Doing Away with the Distractions

3.18.18 Lent 5B

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John 12:20-33

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

 
I didn’t look where I was going and it cost me.   I was in a parking lot a few weeks ago.  I didn’t see any cars in the area, and so I got into my car thinking that there was nothing behind me to worry about as I backed out.  I got in, turned the car on, put her in reverse, and tapped the gas.  About less than one second later I experienced the kind of thing you don’t want to experience as you are backing up: a sudden thud.  I had backed into a light pole.  I didn’t look where I was going.  I was not paying attention as well as I should have.  And I can’t blame anyone but myself.

This kind of thing happens a lot in our country.  America leads the way in distracted driving.  So often, these days the culprit is the cellphone.  Some estimates say around 70% of drivers admit to looking at their phone at one time or another while behind the wheel.  Now, that’s just the distraction from the cellphone, and we know that there are other disruptions.  They can come in the form of kids in the car, food, the radio, vehicle controls, an outside event like a vehicle pulled over, drowsiness, or simply just being lost in thoughts.

So many things can get in the way and cause a driver to lose focus on what they are driving for in the first place.  Normally, there is a destination.  Sure, teens might get in the car to “joy ride” after they get their license, parents might drive around to get a baby to sleep (I’m glad I’ve never had to do that), some might drive to clear their head, but for the most part there is a place, a destination, where a driver wants to arrive… and safely.  Getting there means minimizing and avoiding the distractions.

Life is similar, isn’t it?  There can be a lot of things to look at, pulling your attention away from the final destination Jesus provides.  There are things you can look at that make you happy: your spouse, your children, your snow piles melting, a perfectly seasoned 12oz. medium rare steak, all the projects on your list with a little check mark next to them, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that make you sad: a lot of things on your list that still need a check mark, that steak falling on the floor, an April blizzard, your kids screaming and fighting, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that you don’t have yet: graduation, your dream job, or retirement, depending on where you are at in life, a clean checkup after surgery or treatment or avoiding the doctor’s office all together, money and financial stability, a relationship that takes the next level, a family, and on and on.  If we wanted to, we could make a list for the next 3 hours for each one of us of all the different things that you like seeing, things that you don’t like seeing, things that you hope you will see soon or someday down the road, things you pray that you never have to see. The world lays all these distractions out there in front of us, luring us to look.

That’s what commercials are for.  “You need this kind of detergent, this kind of insurance, this kind of school, this kind of beverage, this kind of realtor, this kind of bank, this kind of this, that, and everything.”  And do you know what?  Often times these commercials work.  I do kind of want pizza after watching a commercial show me how delicious it is and how there is such an incredible deal going on right now.  Am I the only one?

There is so much to look at, so much that you need in life.  If you don’t watch much TV, this world can still find a way to make you look at so much stuff.  There are adds and articles online, in your social media feeds, in your mailbox, in the newspaper, billboards all around town as you drive around.  So much, so, so much.  And that’s just the advertisements.

There are friends and family telling you what you need to be looking for.  There are bosses and coworkers telling you what they like to look at.  There are famous people telling you what they like to look at.  There are news stories showing you good and bad options.  We look for so many things to bring happiness, relief, contentment, success, fulfillment, comfort, peace.  We have so many different things to look at.

Do you get the point?  It’s all a bunch of distracted driving.  And do you know where distracted driving gets you?  My insurance wrote a claim check for over 3500 dollars to replace the bumper, the tail light, the rear quarter panel, and the tailgate.  I will be taking my pickup in to get fixed.   All in all, that’s not too bad, but the results of not looking where you are going are often worse than one car backing into a light pole.  The latest numbers I could find for a year were from 2015, and they say that 391,000 people were injured from drivers distracted by their cellphone, not to mention the other distracting factors.  That’s pretty serious.

Distractions in life cause a much worse outcome.  Jesus says today, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it…”  Jesus is saying that there are a ton of distractions from the final destination of heaven.  Some of the things we might call good.  A spouse and family are good things.  Fulfilling work and financial stability are not things you need to be ashamed of.  Charity work and helping those in need are things that we can do to help a work lost in darkness.  There are so so many good things that we have.  But so so so many of these good things can distract us from what is most important.  Jesus says that if you love all these great things in life, if you put everything you have into making your life in this world, then you’re distracted.  Your distractions are leading to a serious loss.  We’re not talking about an increased deductible.  We’re not talking about a hospitalization.  Jesus is talking about being shut out of heaven.  Are all these distractions, as great and as fulfilling and as important as they seem, worth it?

