Sermon by Gerhard Weissenbrunner
Matthew 3,1-12 Reversal, change of mind, reorientation
„How dare you?“ With tears in her eyes, a 16-year-old girl challenges the rulers of the world at the Climate Change Conference in New York. How dare you steal the future from the youth and your children? These words went around the world and stirred up many. The protest movement Fridays for Future has established itself in all the major cities of the world and hopefully will not end until the powerful convert and global rethinking happens.
John the Baptist calls for conversion 2000 years ago. „Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!“ He speaks to the people adressing the conscience. „If you continue to live like that, you harm yourself and society. And you have no reward from God. You are destroying your future and those of your children!“ These may be other words than we hear today, but it is the same cry: „Repent! Change your mind! Think again! Orient yourself again! It can not go on like this!“ And many have responded to John’s call: (Mt 3, 5). „Then they poured out to him in this way: Jerusalem, all Judea, and those from the vicinity of the Jordan. They confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan.“
Then people asked him, „What shall we do?“ (Lk 3,10-14) John answered them, „He who has 2 shirts, let him who has none; and who has food, do likewise. „Then the publicans came and asked,“ What shall we do? „He said to them,“ Ask no more than you are required to do. „Then the soldiers asked him,“ What are you? because we do? „And he said to them,“ Do no one violence or injustice, and be content with your pay!“
The answers of John are surprising. On the one hand, he did not ask customs officials and soldiers to give up their jobs. On the other hand, he demanded rather than holding religious demands. (For example, these professions were unable to keep the Sabbath.) John demanded practical help from the poor, satisfaction with income, and consideration and kindness in accomplishing their tasks.
The Answers of the Baptist are strikingly similar to many of Jesus‘ answers in the Sermon on the Mount and from the same Spirit of Love and Truth. These are the basic requirements of the Christian faith. The Christian religion is a social religion. Nobody can be a Christian on their own. Being a Christian or Christian is not a private matter.
When John speaks of the coming kingdom of heaven, he means an atmosphere of justice and of peace and joy in the presence of God. The main theme is justice. Justice is not called in vain for peace and joy. Because without justice there is no peace and certainly not joy. I have asked a judge from the district court Graz, please explain to me as a lawyer the difference between law and justice. He answered me: „Right is what we as lawyers have to do. It is the written law. We represent it and lay it out. The word „justice“ does not appear in law. That comes from above.“
In front of the parliament in Vienna stands the Roman goddess Justitia as a statue. She holds the sword in her right hand and a libra in her left. Both hold her up. Their eyes are connected. This means that the law is neutral and high above all else. In Jesus, justice is part of the covenant. He stands on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. He takes a stand for them, so that justice becomes their part.
Beautifully this is reflected in the song of praise of Mary. „The Almighty has done great things for me. His name is holy and his mercy applies from generation to generation over those who fear him. He practices violence with his strong arm. He scatters those who are haughty in their hearts. Ruler he pushes from the thrones, and low he lifts up. He feeds hungry people with goods and empires he leaves empty.“(Lk 1,49-53).
God is faithful to his promise. He does not care about things, like the divine Justitia. But he is in relationship with the people. And he urges people to come together. They should practice fellowship with those who can not buy justice through judges and lawyers, but depend on the help of others. The righteousness of God in most cases does not emanate from the rich. But she seeks her way from the people. So it develops from bottom to top.
Social religion does not happen through the rich and powerful. They are committed to their wealth. And they do not care much for the needy unless they are themselves affected. Social religion is lived at the base. We are meant as individuals and as a church. A church that revolves around itself is not a church. It is the same with us as individuals. The relationship of reciprocity is indispensable to our salvation. The quality of my relationship with others also opens up the quality of my relationship with God. The relationship with others is important in order to shape the relationship with God.
It’s not about the question of what I do for others. But how I relate to others. Jesus formulated this impressively: „What you want the others to do to you, you do them!“
There is something wonderful happening. I’m changing! I change in the relationship with the people. I change in the relationship with God. My heart is getting softer. The need of others begins to touch me. I can not go past them carelessly as I used to. I search for solutions with those affected. And I want to overcome the existing causes with them. And Jesus comes very close to me. „What you have done for one of the least, you have done for me.“ I look directly into God’s face.
In it, heaven is close to us, as John puts it. The Kingdom of Heaven is in us. It goes from the heart into the world. Heavenly Kingdom and Empire can not be separated. It’s one. It belongs together. Everything together is the kingdom of God. The work of God is all created. Everything, heaven and earth, nature, economics, politics, justice, finance, communities, communities of all kinds and in every just manner. No limit!
This goes far beyond the denominational boundaries of the churches. Wherever people work for more justice, God is present. God has built his work with a strong reference to justice. It’s like the leaven that leaks all the dough. I remember the delicious bread at our lunch last Sunday. The soup pots were empty, but there was still some bread left. And I ate two more slices because it tasted so good.
So it is adressing justice. Justice is delicious. Where one deals with one another, where one supports one another, where one shares with one another and that in all facets of life, the world is changed. Life is there.
I come to the conclusion of my sermon:
I find climate activism important and it absolutely urges a rethinking and appropriate actions, so that God’s creation is preserved. It is our all natural responsibility to pay attention to the prevention of plastic waste and the reduction of CO2 emissions and many other things. Let‘s act for the future of our children, grandchildren and all living beings.
However, John’s call to conversion also applies to me personally and to my attitude to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the question is, which side will Christ ask me when my life is finished and I stand before him? I seek to the side of his right hand and hope that he will say one day (Mt, 25, 34 – 36): „Come, blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom that is prepared for you. Because I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you dressed me. I was ill and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.“