What Then Should We Do?

Luke 3:7-20

The crowds empty out onto the desert.
They have heard about John.
His words can cut like a knife
through the shroud of societal lies.
His words can make your heart beat again,
even after the coldness of apathy has stilled it.

The people ache to see John.
The people are afraid to see John.

What would he say to them?
What would he ask them to do?

Have you heard the story of the winter roses?

In order to put roses to bed for the season,
a gardener clips off all of their top parts.
This preserves them. This saves them
from breaking in the harsh winter.

New shoots will come in the spring,
but something has died in the meanwhile.

The people are like the roses.
They long for spring. They fear the winter.

The people long to bloom. They fear the loss of branches.

Death and life intertwine.
Their choice is this:
Do they mourn the loss of empty parts of their lives?
Or the loss of flowers come spring?

What do they choose?
What would you choose?

The crowds empty out onto the desert.
They press toward John, ready for his help;
he is going to do something for them—
he’s going to baptize them.
They are going to get an extra dose of salvation.
They are going to get a booster. At last!

Arriving in John’s presence, they approach him wondering,
“What can you do for me?”

John does not answer their question.
Instead, John gets them to turn the question around.
This is a small but important nuance.

After John offers a critique of their lives,
they plead, “What then should we do?”

John gets the crowd to let go of the question,
“What can you do for me?”
John gets the crowd to ask a better question:
“What must we do together?”
The people move from a consumerist stance
to an active stance where they wonder how
they might act boldly in their community and in their lives.

John seeks to move the people from self-regard to other-regard.
From attainment to renunciation.
John and Jesus’ faith is about other-regard.

Love of neighbor.
That is the love modeled by Christ.

John helps us to trim our impulses and begin to ask,
What must be done not for my sake
but for the sake of someone else?

“What then should we do?”

The people are still waffling.
At least, I imagine that they are.
They want spiritual life,
but they do not want spiritual death.

People come to John looking
for change. Do they want a cheap fix
or a substantial alteration?

John turns the question on them.
He dares them to fully change their life.

To the tax collectors, he says,
You have this opportunity to collect more than you should.
Stop it. To the soldiers, he says, You have this opportunity
to extort more from others. Stop it.

To those who have a lot, he says,
You have more than someone else. Share.
Practice hospitality.
Give clear evidence of your changed life.

What John is offering is more than a social critique;
it is a visionary alternative.
Rather than living with the maximum possible,
rather taking as much as you can,
John invites us to live with the minimum necessary.

John’s challenge to live with the minimum necessary is uncomfortable.
Because when we live differently,
we naturally make others question their choices.
It threatens the whole system.
We have already heard how John landed in prison
as a result of his preaching.

Take today’s story as an example.
If you are a tax collector who takes only your fair share of money,
you make the other tax collectors look bad. They get angry.
The same is true for those giving up a shirt
and now living with only one shirt.
When you do that, you give up having a backup shirt.
You give up having different style choices.
The shirt makers also probably don’t like it
that people are living with only one shirt.

What John says is more than “stop it selfish people” –
there are systemic criticisms at play.
Herod puts John in prison
because it will be bad for business
if John keeps exposing systemic problems.

I feel the tension of the crowd.
Here’s John, this thrilling prophet,
inviting us to step outside norms
and live in this whole new way.
Yet, your choice to live in this way may not be well received.
That’s the tension.
John invites us to ready ourselves like roses
shedding deadwood for the winter,
so we might have abundant life.
Yet some parts of us want to hold on to old growth.

What will we grieve?
The loss of dead spiritual weight now?
Or the loss of blooms in the spring?

Produce good fruit
as evidence of your repentance,
John preaches.

Our fruit, our lives
give evidence of our change.

John continues, “And do not begin to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham and Sarah as our parents.’
For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up
children for Sarah and Abraham.
The ax is already at the root of the trees,
and every tree that does not produce good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

What John is saying is that
being the chosen people will not save you.

By their faith you will know them.
You will know their faith by their fruits.

It matters what comes out of faith.
Your fruits reveal your faith.

What kind of God have we?
What do we believe?
What do we worship?
John is harsh with the crowd in order to elicit the question from them:
What then should we do?

The crowd inquires.
This curiosity is where their faith begins.
The crowd teach us to start with wonder.

What then should we do?

How shall we transform our lives?

This question remains with the people
as they go back home and start to wonder:
Whose suffering am I abetting?

As a tax collector. As a soldier. As a person with many shirts. As a human.

They begin to question themselves:
Do I have to change my way of thinking,
do I have to change my way of living?

That is the genesis of faith
in the God of Sarah and Abraham,
of Jesus and John the Baptist.

I am going to change my way of thinking.
I am going to change my way of doing things.
This is the seedling of the resurrection life.

Identifying with the chosen is not enough.
It’s not enough to say that I am of Sarah and Abraham.
It’s not enough to say that I am of the house of David;
this is my worship community or building.

That’s not what saves us ultimately, John teaches.
It’s not about with whom we affiliate;
it is about how we live our lives through the seasons.

Dearly beloved people as beautiful as roses,
God longs to clear the deadwood of your life.

God longs to open your heart to something more.

God longs to see you bloom, flourish,
and soak in joy like sunshine.

All God needs is a crack of curiosity
to reach the soft soul of your being.

After all, in the end, all God desires is you.


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