Sermon on Luke 3 7-18
In a reasonably high church I was dressed very scruffy and unshaven
This sermon has been on my mind since before I knew I had to write it. To the extent poor Sue got her Monday compline session gazumped by me doing John in compline when that was hers. I was imagining doing this sermon before I had read this week’ readings. Also originally I wasn’t doing this week for a sermon I was considering before I knew I had to write it. I don’t believe in coincidences like that.
I think the reason why I am so attracted to it, is that it contains one the most important messages we can ever know about the love of God.
It begins with the reason I am dressed up like this.
John is dressed up in the most un priest like garb of all, unshaven, dressed in camel hair, eating locust and honey.
This is Jesus cousin, the first person to know Jesus when he leapt inside his mothers womb, foretold by the angel Gabriel, prophesied by Isaiah and the man who baptised Jesus in the Jordan. The man Jesus called the greatest of all. Dressed in the clothes far removed from priestly garb. Baptising the outcasts, dressed in the most irregular garb.
And he’s baptising Tax collectors, and soldiers and they are asking him what should we do.
Meanwhile, those dressed appropriately that are in charge of tradition and the rites of religion are called “a nest of vipers”.
Take note, no tradition, no rite, no dress, no social position, no respectable look, or dress is valued here. What is held up as the path to righteousness is baptism, which leads to repentance that leads to change that leads to dealing with people fairly and as valued human beings. Maling straight paths for Jesus.
Honestly, if you want to know the very kernel of what John is saying doing here, it is just that. Changing direction after coming into contact with the holy spirit and being baptised is what matters. However, none of these things works on their own.
The Pharisees who came to be baptised thought a quick dip and they are sorted. John rather eloquently informed them that the axe was sat at the bottom of the tree for those who were the nest of vipers.
So that’s it, that’s why I am dressed like I am today, because being dressed in priestly garb may serve many purposes in clarity of what role we have, and in the liturgy of the church but it has zero effect on salvation.
Also what society thinks of us, again this is not important, he showed all of us how to be Christian. John was not dressed in Garb liable to gain him top seats at the table. What matters to John is being who he wants us to be. He was helping the occupiers and their agents come before God, he was wiping their sins clean and setting them on the path through asking them to repent which isn’t some punitive thing, it’s simply changing direction. Not through the threat of the axe, but through being willing to do as the other outcasts do and ask what they need to do t follow and then follow.
I sat in that pew a long time ago and said I’m doing it all wrong, I’m not worthy and I need help. Throwing yourself at him and saying help me.
when I did my studies I comforted myself that he called pagans (Abraham), persecutors (paul), Tax collectors, Matthew, and so on and so forth. I used to use a saying when I felt unworthy of my calling to LLM. “If he can change Saul into Paul then there’s hope for us all. What we are, what we were, how we dress, how we sound like, what we think we could do, how valued we are in society etc etc all those labels we place value on and set store by and give people status.
They matter not one single bit, not one single bit. There cant be any clearer example of that than today’s reading, here’s a bloke dressed like a tramp, baptising people. People are called to his example, and he’s baptising the outcasts and castigating the pillars of society. Not because they are pillars but because of what that’s done to their ability to throw themselves at Jesus’ feet and ask how to change and then change.
That is the value system of God, I want you to think about in the next week, what does this reading where a tramp baptises outcasts and they ask what can I do? Where the pillars of society are as nothing, and those who feel they are nothing important are valued. Again, not because they are pillars, but because the things they value are not the things God values, the two are not mutually exclusive but if we get them and hold them up internally as proof of being righteous. We missed the point.
That’s why a man dressed like a tramp can preach, a man that isn’t following tradition here today. But the point is as long as we all do what the outcasts in todays story do and ask the question “what do I have to do” and change direction we have got the point of today’s story.
The great and good of societies and the value system of God is on display here. We need to aim to be seen as followers of the love that is coming into the world of jesus, as opposed to anything else.
That’s so powerful by the way. Because from that moment on there is nothing, and no one that can affect your self-worth in this world. Not a person, or an organisation, or a job, or a car or anything or anyone! Ever ever again.
You are precious, and righteous and valued in the eyes of God. God sets your worth and he came into the world to share our mess and die for us. Not dressed a a lord, but as a child with nowhere to go, like a reviled refugee coming over on a boat, when the inn or the country was full.
what did he do?
He just tipped our world on its head.
So apologies for the garb or lack of it, but you see.
Albeit it serves some purposes, It actually doesn’t matter. None of it. My worth and yours is entirely, defined, owned by and shown by a god who died for me and for you. Nothing that happens in this world or the next can change that fact.
You, all of you, every single person ever born can never be unworthy or less than loved to the extent you are precious enough to die for.
In advent we await that loves entry into the world, announced by John.