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
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
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
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
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.
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