Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent III (C) Sermon

(These are my notes for the sermon I gave at 8 AM.)

"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

Opening Sentence? Every week? I said last week, “John the Baptist is to be reckoned with and refuses to let us proceed to Christmas without dealing with him first.” This week, we hear from him, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” And he gazes upon us.

We ask the same question that the crowd asks John the Baptist, What should we do? How do we live faithfully in the midst of our busy lives and this violent world? How do we follow Jesus and bear good fruit?

What does John say? Does he say, give up everything, put on camel’s hair and come live with me in the wilderness, at the river, eating locusts and honey. Yum! No. Does he use baptism as a magic act, a get out of the fire free card. Nope. He replies:

"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers 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."

He called the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers to live an ethical and moral life.

No cheating. No lying. No violence.
If you have more than you need, you share it.
You collect no more than you earn, and be satisfied with what you have.

For such a harsh beginning, it is common sense morality and ethical living that John the Baptist calls us to, and by living this way we bear good fruit…

In our day of financial scandals, the Foley and Haggard scandals, and the scandal that the gap between the wealthy and the poor grows wider and deeper each year, the words of John the Baptist truly need to come into our hearts: "bear fruit worthy of repentance." So how do we live that ethical and moral life?

I think of an economics professor who was traveling through a village in his native country. Famine had devastated the region. He met a woman who struggled to provide for her family by weaving bamboo stools. Her work was excellent, but no bank would ever lend her money to buy materials. The professor gave the woman and several of her struggling neighbors $27 from his own pocket as a "loan." He never thought any more about it — until the borrowers repaid the money in full, and on time.

So the professor began making other loans to groups of villagers. Some used the money — often as little as $20 — to buy another cow or a sewing machine or to expand their rice patties or mustard fields. Most of the borrowers were women.

In 1976, he formalized his loan-making arrangement as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Grameen operates on the principle of trust rather than financial capacity: that the poor can be as creditworthy as the rich.

Since its founding, Grameen Bank has lent out almost $6 billion to some 6.6 million borrowers who have paid back 98.5 percent of their loans.

This year, the professor who lent $27 to a poor weaver 30 years ago was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Mohammed Yunas and Grameen Bank.

Doctor Yunas' ultimate goal: that "one day our grandchil­dren will have go to museums to see what poverty was like."

What a great goal! He lived his life, making sure that he helped those in need, he lived what John the Baptist said to us…

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.

It is to care for our neighbor by living a simple, ethical and moral life. Or another way to put it, using St. Paul’s words…

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Amen.

No comments: