A reflection the propers for Advent 3C: Luke 3:7-18
A few days ago I decided to make chocolate chip cookies, a double batch. And while the butter softened in the afternoon sun that streamed in the kitchen window, I took my dogs for a walk. It was a clear, crisp, sunny day, following that winter storm that packed near hurricane strength winds. Debris still littered the streets, branches and shriveled cacti, and streams of mud. I plugged in my iPod, popped in the earphones, leashed up the dogs and walked out the front door. There I encountered the roar of an engine. Even through the music and the headphones, I could hear it, a border patrol helicopter. Looking to my left I saw it, almost close enough to see the pilot. The helicopter was making a small circle around an area about block from where I stood.
With a deep sigh I headed off on my walk, the hum of the helicopter vibrating through my headphones. By the time I returned home however the copter was gone. So, too, probably whoever they were looking for. Although this is common around here it still gives me pause to think and wonder, sadly, about whomever it is they are looking for.
Now I have no idea where you all stand on the border issue. I know some folks who easily say, “They’re illegal, and breaking the law, so just shoot ‘em.” I find that a little extreme. I know other people who leave water jugs in the desert along known pathways, and people who cross over the border to help bandage the feet of those returned. I know the border patrol is doing what it is supposed to do and some of that includes tracking down violent drug cartels and the illegal smuggling of human beings. But sometimes it just a desperate person doing a foolish thing in an effort to try and make a living. And it is that person my heart aches for.
It’s a person like this who became the catalyst for the creation of Just Coffee, which we were selling here last Sunday. Ten years ago Eduardo left his home in Chiapas after Hurricane Mitch which followed on the heels of the dramatic fall in coffee and corn prices, all of which undermined the financial structure of his community.
Eduardo migrated 2000 miles north, from Guatemala to Agua Pietra where he found a job in a factory and joined the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church. Not long afterward Eduardo was offered a better paying job at a golf course in Phoenix and on Oct. 4, 1999 he migrated, illegally over the border. The journey was arduous, Eduardo fell, injured his knee and was caught by the Border Patrol. He was sent back to Mexico where the members of his church cared for him as he healed. A broken man in many ways, he helped his Pastor understand the pain that the coffee growers experience when they are unable to make a living wage and have to leave their land. The pastor, collaborating with an Episcopal priest in Douglas, AZ, along with their parishioners, began the process to establish Just Coffee, a co-op based in Chiapas and Agua Pietra.
Generally speaking the grocery store coffee is manufactured by companies who pay the coffee growers a substandard wage. As a result many coffee growers around the world have taken to selling their land or finding other ways to supplement their income, usually illegal means. Just Coffee offers an alternative – the families who join the co-op work together to grow, transport, roast, package, and ship the coffee. The proceeds go back to the families in the co-op providing a living wage profit. Think about it – for the price of a bag of coffee you are helping families stay together, support a community of people to earn a living wage, and reduce illegal border crossing. That’s the gift of Just Coffee, but it is also the gift of buying any Fair Trade merchandise, be it coffee or jewelry or pottery. In this season of gift buying Fair Trade offers us a way to give in more ways than one. And it’s possible that if we all bought Fair Trade more often we could shift the global economy and reduce poverty around the world. Now that is a radical thought.
Being radical is exactly what John the Baptist is calling us to do – think and act in radical ways – ways that will change the world. John is harsh, wild, critical - he calls his own followers a brood a vipers - and proclaims the end of the world with the coming of the Messiah.
But ultimately the Gospel of Luke seems interested in something else – not so much the destruction of the world but rather the transformation of the world. In pointing us toward Jesus Luke is pointing us in the direction God would have us go – a direction that is focused more on transformation of ourselves and our world than on condemnation of our selves, of others, and of our world. Luke wants us to see that in the coming of Christ God is calling us all to a new way of life – a life that asks us to love in very profound ways, life changing ways. It seems that John in the Gospel of Luke is pointing the way to a new social pattern, one that will change the entire world – entire communities built upon the premise that God is calling us to love more deeply than we can possibly imagine – to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”…
We might wonder what it means to bear fruits worthy of repentance. Certainly the people listing to John did and asked him, “What shall we do?” John’s response was direct and specific: if you earn a living don’t earn more than you deserve, if you own things don’t own more than you really need, share with others, and lastly, while John calls it extortion, we might think of it as allowing ignorance to protect us from recognizing the consequences of our actions. For example, what are we buying and who is benefiting from those purchases? The latest collapse of our economy is indicative of what happens when ignorance and greed prevail over compassion. Perhaps ignorance, greed, and lack of compassion are the chaff in our society that needs to be burned in an unquenchable fire.
I recognize that I am blessed. I have a house and the resources which enable me to make chocolate chip cookies and own an iPod. It might be easy for me to live in my own little world and ignore what is happening in my own backyard. But John won't let me. He names our chaff, calls us out of ignorance propels us to self awareness and from awareness into action.
In our confession each Sunday we ask to be forgiven for things known and unknown. I know that there are things I do that unintentionally cause harm. It’s startling to think that it can be as simple as the brand of coffee I drink. Transforming the world into what God desires includes becoming self aware, choosing not to live in ignorance, and repentance.
So, burning the chaff by asking for forgiveness of things known and unknown, is one step in the process of transforming this world into that which God desires. Repentance, changing our behavior is the next step. Bearing the fruit of repentance is the third step and it requires us to take action to change not just ourselves but the world around us. For me, one simple action is coffee. Perhaps for you it is something else. But if we all take steps to become aware, repent, and take action together we can follow the cry of John the Baptist, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and rejoice!