Sermons

12/4/22 Sermon: Practicing Radical Peace

Sunday, December 4, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Second Sunday of Advent
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 25:00; sermon starts around 31:58; and yes, video is sideways and I don’t know how to fix it)

John has such harsh-sounding words for the Sadducees and the Pharisees in our gospel reading for this morning. He calls them out for being a bunch of hypocrites – calling them a “brood of vipers” which is even saltier in the original Greek – not exactly what you expect to hear in this joyful season leading up to Christmas!

However, the bulk of what John has to say isn’t actually about these leaders themselves; it’s a warning to them about what’s coming. It’s a warning about the radical changes that the kingdom of God will usher in – changes that will massively upset the balance of the status quo. 

To these leaders, this sounds like very bad news – they have a lot invested in the system of things as they are. They don’t like the sound of radical change – and if we’re honest with ourselves, very few of us really like it all that much either.

But reading John’s words in the context of these other readings, as well as our readings from last week, you start to get a broader sense of just what kind of radical change John is foretelling – a sense of the new thing that God is doing. Because even though John uses a lot of violent language to speak about these things, what he’s truly pointing to is the radical peace that Jesus comes to usher in. 

Despite the violence of John’s words, this kingdom that is coming into being through Christ isn’t about fire or axes – it isn’t about hypocrites or vipers – it’s about justice for those who have so long been denied it. It’s about giving voice to those whose voices have so long been taken away. It’s about liberation for all who feel themselves ground up and crushed between the gears of the systems we have created for ourselves. It’s about holy rest for all who are exhausted by trying to live in rightousness in a world so often opposed to it. It’s a kingdom that is about reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable – bringing all people, all creation, together in profound and lasting peace. 

And, as much as the idea of radical change may unsettle us, in these days, it sounds like such good news. As much as we might dislike radical changes to the status quo, sometimes we need to be freed from it more than we realize. Sometimes we are more exhausted than we realize. There’s simply so much work to do and so few people to do it – the harvest plentiful and the laborers few. There is a seemingly neverending report of violence around the globe, of shootings and stabbings and war. There is this deep political division at the heart of our country that festers like an infected wound. There is always so much pressure to produce, to perform, to achieve perfection, to conform to standards that others have set for us. 

I want to interrupt that for us this morning, if only for a moment. I actually kind of had to interrupt it for myself as I was writing this sermon. There is so much going on this week, with Holiday Fair, with me battling the flu (or sinus infection, or whatever the heck this yuck is), and now with planning for this funeral(s) that none of us expected on top of that. I think we are almost all carrying this burden of tiredness that has been made all the heavier by grief and stress. Last night around 3 or 4am, when I was still working on cranking out a sermon for today, I finally had to say, “Enough. I need to go to bed. I need sleep.” And it was really hard – it was hard to walk away from a sermon that was only about a third of the length my sermons normally are, and to decide to let that be enough.

So this is my sermon for today. I want to let the peace of Christ speak for itself. So rather than me talking, for the next five minutes, I want to invite us all to just embrace that peace – to spend five minutes being human beings rather than human doings – to just be still:

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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