Sacred Soil


Snakes in the Grass
December 13, 2015, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Nativit

Luke 3:7-18

As I was preparing to preach this week, I read a commentary that complained about how hard it is for the preacher to read the Gospel lesson at church—to stand up there and repeat John’s words: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come!?

I thought to myself—well, um… maybe not. Actually, that’s kind of fun. Not that I think of you all as vipers. I really don’t. But, I appreciate John’s colorful use of language, and the excuse to call people names, under the guise of—well, you know—I’m just reading the bible folks…

And really, one doesn’t need to stop there with John. My sick sense of humor has always wondered why we don’t hold up signs that say Deuteronomy 28:19 at sporting events. That’d be a lot more fun than something so hopeful as John 3:16…

I’ll let you look those up.

Thing is, if you want to condemn someone, judge them, get snarky, this ancient book has plenty of fodder.

Though I also know that several of you have experienced that in some rough ways, as bible verses have been used as arrows and rocks, thrown to pierce and to judge and to make it clear that you’re not good enough; that you haven’t done it right; that you’ve disappointed the family. I’ve got plenty of stories of my own in this vein. And in this season of family gatherings, as the presidential hopefuls offer up their own venomous points of view… well it’s only going to get worse. Judgement seems to fly around with such stinging force—it’s like standing on the beach in a windstorm. Turns out that none of us ever seem to be able to measure up, at least not for very long.

Which makes me feel a bit sheepish now about that viper line…

Truth is though, if I’m honest, I’d rather be dishing up the judgment, putting myself in John’s shoes. I’d rather imagine myself calling people names, than actually hearing and taking to heart what John has to say about welcoming the reign of God.

Hey, as a side-note, I want to tell you something that may be useful in those judgment windstorms, those bible battles. Martin Luther taught that the Bible is the Manger that holds Christ. The Bible is not Christ himself. This beautiful book points to God—but is not itself God. Which means that it’s always God’s love that matters—not some obscure passage your Uncle George decided pull out of context. Now, this may not actually help you in your conversation with Uncle George, but at least you can go home knowing that if that weird bible quote doesn’t point to the transforming love of God—then there’s deeper digging to do.

Dig deeper, until the transforming love of God is revealed… it’s there. I promise.

It’s there, even in what John has to say about repenting, turning around, preparing for God…  Here’s the part that helps me with that:

The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?” “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “No more extortion – collect only what is required by law.” Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail – and be content with your rations.”

I boil that down to: Share. Be honest. Be kind.

I don’t know about you, but on my snarky days—those days when I enjoy calling people vipers—it’s pretty hard to think so well of other people that I want to share, be honest, or be kind.

And I wonder if our passages from Philippians might just be the help we need.

It calls to us reminding us to rejoice in the Lord always. And again, I say rejoice. When we see snakes—find a reason to rejoice. When Uncle George comes barreling at you, find a way to rejoice. When everyone seems to be messing up at work—find a way to rejoice. When the car in front of you cuts you off—rejoice.

Even if it’s the small sort of rejoicing that thanks God for the memories, the vast creativity of God, the fact that you made it through. (Please note, this isn’t the sort of rejoicing that denies that things sometimes suck. It’s the kind of rejoicing that says, God’s love is still bigger.)

Rejoice. Again and again. Because if we look at the world through the lens of snarkiness, we will indeed find plenty of snakes all around. They are lurking everywhere. But, if we look at the world through the lens of rejoicing, with fondness and admiration for the gifts of God that are also everywhere – despite our snakely nature—then, I wonder if something else becomes possible.

I wonder if it then becomes possible to really hear what John had to say to us: Repent. Share with each other. Be honest. Be kind. Even if—even if—they don’t deserve it.

With a heart full of the love of God; with eyes that see the world with fondness and admiration for the beauty that seems to appear, even though, we are so often like snakes in the grass. Philippians calls us to rejoice in God’s gifts with wonder, and celebrate them. Celebrate them with such a heart that we cannot help but respond with the desire to share, be honest, and be kind. To turn toward God—instead of snarkiness, snakey-ness.

And then maybe—despite ourselves, we might see, we just might glimpse, the stunning beauty of the reign of God.

I worked one summer as a teacher in a kid’s camp. Most the kids were awesome—but we had this one. You know, “that kid.” He’d grown up the son of missionaries, and was used to being able to roam around anywhere he wanted. He didn’t much like authority either. But, in kid’s camp, we couldn’t let him do that. Wandering wasn’t allowed. So one day, as this little boy started toward the door, I found a special sort of anger rising up in me. I wanted to use some John-like language. And so I did what I felt I had to do, and picked him up, wrapping my arms around him, barring him from the door. And then suddenly, despite my own intentions, this little child leaned into me, relaxing into a hug. In that surprising moment—something came over me and melted my heart—something came over me and called me to rejoice in the beauty of this kid. Even though I didn’t feel he deserved it. Truth is, I didn’t deserve that tender moment either.

Love transformed. In this unplanned hug God’s love was able to come through what could have been an awful moment—and we were able to share, be honest, be kind. To each other. And everything changed. Beauty came from our brokenness. And we were both able to turn around and live differently.

Christ came to love each one of us, to transform us by that love. Christ came because he knew that calling us names would never really change our hearts—but that revealing to us that the love of God is even more powerful than death—that by trusting this we just may see the reign of God revealed.

In sharing. Honesty and kindness. Even when we don’t deserve it. Especially when we don’t deserve it.