This coming Sunday (3rd Sunday in Advent)'s gospel reading is a doosey. So John the baptist is doing his whole cool-but-weird prophet thing and telling the crowds to not be so complacent in their religiosity and to make their faith really mean something in the world. After which they're like, "ok then what do we do?" to which J.t.B. says to share your extra stuff with the folks who don't have anything and to not cheat or extort money. This is not exactly spiritual brain surgery. It's "Be a Good Person 101" if anything.
The difficult part is next. "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".( Luke 3 16-17 NRSV)
Here are 2 ways to look at this:
1) I'm "saved" and you're "damned" - Jesus is a comin' and he's gonna put all the good folks in his heavenly barn and the bad folks are gonna burn in the eternal fires of Hell (strangely enough, this is a position generally upheld only by people who see themselves as the "good folks")
2) Perhaps I should Thank God Jesus has the winnowing fork and not me because there's stuff about me that I'm sure is wheat, but that God may see as chaff and there has been chaff in me that I'm certain should be burned but which God seems to insist is still useful. To me there is great hope in this passage. The Holy Spirit is an unquechable fire which burns up the dead, useless stuff in us? Then sign me up! To me, the whole "Jesus with a winnowing fork" thing is cool. Winnow away.
I'm lousey at knowing what in me is useful, so just use what you can and burn the rest...I'll try and stay out of the way.
In Jesus' name,