriving through YOU this week IS THE REVIVAL that so many people are praying for – and feeling helplessly desperate will arrive. God is so excited about how His Love can be revealed through you/us, He has given his life. He became human and arrived as the vulnerable baby we celebrate at Christmas. To give himself completely, restoring our relationship and offering His own life to become our life – as we receive what He has given.
As we repent – and turn away from our old understandings of God and each other, we turn toward the new identities and life given to us in Christ…preparing the way for Jesus to arrive.