So, how can you get rid of the distractions?  My insurance company, Geico, has these tips: Limit the cellphone use to emergencies; pull over if you are drowsy; limit the activity in the vehicle; don’t eat while driving; no multitasking behind the wheel.  In other words, this so amazingly insightful list says not to allow the distractions.  That means you are going to have to work at it.  There is no other option for you, nothing that the car companies, insurance companies, or anyone else can give you to fight off the distractions. You are going to have to make the change yourself.

At first glance it might seem like Jesus might be saying something similar.  “Anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Here Jesus is not saying you have to hate your wife and kids, your job and all other blessings.  That would be contrary to so much that God says.  It’s just that Jesus has to be first.  And comparing Jesus to anything else, well, cannot compare.  All of these good things and blessings have their proper place behind Jesus, where they cannot be distractions.

If we just had this verse, then it would be like the list from Geico on how to avoid distractions.  It would be your constant work to avoid the distractions.  You would have to make the choices to turn to away from all the worldly loves and distractions and to Jesus.  And you would never be at peace.  You’d always be working hard to avoid distractions, wondering if it was enough.

But this is not the only verse we have.  Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   Do you notice how Jesus does away with the distractions for us, and in a very unique way.  He is lifted up from the earth.

Brothers and sisters, it is at the cross where Jesus was lifted high above all the distractions this world can hold out to you.  He takes our attention, because none of those worldly loves can do what Jesus did at the cross.  There, he took the torment of hell.  There, he took the justice our sins deserve.  There, he removed sin from us.  There, he proclaimed the job of our redemption finished.  There, he provided the salvation from a life of chasing after all these temporary fixes and frills.

This is so much better than God offering us some tips to avoid distractions or ideas about which ones are better than others. In that case, forgiveness and heaven would be up to us.  Instead, God gives us something better to look at, something that this world cannot duplicate.  He gives us his love on full display, love that was willing to sentence his Son as the one guilty of living a distracted life so that we would go free.

It’s this kind of love that was willing to draw all people in.  Jesus made this sacrifice for all without regard for nationality, ethnic affiliation, social status, or gender.  He wasn’t just a Jewish savior.  There were Greeks at the festival, too.  Jesus doesn’t differentiate where you are from.  He doesn’t discriminate if you are struggling to find who you are.  He was lifted up so that we can see who he is and what he has done for us.  All the distractions fade when you see your Savior lifted up on the cross to take your place under the curse of sin, drawing you in to his forgiveness and peace.

Those Greeks had it right: “we would like to see Jesus.”  Do you know where you can find him?  He was lifted up on the cross, and then they took his lifeless body down and put it in a tomb.  But you won’t find him there, will you?  No, he conquered that place of loss.  He rose and ascended back to his throne in heaven.  That’s where we will see him face to face for eternity.  Until then, you have the living and active Jesus among you in his Word.  “There I am with you,” Jesus says to those who gather in his name.  You will find him living and breathing into you in the Word.  You find him in these passages of hope and joy and peace, giving more than anything you can find in this world.  You will find him when his word is connected to water in Baptism.  There he washes you, purifies you, and makes you his own child by faith.  You will find him when his word is connected to bread and wine.  There you see the body and blood he gave when he was lifted up.  There he strengthens you with forgiveness and renewal.  He nourishes the faith he planted.  He fortifies the bonds you have with God and one another.  In Word and Sacrament, Jesus does away with distractions, because he shows us how much he loves us.  He shows us the final destination that he purchased for us. Yes, we would like to see Jesus, because he is our only way home.  Amen.

