Sermon thoughts for everyday discipleship
Sunday 8th December 2013
Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12
We have two contrasting images of change in the passages this week but they are not in opposition to each other. In Isaiah the image is one of growth. The passage looks to the the past promises, the past glory, the past hopes that were experienced and beyond the hopelessness that has been part their lives.
At the end of chapter ten in Isaiah the axe has chopped and the lofty are brought low - more reminiscent of John the Baptists’ words in Matthew today. The axe has fallen so that a new beginning can come from such a dismal state of affairs. From this stump - this dead end piece of wood in the ground God will bring new life. The new life will be frail, emerging tenderly from that which was dead. But what will emerge is a new king, a new leader who will bring the the best of what was promised.
This King will bring justice for the poor and the meek. He will stand against the wicked and bring judgement on the those who rob life from others. And in doing this there shall be a sense of a new creation. The imagination is then caught up in the images of all that seemed contrary and dangerous becoming as one. The ordering of justice and right relationships in 1-5 is linked with a renewed creation where the deeper work on inner transformation will lead us into a place where, as Walter Brueggemann says we
“will have no hunger for injury, no need to devour, no yearning for brutal control, no passion for domination”
Growth from what was dead to new life where the deeper inner growth will lead to transformed relationships.
So we then see John the Baptist crying out warning everyone that the axe is falling, the winnowing fork is coming. This image of growth is about clearing away the things that do not produce fruit, here specifically the religious leaders of the day, so that fruit can come. John suggests that God can make anyone part of his family (“even these stones..”): we are not to sit in judgement and say we are ‘children of Abraham’. Our call is to bear fruit that reveals the new creation by following Jesus. Christ will sweep in radical changes in the boundaries of who is in and who is out. And who is in will be defined by their lives in Christ and by the fruit that comes.
Where is the fruit in your life? Where does Christ’s winnowing fork need to come in you? How near are you to the sentiments expressed by Brueggemann’s words above? The deep inner work of God in our lives will bear the richest fruit that others will see and know that it is good.
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.