Perfect panic strategy.

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

A wise teacher once told a friend of mine, “In each moment, everything is perfect and complete lacking nothing”. That sounds true the moment you hear it, but as with so many truths in life it takes practice to make it work for you.
I recall when I first moved into the mountain hermitage for my year long retreat in 2008, being beset with fears that verbalized as, “Oh No! I have forgotten this, and I haven’t got enough of that” Slowly, little by little, I had to say to myself, “Everything that I need is here“.  It sounds true, doesn’t it? Just like the saying that the teacher gave to my friend, “In each moment, everything is perfect and complete lacking nothing”
Discovering the truth in statements like these takes time and a degree of faith which enables them to reveal their truth.

It is almost as if one has to bed down with reality for a while before that inner perfection of the situation is revealed.

I have a sense that at the time Jesus withdrew to Capernaum after the arrest of John the Baptizer, it didn’t seem as perfect and as prophetically inspired as Matthew makes it sound when he writes about it in this Sunday’s gospel. Herod is on the war path.  Jesus, his mission and ministry are in peril. He makes a move into Northern Gentile territory.  Away from Judea and the people that he saw as his first priority.

Yet decades later Matthew can see the perfection in what seemed at the time to be chaos.
He sees that here Jesus finds the right kind of disciple, the right kind of audience, the people who have “been sitting in darkness” caused in part by the Judean exclusivist religion from the South.  Here are people ready to listen ready to respond. Ready to repent and change their minds.  It is perfect and complete lacking nothing.  Everything Jesus needs is right here in the most unexpected place.
Matthew sees because time has confirmed the providence that was hidden in the moment of panicky decision to run away to the North.

Isn’t that the truth about life? Crises come.

True, we may not have to experience the arrest and beheading of our cousins and partners in ministry, but we know what it is to have to act quickly and decisively when all one has as a guide is the light of your intellect and the courage of your heart.
How wonderful it is to look back as Matthew does and see that where we might only have seen survival strategies and doubt, time confirms the providence that was always there.

If we have really handed our lives back to God as Jesus did, then truly everything, every moment is perfect and complete lacking nothing.
As that great Christian sage Anthony de Mello has it, “Enlightenment is complete co-operation with the inevitable”

Of course I can’t say it to you, or for you, in your chaotic circumstances right now.  That would be insensitive and blasphemous.  I can however, say it for myself, looking back at the faithfulness of God in my chaotic moments and thus able to be just that little less jittery about the decisions and directions I am taking in my life right now.

Jesus who may never have chosen Capernaum if it weren’t for John’s arrest, ends up going throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Isn’t that just prophetically perfect?

Could it be for me too if I leave my nets and simply follow him?

Fully-Filled Epiphany – 3C

Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Some time ago now, I was in conversation with a a lady who expressed concern about her adult son. “It is so sad”, she reflected,”that my son hasn’t accepted Christ.”

“I hear your concern.”, I replied,”But isn’t it wonderful that Christ has accepted your son?”

This conversation once again highlighted, for me, just how ego-centric and individualistic our culture has become. Right to the point where salvation is seen no longer as a work of God’s amazing grace, but is something that we do and achieve by our decisions and actions.

Jesus comes to his home town of Nazareth. To socio-politically oppressed people, poor people. Dare I say, desperate people?  If salvation was something they could do, something they could decide to accept by an executive decision, don’t you think they would have done it as quickly as you can say Roman Empire?

The fact that they didn’t, is all because they couldn’t.
If you have ever been lost, oppressed, abused, depressed, hopeless, you will know the impotence of not being able to change anything by an executive decision of your choice. No plan, no strategy, no act of will can save you in those moments.

That is what makes this one-liner sermon of Jesus so powerful.

Jesus, in his home synagogue,  is given the scroll of Isaiah to read from.  He  is no doubt, expected to teach from the passage and expound in great rabbinic tradition, the meaning of the words he has read. The people are expectant. Luke tells us, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone”. The expectation in the synagogue is palpable.

