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Third Sunday in Advent: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Reading

Luke 3:7-18

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."

The Sermon

You brood of vipers

What a way to start a sermon. John must have had a special talent. I can't imagine people hanging around to listen to me if I start out by insulting them. So I won't.

Having said that, I have to say John makes some very good points. He is telling his followers that pedigree makes no difference when it comes to your relationship to God. He says, “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. “

It does not matter that my family has lived here since the 1800's. My ancestors, by all accounts, were good people but it is who I am that counts. It is what is in my heart that counts. It is what I think and do that counts. God knows.

When John was asked by people how they should change their lives, John was very specific. He told people to share their abundance. If they have two coats, give one away. If they have extra food, share it. He told tax collectors to collect no more than the required amount because tax collectors were notorious for collecting more than required and pocketing the difference. He told soldiers to not extort money from people in order to line their own pockets.

John was speaking to his time. We know the issues in our own lives. We know in our hearts what we can do to cleanse ourselves from wrong doing. Advent is a time when we look forward to the arrival of Jesus and it is a time of reflection on what we can do to make ourselves better persons.

John made it clear to his followers that he was not the messiah but the messiah was coming. He said, I baptize you with water but the messiah will baptize you with the holy spirit.

In his fire and brimstone way John also used the metaphor of the wheat harvest. He said, “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.” I am very sure all of us would like to be grains of wheat safely stored in a grain bin and not the refuse that goes up in flames.

The last part of this gospel reading says, “So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” I think this might be a stretch to believe that many people walked away from John thinking, “Wow, that was a lot of good news”.

We know that Jesus came with the same message of repentance and he also gave us a message of love and forgiveness. That to me is the good news! When our hearts change and our actions follow with signs of our love for each other, God's holy spirit enters us and we can truly rejoice.
Many Blessings To You All,
Fr. Fred

Second Sunday in Advent: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Reading

The Gospel

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

The Sermon

Several years ago there was a start up Ukrainian church that used St. Andrew's on Sunday afternoon for it's service. They are very good people and now use the old Garfield school as their church building. I got to know several of their church leaders fairly well in a broken English kind of way and I had some interesting discussions with them about theology and faith.

One day we were standing in the church nave next to the baptismal font and the Ukrainian minister asked me, “do you talk about sin?”. I kind of puffed up and said, “why, yes we do.” I got the feeling that he was a little surprised and pleased. I think some main line, “modern leaning” churches don't like to talk about such uncomfortable subjects as sin. It might scare people away and we do not want that!

Scruffy, irascible John the Baptist was not afraid to broach the subject of sin. In fact, that was his focus. In the reading today Luke says that John went into the region of Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When we get into next weeks reading John becomes even more graphic when he refers to his crowd of followers as a brood of vipers.

Don't worry, I won't be referring to any of you in that way. John was a kind of 'in your face' guy. He told it like it is which is probably why he was beheaded. I admire John. He knew his mission. He knew he was paving the way for Jesus. We only have one record where the two actually met and that meeting was so profound. But, we will get to that next week.

John the baptist was put on this earth to spread the word about the messiah, this Jesus of Nazareth. John had a follower named Andrew who, when he heard about Jesus immediately made the decision to follow him. This is the same Andrew whom our church is named after.

Like John, Andrew was an evangelist. He spent his life spreading the news of salvation, the importance of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That tradition and message of forgiveness is alive with us today. We in the congregation of St. Andrew's in Chariton, Iowa have that same mission. No, we don't wear hair shirts and eat locusts but we can spread Christ's message in our own way.

We can invite people we know and do not know to join us, to come and see. To share the joy of the good new of salvation. The mission of Jesus began with Jesus and his first disciple Andrew. Those followers of Jesus now number in the billions. Jesus is the light of the world and every time we bring in a new follower, that light becomes a little brighter.

I encourage to reach out to the people you know and love. Share with them the good news of salvation. Invite them to come and see.

Blessings to all of you this season of Advent!
Fr. Fred

First Sunday in Advent: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Gospel

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." 

The Sermon

This is the season of advent. It is the beginning of the church year and the word advent means the coming or arrival of something. In our case we have two things, the arrival of the baby Jesus on Christmas day and the second coming of Jesus.

The second coming of Jesus is a topic of much discussion among theologians and I would argue that you are all theologians. We all have our opinions of our faith. Some are very similar and others are wildly different. It is estimated that there are over 20,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. Robin Williams the comedian once said this about Episcopalians, “no matter what you believe there's bound to be at least one Episcopalian who agrees with you.”

Whether it is the second coming of Jesus or the celebration of Jesus' birth, Advent is about waiting and it is something I am not very good at doing. When I was a child there would be all these presents under the tree at Christmas and I was especially interested in the ones with my name on them. I remember just sitting next to the tree and staring at them. My mind would go wild imagining what wonderful treasures were hidden behind those wrappings.

I look forward to seeing Jesus and I am still the same impatient person who has trouble waiting. Make no mistake, I will make room in my calendar for that to happen and in the meantime I will impatiently wait. Jesus said in both Matthew and Mark, “nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.” So, we wait and we stay prepared.

We wait for the day when we celebrate the day of the baby Jesus birth. His light and his wisdom, has been celebrated for millennium. It can be a magical time of year. We prepare in our own ways. In our church we have the advent wreath. Each Sunday in advent we light a candle. This week we light one candle. Next week it will be two candles until all the candles are all lit and it will be Christmas.

Much has been said about how the meaning of Christmas has gotten mired in the commercialization of the season. I would argue that this advent season is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of many of us. While we wait for the coming of Jesus, we serve. Yesterday, many of you were ringing Salvation Army bells so that there will be assistance for those who are in crisis in the coming year. There are many living in poverty in Lucas County. Last Friday I served as a counselor at the Chariton food pantry. I visited with over twenty people who came to get some help so they could put food on their tables.

The food pantry always receives more donations during this time of year. People seem more generous during the Christmas season. They understand the need to serve their brothers and sisters. I believe that people really do feel a Christmas spirit in their lives. We play an important part in that spirit. Wishing others peace and good will can become infectious.

I have often talked about the ripple effect. What we do and say can have a powerful effect on so many others and not just the people we directly interact with. When you give someone a warm heartfelt greeting it affects that person and it changes them. It also changes the way they feel about you and others in their lives.

This season of advent, open yourself up to the love of the Holy Spirit. Let it shine in you and the world will be a brighter place.