The Fruit of Change
Second Sunday of Advent, December 16th, 2018
CHANGING TIRES & LIVES
Did you know that State Farm has a program with INDOT that will come change your tire if you’re on the side of the Interstate? True story.
I met them last week when I was having yet another panic attack. The world was spinning and I wasn’t breathing so I pulled over just off the exit ramp there on Charlestown Road, trying everything I could to calm down and convince myself that I could make the brief drive home.
The State Farm truck drove up behind me to ask if there was anything that they could do. When I told the guy that I was having a panic attack, he was amazing. He just tried to calm me down, telling me that everything was okay and that if I just took a few more minutes I would surely be able to drive home.
And it worked. I believed him. I believed that I could drive home.
Yet that’s when the State Trooper pulled up behind me with lights blaring. He was nice too, but I texted Jacqueline and begged her to please come get me.
That State Farm guy was out there trying to help people. He was expecting to change tires, but there he was trying to get me to change my breathing and my attitude. We all need State Farm guys like that in our lives, do we not?
Instead, we have Jesus, who isn’t so bad about changing lives either. To help us fix what’s broken. To help us breathe again.
I want to talk about change, why it’s hard, and maybe why some things *have* to be broken in order to be made whole again.
BROOD OF VIPERS
John didn’t pull any punches when he called the crowd a “brood of vipers”. In the Gospel of Matthew he singled out Pharisees and Sadducees as such, like Jesus would do later in the gospels. But according to Luke, John the Baptist calls out the entire crowd as such a brood.
Luke shows us that John believed that there was none so perfect as to have no need of change. Not one, except the one who was coming.
The Sufi mystic Rumi once said,
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Everyone wants to see change; they just don’t want to do it themselves. But the message of John the Baptist was that something had to change. And that change had to start right there in the crowd.
I’ve learned that you can’t change people. People have to choose to change themselves. Or else *be* changed by Holy Spirit. The best we can do then is to *influence* people to want to change and to be the change that God wants to see in the world.
That’s why John told the crowd that if they claimed to be believers, then they should act like it.
Specifically he told them to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”. That is, to act in ways that show the change that God has made in your life.
In short, it wasn’t so much that the people had showed up at the river to be baptized, but that they went and immersed the world in God’s love.
What did that look like according to John? To see the need of others as greater than personal greed. To see change as something that one has to offer, rather than from which to profit.
I’ve had a lot of change I’ve been trying to make in my life. Eat better, get my anxiety under control, and simply to breathe again.
That’s involved working with doctors, nurses and therapists. It’s also why I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist.
And there is more change I still have yet to work on, which is why I asked the Session for time off. So that I can stop and focus on myself, not just to be better in my own personal life, but to be better for others than I have been able to be of late.
Change is hard. It takes work. But it’s worth it. Because life is too short to be stuck in a rut for too long.
That’s why John reminded the people that someone was coming who was greater than him, and who would shake up their lives for good.
One of the images he used would have been a common one, saying that Jesus was coming with a winnowing fork in his hand. These were used to separate the useful grain from the chaff by throwing both into the wind, which would carry away the chaff while the grain would fall to the ground.
Sometimes we only find out what’s useful or useless in our lives when they are shaken up. Sometimes God has to shake us up to wake us up.
As we re-dedicate our beautiful rose window today, I’m reminded of the process that it has been through over the past several months.
In order for us to appreciate its full restoration we must realize that this all began when they took it apart, piece by piece. Then they kept the pieces that could be reused and replaced the others, so that now it’s even better than new.
Maybe sometimes that’s what God has to do with us: to break us into pieces so that God can put us back together. And that’s okay.
Being broken helps us to learn what matters and what doesn’t. It helps us to trust, and it helps us to grow.
As Ernest Hemingway wrote,
“The world breaks everyone, and some afterward are *stronger* at the broken places.”
EVERYONE IS BROKEN
Everyone is broken in some way and there is no one so perfect as to have no need to change or *be* changed in some way.
So be open to change, as hard as it may be.
And be part of the change that God wants to see in the world:
Share what you have. Do your job well. And be content with what you have.
And when life gets crazy, why not see it as Holy Spirit shaking things up for good rather than as everything falling apart? That’s what I’ve tried to do, which has been easier some days than others.
NEED TO CHANGE
Because if there’s one thing we can agree on, the world needs to change.
Imagine a world that always looked like Christmas, where people were always smiling, always singing, and giving each other gifts.
Where all was merry and bright. Where people believed in peace on earth and goodwill to all women and men and *children*. All of them.
A world that was closer to the Kingdom that Jesus is bringing rather than fighting against it every step of his return.
Lord, wake us like children on Christmas morning everyday of our lives, so that we might be like magi chasing after stars, angels singing choruses, and shepherds proclaiming the good news of a Savior.
Not just now, but forevermore!