What powerful words he has to expound from:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This text would be a Liberation Theologian’s dream. Words of exhortation to revolt and resistance spring easily to mind.
It is an Evangelical’s dream text. Words of of invitation to make a decision for Christ and cast off the shackles of sin flood this preacher’s imagination.
It is a text tailor made for a Faith Healer’s sermon. “Oooooh Jeeeesuhs, I know you are telling me right now that there is someone here this morning who is blind and who want’s to see! Come forward, my sister, my brother, Jeeeesuhs want’s to heal you!”
There probably isn’t a genre of preaching that could not mine this text to profound and dramatic effect.

But the home-boy Rabbi applies none of these techniques.
With every expectant eye rivetted upon him he sits down!
And then in a simple one liner says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is almost as if he has run out of steam. In my imagination I hear those words not shouted or ranted, but almost whispered, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Our parents in the church who set up the lectionary were very skillful to break Luke’s record at this point. Next week we will pick up the thread and see the reaction of the congregation to this one sentence sermon, but for now, we are left to allow those nine words to sink slowly into our contemplation.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In a world where I have been told that is all depends on me, my actions, my strategies, my plans, my decisions; to be confronted with the fact that there is nothing to DO is a conundrum.

The word that is translated, “fulfilled” means exactly that, “filled to the full” Pleroo is defined as: to make replete, that is, (literally) to cram a net, level up a hollow, (hints of John the Baptizer’s valley filling sermon here). It is a word that describes complete accomplishment.
There is nothing for me to do here, and it drives my Western activist mind nuts!

This is why I am so grateful for the blessed times I have spent in dialogue and practice with my spiritual siblings from the religions of the East.  Hindu and Buddhist alike have a rich tradition of contemplation that invites the practitioner to simply “Be here now” in the phrase of Ram Dass.
A practice that does not rush to change what it has not yet fully understood, a practice that sees the perfection of the lotus flower growing in the pond of raw sewage.
It is a  practice that makes me understand Jesus far better and enables me to make more sense of that nine word sermon. As I become still, I know… that God is… Good News.
The good news is that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” that there is “good news for the poor,release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. There is good news that the oppressed are free, and this is the year of the Lord’s favour.

This reality already exists right here right now, if I will only stop trying to recreate and relocate all the world to a place where they all resemble my culture, my creed and my economy.
Living in Africa and having spent time in India, I have seen and every now and then realised=(made real):…

  • the perfection of the poor unfairly made poor,
  • the freedom of prisoners unjustly imprisoned,
  • the deep inner sight of the alleged blind whose vistas are bleak and dark,

and I have realized that the scripture has already been fulfilled.

This does not mean no action, but it does mean no cultural imperialism.
This does not mean no compassion, but it does mean no whimsical feelings without my being there with and alongside those who are before me (the COM in compassion means “with”)

It means realizing, recognizing, accepting, that the one who reads the scroll, knows what he is doing,and so will I, if I stay close to HIM.

Paper, rock, scissors: water, Spirit, fire – Baptism of Jesus C

Luke 3:15-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

“Paper, rock, scissors: Water, Spirit, Fire?
Is it a new team selection game? The kind you use on the playground when you have to decide who gets to choose first?
It may sound that way, and it is about making choices, but this is certainly no game.

John the Baptizer had raised the expectations of a nation disillusioned with rote religion. They were weary of a religion that justified and supported the status quo by diplomatic expediency so as to continue operating under the peace of Roman domination, the Pax Romana. People were hungry for justice and freedom. They were looking for a liberating leader and hoped that John was the one.

Those of us who participated in the transition of South Africa from Apartheid to Democracy in the nineteen eighties and nineties, will remember just how volatile and pregnant that longing can be. Ego drives and character assassinations were the dynamics of the day as one leader after another jostled and jockeyed for dominance in the flux of expectation.

Unfortunately there were only a few of the ilk of a Desmond Tutu who could detach their own ego driven greed and say, say as John the Baptist did, “There is another coming.
For South Africa, the coming one was Madiba, known to the world as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who on his release ended the jockeying and led South Africa through a bloodless and miraculous transition.
For Israel, it was Jeshua the Nazarene, or as we know him, Jesus of Nazareth.