 

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THE TEN COMMANDMENTS PROTECT AND PROMOTE GOD’S WAY

3.4.18 Lent 3B

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Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

 

“A guardrail would be nice.”  That’s the thought that went through my head.  I was 18 years-old in the country of Peru.  While I was a senior at Luther Prep I applied and was selected for this mission trip where we visited the different churches throughout Peru. There were 6 of us.  We led the songs in worship, read passages that we had learned in Spanish, and did our best to encourage them in Spanish during fellowship meals.  It was uplifting for us to see what the gospel does in very different and often very remote places.  And you could tell that they were just as excited to meet a bunch of Lutheran high schoolers from the US, who shared the same faith.  Like I said, some of the places were remote and I’ve got plenty of memories from that whole experience.   But one thing fits very well with the section of God’s Word in front of us today.

On these mission trips for the Prep students they make sure to set some time aside for fun trips.  Our group had a very breath-taking trip to Machu Picchu.  It is the ancient and iconic Incan city built high in the Peruvian Andes mountains.  To get up to this mountain top town, you need to take a bus up a steep switch-backed road.  I had been on mountain roads before, but not like this.  There were about 40-50 people in a bus on this narrow and dirt road where guardrails were not to be found.  That was fine I guess, but did I mention there are multiple buses on this very narrow dirt road zigzagging up a mountain.  When I started to get a little freaked out was when our bus was backing up because another bus was coming down the road.  I was sitting in the back of the bus that overhangs the back wheels, the part that was hanging out over the switchback.  That’s when I thought a guardrail would be nice.

Guardrails are good things.  Their job is to protect you from the possibility of going off the road down a mountain side or into a river.  That’s good.  The guardrail also promotes the right way to go.  It says, “Stay away from that.  Here is the right way.  Keep your eyes on the road.”  And it doesn’t matter if you think the guardrail could be closer to the edge of the cliff or it should be in tighter to the road, it has already been placed and our job is not to move it.  Our job is to abide by it.

That’s where Exodus 20 comes in.  These are God’s Commandments for all people.  God records them for us here, in Deuteronomy 5, and many are repeated for us by Jesus and other New Testament writers.  This is how God wants people to live.  He wants to stay on his course.  His commandments are like guardrails to keep this world safe from harm and danger.  They also serve Christians as a guide to promote the right way, the way God wants his people to go staying away from a sinful world.

A lot of people have their own ideas on how to be good moral people.  Diet Coke commercials are telling us to “just do you.”  If it makes you happy, then do that.  And people kind of like that idea.  It means they set up their own guardrails to protect them from what they have decided is bad.  Sometimes it changes with culture, and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s up for you to decide.  You get to be your own moral judge.

God disagrees.   “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is the first of God’s Commandments.  There are no other gods.  When it comes to priorities everything else must come after our relationship to God.  If that does not happen, then you have yourself an idol.

An idol can be anything that you love and can’t imagine your life without it.  But I’ll tell you why none of them are worth the high priority we often give them.  Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your job, your boat, your camper, your hobbies, your sports, your favorite singers, movies, shows – none of these things can save you from sin or death or hell.  So, God has set up the guardrail to protect you from loving those things too much.  He promotes the good course for us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, because he does save us from sin, death and hell.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  There are plenty of titles God uses about himself in the Bible, and all of them need to be used properly.  Anything else is going to hurt you.  It is not allowed to use God’s name to show how excited or frustrated or serious you are.  Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something doesn’t help you more than them.  Putting any stock in things like a horoscope or a physic would also fall into this category of misusing God’s name, because you have decided his name is not good enough or powerful enough for whatever you have going on.  God set up this guardrail to protect us from dragging his name and reputation through mud.  He promotes the good course for us to use his name regularly for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Sabbath was a day of rest.  That’s what the Hebrew word means.  Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”  The problem is that we often look for rest in other places.  People get nice beds, comfy couches, massagers and spas, or they look for relief in bottles or hobbies.  We surround ourselves with all these conveniences, but they cannot remove weariness, much less deal with the burdens we carry physically, psychologically, or spiritually.  So God sets up a guardrail to protect us from all the different things this world presents to give rest.  There is only one thing that give our souls rest, God’s Word.  God promotes the good course for us to love and use his Word and to love and use his house.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  This commandment specifically deals with the authorities God has set up in the home, but there are also plenty of places where God describes the authorities he has established at work, in government, and in the church.

