Rutton’s thoughts starting 5th December 2021 for 12 December
In my humble opinion, I have never come anywhere near, not even remotely close, to preaching a hell-fire sermon, in my life!
Distressing therefore, exasperating even, is the fact that my family are constantly fearful that I will! Probably at the next funeral! (Or marriage or baptism, for that matter).
Always nice to have a vote of confidence from those who know you the best…
Well, as I crawl slowly out of the theological village idiot corner for a brief look at some lectionary sunshine…what do we find is the passage for Advent 3 next week?
“You brood of VIPERS! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come!”
And if you think that’s just a bit of preaching hyperbole, just to get people’s attention, John the Baptist follows it up with:
“You are like a rotten tree! Get ready for the chop from the woodcutter’s axe! And when you get the chop – you will be thrown onto the fire!” (verse 9 : RSV – the Rutton Subjudice Version!)
And there’s a lot more where that came from.
And you think, gosh, that’ so harsh! Are we not all sinners? Don’t we all equally need to claim God’s forgiveness? Is not salvation and forgiveness free for all – surely we don’t have to earn it?
Is God really going to condemn the supercilious, the arrogant, the spiritually over-confident out of hand – just for having a bad attitude to repentance?
And yet, here they come, the people who can’t get enough of John the Baptist and his hell-fire preaching – or indeed his apocalyptic appearance! The heroes and the villains, the masters and the slaves, out they come from the towns and villages, to see the wild man in the desert; drawn, mesmerised, captivated by the music of the Gospel of Repentance, played so loudly and so clearly by this hairy coated, rough and crazy, Pied Piper of Palestine.
Why? Why do they come just to get told they are TOTALLY out of order? And therefore to get their houses in order before it’s too late? Why can’t they get enough of this pick-the-scab-until-it-hurts message?
Well, perhaps because they know it’s true. Maybe it’s obvious to them that relying on our own social or religious credentials is futile, when we are put under God’s spotlight.
But still – why is God so mean? Does he not love us? Is there only brute condemnation for those who won’t change their ways?
Well – that’s a good question.
As is so often the case – the context of the passage is everything. There is good news. There is salvation coming. Because Jesus is coming. And it will be free for all.
Or at least, sometimes it will be offered without any condition at all – such is the lavish and abundant grace of God.
But sometimes it will be conditional. And here, God, through the Baptist, speaks to us personally, speaks into our situations, telling us what we need to hear, what we need to do, to be right with God. The answer won’t always be the same for everyone – such is His unique love for us as individuals.
What is our own personal message from God? To get ready for Jesus’ coming? Come along next Sunday, and let’s find out!
God Bless you all at this time.