Paper, rock, scissors; water, Spirit, fire.

The coming one, according to John, was not going to chaff around. He was coming to clear the chaotic threshing floor, where all was dust and trampling. He had a winnowing fork, that would throw it all in the air so that only that with substance and value would fall through and be seen clearly as substantial life-giving grain, whilst the worthless would blow off as fire fuel.

Paper, rock, scissors; water, Spirit, fire.

Bathing, washing, ritual cleansing was only the beginning.  John could do that work, just as Desmond Tutu could get South Africa ready, by speech and sanctions and blood-sparing mediation.

However, Breathing, Spirit, In-spiration, that sets the world ablaze with a passion for compassion and justice for all required someone with more to give.

Back in the day, Herod Antipas, chose as unskillfully as his father Herod, who had gone off as the Butcher of Bethlehem and killed all the children under two, to try and stop the coming of the true king. Antipas thought that imprisoning and finally killing John the Baptizer would halt the coming of the king’s reign.
They were both wrong. They chose badly.  They listened only to the voices of their fear, and never (it would seem) heard a voice from above.

Paper, rock, scissors; water, Spirit, fire.

Jesus, on the other hand, heard a voice from above that drowned the Gethsemane voices of fear.




Bathe, breathe, burn.

That was the sequence of Jesus’ ministry.
After ritual bathing in baptism, he heard the only words any child needs to hear to be complete as a human being, “That’s my child, my beloved, I am so proud of you!”.

Jesus was ready for the breathing of Spirit every moment as he burnt his life up as an offering for the salvation of all.

Paper, rock, scissors; water, Spirit, fire.

Once you know who you are, beloved child of God, there is nothing that can defeat or hold you. No prison, no power, no political regime.
You are then, as Jesus was, Invictus. You are Invincible.

(This poem, by William Ernest Henley, kept Nelson Mandela sane for twenty seven years on Robben Island)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Paper, rock, scissors; water, Spirit, fire.

The words from his Parent in heaven, held Jesus, in the three and a half years of his ministry as he poured out his life.

I wonder what will hold me in this year, this life, still unfolding?

In my sane moments I choose to believe that the voice from heaven, speaks to me as it spoke to him, “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When I hear it, and the voice of my my fear does not drown it out, I too know I have the potential to be Invictus.

Bathe, Breathe, Burn…

Incarnation is an inside job. Advent 4C

The fecund feminine

Allow me a quick recap of the map that we have been following through these weeks of Advent.

Week one: the outer chaos of external events such as the destruction of the temple, and their modern day equivalents in multiple contexts around the world lead one to “lift up your eyes for our redemption is at hand”

Week two: the preparation of the outer ground with the end of “Access control” with the leveling of religious mountains of exclusion, the filling in of valleys of suffering and the straightening of crooked paths, so that a level pathway of equal opportunity can lead to God.

Week three: moves us inward into the heartspace, where the people who come to see John the Baptizer, Priests, Tax Collectors and Soldiers, are not told to give up their tasks when they repent/change, but rather to stay with those tasks bringing to them Compassion, Ethics and Non-abuse of power respectively.

Week four: finds us with Mary having recently conceived by the overpowering of God’s Spirit, going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, where the two women celebrate the fecundity that comes as the consequence of inner journeying.

And so to the Gospel for Sunday

Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

This prayer of Mary is not dissimilar to Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel and it raises a question.

Why do women who are touched by God have their prayers recorded by a patriarchal religion that viewed women as possessions and not people?

Why would these words find a place in the hearts of the men who made the decisions of what to include and what to leave out of their Sacred Texts that they regarded as God’s Word?

Could it be because the Holy Spirit is female energy? A nurturing fruiting energy that even hardened religious men find indispensable on their journey to wisdom?

The Hebrew word for Spirit is in the feminine case.The spirit that overpowered Mary was a feminine Spirit. This was not rape, this was a fecund embrace.

I am a man. A man who has spent my life being taught and told to take charge. To lead, to decide, to dominate.

I keep hearing of, and being invited to mighty men conferences, and I am sure that the intention of developing a wholesome masculine spirituality is important in a world where so many men seem to have lost their way and their sense of identity.