I guess the simple question to ask yourself is, how well do you handle having others in a position over you?  I don’t know if it’s always as good as we should.  God says, “in humility value others above yourselves.”  If you don’t like hearing that, if you struggle with authorities, if all this political stuff gets you riled up, then that is exactly why God put up this guardrail.  It protects the authorities he has established to serve us.  If we are forced to do something God forbids, then we must obey God rather than people.  But if it’s just something that doesn’t always jive with my ideas, then we need this guardrail in place to protect the authorities that care for us.  God promotes this good course for us to honor, serve, and obey our parents and those in authority, because we need them for good order in the home, at work, in society, and in the church.

“You shall not murder.”  If you have been a believer for a long time or a short time or if you are completely confused by the Bible and God and faith, this commandment still makes sense.  All human lives matter to God.  Taking a life is not up to you and never will be.  That means murder, abortion, suicide – it’s all wrong.  If God has given you a life in this world he created, then only he should decide when it is over. But this commandment also covers the way we think about human life and not just what we do with it.  If you think your life would be easier and more enjoyable without that bully in your grade, or that jerk in your office, or anyone else – it doesn’t even matter if you know them or not, maybe it’s just a really terrible person on the news – then that is just like murder, except that you did it with you mind and heart and not a gun.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect his gift of life.  God promotes the good course for us to help others with our words and actions.

“You shall not commit adultery.” In the Bible God is so very very clear about marriage and sex.  Marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman based on the consent and commitment of love. This is the part where tons of people would want me to add stuff or take out other stuff. Because marriage should be for everyone. Sex is a basic right that you should be able to enjoy with anyone at any time.  And if you can’t have that, then just look up some porn.  Children are so great that if you want them then go ahead.  If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be then you can get out of it and try again.  Better yet don’t get married at all; it’s just a sheet of paper.  And the cycle continues.  I can’t say those things, because God doesn’t.  He puts up this guardrail to protect us from the devil’s easy traps of immorality and lust.  He promotes the good course and right way to use his gifts of sex and marriage so that we are pure and decent.

“You shall not steal.” It helps when we remember to whom everything belongs.  God is the owner; we are merely managers and caretakers of everything he gives us.  He gives these things to us through the work we do, through gifts we receive, through returns on investments.  God can and does provide everything we need for body and life.  When we forget that he is the giver, when we forget that we are caretakers, when we forget that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, that’s when we collide with this guardrail, where God protects our possessions and the possessions of others.  God doesn’t want us to be selfish, dishonest, or tightwads.  He also doesn’t want us to be wasteful and careless.  God promotes the good course where we use our own possessions properly and look to help others with theirs.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Do you ever wonder why God has a commandment to protect the name and reputation of people?  It’s because sin makes it so easy for us to destroy others.  Maybe you won’t use a gun.  Maybe you won’t take their property or possessions.  Maybe you won’t usurp them if they are in a position of authority.  But just a couple juicy tidbits can do the deed all the same.  That’s why God is so serious about his name and the names of others.  We need God to protect us from gossiping and lying.  So God promotes the good course where our mouths are not used for spreading anything but his praise and proclaiming his gospel.  We will defend others and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  I’m thinking coveting is not a word you throw around every day.  Basically, God is saying that if he has not blessed you with something that you want or something that other people have, then you don’t need to worry about it.  The possessions you have and the possession others have shouldn’t consume you anyways.  The Bible says that kind of materialistic heart has pierced people with many griefs and even robbed some of faith.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect us from being to earthly.  God promotes the good course where we are content and thankful for what we have and keep our attention where it needs to be, on our Savior, Jesus.

Maybe you have noticed something as we walked through God’s Ten Commandments.  Maybe you realized for the millionth or for the first time that you have broken them all.  The law is like a mirror that exposes every glaring weakness.  And when I say weakness, I don’t mean that you can make up for them with all your strengths.  I mean you and I have broken God’s law to pieces and the punishment for that is not enjoyable.  The punishment is death and hell. Period.

And that’s why it’s good to see Jesus the way he is in the Gospel for today.  He takes God’s law seriously, because in order to be our Savior from sin, he had to be perfect.  Every thought, every attitude, every action, every word had to be pure and selfless and helpful.  He had to be complete zealous for the God and his name and his Word.

