|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|➤Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
Second Sunday in Advent, Year A
Sermon Date:December 4, 2016
Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12
Liturgy Calendar: Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
“John the Baptist" -Church of St Etheldreda, Ely Place in London. John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Today I want to share with you the story of Chana, a young Palestinian girl from a small village in Judea who has traveled to Jerusalem with her parents.
Her family has come to Jerusalem for Shavuot, the Feast of First Fruits, the third and final pilgrimage to the temple for the year.
Like everyone else who has come to the temple in Jerusalem from far out in the country, her family and others from her village have come to bring offerings to God in thanksgiving for a successful harvest.
Lots of people at this festival have been talking about John the Baptist, the son of a temple priest, who has gone to live in the wilderness.
Those who have seen him say that John is wearing a tunic made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, like that famous prophet from long ago, Elijah. People are reporting that John eats only what he can find out in the wilderness—locusts and wild honey.
Also, John has taken ritual washing to a whole new level. He is baptizing people in the River Jordan as they confess their sins.
Chana gets excited when she finds out that her parents plan to make the twenty-mile trek from Jerusalem out into the wilderness to see this eccentric John the Baptist for themselves, to hear his preaching, and maybe even to experience this baptism of repentance before they return to their village.
Early the next morning, her family sets out. Picking their way through the barren and rock strewn landscape of the wilderness tires them all out. The early morning sun is hot. Her mother holds Chana’s hand and encourages her to keep going. The trip seems to take forever.
As they walk along, Chana’s father reminds her of the stories she has heard him tell many times about the exodus—her ancestors wandering in the wilderness after Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt. Her father says that it was in the wilderness that Chana’s ancestors became God’s people, where they learned to be dependent on God before they finally crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
Now she herself is in the wilderness, and she and her parents are about to come to the Jordan River, that place of hope and promise and the beginning of new life in her people’s history.
As they go farther and farther, they meet more and more people, and at last are part of a large crowd that finally reaches the banks of the Jordan River.
Over there in the crowd are some Sadducees—they are the chief priests who are in charge of the temple back in Jerusalem and who are appointed by the Roman rulers. Chana’s father wonders if they have come out to listen to John because they believe he could be leading the people to question the authority of the temple and of Rome.
A group of Pharisees has gathered not too far from them. Chana knows about the Pharisees—the ones in her village are always reminding the people to follow the Jewish laws in the Torah, because following these laws might hasten the coming of the new age when God will finally free them from the oppressive rule of the Roman empire.
The prophet John stands at the edge of the riverbank in his dusty camel hair tunic.
“Repent!” he calls out to the crowd that has gathered on the muddy and trampled banks of the river.
“Repent! For the kingdom of God has drawn near.”
John’s brooding eyes scan the crowd. He sees the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
He raises his voice and calls them Vipers!
“Why did you self-righteous people come out here?” John shouts.
“Your lives are comfortable. You have all the answers! You Sadducees have the blessing of our Roman oppressors! You trust their corrupt government! You Pharisees are placing all your hope in how perfectly you can follow the Law. But I’ve got news for you! Your station in life and the fact that you are upstanding Israelites is not going to save you in the wrath to come!”
Hearing the tone of John’s voice, Chana hides behind her father. This man scares her.
But then John’s voice drops and becomes reverent and almost tender.
Chana comes out from behind her father as she listens hard to hear what John is saying now.
He’s talking about someone else—someone powerful, someone so great that John wouldn’t dream of being worthy enough to carry his sandals.
John says that his baptism of repentance in the Jordan River is only the beginning. The One who is to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
And this person who is to come sounds to Chana like he will be a familiar sort of person, like someone from her village, because John says that this One who is to come will have a winnowing fork in his hand.
Chana remembers the harvest just completed, how her family brought the wheat, heavy with grain, out of the field to the threshing floor. She can smell the dust as a donkey pulls a sledge over the wheat to knock the grains out of their hulls as dust rises in a golden cloud in the late afternoon sun. The light from the sun bounces off the winnowing forks that the adults use to toss the wheat high into the air. As the sheaves of wheat fly into the air from the winnowing forks, the heavy grain falls to the ground as the early evening breeze carries off the chaff. She sees the chaff piling up against the low wall at the side of the threshing floor as the breeze carries it there.
And then, just as darkness falls, everyone gathers up the wheat that has been harvested and now lies in piles on the threshing floor. They take the grain into the barn, so that the evening dew won’t dampen it. Her family brought part of this grain to the temple as a Shavuot offering, and the rest they will grind and the women will make the bread that will feed them, hopefully until the next harvest.
And the day’s chaff—the men pile it up, and set it on fire, and gather round to watch as the flames leap high into the air and burn away the waste, leaving nothing behind but a pile of glowing ashes that slowly die away into darkness.
Chana’s father leans down to her.
“Chana,” he says, “Chana, we people are like the sheaves of wheat on the threshing floor. This One who is coming will harvest the goodness in us. That’s why he will have a winnowing fork. He will use that winnowing fork to separate out what we don’t need any more, and what is useless in us so that it can blow away. He will carry the goodness in us into the barn. And he will burn all of that useless chaff away in a big fire like the one that we make at the end of every day of the harvest.”
“And then, like your mother, he will take the goodness in us, and grind it and make it into bread, so that we can be useful in this world.”
John, with his reverent voice, was telling the crowd that they could hope in the One that was coming, that he could be trusted, and that this harvest would be good.
Chana could tell that John the Baptist, and her mother and her father wanted to be part of that harvest.
And so did she.
When her turn came, John the Baptist welcomed her with a deep, loving welcome, like no one else was even there. No matter that she was a girl, and a little one at that.
He welcomed her, and she stepped from the muddy banks of the river into the cold water of the Jordan.
And as she held her breath and John lowered her into the water, she felt a peace that she had never known before well up in her, a deep unifying peace. She was at one with all of the people she knew. She was at one with the sun, the fields, the wilderness they had just crossed, the birds singing, and the water that closed over her.
When John lifted her out of the water, she felt like she had crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land of God’s reign of peace and love, the kingdom of God.
And she knew that she would never leave this new world she had entered. She wanted to live in God’s kingdom of love forever.
Now I have three questions for you to mull over.
What in your life does God need to winnow away?
What goodness in you is God wanting to harvest?
Are you ready for the harvest?
Resources: Mitch, Curtis and Edward Sri. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.