Note from the Pastor
In our gospel reading this morning, John the Baptist begins by calling the crowd a "brood of vipers." He urges them to not only show repentance by being baptized with water but to bear fruit, or live lives that demonstrate that repentance, that change of heart. He then warns the crowds that the ax is already at the base of the tree, ready to cut down any tree that doesn’t bear good fruit. Those words of warning barely get out of his mouth before people start asking questions. The questions were all pretty much the same, the same questions just about anybody asks when faced with bad news of impending disaster: “What must we do?”
Although John was cynical and suspicious, it sure sounds like the crowds wanted to know what it would look like to live a life of repentance, a life that would bear good fruit. Jesus would later often be asked a similar question. Jesus would tell us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus would tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. John, apparently, doesn’t have quite as high a standard as Jesus - or perhaps he just wants to offer very concrete ideas of what that kind of love in action looks like.
John tells the crowds, "If you have two coats, give one to somebody who doesn't have any. If you have extra food, find somebody who's hungry, and give your food to them. If you are a tax collector, only collect what is due; if you're a soldier, don't extort money using threats or false accusations. Whatever you do, don’t use your power or privilege to take advantage of others for your own gain."
Basically, when the people asked John what they must do, John’s answer was, “Just be decent to each other.” It still amazes me (though it probably shouldn’t) just how relevant these scriptures are to us today. Two thousand years of history later, and the path of repentance remains the same: remembering that we belong to each other.
I am sure the same question has entered your mind as mine. We watch the news, we see what is going on in the world, and we cannot help but ask ourselves, "What must we do?” What do we need to do to change things? The first step to that answer, the first step to change, is being decent to each other. We need to remember that the person next to you and the person on the other side of the aisle (whether in church or in politics!) is as human as you are: created in the image of, and beloved by, God.
John begins by calling the people a brood of vipers, but he doesn’t end there. Instead, he gives them hope; he gives them a challenge, a vision, of the people they are meant to be. If you really want to repent, to turn around and go in a new direction, then do this: stop seeing each other as snakes, and start recognizing the essential humanity we share. When we do that, we move along the path of repentance to the point where we can begin to truly follow Jesus.
Don’t forget to check out the “Grace Cubed” podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or go to www.anchor.fm/gracecubed
Cherry Hill United Methodist Church