What, Then, Should We Do?

June 7th, 2007 • Category: Variety Week
by Tom Chittenden

Today’s scripture: Luke 3:7-14 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Tom Chittenden):

Overnight, John the Baptist had become a celebrity of sorts. In my imagination I see crowds of gawkers gathering hoping to see something spectacular.

John looks to the crowd and sees the haughty expressions of the religious elite and hears the snide comments made by others. Why have they come to hear this desert preacher if they are not serious? John calls out in anger, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Perhaps one of Pastor Jeff’s jokes might have better prepared them for that stinging opening. Perhaps he’s especially speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees (see Matt 3:7) who come to look, but not to examine their own hearts.

How much easier it is to “come to church” seeking entertainment or “to look” — but not to be really serious about seeking God. It’s easy to be observers, onlookers, who never quite enter in with our hearts open.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” John now pinpoints and destroys the notion that God can only use the “Chosen People.” He can just as easily create new children of faith — and as we know, a few years later does just that as the Gospel moved out into the Gentile world. As I asked God what I should hear in these words, this is what I believe John’s message in these verses comes down to — contentment! And this is where you day, “What?”

Each of John’s examples of “fruits of repentance” revolves around the love of money or of material things. To share clothing and food with those less fortunate requires that we repent of selfishness and greed. For a tax collector to repent of over-collection of taxes deals with the sins of selfishness and greed. For a soldier to extort money by violence or blackmail, requires repentance from selfishness and greed.

Greed is the adversary of contentment in our soul. But greed stems not from a lack of money, but from a lack of trust. To be content, to trust God for our daily needs is faith. Greed, however, pulls us to grasp at money and material things in order to guarantee our daily needs.

My brothers and sisters, God has recently been harvesting this glorious truth into reality in my very own life. John the Baptist is not only preaching compassion and justice, he is also preaching trust. Repentance demands dethroning materialism — it’s not an indicator, as we might believe, that we are okay, and that the future will be okay.

The common people responded to John’s preaching with contrite hearts: “What should we do, then?” Our response, as disciples of Jesus, is not to be nonchalantly regarded. I would, in my love for you, ask you to consider the prayer that follows…

Prayer for this moment: Lord, when I examine John’s message it no longer seems so harsh — it seems real and realistic. He’s talking about real struggles I have in my own soul. The brood of vipers in me are snakes of selfishness, born of a lack of trust in You. Purify me. Purify my motives. Cleanse me from clutching at security so hard that it distracts my soul from compassion and justice. Forgive me, and let the fruit of my repentance grow in my life from this day on. This is my prayer.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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