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.

 

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THE ONLY ONE

5.14.17 Easter 5A

Easter Season A

John 14:1-12

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

It’s the trip of a lifetime.  The suitcases are packed.  The oil is changed and the gas tanked topped off.  Everything fits into the trunk magically like Legos.  The whole family is in the car ready to go three minutes early.  Your favorite driving music is cued up on the road trip playlist.  Mom must have been in charge of it.

With all the preparation and work that goes into planning an epic family vacation, could you ever imagine dad turning to mom with a blank stare while the car sits in the driveway to say, “So, can you tell me where we are going and how to get there?”

Now, in our high-tech generation that might not be so devastating, because two family members would offer him a GPS enabled phone with three possibilities depending on what kind of route you wanted. All Dad would have to do is listen to the GPS lady say, “In 500 feet turn left.”  Then, detours could be added and subtracted all along the way until those magic words: “You have arrived.”  Although I don’t imagine anyone would pack up and getting ready to go without first having a destination and a route in mind, it could be done.

When we see Thomas, Philip, and the other disciples in our Gospel today, it isn’t that simple. There is no OnStar.  There is no GPS.  There are no planes, no trains, no automobiles to get them were Jesus was going.  It was unsettling for them to hear Jesus speak the way he does that night before he died.  He says, “I’m leaving you, but you know the way.”  You can almost picture the look on their faces.  Stunned. Shocked.  Worried.  It is as though Jesus is giving them an impossible task rather than a trip of a lifetime.

Does it feel like that for you?  Does it feel like Jesus has given you a destination but no directions on how to get there?  Do you feel like Thomas asking, how can we know the way?  I think that is a very important question for us to ask, because life is not always the joyful journey we want it to be.  Sometimes we find ourselves distracted or lost without much direction.

In this road trip called life, do you notice when that is happening?  Do you recognize when the surroundings are changing and the signs are confusing?  It’s not because Jesus took the GPS away.  It’s not because he is no longer there for you.  This trip gets hard when we think we don’t need him as much.

When kids start to think they don’t need Sunday school, that worship is boring, or when you spend time memorizing video game hacks over spiritual facts in Scripture, that’s when the distractions are grabbing hold.  When teenagers are listening to their science teachers more than the creator of science, when you are going to parties and competitions more than worship and Bible study, when you are listening to your changing bodies more than your changeless Lord, then potholes are doing some serious damage.  When people put their career goals before God’s goals, when you focus on building a home and family without the foundation of Christ, then that road starts to crumble and breakdown.  When parents jostle for center stage for their kids, even though there is already someone fulfilling that role perfectly  for them, that’s a dangerous direction to follow.  When kids make life harder for their parents on purpose, that’s not a good road to be on.  When retired folks spend their last years reliving the past rather than promoting the one who provides an eternal future, that can’t get you back on track.

There are so many obstacles, distractions, recalculations that we add to life’s road.  These things don’t pop up because Christ is gone or because he has forgotten about us.  They pop up because we are trying something different or we might just be forgetting the way.

That’s probably why Jesus begins this whole conversation with this encouraging reminder: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God and also you believe in me.”  Jesus simplifies things. He tells me that I don’t need to make things work out.  He says I don’t have to trust in my abilities or my knowledge or my personality.  I don’t need to follow after everything my family or my friends are doing.  I don’t need to be enamored with celebrities or athletes.  I don’t need to crave more money or popularity.  To start this conversation today, Jesus makes it really simple.  On this road trip of life, the reason you don’t have to worry or be distracted is because God gave you faith.  Your faith clings to his promises and Jesus’ salvation.  You faith wants nothing more than follow Jesus.

But every now and then you and I might wish for a little more.  We want the road of life to be just a bit better. Maybe it’s a simple request, “Jesus, I know you have given me what I need, but what about just a little more, something that I’m looking for. Give me something I can use.”  That sounds a little bit like Philip, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”     Philip had Jesus right there.  The Savior of the world was right across the table.  Jesus had everything under control.  But Philip wants just a little bit more than what he already has.

Thinking we need more from Jesus is so dangerous because then you might start thinking that the way you are going in life is all wrong.  You begin to question everything.  And like Thomas you find yourself wrestling with way to go.  “Lord, where are you going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus has a great answer to this question.  An answer that isn’t angry or annoyed.  It’s just what we need when we are distracted like Philip or worried like Thomas.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  If you need direction, if you’re feeling lost or distracted, if you are trying to find your way on this road trip of life, Jesus is your answer.  His free and full forgiveness and salvation answers all the question and worries we can come up with.  He is literally the only answer.

Imagine if Jesus would tell us, “I am a way, a truth, and a life.”  Wouldn’t you feel let down a little bit?  Wouldn’t you think that there could be better options?  There is a big difference between ‘the’ and ‘a.’ ‘A’ is part of a group.  It’s generic.  It’s common. There is nothing exciting or special about ‘a.’ If you don’t believe that there is a difference, then which of these statements would you say to your mother today: ‘You’re a great mom,’ or ‘you’re the great mom’.  Those two statements are not the same.  ‘The’ is specific.  It takes a stand. It’s exclusive.

Jesus didn’t tell us, “I’ll show you the way,” like a gas station clerk trying to help you with directions.  Jesus says, I am the way. Jesus didn’t say, “I have the truth,” like a lawyer in a courtroom.  He says, I am the truth.   Jesus didn’t say, “I will lead you to life,” like 21st century TV evangelist.  He tells us, I am the life.  There is nothing generic about Jesus.  He isn’t ‘a’ Savior, one of many different options. He is the Savior and the only way to heaven.  And just to make it all crystal clear, he says No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way through this life to God’s home for us in heaven.  When our world talks about religion it uses ‘a.’ It says there is a god out there and a better place.  Find whatever works best for you.  Find your god and your way and everything will be ok. When so many voices are distracting us like that and pulling us into this idea that there are many different paths, Jesus is the only way.  When suffering and loss grab you, Jesus is your only way out of sadness and depression.  When your future looks dim and dismal, Jesus is the only truth that enlightens you for eternity.  When your past mistakes and problems try to drag you down, Jesus is the only life that is free of sin and guilt.

That’s why we keep coming here to this place. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life.  Without the Way, you are going to wander off.  Without the Truth, you’re going to listen to so many of these opinions and half-truths going around.  Without the Life, you’re going to die for eternity.  Jesus is  what you need for the road of life.  You don’t have to wander around.  You don’t have to keep searching.

The trip of a lifetime would become quite annoying, and even worse, if you didn’t know where you were going half the time or if you kept getting distracted and lost.  That’s why we have GPS or a map.  And you know the important thing about GPS or a map, right? They are only good at getting you from point A to point B if you use them.  What good would a GPS be if you turned it off during the middle of your trip and then turned it on again only to realize you missed three turns?  What good would a map be if you shove it in the trunk?

Do you know what God gives you so that you know The Way?  He gives you his Word, not as a list of directions to follow, but as his living Way, who paved the way to heaven for you.  He gives you his Word, not as a collection of truths and moral absolutes, but as his Truth of forgiveness and salvation.  He gives you his Word, not as a way to keep the idea of Jesus living, but as his living and enduring testament of love that he will never leave us forever.

Brothers and sisters, don’t lose it.  Don’t turn off the GPS that God has given you.  Don’t shove it under a bunch of things in the trunk. Use the GPS God has given you. Use his Word every day.  Use it by yourself.  Use it with family and friends.  Use it until you know The Way really well and then use it some more.  Jesus is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and hell for you.  He’s the one who is preparing a room for you in God’s house right now.  He is the one who promises that you will be with him forever.

Amen.