We hear from Indiana Jones over and over early in the movie, “I hate snakes.” I’m feeling some foreshadowing… and guess what. He finds himself fallen into a literal brood of vipers. We don’t get a very welcoming feeling from the idea of a den, pit or brood of poisonous snakes. That’s John’s confrontive sermon starter. John’s message confronted the practice of isolation, reliance on ancestry, and connection to tradition as a sufficient life of faith. Sort of like clutching or waving a bible, or wearing a cross, never saying happy holidays as the sole exhibition of our Christian identity. The people coming out to John or following him in the wilderness were obviously hearing him and asked a very important and also a very humble question, “What should we do? John answers by going back to the intent of the law of Moses and not just listing off commandments or laws. The intent was to strengthen the community, protect the powerless, and foster an attitude in word and deed of caring, love, justice, fairness, charity, hospitality, and a refocusing of our desires and motivations more outwardly and away from the self. John, himself, models this behavior. John gets paid a wonderful compliment, an opportunity for exploitation, an opening for the spotlight, fame and power. People are asking if he is the one, but John takes the path of humility and points to the one who is to come. John lifts up Jesus. John points out that repentance involves that outward turning and investing in others without regard for what’s in it for us. It’s also in reaching beyond our normal circles or spheres, beyond family, kinsman, village, or tribe. John and those who are following him are in the wilderness. The wilderness was not a vacation spot. It was outside or on the fringes of society, a place for outcasts and the landless and destitute. It was a place largely without hope. This is where the coming of the messiah is proclaimed, and what it means to live in the messiah’s kingdom, the kingdom of God. Let’s look beyond ourselves and beyond our borders and meet a fellow child of God that is reaching out beyond herself to those who are from elsewhere and who find themselves in the wilderness.
Today Sunday at Living Faith, we are seeking to reach out, to do God’s work with our hands. One of the ways we reach out is to prepare care packages for the Seafarers Ministry. Did you know that the international shipping industry is responsible for the carriage of around 90% of world trade? Working on these ships are seafarers (mariners or crew members), often for months on end. In that isolation, they are at risk of piracy, abusive co-workers, depression, and accidents. These mariners hail from over 150 nations. When they finally enter a US port, many are denied shore leave because they are viewed as security risks and now in Ft. Lauderdale because of Covid concerns. It sounds a lot like the wilderness and the wilderness can be a scary thing to think about as we often see how truly vulnerable we are. That fear can cause us to bar our gates, isolate, reject and see only threats and fear instead of siblings in the kingdom of God. God did not create us to live in fear but to embrace others who find themselves seeking, food, shelter, love, justice, welcome, understanding or friendship. Hear again the Good news and be encouraged from the words of Zephaniah and Isaiah, that our fear be overtaken by God’s love, power and grace. “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,for the Lord God is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known the deeds of the Lord among the nations; proclaim that this name is exalted.” And Zephaniah, “I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home.
John the Baptist heralds the mighty one who is coming. John teaches that preparation for God’s reign is not a matter of identity but of bearing fruits of merciful justice, radical generosity, and vocational integrity. Luke 3 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.