Sunday, December 11, 2016

Disappointed in mercy?

Sermon for Advent 3 (one year series), preached by the Rev. Larry A. Peters.

Everyone knows the story of John.  He was the messenger whom the Lord called to prepare the way of His one and only Son. His was the voice crying out in the wilderness.  He was the preacher who dared to call to repentance an Israel comfortable in its own righteousness.  He was sent to warn an adulterous and sinful generation that their time was up and either they would be convicted by their sin or by confessing it would be forgiven.

The sound of John is the sound of a mother talking tough with insolent and disobedient children.  “Wait until your father gets home!”  Even Pharisees who were secure in their righteousness felt the need to show up at the river and present themselves before the prophet who just might be Elijah signaling the coming of the end.  They did not believe they had any need to repent but they were not stupid.  They understood the appearance of humility just in case.

John did not wear soft clothing.  Matthew tells us that John came wearing the uniform of a prophet, a camel’s hair coat and big leather belt.  This same John came eating the diet of a non-conformist:  locusts and wild honey.  According to Matthew, Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan came to meet John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

John did not bend like a reed in the wind.  He pushed the Pharisees and Sadducees to the limit, calling them snakes in the dust.  “Who warned you?” He taunted them.  “Bear the good fruit of repentance.” He insisted.  “Don’t build your hope on the false assurance that you have Abraham’s genes; stones are just as good of children of Abraham as you are.” So John cried out in the wilderness of sin and its death. 

John was good at his job and showed himself at least a prophet and surely more.  The axe is laid against the root.  God is going to cut you down and toss you into the consuming fire unless you bear the good fruit. 

But John would not take credit that was did not belong to him.  I am not the Messiah.  I baptized with water for repentance but the one who is coming is mightier than I.  I am not even worthy to carry his shoes.  He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  He is come to gather the harvest that is His.  He will clear the threshing floor of all the old grain and gather His wheat into the barn.  And then He will burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire.

So the days came and went.  Jesus arrived and John pointed to Him for a world to see.  But John was now in prison.  His preaching days were done.  He was decreasing and the Lord was increasing.  Even in prison He heard the deeds of Christ.  What were they?  Not the fire John had been warning but something new.  Mercy!

Jesus preached good news.  He healed the sick.  He gave the blind sight.  He gave the lame to walk.  He cleansed the leper.  He opened the ears of the deaf.  He called the dead to life again.  He ate and drank with sinners. 

What about “Wait until you father gets home?”  When dad hugs the offending child and calms his troubled heart and restores him to the place of favor – is mom disappointed?  Maybe mom was hoping the child would get the belt or the corner or be grounded.  That would teach him!  Right? 

Could it be that John was disappointed?  Had he not prepared the way for a mighty Lord who would cast fire upon the earth and pound the grain in search of righteous fruit?  What of this business of mercy?  What of the good news of grace and salvation?  What about justice?

Are you disappointed?  Do you grow weary of injustices, of the wicked flourishing, of the righteous suffering?  Do you long for someone who deserves it to get what is coming to them?  Isn't that how it works in the movies? 

Perhaps prison had tested John.  The prophets of old were tested and they too had doubts and fears. They were not super heroes.  They were men, ordinary men, but with an extraordinary Word placed upon their lips.  I don’t know if John was disappointed or not but I know sometimes I am.  I want the good people to prosper and the wicked to suffer.  I want the evil to burn.  I want a little fire to be poured out on the earth.  I want the proud to be put into their place.  I want good Christian people to triumph – at least once in an while.  Don’t you?

But the Lord has not come for judgement.  At least not yet.  Today is the day of mercy.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day when the Word calls for repentance and the blood forgives the sinner.  Today is the day when the broken find healing in the wounds of Christ and the dead are raised to life by the power of the Spirit.  Today is the day when the showers of mercy rain down on the earth the kindness none deserve but which is God’s desire to give.  Judgement will come but today is about mercy.

Are you disappointed by mercy?  Don’t be.  None of us are the righteous who can afford to sit on the sidelines and cheer as sinners get the justice.  We are all the sinful who gone our own way, squandered God’s resources, and indulged in every kind of evil.  Our hearts are dark and we are shamed by our pride every day.  The mercy of God is not for others.  It is for you.  It is for me.

John was the greatest of those born of women and mercy was hard for him to get.  Only the Spirit can awaken faith in us.  Today we pray that the Spirit may do just that – before it is too late and the cool spring rains of mercy are gone and only fire is left.  John is Elijah and Jesus is Messiah and the Kingdom of God is built upon mercy for those who least deserve it.  Ponder this with Mary and keep it in your heart.  The Savior comes in mercy to the unworthy and undeserving.  And when the day for fire comes, because you are clothed with mercy, you will not burn.  You will enter into Your master’s joy forevermore. Who can be disappointed in that?  Amen

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