It seems odd to be typing an Advent blog post while beginning Lent—ODD—and yet not so very odd at all. The two seasons all take us from darkness to light….step by step.
And I’ve had some friends do the same for me—take me from darkness to light.
In fact, my buddy, the one and only, Pr. Joyce Gulliford of Hope Lutheran in Satsuma, FL brought me from darkness to light a couple a few days ago. She reached out to encourage me to resume my blog. So—if you appreciate this blog, send a FB message to Joyce in thanks. She nudged me to get up off my dusty and be about the business. Now—part of my Lenten discipline is to take the time to go back to visit the Advent and Epiphany texts, to consider them again, and to fill in the gaps in this blog.
So let’s get at it—-the Gospel text for Advent 3C is Luke 3:7-18.
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. (NRSV)
Some part of that text should motivate us to get up off our dusty and take note. And although I am a big proponent of the don’t-just-do-something-stand-there school of thought, this text urges us to get up off of that dusty tuchas and do. For hearers the lingering motivational question(v.10), which is our question too, happens to be: “What then should we do?”
This what-then-should-we-do question is timeless. It is with us in every life stage and it is with us in every transition. It is with us:
- when we are bullied—do we fight back, resist, tell others?
- when we fail a test in our college major—do we retake the test, change majors?
- when the girl we’ve dated pops a marriage proposal—do we say, “yes?”
- when the house burns down—do we rebuild, move to another town?
- when the pregnancy miscarries—do we grieve and try conception again?
- when the pregnancy comes to term—what then should we do with this squirmy thing?
- when the house is empty and the chicks have all flown—do we find another adventure?
Every one of those, and oh-so-many more, are what-then-should-we-do moments. What are some of yours? A divorce? A foreclosure? A job loss? Death of a spouse? A winning lottery ticket? What else for you might be a what-then-should-we-do moment?
Haven’t you found them to be moments of both angst and expectation, both decision and discernment? Haven’t you found them to be thresholds that hang between what was and what might be? Aren’t these what-then-should-we-do moments often about repentance, particularly our own need to make an “about face?” Aren’t these moments “like the voice of a crying one” moving first into our ears, then second into our hearts? They are little apocalypses and little creations. Destruction and restoration, and both in the same cup!
They call us from a WAS space into the PRESENT space that hangs between WAS and WHAT MIGHT BE and which only comes into being if we repent. We only get to this space when our what-then-should-we-do moments bring about a heart change, a mind change, a speaking and acting change. Through John, God demands a life direction change, a priorities and values change, in fact, a total paradigm shift.
And John demands “fruits” that announce such a paradigm shift—“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” v.8
Yet—offensively truthful as he is, John never asks anyone in this text to stop being who they are. Everyone is the same at the end of the text as they were at the beginning. The crowds are the crowds. The tax collectors are the tax collectors. And the soldiers are the soldiers. Never did John tell them to go BE anything different. Their identity wasn’t the issue. The issue was how they lived into and out of that identity. They were not told, “Be something different!” They were told, “Do something different!”
Crowds were told to share clothing and food. v.11
Tax collectors were told to take only what was legal. v.13
Soldiers were told not to extort, threaten, accuse falsely, and to be content with their wages. v. 14
None were told, “Be something different!” All were told, “Do something different!”
John has landed the whole lot of them in the dead center of a living hope. They were landed metaphorically at the corner of “repentance roadway” and “business as usual boulevard.” They were all landed in a what-then-should-we-do moment.
Repentance offered them a future unlike their past. The key was not to BE different, but to DO different. Just like the crowds gathered around John were filled with expectation, all pregnantly eager for Messiah, so is our own 21st century world. It longs for Messiah and it seeks to glimpse Messiah not from a people BEING different, but DOING different. That’s how people see the Kingdom of God making a difference and taking its being among people.
And it starts by doing what my buddy, Lee, used to describe as “taking a step up and doing the next right thing.” Step by step we go forward and do different.
Take a look at the featured photo—-those two small boys are now 19 years old. Sean will turn 20 in two days. That young couple in the picture beside the “dastardly duo photo” is our family at Sean’s baptism. Sean is being held by the Rev. Fr. Freeman Cross of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Camilla, GA. We are a cute bunch. But what I want you to consider closely is the November 16, 2000 recovery calendar page.
November 16, 2000 was one of my major what-then-should-we-do moments. I was 30 years old, a people-pleaser, addicted as hell to peoples’ praise, and always afraid that I wouldn’t do something right and that the universe would unravel as a result. But on this day I was seated across from my friend, Lee, a fabulous man with many years of sobriety under his belt. Lee was listening as I whined out issues in my life. Past dreams that had hit the skids. Uncertainties about the future. Concerns about 100,000,000 million things that were not within my control, but all of which I sought to control. And one of those in particular was in regards to being a faithful son to my parents. I loved my parents, but it sure took a ton of effort and energy to love them. And I’d adjust so much of my life to conform to what they wanted in any efforts to please them.
Almost 2 hours had passed as Lee absorbed my rant. And when I fell silent Lee said one thing and gave me one thing. What Lee said was offensively true—he told me that I was a people-pleaser, and that I’d ought to care for myself as much as I cared for others, and that if I were to continue “living life with one foot in the past and the other in the future I’d shit all over the present.” (His very words) I sat there blushing, somewhere between angry and embarrassed by the offensive truth of it all. He might as well have called me “brood of vipers.” For all I know that might have been true, too. I sat there stunned and flushed as he handed me the small recovery calendar page off the top of his calendar block; it read, “My parents have no power over me. I am free to live my own life.” (It’s been in my visual space everyday on the same cork board since 11/16/00)
I sat there stunned, holding the calendar page in hand, and as I looked at Lee, more or less said, “What then should I do?” Lee huffed and said, take the next step and do the right thing. And the first step he suggested for me to consider was that I was and am powerless. I am powerless over just about everything, and that definitely included a profound powerlessness around the matter of people pleasing. That was the first issue that Lee helped me to see, to accept as my pattern, then to work to take the next step to address. I had to step out of my addiction to praise and my compulsion to people please and step into self-care and healthy boundaries.
Lee never asked me to BE different. Lee did tell me to DO different. One step at a time—to do different.
So what about you? Since you are fine being what you are being, are you really fine doing what you are doing? Or is it possible that you, too, are in your own what-then-should-we-do moment and need to take the next step and do the right thing?