I never accept the invitations.

What concerns me is that very few of the men who go off to the mighty men conferences seem to return having made that essential journey which Richard Rohr calls “From Wild man to Wise man”

Mighty men, in fact, seem to return more determined to dominate and govern their families in ways that sees no decrease in the South African statistics of domestic violence and the abuse of women and children.

So I wonder if mighty men are any wiser?

It would seem from the Gospel this Sunday and from the readings of scripture that wisdom requires female fecundity to fruit.

“Say that Wisdom is thy sister” (Proverbs 7:4)

“Wisdom is known by her children” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35)

Could it be that the fruiting of God’s working in human life cannot be understood apart from the fecundity of the womb.

When I look back at the map I have discerned in Advent this all begins to make sense. There is a journey from the chaos of the time, wars and rumours of wars, through the ground leveling preparation for God, the entry inside to the heartscape of compassion, ethics, and non-violence, finally to feminine fruiting.

There is in the journey from wild to wise, from outer to inner. A very necessary move from spear to womb.

From force to fecundity.

It is the eternal feminine that brings the truly redemptive processes for humankind to birth

Whether you speak of economics, politics or ecology, it is the nurturing, holding energy of the feminine spirit of God that is at work in what is holding and healing our lives on the planet. Of course I am not denying the need for testosterone.

Where would we be without the Sea Shepherd ramming whalers in protest against their killing of those beautiful behemoths?

I am, however, convinced that we are most likely to build something whole and lasting when we “enwomb” rather than “impale”

For some years now I have meditated on that leap of John the Baptizer in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. This desert dwelling, camel haired, locust eater, (as opposed to lotus eater) responded en utero to the gentle arrival of feminine spirit when Mary came to visit.

Was it this sensitivity which stayed with John and fruited into the profound discernment that knew when it was time to hand over to Jesus and step out of the way, and into history?

Of course I will never know. The speculation is helpful for me though as I come to this final week of preparation to receive Immanuel.

Would that I will find enough feminine spirit moving in my life that something may leap in me, when the yet unborn Christ child comes to visit this Sunday.

I have done with being Wild. Holy Mother help me to become wise.

Could we turn this around? Advent 3C

shipsLuke 3:7-18
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

It is interesting that out of the four Sundays of advent, John the Baptizer takes centre stage in Sundays two and three. It is naturally due the fact that Advent is a season of preparation and John is the Arch-Prophet of Preparation.
As we know by now, the first Sunday of Advent is about the trauma of contemporary chaotic events. In the context of Jesus’s words it was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Literally the mountains being made low! The second Sunday is the first John the Baptizer Sunday and focuses on the external preparation for the Coming One. (See The End of Access Control) This third Sunday, the second John Baptizer Sunday move the realm of preparation inwards as we shall see later, and the fourth Advent Sunday reaches the height of interiority with the Annunciation to Mary and the Cosmic conception of Emmanuel in her womb. Please remember that this is not the Immaculate Conception which is a Catholic doctrine referring to something completely different. More of that next week.

All I want to map this week is the concentric inward course of the Advent journey.

The route is Week 1 Outer chaos, Week 2 Outer landscape, Week 3 Inner heart scape, Week 4 Interior fruiting. I trust that your Advent journey is mirroring some of that gradual stepping inside?
And so to the Gospel passage of the week.

After two hundred years of quiet through the Inter-testamental period, (yes I know it wasn’t as silent as our fore-parents in Biblical studies presented,but it does capture the expectancy so cut me some slack?)one can understand the interest that the proclamations of John generated.
Two hundred years is a long time. Imagine religious life going on Sabbath by sabbath from 1810 till now with no change nor new inspiration! Mmmmmm come to think of it, that sounds too familiar for this Methodist.

John’s call to prepare the freeway for the Lord, brings the most interesting collection of people to hear him in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan.

Following the script of most significant theological shifts, there are the scripture scholars and the learned theologians, the Scribes and Pharisees. Good, sincere, religious leaders who somehow always feel obliged to have to see, judge and act upon anything different that emerges in the realms of religion. There is a joke amongst my Roman Catholic friends that any teacher or theologian worth their salt will have to be investigated by Rome at some point in their work. It’s a rite of passage.