His perfection is all that matters.  Jesus’ road to redemption was perfect so that my pitiful excuse of a godly life and the punishment I deserve is removed. On the cross God exchanged my sin for Jesus’ holiness.  On the cross Jesus wiped my slate clean and replaced it with his perfection.  That’s the only way I can avoid the punishment for sin. Jesus had to take it for me.  And he did.

God still has the guardrails set up for us.  This is a life and world where sin still veers us off course. The perfection we have through Christ will be fully recognized in heaven.  For now, we need the guardrails to keep us on course.  By God’s grace these commandments are not just a mirror to expose all our offenses against God and others.   They are also guardrails to protect us from going off his road and to promote the right way for a child of God.  So let’s stay on course.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

 

(There is so much to talk about in each one of these commandments.  That’s why we take more than 10 lessons to cover them in Catechism class and 3 lessons in Bible Basics.  This was just a brief snapshot to see what God is protecting and promoting.  If you want to get the fuller picture, come to the Bible Basics on Monday night or go back in dig around in your Small Catechism, which organizes so much of what God says in the Bible into nice sections for each commandment.)

SPEEDBUMPS

2.25.18 Lent

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Mark 8:31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

 

Last week, Jesus showed us how he never needed to turnaround from sin, because he fought off every temptation of Satan.   We do need the turnaround, the repentance, because sin does find its way into our life every day.  But that turnaround from sin does not happen by putting the focus on me and my work.  Instead, repentance flows from faith in Christ and is focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean that the road will get easier when you turnaround from sin.  Faith in Jesus does  not mean a nice earthly existence.  In fact, God’s Word leads us in faith to turn around from sin on a regular basis and living in that new direction means there will be more opportunities for difficulties.

It’s kind of like the difference between the interstate and county highways.  The interstate is the road that is nice.  It’s fast, it’s smooth (for the most part), it’s accessible, it provides everything you could want.  Tons and tons of people take the interstate for those reasons.  But the backroads, aren’t as nice.  You can’t go as fast.  There are not as many nice stops and amenities along the way.  The road can get twisty and turny and bumpy and lumpy.   There are even stop signs and those rumble strips along the way.

That’s the difference between the road to destruction and the road to heaven.  Ironically, the road to destruction is so nice, and it is preferred for its ease and convenience. The road to heaven is tough and ugly.  It gets bumpy, painful even.

Just listen again to what Jesus was teaching his disciples.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…”  That was the road he chose for you.  Jesus was telling his disciples that he didn’t come here to make our life on earth easier.  He didn’t come here to make men and women more capable of turning this world around.  He came here to fulfill everything God has said about the Messiah. He came here to suffer and die for sins.

But the end result is far greater than anything our suffering or pain could ever produce.  Jesus finishes by saying, “and after three days rise again.”  All the suffering he would endure as he followed this road to our redemption,  all of the excruciating pain he would be forced to  undergo, and all of the heartache he would have from knowing the separation sin creates between God, it was all worth it.  His road to winning our redemption was never going to end in a grave.  This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and life in heaven.

Inevitably, when people hear about suffering and pain, we want to avoid it.  Even if there is good news at the end, it kind of depends on what the good news is.  Think of the pain and sacrifice that Olympians go through.  Depending on the sport they train for hours a day, for weeks, months, and years to get to the top level.  In order to get to that level, they give up time, they give up some relationships, they give up some enjoyment.  To a lot of people that doesn’t seem worth it.  Why would you do that to yourself?  But at the end of it you might give yourself and your team a chance to win a gold medal.  For some that is the good news that gets them through the sacrifices.

But you know what happens when you have to wait for the good news.  You know what happens when any kind of hardship, a rough patch, or some personal sacrifices come up before you reach the goal?  We get near-sighted and lazy.  The jostles and the bumps get annoying.  The pain and suffering get frustrating.  The persecutions make us lose sight of what’s at the end.

That’s where Peter got stuck.  He didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die.  He wanted the glory and power of God.  He wanted the good life, the restored nation of Israel, the earthly peace, and all the great miracles.  He wanted life to be good.  I mean, if you are following the Son of God, shouldn’t life be great all the time?

