2018-19 RCL-C Advent 03
Additional Resources for Proclamation & Preaching
Third Sunday of Advent: December 16, 2018 • Gospel Text: Luke 3:7-18
Vipers In Your Stocking
Proclamation for Today
by Rev. Dr. Clint Schnekloth
Let’s talk about preachers calling their congregation a brood of vipers. Basically, you shouldn’t do it. There are a few reasons to avoid this. First, avoid it because you aren’t John the Baptist. John the Baptist gets away with this because he is, well, John the Baptist. He also loses his head later, so…
If studies in reader response criticism are any indication [side note, if you want to read about reader response criticism while preparing for Epiphany, check out Mark Allan Powell’s Chasing the Eastern Star], preachers often read biblical texts and imagine themselves in the place of the preacher (Jesus, John the Baptist, etc.). In doing so, they imagine themselves on average in a different place in the text than their hearers, most of whom respond as readers to the text differently than preachers.
On average, preachers are going to want to overcome this reader-response divide, otherwise they are making their hearers do all the heavy lifting in moving to the location in the text where the preacher sees themselves. In addition, this passage (or any passage in which the preacher speaks accusatorially) is not a text where the preacher should make this mistake.
You might think I offer this warning because you’ll lose members, or donations, or both. And perhaps you will. But there’s another reason not to call the congregation a brood of vipers. It’s because you are one of the vipers. If you’re going to have an ass in a joke, you be the ass. If you’re going to point a finger in a sermon, point it at yourself.
Once you are doing this, you can do quite a lot of what John the Baptist is up to in this sermon, and your hearers will be able to listen better, because you’re willing to receive the very challenge you’re giving.
What kind of challenge is John throwing down here? Well, it’s pretty hardcore. First, and most basic, don’t ever ever ever ever ever assume you can rest on your laurels. Once a Christian always a Christian is dangerous thinking. You’re not safe simply resting on the faithfulness of those who have gone before.
From there, John indicates what it means to bear good fruit. This is the simplest and hardest stuff in all of Scripture. Kierkegaard once famously remarked that it isn’t the incomprehensible passages in Scripture that are difficult. No, the most difficult passages in Scripture are the ones we totally understand and just don’t want to follow.
So you have here commands like: just keep one shirt and give the rest away. Don’t look for a raise. Don’t make false accusations. Don’t extort or benefit from extortion (surprisingly hard in late capitalism).
John then indicates that all of these simple ethical commands (not exhaustive, but they point in specific directions) are an interim ethic, the way all his hearers should live because Jesus is on the way. This is probably the most important point to return to in any sermon on this stuff. Even if you call yourself a viper and beat yourself on the chest because you have more than one shirt and don’t always share your food, in the end all the things you are supposed to do you do because Jesus is on the way.
Which means you don’t repent in order to bring about the kingdom. You repent because the kingdom is already arriving. That’s the Advent difference of perspective that makes all the difference. It’s also the last and best lesson in reader response criticism. It makes all the difference in the world whether you think your words of challenge are going to bring about the kingdom of God (making you the hero) or whether your words simply state the reality of you waking up to God’s already arriving kingdom, then inviting others to wake up with you.
The following links and resources are not produced or maintained by RCL Worship Resources or Clergy Stuff. However, at the time of this posting, the links were active and considered to be good source material for proclamation for the text for this week. Please scroll down or click on the quick jump menu you find below. Click here for more free RCL worship resources & planning materials.
Historical Exegetical Resources
The Five Gospels Parallels, John W. Marshall, University of Toronto.
"John's Message," The Jesus Database, an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus. Dr. Gregory C. Jenks, FaithFutures Foundation.
Comparative texts about Pharisees & Sadducees from Josephus, Tosefta, Mishnah & Babylonian Talmud.
"Luke 3:1-6 — John the Baptist Quotes Isaiah" Iron Ink Blog.
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources– Study on Luke 3:1-20 “What must we do?” http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/advent2cg.html
Finding John the Baptist (And Jesus too) by Paul N. Anderson, Huffpost
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT, DECEMBER 17, 2006 A Sermon Based on Luke 3:7-18, Hubert Beck
A Good Read
Children's Ministry - LEGO® Representation of John the Baptist
Free RCL Daily Devotional Calendar
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Dramatic Reading of the Text
Readers: Narrator, John, Crowds, Tax Collectors, Soldiers
Narrator: John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him,
John: 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 ax 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.
Narrator: And the crowds asked him,
Crowds: What then should we do?
Narrator:In reply he said to them,
John:Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.
Narrator: Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him,
Tax Collectors: Teacher, what should we do?
Narrator: He said to them,
John: Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.
Narrator: Soldiers also asked him,
Soldiers: And we, what should we do?
Narrator: He said to them,
John: Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.
Narrator: 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,
John: 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.
Narrator: So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.