One would expect the Scribes and Pharisees to be there. John makes short work of them. Calling someone a snake and the group a brood of vipers is pretty straight talk, but these are, after all, the people of power who are on the summit of the mountains of religious control and prejudice. Mountains that, he told us last week, are about to be downsized to the level of the plains. There is no way to escape the impermanence of power and privilege. The freeway is going to bulldoze its way right through the High Priest’s palace.

In my more inspired moments I think I understand why post-modern deconstruction has been good for the church. Although I long for the power and prestige that must have been a factor to draw me to this vocation all those years ago,  I understand that John was correct, you can’t avoid the wrath that pulls down oppressive power. I understand even when it is difficult to live as a white South-African male now, and to see other mountains rising on what should be a level kingdom plain.
So the priests were duty bound to be there, listening to John.

What they are told however is deeply challenging. “Don’t think your dynasty that you trace back to Abraham will save you from being brought down. Like an axe cutting to the root, let me cut to the root of the problem with the Temple, there is no compassion! Discover that God’s work is compassion and you will realise you don’t have to be in the temple on the mountain top. You can be compassionate anywhere. In things as simple as sharing your surplus.
A surprising answer from someone who started out carving up the snakes with his locust stained tongue.

Less expected at the river sermon though, are his next group of questioners in the narrative. The Tax-collectors.

Who would have thought that these guys, who in our world would be regarded with the same disdain as loan sharks and traffic police (the South African variety who will accept on the spot payment of fines in cash, and small bills), could be attracted by a message of change?

I need to hit the pause button to help us understand this word repent. Too many years, and too many guilt inducing sermons, stand between us and the word that John included in his call. Repent in it’s ancient form, meant to change direction. Realizing that one is on the wrong path, one repents and goes another way. All the added weight of guilt, shame, blame, and boxes of Kleenex tissues is just unnecessary padding. Nonetheless, it is still fascinating that these financial grafters had a desire to change their lives.
Does this point to the truth of that Great Wesleyan teaching, “All people need to be saved”? Perhaps, but  John’s answer, points to the next Wesleyan foundational understanding, “All people can be saved!” Even tax-collectors.

I wonder how many pastors in the church today would show John’s skill in counselling the change-desiring tax-collectors? He doesn’t demand that they give up their difficult and conflicted positions as Jews working as Roman agents. He simply says, “Be fair.” There will always be difficult and easily compromised jobs to do. Keep your values intact. Be ruled by compassion not greed.

Along similar lines, Luke introduces the next group of hearers simply as “soldiers”. We can’t be sure if these would be the hated Roman soldiers of the occupying force in Judea, or if they were the temple guards, accompanying the religious leaders to protect their security on this fact finding mission.
Whatever group of soldiers it might have been, and perhaps it was both, John’s response and invitation has a very contemporary ring to it. “Don’t abuse power for exploitation of the weak. Be satisfied with what you have.”

Of course in our world you don’t have to carry a gun to be able to abuse power, but sometimes it is a lever! Similarly there are many instruments of power that we can “lock and load” to ensure we get our way on the path to privilege and power. Soldiers face the temptation to use their might to get their way by force. Each partner, parent, priest, teacher, employer,and politician have at our disposal an arsenal of abuse with which we can wield power. John says,”You won’t find the kingdom down that road”

In next week’s reading of the Annunciation there is a disturbing phrase. The angel says to Mary, “the power from on high will overwhelm you.” Sounds abusive at one level, doesn’t it?
But remember what it generates.
The infant servant of peace!
Power needn’t exploit. Power can bring peace, compassion and a power of good.

This is the heart scape that John explores with us this third Advent Sunday.
It is a space where anyone may enter, Orthodox Traditionalist, Extortionist, Militarist may I continue with a contemporary list,Racist,Sexist,Atheist, Africanist, (ANY)ist?

Welcome to Emmanuel’s waiting room. Your only entrance requirement is the willingness to be changed by his truth.  Observe your Open Heart scape.  Change is possible.