Shoots and Roots

Bill and Bob, two brothers, decided to go into the business of painting houses. On their first job everything was going along nicely until they realized that they didn't have enough paint to finish the job. They decided to add thinner to the paint to make it stretch over the whole building. Nobody complained and nobody noticed. They made this their practice: thin the paint and make a few extra dollars for themselves. It worked until they were painting the parsonage of the local church. One morning Bill came to work, pale as a ghost. "What's wrong?" asked Bob. "Brother, I had a scary dream last night. An angel stood at the foot of my bed, pointed a long, skinny finger at me, and growled: "Repaint, you thinner, repaint!"

There are lots of themes in today's lessons, and repentance is one of them. As I've said in other sermons, to repent means to "turn around and go in the other direction." We are heading away from God in our sinful ways, and repentance is "turning back to God." It's not a matter of just ceasing some action. When it's just that, we tend to start it up again. No, it means to change one's thinking and change one's ways as a result of that. Jesus is trying to teach us a new way of thinking, a new spiritual way of thinking.

The real beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ is the preaching of John the Baptist. A speaker at a workshop for ministers said: "If we haven't preached the six sermons which would get us fired, we haven't been doing our jobs! And I've a feeling that John the Baptist was doing his job!"

Well, don't worry; I'm not going to preach one of those six sermons today. But I am going to say something about sin, repentance and also something about shoots and roots.

Sin is like mud on a window. God's love and mercy is like the sun trying to shine through to us to light our way, cheer us and give us life. But the mud keeps the sun from shining through the window. The mud stops the rays from reaching us. It doesn't stop God from trying to shine on us, but it stops us from being able to receive the light of the world. With the tears of repentance we ask forgiveness and the mud is washed away. So the reason repenting is so important is because without it we have obstacles between us and God's grace. (Pastor Elizabeth Lee Self)

Richard Jensen says, "Often we think of repentance as an 'I can', (I can change, I can improve, etc.). But it's better to think of repentance as an 'I can't', (I can't do it alone, only God can give me the strength to do it, only God can give me new life.)"

The DESIRE to repent is what we really need, isn't it? I love what Josh Billings says, "It is much easier to repent of sins that we have committed than to repent of those we intend to commit." So often we confess our sins, but don't really intend to stop doing what we were doing. We think asking for forgiveness is all we need to do. If you notice, for those of you who follow along in the Confession in the LBW, I add the word "repent" in my introduction to the Confession. We are only fooling ourselves, not God, when we confess but don't really have an intent to repent, to change. We'd like to, but it's more wishful thinking than it is any real intent. Many people use mighty thin thread when mending their ways. Frederick Buechner, a wonderful pastor, writer and theologian says, "To repent is to come to your senses."

Really. We need to come to our senses. There HAS to be a better way than we are doing it. Not just as individuals, but as a people; as a country as a world.

But we are a world without real direction. Often we go backwards rather than forwards. Often we're like the Floogie Bird that Harry Truman talked about. It was a wooden bird that had a small label around the neck that read: "I fly backwards. I do not care where I'm going. I just want to see where I've been."

One of the great deterrents of Christianity is its focus on the past. And yet, Jesus message was one that focused on the future. Whenever he talked about the past, he talked about it in terms of "you have heard it said…. But I say to you…." He talked over and over about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus' new SPIRITUAL way of thinking. He changed the past. He had a vision. He wanted us to catch that vision and carry on his work.

Yet we are so tied down to the past. It's incredible. We use the Bible, Jesus' words and teachings, to pound people over the head rather than to show them the love and compassion and forgiveness that Jesus teaches and asks us, no, COMMANDS us, to do. Yet we quite easily toss that aside because it is just too hard to do. I've heard people say that Jesus knows our weaknesses and failings and so he wouldn't expect us to live up to that. Good grief. Anyone who thinks that needs to come to their senses.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said something so beautiful and so true. He said, "We shall have to repent, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked, but for the appalling silence of the good people."

We are silent about so many injustices and atrocities in this world. It's like we don't have a real grasp on what we are called to do. We don't seem to keep heading in the right direction. It's like we don't know our roots. We need to know where we came from. We need to know our spiritual roots. And we need shoots to branch out in new directions. And we need a deep anchor to support many shoots.

We need to remember where it is that we come from. We need to remember just how connected we all are to each other; not just here in this gathering, as people gathered in the name of Christ, but connected to the entire world population. We need to remember our roots. We only remember our individual family roots. But we need to remember that we are part of humanity. What happens anywhere in this world is something to which we are connected.

From our roots, we need shoots, many shoots, to branch out in many directions. We need that in our individual lives. If we didn't we'd become stagnant. And you can see that happening in some folks' lives. We need to keep branching out. If we don't, we are seen as worthless, not producing anything that we were created to produce as a person created in the image of God-just as God is our caretaker, we are created to be caretakers of each other, of the environment, of all God's creatures.

And in order to sustain those many shoots, the roots must be anchored securely to that which will provide nourishment and strength. And that anchor is, I'm sure you know, Jesus the Christ. We need to know as much as possible about what he taught because that is our nourishment and our strength and our guidance in how to branch out.

Advent is the season of hope awakened not by our changing circumstances and fickle emotions, but by the action of God in our lives, igniting the dying embers, setting fire to our passion and searing us in a way that means we are forever changed. (Michael Spangler)

John the Baptist said he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. As it is translated in THE MESSAGE, "He [Jesus] will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house-make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."

That's what he'll do, if we let him. We have to be willing. We have to have the desire. We have to repent. We have to change our thinking. We have to change our approach to life. We have to recognize that we cannot do it by ourselves, that we need God. We need to ask God, the Holy Spirit, to help us live out the teachings of Jesus so we can be who we are created to be.

The season of Advent is like an Advent Calendar. Each day we open another 'window' on the calendar to reveal another aspect of Advent and Christmas. Well, each day in Advent we can unwrap another gift of who we are; another gift that God has given us to be who we are. One of those gifts is the gift of repentance. Let us repent of our sins. Let us repent, change our direction, change our thinking, and not continue in the same direction that will just take us back into the same sin. Let us come to our senses and experience the hope, love, joy and peace that lead us into the fullness of being; that lead us into the light of Christ that is born with in us, and that leads us to the eternal light. Amen