Monday, December 09, 2019

Advent 2: The Fruitful One

          Our second Sunday of Advent Bingo. Hopefully we’ll be able to fill out the entire card by Christmas. Each sermon will contain History, Mystery, and Majesty…
 We’ll hear how God spoke through the Gospel, is still speaking, and will have the final word.
—Past, Personal, & Promise—History, Heart, and Hope.
          The History, Heart, and Hope of Jesus, the Fruitful One.
          The History:
          There is John, in the wilderness… Isaiah had written eloquently about the end of the Exile in Babylon
—it would be like the end of the Exodus in Egypt
—a God saturated sojourn through the wilderness, a return home that restored all dignity to the generation who suffered captivity in Babylon.
          The majority saw these promises fulfilled when Cyrus the Great of Persia destroyed Babylon and gave the captives money to rebuild their temple and return home…
          But there was always a prophetic minority who looked at their situation as, to use Christian language, a resuscitation of the nation, not a resurrection
—the indignities of captivity were not redeemed,
the people had not returned from the exile.
And these folk—be it Honni the Circle Drawer, John the Baptist and his crew, or the Essene who went out to the wilderness at Qumran and collected what we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls…
they insisted God’s people were still in the wilderness,
still needing to cross the Jordon to the promised land,
still needing to repent and be transformed out in the wilderness.
          They are out there living the spiritual reality of their people,
living far away from false religious and secular rulers,
in a space of purgation, purification, preparing for God to act
—for all false rulers to be removed—waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven, the reign of God.
          The Kingdom of Heaven—a period, a space, a spiritual experience, of great division, Sheep & Goats, wheat and chaff…
          An experience that Christians in Matthew’s time were going through with the destruction of the temple at the hands of Rome, the greatest tragedy for their people since the Exile some 600 years previous
—without that place as the center of our faith, they wondered… if God’s throne, Jerusalem, was done for… where does God reign… what do we, as faithful people, do? What now?

          “What now?” we ask too—a question that ought to quake in each of our hearts… A personal question that ought to follow us our whole life long.
          And the answer in Matthew’s time, and now, is repent.
          It might sound like a small thing, a single word, but remember the entire protestant reformation was started with Luther’s simple words: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
          Repentance needn’t bring to mind Christians on the street corner haranguing folk and condemning them for being sinners
—instead we can hold fast to the Lutheran way of repentance, the Simul Justus et Peccator… the At the Same Time Saint and Sinner… way of repentance
 there is both gold and dross in each of us… each person, both husk and seed, wheat and chaff… we have both, and we are called toward the fruitful and faithful part of ourselves, which we have been given by Christ.
          (There is that apocryphal Native American conversation between grandfather and grandson, “Grandpa, I have two wolves at war in my soul, kindness and viciousness, which will win?” “Which one, dear grandson, will you feed?”)
          With this call to repentance we are called to ask where we may need to make amends
—maybe even with ourselves (forgiving ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do)… called toward fruitfulness… toward love of God, neighbor, and self.
          You see, a heart and mind reconciled to God in awe, love, and trust, worships differently, serves differently, than one estranged from God.

          But, I must warn you, there are parts of us that might seem outwardly righteous,
might seem holy and devout,
parts of ourselves that yearn to claim Abraham and other relatives as the reason for our being righteous…
but they are, in fact, part of a dead tree…
          That’s one of the strange things about our faith—all holiness comes from God, all else is chaff… all those scruples we may wish to cling to, to prove our worth, are nothing…
after all, Matthew condemns self-centered religion and lifts up humble faith…
the ingredients of both are in us…
          So, when we walk the walk of repentance, we are being cleansed so that God can claim the kernel of the new creature for God’s loving purpose!
          And so, fruitfulness resides in a humble, simple, trust in God that God uses for our redemption…

          A trust in God’s promise, a hope that the words of Isaiah, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” are a universal promise.
Yes, Jesus, the descendant of King David, a descendant of Jesse—is the new branch that comes forth from a brutalized and endangered tree…
When David’s city, Jerusalem, was wiped out one of the answers to the horror was to re-locate that holiness in him…
yes all of that… but so much more still!
          Every stump that has stopped producing good fruit,
every moment we miss the mark,
every end
—finds a new beginning in him, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
          Friends, at every point where we can do not but throw up our hands and ask, “What now?” There is new growth, fruitfulness brought by God! The Fruitful One, Jesus Christ, is coming!

          A History of being exiled into the desert to reckon with, and anticipate, the Kingdom of God.
          Our Heart repentant, repentant even of those things that have the appearance of faith, but are dead.
          The Hope that Jesus, the Fruitful One, shall always make from every stump a blossoming branch.