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Today’s reading is from Luke 3: 7-14.
7 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? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 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.”
Today we look at John the Baptist, seeing the aftereffect of his baptisms, and then we see his teaching. That’s what I want to look at this morning, what is happening with his baptism, and then what we can learn from him.
First, baptism. This is one of the things that the church, especially in modern (meaning post-1500s) has argued about a great deal. Is it immersion? Sprinkling? Pouring? What is happening here? Most scholars think that John was performing a type of Jewish mikvah bath. This was a type of ritual washing. Remember when Jesus turned the water into wine and it said the jars were for the purification rites? Or when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and Peter says that he would not do it and Jesus told him that Peter would have no place? Then Peter says wash all of him and Jesus said he already had a bath? Those were both most like mikvah baths. One would walk down into the water and wash. In the Wesleyan tradition, we view baptism as a sacrament, meaning it is an outward sign of an inward grace. That means the mark of grace happening on the inside is more important than the outward action, thus Methodists will sprinkle, pour, or immerse. What matters to us is the grace within.
Look at John’s teaching, though. What are we to do? If you have two coats, share one. If you have enough food, share it. If you are in a position of privilege and power, we are to use that to help others, not to enrich ourselves. Tax collectors were stealing, soldiers were exhorting. They had positions of great power and they should not use that for themselves, but for the benefit of others.
What are we to do? If we’ve been blessed; if we have positions of privilege and power, use that to benefit others, not ourselves. Justice is about using everything that we have, in every way, to be a blessing and a help to the others in our lives and in our orbits.
If God has blessed us with much, we are to use that much for the benefit of others, not ourselves. That is how the kingdom of God is lived out, and when we do that, we give glory to God, and lives are changed by and through Jesus’ amazing grace.
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