I think we understand where Peter is coming from.  We want to avoid the suffering and pain, too.  We rebuke the idea that suffering is necessary for Jesus and for us.  We look for the nice, smooth, wide, and fast road.   How many people want the speedbumps that jostle you and slow you down?  Who wants to be twisted and turned?  Who wants to be removed from the nice amenities and easy conveniences?  Who wants to deal with sacrifices?

We get caught looking for so many blessings that any kind of suffering, or speedbump, knocks us off track.  How easy is it to think that if God is watching over me, then nothing bad should happen?  “My life on earth should be better if God is on my side,” we say.  “I shouldn’t have any speedbumps.  It should be smooth sailing now and in forever in heaven.”

But then pain comes.  Loved ones die.  Finances get tight. Things get tough.  Relationships are tested.    People question your faith.  “The bible says what about marriage?  About respecting government and leaders?  About your money?  About your priorities?  About putting others’ needs before your own?” You start to wonder what’s up.  The jostles and hardships can make us sound like Peter. “No, Lord!  This can’t happen to me.  I need my life to be easier and better for me.”

To that notion that my life needs to be easier and less bumpy, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, hang in there.” When we start thinking too much about how we don’t want the speedbumps, these sufferings and persecutions, Jesus  says this: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Jesus says, “If you do not have the things of God in your mind, then there is only one other option.”  That easy way without pain, without persecution, without any speedbumps is the devil’s doing.  It makes people focus on “merely human concerns,” or to put in another way, the things that are not God’s.  And how well do you think the things that are not of God can help you have a life with him?

Jesus went the road of suffering and persecution and pain because that was God’s way to save us.  Jesus had to suffer for sin.  He didn’t have to suffer just to experience the frailty of the human existence.  He had to suffer because that is what sin deserves.

We try so hard to avoid the speedbumps in life, because they are jolting and annoying.  But that is what sinners will always have to deal with because that is life with sin.  God wants us to have the speedbumps.  He wants us to deny ourselves what so many people would call basic human needs. He wants us to follow Jesus even when there are difficulties and persecutions.

But that is not suffering for sin.  God’s punishment went on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus is the one who died for sins.  The Bible often refers to the kinds of crosses we carry as “light and momentary.”  Jesus carried the eternal weight of guilt on his shoulders, so that we would never know what that feels like. Instead, we have these little speedbumps.  We have the denial of serving our self with the pleasures and desires of this world.  We have the cross of suffering and persecution to sharpen our focus on what God has already done for us in Christ and what he will do for us in heaven.  We have the blessed joy of following a Savior who loved us so much that he took our punishment and death, so that we could have life with him.

That’s why these speedbumps are so great for us.  The get us to slow down.  They might jolt you.  They might isolate you. They might force you to giving up the way you want to go.  But that’s good.  Because then we realize that we need help, we need strength, we need comfort that the world cannot give, we need saving from the pain, we need a place where these difficulties don’t exist, a place where sin cannot get to us.

Jesus walked the tough, grueling road to provide redemption for us.  His suffering has produced the eternal reward that far outweighs any of the hardships we face on this earth.  His death provides the life that is never taken away, a life that is never disappointing.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.”  If you want to get rid of your pain and suffering in this world so that you can have a great life with all sorts of worldly conveniences, then you won’t have a life with Jesus.  But Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”  When we follow Jesus in faith the world will say we lose certain things.  Maybe the next time you can let loose and get a little rowdy will be lost.  Maybe the guy, who is so great in so many ways except for his stubborn refusal to listen about your faith in Jesus, will have to be lost.  Maybe the promotion will be lost because you are not willing to stomp on others.  Maybe friends will be lost.  Maybe the focus on all the possessions and hobbies and stuff will be lost.

It might seem like you are denying somethings that would be so nice to have.  It might seem that we miss out.  It might seem like people are looking down on you and making you feel worthless.  But there is one looking down who is not ashamed.  He is glad to call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’  He is glad to speak in glowing terms to the Father in heaven about you.  He is glad to prepare a place in his home for you.

