Monday, December 17, 2018

You Brood of Vipers


Zephaniah 
Luke 3:7-18
December 16, 2018

I think Prophets were kind of like the news analysts of the time,
the op-ed writers of their era, or the political bloggers
They never addressed personal, individual problems
they always looked at the whole country or world
and told everyone where they went wrong
from the top down, and what the possible
consequences and sad fates were: They knew
doom and destruction would fall on everyone.

Although the prophets used ancient terms,
the analysis of their times sounds a lot like that of ours:
corrupt and greedy leaders, religious leaders who’ve lost their way,
the apathy and hopelessness of the people,
and a lack of compassion for the poor and outcast.

And then, like now, the prophets knew that the country
and the world  were not on a good path,
but everyone felt unable or unwilling to
do anything about the situation.

Zephaniah is not a big player in the prophet hit parade.
He’s called a minor prophet.
This book or letter is only three chapters long.
the first two chapters are the same kind of analysis
that we’re used to hearing from the prophets,
God is not happy with Israel who refuses to get their
act together, destruction will be coming in one form or another.
And then they will want God, but they’d grown so distant
from God, they won’t know how to find God.
The word Zephaniah means “ Yahweh hides.”

They say Zephaniah was written pre-exile period
meaning before the Jews were conquered
by Babylon and other countries.
In other words, it was a time when things were still hanging together,
but there was a sense that things  could fall apart at any time,
the fabric of the society they knew was crumbling.

But after this inevitable destruction and collapse,
Zephaniah goes on, there is hope, God doesn’t stay hidden forever.
The collapse will be followed will be followed by 
rebirth and resurrection, God will be there and the relationship with
God and God’s people will be restored
and things will be back on the right track.

As we heard in the part we read today,
Zion is God’s daughter, and God will renew her,
her fortunes will be restored and everything will be
better than it was before.

And the evidence that the time has come will be this:
All the oppressors will be dealt with,
the lame will be saved and the outcast will be brought home.

Things will come back together,
but they won’t come back together in the same way.
Things will be reassembled in God’s image
things will be done in God’s way.

This seems to be a theme in all the prophets, major and minor.
Falling apart, coming together,
and the new way will be closer to God’s way.
They always end with a hopeful analysis of the future.
And our second reading is hopeful to, Rejoice!
Paul writes to the Philippians.
And then we get to John the Baptist.

In case we wanted to get prematurely Christmassy,
and sentimental, we’ve got John the Baptist to keep us in line.
John the Baptist is saying basically the same thing
as Zephaniah and the prophets have been saying,
but in a much more colorful and engaging way.

“You brood of vipers, who told you
you could escape the wrath to come?”
He made a spectacle of himself and people paid attention.
No one will be able to escape the consequences.
Everyone was in the same boat. Rich and poor,
faithful and not faithful, we’re all children of snakes.

But even with John’s doom and gloom predictions,
like the op-ed analyst and prophets before him,
there is still hope at the end.

The people there asked him “What exactly should we do?”
Now, I’m not sure what they were expecting from John the Baptist,
but he was living like a wild man,
alone in the wilderness, eating bugs and
just whatever he could find on the ground.

Maybe they thought he would tell everyone
to drop out of normal life, wear a camel’s hair coat and
and eat locusts and twigs with him in the wilderness.

But no. John tells them:
“If you have two coats, share one with someone who has none.
If you have any extra food, share that too.”

He’s not telling them leave their lives and hide in the woods,
but to go back to their cities and villages and just behave differently,
to not use their position or job to take advantage of other people,
To treat others with kindness, and fairness and justice,
in other words, to be the change in the world.

Like Zephaniah, John is saying that after the wrath to come,
God will be reordering the world in this new way,
but in a little shift from Zephaniah and the prophets of old,
John is clarifying and saying that we have an 
opportunity to be part  of the reconstruction, 
part of the rebirth, part of the resurrection.
We are participants in the change that God has in store for the world.
We don’t even have to wait for the destruction and the wrath to come
we can start the reconstruction and rebirth now.

We aren’t merely recipients of God’s good will,
God will work through our hands and feet and mouths.
And we will be signs that the resurrection is happening.

We will have an active role in dealing with the oppressors,
saving the lame, and bringing the outcasts home again.
We are the agents and the sign of God’s new order in the world.
  
When we treat someone with kindness who doesn’t deserve it,
when we forgive, even when someone isn’t sorry,
when we treat all people with respect,
when we welcome the stranger,
when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
When we do those things that we can do right now,
We become part of the God’s restoration.

And all the stuff we do together,
Faith Mission, Play and Learn, the Food Pantry,
Habitat for Humanity, working with BREAD,
going to protests, writing our senators,
making quilts, making prayer shawls, making food for funerals,
when we pray for others, and share hope for the world,
whatever it is that we do to help build,
 and help share justice and peace and hope is
part of God’s plan to change this world,
and is a sign that God is already working.

Even when everything around us seems dark and evil,
the light of Christ in our own hearts can be our hope.

John Baptized with water, but there is another coming
who will baptize with fire. A fire to light us up and move us.
And that is why the word John had in the end was good news
for all us here and across the world.

You, Brood of Vipers!
You are part of the change coming to the world.

Our small, individual acts of kindness in the midst of hate,
of fairness and justice in the midst of corruption
of generosity in the midst of greed and the myth of scarcity
are all part of remaking our world in God’s image.

And those acts are a sign for us that God is with us and working.
You are signs that the world is about to turn.


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