Sermon Ideas For Luke 3:1-6 Part 2
A Luke is very careful to place the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptizer within a particular historical and political context. Roman occupation influenced all of life from the governance of Pilate to the reign of the sons of Herod the Great. Even the chief religious authority, the high priest, Caiaphas, held office as a result of Roman influence. Moreover, Caiaphas was essentially a "puppet" whose strings were manipulated by his father-in-law and ex-high priest, Annas.
Attempting to live as the covenant community of the Lord must have been extremely difficult at best. Ethical, moral, and spiritual behavior had to be filtered through a morass of Roman institutions and corrupt Jewish leaders who owed their present status to Rome.
If a person wanted to remain faithful to the covenant, three basic alternatives were open: Withdraw into the wilderness and maintain ritual purity in an isolated community; band together with other like-minded folks and attempt to remain faithful to the covenant while surrounded by friends and neighbors who had essentially "sold out"; become absorbed into the social/political religious system of an occupied country. The latter option was the most popular and least threatening.
Into this confusion came John the Baptizer who immediately began to call for a return to covenant living. Contrasting the power of existing authorities with the power of God, John challenged his hearers to ethical and spiritual renewal. The judgment of God is near. The judgment of God supersedes and overturns prevailing cultural values. What has power and authority in this world will be changed.
John's message was to prepare for this coming judgment by a return to previous covenant values and behavior. Here are some of the pastoral implications within this passage.
The pastor must become aware of prevailing values within the congregation. How do members of the congregation develop their value system? How much of that development is influenced by popular opinions expressed in the media? How much is based on a particular national, regional, or even neighborhood ethical code?
In recent years, pastors have often found themselves in a very small minority within their congregations in the area of ethical and moral beliefs. Biblical and theological foundations for ethical statements are not as significant as popular opinion. Majority vote becomes the ultimate authority in determining operational values. We need only look at issues regarding the gender and race of persons invited into congregational membership, lay leadership, or even professional staff positions as examples.
As a pastor begins to explore the development of how ethical decisions are made within a congregation, that pastor may consider the following sources of information: (See Evelyn and James Whitehead Method in Ministry, Harper and Row, New York, 1980).
Christian Tradition: What are the biblical resources that relate to the particular topic? How has the church and your specific denomination responded to this issue?
Cultural Insight: What resources in philosophy, political science, history, literature, art, and media provide insights regarding the issue in question? What has research from the social sciences revealed about the specific concern?
Personal Experience: What are some specific implications of this concern for members of the congregation and community? What is the prevailing opinion within this congregation? What has been the personal impact of this concern upon the pastor and/or parishioners?
Far too often, the congregations and even pastors rely too heavily on one of these categories. In fact, all must be considered, and within the context of the church, ideas, opinions, and decisions can be formulated.
The congregation must become a community for ethical deliberation. True repentance, a return to the values of the covenant community, must occur within the community of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, beginning with the local congregation. John the Baptizer called for a new community based on the authority of God's word rather than on the authority of human institutions. The congregation is a human institution, of course. However, it is also a community shaped, grounded in, and informed by God's word. This word enables members, in the Holy Spirit, to discuss with one another the ethical implications of being Christian in specific circumstances. Paul describes this context in today's epistle lesson (Phil 1:3-11).
Local congregations provide the ideal context for deliberations regarding specific ethical and moral issues. Utilizing similar categories as those described above, pastors can offer many significant opportunities for ethical deliberation. Differing opinions will surface. Powerful feelings will be expressed. Nevertheless, the community of the New Covenant provides the framework for partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). Within this context emerge renewed insights into the ethical imperatives for living in the Kingdom that has already come.
Adult forums, youth groups, home study groups, and Sunday School classes offer many opportunities to affirm and acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit as major ethical issues are discussed and Christian values are shaped. Within the context of this Christian congregation, new perspectives of neighbor occur. New directions are considered. Transformation is possible. Daily repentance is expected.
Baptism becomes a focal point for identity in the New Covenant community. John's baptism was a call for a return to covenant moral and spiritual purity as recipients of the covenant of the Lord. Sins were acknowledged and confessed. The forgiveness of God was declared. John's baptism was in anticipation of the New Covenant initiated by God in the person of Jesus Christ. The Advent season celebrates the fact that this New Covenant has already been initiated by God in Jesus Christ. Christians are, even now, living in this New Covenant relationship.
This new relationship means that the baptized have been made free to live lives of prayer and service in response to God's love in Jesus Christ. Laity and clergy have been baptized into the New Covenant community, in which opportunities for service abound. Talents in economics, business, science, management, and technology can be unleashed for ministry in the community of the New Covenant.
John the Baptizer calls the Christian to challenge the status quo, to be open to the direction of the Holy Spirit, and to put into practice the ethical values of the New Covenant within the specific congregational community.
The New Covenant Community is filled with Angels. John the Baptizer challenged people in his time to faithful responses to the coming kingdom of God. John was seen by many as a messenger of God (literally, an angel). In response to the texts of this day, pastors may ask persons to consider the many angels they have experienced in their own lives (Mal 3:1-3).
Many, if not most Christians, have been challenged to new heights of ministry by particular persons in their own lives. Pastors may wish to help parishioners identify specific angels--John the Baptizers--in their own experience. Share examples of specific challenges to serve in the community of the New Covenant.
Pastors and all Christians are also challenged to be angels (messengers of God's challenge) to others. What specific opportunities for mission are possible within particular congregations? What are some possible responses?
These texts challenge us to faithful and ethical living in acknowledgement of the Christ who has already come and in anticipation of the Christ who will also return again in new power and glory.
Daryl S. Everett