Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 3:1-12: Prepare in Faith

Listen to the words of John.  To prepare the way and make straight his paths these things must be done:

1.         Repent = turn around and go the other way, which is to say, go toward God.

2.         Confess sins = open your heart and mind in abject honesty to the Lord and to yourself.

3.         Be baptized in Water = let this be a sign of your cleansing and a sign to the world that you belong to God

4.         Produce fruit = Do good, love mercy, walk humbly before God.  Focus on what is right, good and true.  Clothe the naked,  feed the hungry, visit those who are sick or in prison.  How many passages must I quote?  James said it well enough: faith without works is dead.  But understand: (for all who want to misunderstand and misinterpret the truth that we are saved by grace, not works):

a.         Works follow God’s grace, they do not precede it.

b.         Many have claimed repentance, shed great tears over their sins, received baptism in public before their peers and gone right back to the same behavior, supporting the same sinful notions and ungodly causes, and etc.  And the church these days is so readily thrilled with the idea of a new convert, we have not questioned beyond the baptism.  As the saying goes, talk is cheap.  As the other saying goes, the dog will return to its vomit.

5.         Do not presume.  If we are anything at all, we are presumers, not consumers.  Our society, culture, civilization is one of presumption not consumption.  Even in the days of the Great Depression, America stayed strong.  We believe even then that this was a mere bump on the road.  After all, this was America.  No one quite starved to death like in Biafra some years ago.  No one had to run naked through the streets.  No one was necessarily turned out from shelter in the worst of the storms.  We were a charitable people.

            Most of that generation is gone now, apart from those who may have been children in those days.  But since that time, the good times have rolled.  Who on earth ever imagined the prosperity of the fifties and sixties?  No one in the history of history ever imagined such a thing.  The dot-com bust, for one example was about people losing wealth, not about people being made poor.  Yet how have we responded to this grace of God.  What have we become?

            We have become no less that spoiled brats.  We believe God must love us with a special love.  We presume on that, and these days we let the government take care of things.  Let me tell you, the spigot of welfare, social security, Medicaid and Medicare are wide open, raining down on people like manna from heaven.  And now we are being lulled to sleep by cries of “FREE” healthcare for all, by mortgage bailouts and corporate bailouts and… how long do you believe this can honestly go on?

            There is no doubt we have been blessed by God, but have we turned to him humbly, with our heartfelt thanks?  Have we praised him?  Or have we presumed on his blessings and expect that this should just continue forever?

            I recently asked two young schoolchildren if they understood what Thanksgiving was all about.  When the Indians and Pilgrims gathered for the feast, to whom did they give thanks?  The answer?  “I don’t know.  Each other, I guess.”

            And I wondered, if the electricity went off one day, not for a few hours, but for months at a time, and gasoline suddenly jumped to $100 per gallon, and there were lines at the supermarket where the shelves were empty and people hoped only that they might have enough bread for everyone in line to get some, would most Americans survive? 

            No running water?  I hope you can dig a well – and obviously one that does not need an electric pump.  Could you keep clothes on your growing children?  Could you maintain a home in a world where you can no longer take whatever breaks and say, that’s okay, we will just buy a new one?  No heat in winter?  I hope you have a fireplace or wood burning stove.

            I have a brother who lives in Alaska, but even in Alaska, land of the hearty final frontiersman, how many would survive such conditions?  And yet, this is the way most of the world has lived throughout history and how much of the world is still living.  Consider Haiti, Cuba, the back streets of almost any major city in the world.

            There is no doubt we have been blessed by God, but do we presume too much?  American children expect massive presents under the tree and cry if it isn’t enough.  Parents expect to be well off to provide those presents and freak when it becomes a strain.  Our presumption has engendered such expectations, when they are not met we are creating a nation of mental illness and depression.  Not everyone is happy at Christmas time.  It isn’t always a wonderful life.  But we expect.  We presume.  And wait, you haven’t heard the worst of it yet.

            You see, we have never suffered under the kind of anarchy or tyranny that is native to everywhere else on the planet throughout time.  Yes, we fought a Civil War to resolve our national sin, but that was a hundred and fifty years ago.  We know nothing of Gulags and death camps, or cultural revolutions or Pol-Pots, no matter how much we may read of such things while sipping wine and sitting in our comfortable chairs in our comfortable, warm homes on a winter evening.  We cannot imagine Washington using nerve gas on the people of Ohio the way Saddam Hussein used gas against his own people (in case you forgot). 

            So in the Sudan they are practicing genocide… but Hitler was over there.  Stalin was miles away.  And who ever heard of Myanmar anyway?  What does it take to make a suicide bomber?  The world knows, but do the people of America?  No, not an inkling.  That whole idea is so foreign, so incomprehensible.  Give them money, we think.  Maybe if they had a better education.  Maybe if they had real jobs and could make a living.  It must be the poverty lashing out.  It must be… Like I said, most Americans, including most of our leaders have not got a clue.

            We have been blessed.  No doubt about that.  But what have we done?  We have reached the point where one-fifth to one-quarter of the nation is asking why they should work when they can have all of their needs just handed to them.  And I ask, how much longer can this go on?  We are rotting the souls of these people, now going into the fourth generation for some.  We are rotting our national soul with the presumption of God’s blessing – that of course God will bless me, I am special.  I am an American.

            John said it and now I say it, and likely many others will say it as well.  Do you really want to prepare for the coming of the Lord – for Christmas?  Do you really want to make straight his paths?  Repent, confess your sins, be baptized, PRODUCE FRUIT worthy of repentance.  And above all, do not presume.

            John was blunt and we have no reason to disbelieve him.  The fruitless will go into the fire.  Jesus will come, maybe this Christmas, and he will harvest the good grain but the chaff will be burned.  And this old world desperately needs real fruit from real Christians, especially at Christmastime.  But is America able?

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