These speedbumps are necessary in life.  We need them to slow us down and get our attention where it needs to be.  Jesus is the only one who can save our life.  Following him might get difficult, but he has overcome every one of our light and momentary hardships with an eternal victory that will not disappoint us.  So slow down and enjoy his road, speedbumps and all.  God grant it.  Amen.

REPENTANCE IS A COMPLETE TURNAROUND

2.18.18 Lent 1B

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Mark 1 :12-15

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

I was watching a skiing race the other night.  It amazes me how anyone in their right mind would want to careen down a mountain at 80 miles per hour on two little skis without any padding.  As I watched, I saw a couple skiers take pretty bad falls down the mountain into those few layers of fencing they have set up on either side of the course to catch out-of-control competitors from going into the trees.  A few skiers later I saw something that I hadn’t seen before: one skier was pushing his way back up the mountain.  Now, why in the world would a skier in the Olympics turn around in the middle of his moment on the world’s stage?  He missed a gate.  A downhiller has to weave in and out of those designated markers to successfully complete the course and register a time.  If you don’t, if you miss just one, you are disqualified, and you won’t show up in the final results.  This guy missed a gate.  So, he stopped himself, turned around, and went back up the course a bit to do it the right way.

Have you ever missed a gate before?  I’m not talking about skiing in the Olympics.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume we don’t have any Olympians here this morning, right?  I’m talking about life.  You know the way God has laid out for you – he’s got a guideline for his people, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – and you missed a gate.  On purpose or on accident doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you went off the course.  Do you know what you need at those times?  A turnaround.

The people living in Palestine during Jesus’ day needed a turnaround, badly.  The Jewish religion was trying to show people what they had to do for happiness and contentment, how they had to deal with their guilt and sin, and how they had to appease God by making their own turnaround. That Jewish religious road, however, was leading to a disqualification (hell), because the search was focused on themselves, on what they had to do.

If you could follow through on your end, then God would follow through on his end.  That was the deal. First, you show how well you can represent the name of Abraham and Israel and David, and then God would bless you, hopefully in similar ways to Abraham and Israel.  First, you follow the works and rituals to demonstrate your worthiness to God, and then you will be rewarded.

This is not a foreign system in the 21st century.  The road the Jews were paving was way narrower, more black and white, but the religious systems today still have the same focus: me first.  If I am acceptable in my culture and society, if I am dedicated to being what I think kind is, if I am tolerant and open-minded with people, if I am trying hard to be a better person, if I have a religion and I’m dedicated without being to closed off and biased, then all of those things should put me on the right path.  I am showing myself worthy to whatever god I follow.  I have earned the respect of others.  I am deserving of blessings.  I should get whatever reward I’m looking for.

This is a road that is so easy to pave for ourselves, too.  Me first sounds so logical.  If you are nice, then nice things should happen to you.  This 21st century religious open-mindedness sounds so loving and kind.  My acceptance and kindness, and it will make this world better.  It sounds like this road of togetherness and peace would lead in the right direction.

But that is the irony.  A road that puts the focus on me first and what I do won’t help me with God.  Because my road is always going to shoot off the course God has laid out.  My way has never, does never, and will never line up with his way, because my road is sinful, and his road is perfect. My road leads to disqualification and his road leads to redemption.

So the question becomes, how can a sinner be on God’s perfect road that leads to perfect glory in heaven?  Jesus shows us how.  It’s a turnaround from religious rituals and observances.  It’s a turnaround from what our cultural definitions of religion, faith, love, and God.  It’s a turnaround from personal passions and pleasures.  It’s a turnaround from putting the focus on me and what I do.   It’s a turnaround from anything that is distracts us from the kingdom of God.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news!”  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow after all of that stuff that seems to make so much sense.  You’re going the wrong way if you think you can make yourself more acceptable to God than others because of what you do or who you are related to.”  That’s what those people in Palestine needed to hear, and we do to.  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow those who water down the Bible into something we can all agree with.  You’re going the wrong way if you want to make this world your home.”  He says, “Turn around.  Don’t continue going the way that is contrary to God’s.  Repent.”

Isn’t it nice to know there is someone loving enough, someone interested in your life enough, someone who is willing to give you the tough talk you need? That is good news for us.  It is good news that someone is willing to shout, “Turn around!”

