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Third Sunday of Advent – From Brood of Vipers to Bearers of Good Fruit

12/15/2018

From Brood of Vipers to Bearers of Good Fruit             

Read Luke 3:7-18

 
John 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?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.    Luke 3:7-8 (NRSV)
 
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is a strange one because today is the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday when we celebrate the joy of the coming birth of the Messiah. The day of our Savior’s birth is getting close and we can begin to feel a bit of the joy it will bring! We want to come close to the Messiah, Savior of the world, but with John the Baptist before us it’s tough.
 
We get to this Sunday and are told by John the Baptist that in the shape we’re in we’re not worthy of the joyous salvation the Messiah brings. In fact, like a fruitless tree we are about to be cut down and thrown into the fire and we don’t even know it’s coming. We thought we were above all this because we claim to be religious people seeking all the right practices, such as getting ourselves baptized. John sees right through us and calls us out. We are nothing more than a brood of vipers! I told you John was tough!
 
Why would John say such a thing? Because he knows the human condition. He knew the heart of the people of his day and our heart today. We are quick to say that we are people who believe, but we are slow to act as if we are true believers. It takes more than claiming that we believe in the coming Messiah, or that we are from a whole line of people who have believed. We need to ACT as if we believe. It’s called bearing the fruit of our faith.
 
This past week I joined more than 60 United Methodists who gathered at the border in San Diego to give witness to the fact that God cares for the migrant and we should, too. We were not the only ones there. Many others were there as well. Whatever our religious affiliation we all felt compelled to live what we believe – that migrants are our brothers and sisters and deserve to be treated with compassion, mercy, justice, and even love. 
 
Because of showing up and speaking up in San Diego, by the end of the week I had also been invited to the FOX program Tucker Carlson Tonight. Many told me I should not do it because Mr. Carlson can be rough on his guests, but I felt compelled by faith to accept his invitation. True to form, Mr. Carlson spewed anti-immigrant rhetoric and hatred, twisted facts, and manipulated what could have been a decent conversation. It was a tough interview, but it was not as tough as one of the emails I received afterwards.
 
A woman who had watched the interview and claimed to be a Methodist from a long line of Methodists wrote to thank me. Her thanks were not for what I had said in support of migrants, but for opening the door for her to leave the United Methodist Church. She said to me: You opened the door for me and many others to seek a non-denominational church that will provide for our spiritual well-being without using the pulpit to preach left-wing progressivism.
 
I felt deep sadness when I read her email, but then I felt like John the Baptist wanting to turn to her and to our United Methodist Churches and say to those among us who believe as she does, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 
 
What I and others have done this past week does not come from a commitment to left-wing progressivism, but from the commitment to bear the fruit that God calls us to bear. We ought to study the Bible more, pray more, and bear fruit. John reminds us that the good fruit God expects from us looks like this:
 
            If you have two coats and your neighbor has no coat at all, give him or her one of yours;
            If you have food and someone is hungry, share your food with the one who is hungry;
            Don’t steal from others;
            Don’t use your power to abuse others.
 
These are but a few examples in real life of what bearing the good fruit that God calls us to bear looks like. Jesus would tell us that when we welcome the migrant, we welcome him! The bottom line is that to bear good fruit and move out of the life of vipers is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Only then will we be able to welcome the One who comes with the Joy of the ages.
 
Do I feel joy in exhorting the woman who wrote to me and others who think the way that she does? No. What I feel is condemnation, membership in the brood of vipers, because of my own lack of bearing good fruit. If we United Methodists preached and taught what it truly means to be a disciple of the Messiah, we would all know the difference between left-wing progressivism and fruit bearing Christian discipleship. We would be found bearing the good fruit of the kingdom that the Messiah ushers in and we would be called the people who love their neighbor. Every once in a while, we do act in faith with such boldness and I know that in those moments, what we experience is the joy of the Messiah’s salvation for all the world. Let’s help each other be ready to receive the Messiah and the perfect joy he brings. He’s coming!

Advent Joy,

https://www.cnumc.org/files/instant%20connection/bishop%20c%20sig.jpg?width=300
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño

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Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.