One Bad Mother

Work of Christmas Series

Matthew 3:1–17

First Sunday of Epiphany

January 11, 2015

First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to the Sermon

For the last maybe four years, I’ve been going to the Y to exercise. I don’t do much, mostly the elliptical, the treadmill and occasionally weights. Since heart disease runs on both sides of my family, I’ve wanted to do some regular cardio to keep myself healthy.

On New Year’s Day, I decided to go and work out since the Blaidsdell YMCA was open. I got dressed and headed out to the exercise room and noticed how busy it was. It wasn’t like it is right after work in the winter months, but it was still rather busy for a holiday. I didn’t take me long to realize why it was so busy: it was New Years Day after all. There were probably a number of folks that had made new years resolutions and wanted to start the year off right.

Though you have to wonder: how many of these folks will continue exercising come March or even June? I did some checking and lo and behold, people are not that good at keeping their New Years promises. I did some checking and according to a study done in 1991 showed that 77 percent of people kept their resolutions after one week. So, seven days into the New Year, a quarter of people could not keep their commitments. In a follow-up 2002 survey, about 64 percent of respondents keep their resolutions a month in and 46 percent at the six-month mark.

So what were people resolving to change? A 2012 survey showed the number one is…. wait for it…losing weight. Improving finances and exercising were tied for second.

So , about a quarter of those people at the Y were not going to be there a week later. But at least the Y would still be getting their money from them.

None of us are exempt from at telling ourselves we want to change and then not following through. People say they will give up drinking or smoking or going to gym more and it never happens. Maybe we want to do better. But we aren’t willing to take what change demands.

Our passage today introduces us to John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the one chosen to prepare the way for Jesus. From the way the passage describe John, you’d have to wonder if he had some problems with sanity. He work clothing made of camel hair and one can imagine him wearing it inside out so that it would brush up against his skin. His diet included eating locust and wild honey. Two things about this: I’ve eaten bugs before and they aren’t bad. But you would have to eat a lot of locusts to get filled up. I mean praying for another plague in order to fill up on grasshoppers. The other thing is that eating wild honey had to mean he wasn’t picking it up at the grocery store. He had to get the honey from a hive. Where there are bees. Bees that sting. If John were around today, we have to question him in his diet choices.

So, you have this gaunt guy with bee stings and uncomfortable clothing running around talking to people about the coming of Jesus and baptizing people. Now, a man like John was probably all sweetness and light in talking to people. And if you thought this was the case, you would be wrong. Scripture tells us that two groups of religious leaders, the Sadducees and Pharisees came to John in order to be baptized. Why did they want to be baptized? We don’t know. Did they confess their sins? Again, we don’t know. What we do know that is that John had some choice words for them. He starts by calling them children of snakes or the more common description, a brood of vipers. Now, you have to understand what John was saying. Some snakes, vipers are the kind that actually eat their way out of their mother in the womb, which ends up killing Mom. This is what John was calling the religious leaders. It wasn’t simply a put down, but it was an insult- kind of like calling someone a mother-you-know-what.

But there is more to this. John isn’t insulting the Pharisees and the Sadducees just for the heck of it. John is asking for people to repent, to change their ways as proof that they were on God’s side. The Pharisees and Sadducees believed they could rely on their ancestry as proof of being righteous and John is calling that bull. God didn’t care about who their parents were, God wanted to see the fruits of their faith- a life that has been changed to seek God’s will.

Today is the day in many churches where we are asked to remember our baptisms. Baptisms are usual commonplace events. I remember being at the baptisms of my niece and nephew and they were sweet and poignant events. We see these events as a moment where we are told we belong to the family of God, one where we are loved and embraced by God.

But today’s passage reminds us that baptism isn’t all sweetness and light. God wants people to live changed lives and when John baptizes these people, they are saying they will live a changed life. Baptism is a wonderful experience, but it’s also asking God to come into our lives and God wants it all.

John talks about the coming of Jesus as the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That’s important to remember because too often, people see John as an old fashioned prophet who instilled fear while Jesus was all about love. Nope. Look at Matthew chapter 23 sometime. Jesus calls the religious leaders…a brood of vipers. Those who sought to follow Jesus were going to be judged to be better than they are. Following Jesus would not be easy.

Hearing this language can seem uncomfortable to us. I remember hearing in seminary that 500 years ago, Christians had a hard time understanding a loving and graceful God, because the God they were told about was zealous and not sentimental. In the 21st century, we know we demand a loving and gentle God. We can’t imagine an angry God, let alone one described with fire and winnowing forks.

Following Jesus isn’t easy at least if we are doing it right. God loves us as we are, but as a friend once said, God doesn’t want us to stay that way. Discipleship, the act of being a follower of Christ is all about God expecting more from us.

Last week, I preached on the Work of Christmas. This is going to be theme for Epiphany as we see Christ being made manifest. The wonder of Christmas is that God became incarnate, became flesh. The continued work of Christmas to is to see Christ made manifest in us. It is to be a disciple, ready to let God work in us, to change us. The work of Christmas means that you and I are not spectators, but active participants in God’s kingdom.

God wants to see what we are made of. I can see God coming into our lives in the same way that a gardener comes and tries to get rids of the weeds in their garden. Over and over again, you get the weed by the roots and tear it out. I can tell you by experience that getting rid of weeds is not a one time shot. You do it over and over again. This is what God does in our lives when we decide to follow Jesus. It’s hard, but the end result is to produce fruit that shows God working in us.

I’ve told you about my Dad’s 1970s soul music collection. One of the records I can remember he had was the soundtrack from the movie Shaft. It was the famous 1971 movie about John Shaft, a private detective. It was one of a certain genre of movies in the 70s called Blaxploitation films, movies with an African American cast. The theme from the movie by Isaac Hayes was a successful song. Most of the song is an instrumental, but there are some words towards the end where Hayes is talking about the character of Shaft. He’s a man who risks himself for his “brother man” the one that doesn’t duck out when things get rough. Hayes then comes to a line where he says “You see this cat Shaft is one bad mother_” and then he’s interrupted by the background singers who answer back “Shut your mouth.” It implies that Hayes was going to put down Shaft, but when Hayes comes back and says “I’m talking about Shaft” the women know he is alluding to his character to which they respond, “We can dig it.”

Hayes uses the song to talk about man that was of good character, telling people of the fruits that come forth from his righteous way of life.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.

“Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” John says. God doesn’t want New Years resolutions. God wants changed lives. The work of Christmas continues. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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