When a racer goes off course, misses a gate in a ski race, or misses a flag like I once did in a cross-country race in high school, it’s really important to have someone who is willing and able to point that out.  I would have been disqualified for missing one right hand turn, but someone was there to call me out and got me back on track so that I could finish the race the right way.

Do you see how necessary that is?  When we talk about repentance, turning around from sin, we need to remember this is not my work to make God happy with me.  A sinner can’t make themselves turn from a sinful road, can we?  We need someone perfect to turn us around.  That’s Jesus.

He went in the desert to face off against Satan so that he could overcome our temptations.  He could see that sinful road, but he said no.  That way wouldn’t lead to our redemption.  Sure, Jesus would have had food for his belly, he would have had power in this world, he would have proved the power of angels, but none of that was what Jesus came to do.  He said no to Satan, because Jesus came to follow the perfect road.  That was the only way to give us redemption.

That’s the good news he was preaching in Galilee.  Jesus was here to defeat Satan.  He was here to say no to the sinful road.  He was here to provide the turnaround that sinners needed.  By his perfect life a new road is ours.  Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of free and full forgiveness given to sinners by the perfect love of a perfect God and Savior, not earned by sinners.  That’s not possible.  That is like a bunch of cheaters trying to compete for who will be less disqualified than the other cheaters. It’s nonsense.

Jesus has good news for us, a shabby bunch of people who couldn’t stay on course if our life depended on it.  His good news is that he never once strayed from the perfect road.  He fought the devil off.  His perfect life is for us.  There’s more.  He is also that person who is willing and perfectly able to shout out, “Turn around” when he sees us going off course.

Brothers and sisters, do we ever need that!  We need the voice of Jesus calling out after us to turn around.  Maybe it’s a parent.  Maybe it’s a pastor.  Maybe it’s a friend.  We need the voice of the Savior who fought against sin perfectly and gave us the perfect road to heaven.  We need to know when we have strayed from God’s way.  When people are willing to show you, rejoice that people look out for you as Jesus would want them to.  Rejoice that your God has a different road for you.

And then, repent, turn around from the sin that leads to disqualification.  Turn around from the sins that might be popular or easy.  Turn around from the things that you thought were maybe ok but on second or third glance might be questionable.  Turn around from the sins that don’t just offend parents and the family of God, but they offend God.  Jesus did not come to live here, he did not earn the perfect life that was necessary for us, he did not give up his perfect life with such a gruesome sacrifice on the cross, he did not conquer death for us, he did not make us his children through the power of his Word and baptism, he did not send the Spirit into our hearts so that we would throw it all away.  He did all of that to save us from hell.

That’s the good news that leads us, guides us, motivates us, and gets us to turn around.  Repentance is not me first.  Repentance is God’s Word at work.  It’s listening to your Father’s loving voice. It’s sorrow to God for the slipups and selfishness.  It’s sorrow to God for accidents and ignorance, for bad purposes and choices.  It’s sorrow to God for all of the messes and mistakes.  It’s turning around from all of that.

And when you hear the voice of Jesus, calling out to repent, do you know what you see when you turn around?  You don’t see a long list of all the things you need to do to get back into God’s good grace.  You don’t see all these angry faces.  You sure better not.  God says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  You see loving face of Jesus.  You see the object of your faith that made you turn around in the first place.  You see all that he has done for you.  You see the road that he traveled so that he could shut the doors of hell and open the gates of heaven for you.  You see and hear good news from the Savior who knows you and loves you.

Jesus’ road to win our redemption was hard.  We are going to look at during this worship series.  Today, we see how the turnaround happened.  It wasn’t me first.  It is Jesus first.  It is his love walking the road to redemption for us.  It is his grace suffering the punishment of sins for us.  It is his gospel changing sinners into God’s children through faith in Jesus.  It is his voice calling out after us when we stray.  It his good news of forgiveness and life getting us back on track.  It is his never-ending work through the Word and sacraments keeping us going.

You don’t need to be ashamed when you hear the word “repent” or when you hear the voice of the Savior coming from someone who cares calling out to “turn around.”  Be thankful that God cares that much.  Be sorrowful that you got of his path.  And be faithful as he guides you.  God grant it.  Amen.