Sermon 8th December 2013
Text Matthew Matthew 3:1-12 – Detoxing our souls
Detox diets seem to be all the rage with people wanting to drop a few kilos or dress sizes to get ready for summer.
Winter has taken its toll but can be hidden under layers of woolly jumpers to hide those extra kilos that seem to creep their way in during the colder months.
It’s so easy to put on those kilos but it’s so hard to take them off.
And so the ads are coming through quick and fast on the latest fads before you have to put on those summer clothes that don’t hide much.
There’s been the lemon detox, the 7 day detox, the 10 day detox, the 20 day detox; the fruit juice detox.
Detox aims at flushing out all the bad things that have clogged our bodies.
Detoxing is a quick way to feel good and maybe drop those kilos quickly but unless it is followed up by a lifestyle change, the original kilos soon come back – and they bring along a few friends with them.
Today a new character enters into our Advent season whom we know very well.
John the Baptist.
This was a person who had a very strange diet of eating locusts and wild honey.
John was a big fan of detox but not the food type of detox to deal with our physical concerns.
No, John was concerned about a more damaging harm being done, not to the body, but to the soul.
He called for the people who came to see him to “repent”.
To detox from harmful ways that were damaging their souls.
The detox that John calls for is “Repentance”.
Repentance is a change of life.
A change in the way we live and change in the way we think.
It is a turning away from a way of living that is causing harm in our spiritual life and turning back to God.
It is much like turning away from all the junk food we eat and back to fruit and vegetables.
Away from the alcohol and fizzy drinks and back to water.
And God has promised, when we return he will receive us and forgive us.
Isn’t it funny though how we naturally gravitate to the junk?
We know it’s not good for us.
We have regrets and wish we didn’t eat what we did.
And when we eat fruit and veggies and drink water it’s amazing how great they taste and how good we feel, but we don’t crave them.
Our bodies crave what’s not good.
I want to look at the 3 Repentance comments that John makes and why he makes them:
Repent – the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
John might seem like one of those cartoon characters we often see with the sandwich board around their neck crying out – repent – the end is near.
Nobody takes them serious.
As Jesus said last week in our Gospel reading – no one knows the day or hour when Jesus is going to return so his return is always near.
If he were to return today we couldn’t say that we weren’t warned.
Even though it’s been 2,000 years there is no reason why it could not be today.
Nor do any of us know when our last day will be.
Just like the rich fool who gloated over his success and decided to sit back, eat, drink and be merry.
To which God replied: 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. (Luke 12:20).
John was concerned that the people were complacent.
We all know someone who has put off committing to God.
I’m just too busy with work and family now.
We often see that with their church attendance.
We’re just too busy to commit to church at the moment.
Sunday’s our only chance to sleep in and have time at home.
Our task is to pray for them and seek ways to support them.
They may be too busy for church – but the church should never be too busy for them.
We need to support them so that the kingdom of heaven remains near to them.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not just near in time – it should also be near in physical terms.
As Christians and as the church, maybe we can look for ways to take the Kingdom of heaven to them just as Jesus took the kingdom to those who didn’t belong to the local synagogue – the sinners and tax collectors.
We can take the church to them by visiting them – phoning them – offering ways in which we can support them in raising their children’s faith as we promised when they were baptised.
We get critical when they don’t bring their children to church – but maybe we can think of ways we can bring the church to their children.
Bear fruit worthy of repentance
Just as lemon trees produce lemons, orange trees produce oranges, and apple trees produce apples – so too a Christian who has been saved by God’s love and mercy should produce love and mercy to others as fruit of our lives being saved by God.
That was the teaching behind the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive the debt of one of his servants, a meagre few dollars, even though he had just been forgiven millions of dollars by the King. (Matthew 18:21-35)
The church and Christians need to be examples of the love and forgiveness we have received from God, including those who do not love us as Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43,44).
Repentance is turning away from how the world acts and acting how God acts.
But like junk food we tend to stray back too easily to the ways of the world in treating one another.
We hurt one another with the words we use.
We take our time to forgive when we’re hurt.
We get angry and say things we shouldn’t – treat people with disrespect.
That sort of thing doesn’t bring the Kingdom of Heaven nearer but drives people away from church.
I’m sure we can all think of ways that we have not really been good examples of the love and mercy we have received.
Baptism of repentance
This is where the promise of John becomes all significant to Christians.
Baptism is the solemn pledge of God to Christians that he will never forsake them.
In spite of our waywardness, God will always welcome us back like the father of the prodigal son.
Baptism is the covenant of God that he will not and cannot break.
We can reject it but God cannot revoke it.
And that’s the difference between a promise made by God and a promise made by humans.
In fact we see when God made his covenant with Abraham he swore by himself.
We often “swear to God” or swear on the Bible in court when we want to emphasise a solemn promise – so does God:
The writer to the Hebrews talks about the covenant which God made to Abraham:
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, (Hebrews 6:13).
And so when God makes a promise he keeps it.
And it is through that promise that we have peace with God.
A peace that comes from knowing that God will never reject us when we come to him in repentance.
God will never turn us away when we turn to him.
That’s the peace we have – the peace that goes beyond all understanding as we light the 2nd Candle of Advent today – the candle of Peace.
St Paul says: since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
There is a saying – you are what you eat.
If you eat junk food then your body will reflect that.
But also, if you live your life right your body won’t crave junk food.
When I’ve been exercising I crave water and fruit.
Likewise, if we sin our lives are affected – anger, hatred, resentment – these are the fruit of sin.
But when we live lives of repentance and live lives of prayer, worship and love then our lives find a peace that can’t be found anywhere else.
This is the fruit of repentance.
And since we are children of God in Baptism and in Holy Communion receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we are what we eat and are called to live lives that reflect that.
May the peace of God that surpasses our understanding, keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.