Sermon Briefs Luke 3:7-18 Part 2
Joseph Donders preaches a very imaginative narrative sermon on Lk 3:10-18 which he called With Water Only.1 He begins by painting a picture of the peoples need: "People had been hoping so much and so long for a change, a real change." So they come from everywhere, at all times of the day and night, the rich and the poor, all classes of people. They come to be cleansed, healed, touched, washed, baptized.
John worked diligently at his task and mission. John offered (only) a symbol—a prophetic sign—he knew he could not really wash people of sins. He could prepare and announce the way of another, however.
When the people ask him, "What should we do?" John told them to change their ways. "If you have two pairs of trousers, you must share with the one who has none, and if you have something to eat, share with the one who is hungry." John was not the Christ, he told them. In a sense, what he could do for them, "was like pouring oil and spices over rotten food."
He was not the Christ. The people needed to be changed. They needed to be changed: mind, heart, soul, and body. The washing in water wasn't enough.
It is only fire and Spirit that are going to do it. Expect it. Anticipate it. For He is coming.
Donder's narrative style does take liberties with the text. His story drives to the point of the biblical story with great vigor, direction, and passion, however. We look for the one who can really change us—and so we prepare for His Advent.
Beth Johnson begins her sermon The Fruits of Transformation,2 by asking the congregation why they are in church today. Why aren't they home baking "something chocolate and decadent," etc.? She asks, e.g., if they came just to earn brownie points in the "Book of Life."
Quickly she makes a transition to the gospel text and asserts, if John the Baptizer were here today he would be calling some of the congregation, "hypocrites, snakes, insincere, or worse." This kind of teaching is hard to do—just ask John or Jesus—it may have cost both of them their lives.
Next, Johnson indicates what really caught her attention in this text: "So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people" (v. 18).
How can John's "harangue" be good news, she asks? In brief, in a world too concerned about appearances rather than reality, "it is indeed good news to be invited to be honest and tell the truth about ourselves; to give up our pretences and the smothering burden of our dishonesty and then still to be accepted and loved." Johnson quotes G. K. Chesterson as saying, "We are not really any good until we know how bad we are, or might be…."
Johnson suggests that this understanding of our need for God's grace is necessary and is not optional. It is very common today to refuse to acknowledge our need, at least based on our "sin." This is truly a paramount issue when dealing with victims. At the least, sensitivity is also a non-optional necessity.
Johnson goes on to indicate that we need not be discouraged by the immensity of the task of world transformation. She quotes John Wesley:
Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever…You can!
The third Sunday of Advent is a celebration of Joy, she says. It is not, however, a "giddy" joy—it is a deep and profound joy anchored in the love and presence of God in even the worst of situations. Noting the life and words of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhui (Mother Teresa), Johnson points us to the image of the Christ child, small and helpless, who needs all the love we can give.
Transformation, Johnson in effect says, will bear fruit. When we see our need for God's grace, we will see much that we can do in the world to help others in need. As we would, of course, respond to the helplessness of the Christ child—so we are called to respond to the needs of any that we might help. It is not optional!
1. Joseph G. Donders, "With Water Only," Praying and Preaching the Sunday Gospel (New York: Orbis Books, 1988), pp. 159f. 2. Beth W. Johnson, "the Fruits of Transformation," ww.geocities.som/athens/styx/4291/blue297.html#dec141997.