The Core Message

By August 20, 2017 No Comments

August 20, 2017

Bible Text: Matthew 3:13-17 |


This is the day we celebrate the lightbulb going on – the epiphany, the spiritual awakening and awareness, the claiming of Jesus as the Messiah.

The wise men likely journeyed for two years to get to the baby.

Jesus would have been walking and talking by then – but even so, even give that they took a long time and Jesus grew a LOT in the meantime -  their gifts were anything but age appropriate.  They were gifts for a king, but gifts with all kinds of meaning.

So, the 12th day after Christmas, which would have actually been Friday, January 6th – we mark as Epiphany and then we reset the calendar into Ordinary Time or the weeks after Epiphany – or, if you prefer, the Season of Epiphany – you are given a lot of choice in the naming of the seasons.

The calling for a census, the travel to Bethlehem, the birth and the coming of the Wise Men, guided by the star is followed in rapid succession by a couple of little stories about Jesus growing up - getting separated in a crowd – actually for days – showing early signs of spiritual leadership - and then suddenly he is 30 years old and being baptized, which is our reading today.

We hear about his cousin John preaching the word of God and baptizing people – proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – and then, according to the writer in Luke, oh, by the way, Jesus also is baptized. (Luke makes a lot less of the baptism than do the other gospel accounts).

If you were given an exam book – remember those blue books we had to write essay answers in?  Or am I the only one that old here? – if you were given a blue book and told to compare and contract Jesus and John, what would you write?

I hope you would write that they were cousins and that John seemed to many something of a crazy man – funny clothes, funny dietary plan – but that they both quoted Isaiah:  every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low…. We will make the way smooth….

Both Jesus and John  are famous  for the line “you brood of vipers” (at least they are famous to me – I want to go on record as never having called anyone a “brood of vipers” but somehow it impresses me as a very honest expression of frustration) – and both tell people how they can follow God’s path –

Both say “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none – whoever has food must do likewise.”  --

We may not like these teachings, we may not act on these teachings, but both Jesus and John said they are core to our faith.

Our neighbor is a child of God and we must share – not our 17th coat but our SECOND coat with them.  We must share our food – not from the stockpile, but even if all we have ourselves is one plate of food, we must share it.

Hunger is utterly unnecessary.

These are core teachings –

Jesus made it quite clear that we were not to hoard things, not to accumulate even seconds if others don’t have basics.  We are not to keep even an extra portion while others went without.

This is, dear friends, quite counter-cultural.

We live in a place where the slogan that got President-Elect Trump elected was “make America great again”.

Our classic definition of “great” has been that each generation would do better than the one before, that we would be the land of plenty and that the one with the most toys when they die wins.

Our classic definition of “great” is having a closet with 40 pairs of shoes or a bookshelf with everything you ever wanted.

We find ways to spend money, most of us.  We think it somehow defines “greatness.”

That is not Jesus’ definition of “great”.  That is not what the followers of John and then Jesus were being baptized in to.

They were baptized to repent – to turn away from the wrong path – and to practice loving their neighbor, giving their second coat to their neighbor, sharing their food with their neighbor.

When we say that we baptize our babies that their parents and godparents might encourage them to follow Jesus, it is THAT path we are steering them toward.

Share your second coat.

Share your very food on your table.

No one should go without.

We are family.  God’s family.

There is a group of folks here at the church reading Daniel Carroll’s book about immigration Christians at the Border – we were to meet yesterday to begin our conversation and discussion but the forecast that I heard at 11 pm Friday night scared me off – we’ll try again not this coming Saturday but the week after that – but Daniel Carroll makes the case for the radical hospitality of Jesus.

He says that it is against our religion to deny the safety of a home, the services of basic necessities and the warmth of friendship to the stranger.

He recalls our country’s history with immigration – beginning, of course, with the African people – men, women and children – brought here as slaves.  He then outlines all the various people who have been scorned in our country – the Chinese, the Italian, the Irish, anyone who was Catholic, the Central Americans…. And you know, I could go right through his list and remember little comments, or jokes or caricatures about each one of these groups – ways I had picked up as a child of mocking or grouping those others as odd or funny or less than.  I don’t think of myself having been raised in a bad family – but it was the times, discrimination and fear of difference was part of the air we breathed.

I realized, in reading Carroll’s book, that I had not been taught to share my second coat, but rather to protect my own position and status.

I realized, in imagining the little digs that people around me made to Chinese people or Mexican people or Italian people, that it would have been a very unwelcoming atmosphere to live in, never mind try to raise a family in.

Carroll talks about the difficulty of living “in the hyphen” – Mexican-American, Cuban-American, African-American – of needing to straddle two cultures, two value sets, two languages… and then you pile on top of that a fear of difference or a subtle racism – I am better than you – and you have a recipe for what John and Jesus called “a brood of vipers”.

We have too often missed the point – we talk about people who need handouts, of the people who need to support themselves, to pull on their own bootstraps… but we have missed the point that John and Jesus taught:

We are, as Christians, the ones who are to give the stranger the coats off our backs,

We are, as Christians, the ones who are to give the stranger the food off our table.

We are, as Christians, baptized into a faith that inspires us through the Holy Spirit to share our own blessings with others.

Luke’s first chapter we are told of the coming of John and the coming of Jesus – the second chapter tells of the two mothers meeting and Mary’s song (with some of the same themes we are talking about today) – followed by the birth of Jesus – and then we move directly to chapter three, today’s reading where the first sermon is preached by John – in most of the gospels the sermon is simply “repent” – in the gospel of Luke he is given more words and we hear about sharing food and giving away coats.

It couldn’t come any more clearly or any sooner in the story: here is the main thing: we are to share.

We may think it belongs to us, that we worked hard for it, or even that “it is the American way” – but the Jesus way, the Christian way is different from that.

The Christian way calls for us to act on our faith, to look at the world in a whole new way – not as “I’ve got mine and too bad about you” but as “we’re all in this together.”

May we listen to the news, consider the government’s programs and conversations with the ears of John and Jesus.

May we call out “you brood of vipers” and call for right behavior.  It is our way of religion – it is our faith – it is our call from God.  Amen.





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