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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GOD MADE IT SO WE BELIEVE, TEACH, AND CONFESS IT

Week 6- 7.16.17

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Hebrews 11:3

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

 

The very first words of Scripture are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The first two chapters of Scripture detail how God did that. So why is this sermon on creation and preservation number 6 in our Lutheran Legacy series, when it is on page number 1 in the Bible?

The answer is here in Hebrews 11:3.  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” By “faith” the writer means saving faith, faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Without knowledge of Christ and trust in him alone, the account of creation makes no sense.

That means we first need to know who God is before we can understand what he made.  We covered that in the first week, the festival of the Holy Trinity.  Before we understand how this world got here we also need to know what our standing is before God, how does he see us.  That’s where those 4 key concepts of the Bible that we covered in the 2 and third weeks come in.   God tells us about our sin and he shows his undeserved and unearned love toward fallen mankind.  His grace gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, a Savior, Christ the Lord.  His grace is so completely responsible for turning us from unbelief that it also creates faith in us to believe and understand who God is and what he does.  The faith he plants in us through the Word and sacraments will produce the fruit that God expects of his children.

Does all of this sound familiar?  It’s what we have covered so far.  It’s the legacy that we carry on as Lutherans. It’s this faith alone that we confess before all the world, faith that is built on grace alone found in Scripture alone. This is the faith that God gives us so that we can believe, teach, and confess how God created and preserves the world.

So, here we are now at week 6, Creation.  Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God created the universe out of nothing in six normal days, by the power of his Word. On Day 1, he began his creation with light. He simply spoke and it came into existence. God divided the day into a period of darkness and a period of light. On Day 2 he separated the water into waters above and waters below, with the sky or heavens in between. On Day 3 he organized the waters below the sky into seas and had dry ground appear. He also had the land produce seed-bearing plants and vegetation, according to their kinds. On Day 4 he created the sun, moon, stars, and all the heavenly bodies to serve as signs, to regulate the time into seasons, and to give light on the earth at various times. On Day 5 he created the sea creatures and winged creatures, according to their kinds, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. On Day 6 he created the land creatures, according to their kinds, and then he crowned his creation with mankind. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living being. After Adam had named all the animals, God caused him to fall into a deep sleep and he took a rib from Adam and used it to build Eve from the dust of the ground. He also commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. And on Day 7 God rested from all the work of creating, with which he was now finished. It was all very good, perfect.

Of course that perfect creation has changed tremendously since God made it. The devil, a fallen angel, tempted Adam and Eve to sin. They used their free will to follow his temptation.  With that sin changed the world into a place of selfishness, corruption and death. Every human conceived by a human father and mother since the fall into sin is conceived and born sinful. Yes, we enjoy the blessings and beauties that remain in God’s creation, but it’s not the perfection of Eden.  Instead, this world continues to suffer the decay sin causes.

And as the stench of sin grows, the sweet fragrance of God’s Word is covered up and his creation forgets about him.  This even happens among us.  Where God planted faith to make us beautiful and holy in his sight, the devil uses the Old Adam to rear sin’s ugly face. Many get caught up in the apathetic mantra, “who cares.”  Some say the Bible serves as a good resource of life lessons and self-help tips, but they also turn to the trending “wisdom” found in posts and blogs. Others defiantly deny God’s work and his word as a bunch of fairy tales.

And the biggest argument against God’s account of creation coming from science is evolution.  Everything happened to work out over billions of years.  The sun, the stars, the planets, they just formed out of a massive expansion of energy called, “The Big Bang.”  Gradually since then, life grew from simple forms to the more complex until it reached its highest form, mankind.

The “scientific theory” of evolution is a closer to faith-based thinking than scientific reasoning.  Because where did the rapidly expanding matter come from?  Why has another Big Bang not happened?  If everything has been gradually evolving over billions of years, then we should not be able to classify all life into different kinds. It should just be one long continuum ranging from less complex life to more complex life, with every possible combination and variation in between. At the very least, there should be tons of evidence for these in-between life forms. But there is not.

Ultimately, though, we can’t prove creation either.  So how do we know and follow what God says about creation?  Why do we care about it?  It’s a faith issue.  The Bible says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  We believe it because God says it, because God made it happen.  It’s the same for everything in the Bible.  We believe that God had a plan to save us from the corruption of sin, from the decay of this world, from the destruction of death.  We believe that Jesus left heaven to carry out that plan.  We believe that God’s Son paid the full price for our corruption.  We believe that God’s Son proved this by conquering death on the third day.  We believe that God’s Son ascended back to heave to rule all things for the benefit of his people and to prepare a place for us.  And we believe that if God loved us like this, even when we don’t deserve it, that he is more trustworthy than any mortal scientist or modern philosopher who claims to have the answer.

If Bill Nye would die for my sins and rise from the dead, then I would believe in him and his theories of how this world got here.  But he has not and he cannot.  Only Jesus Christ could and did.  Jesus Christ does not teach me the theory of evolution or allow it be an option for my understanding.  Instead, he takes me to his Word and the account of creation, inspired by the Spirit.  So that is what you and I believe, teach, and confess.

What is important to remember in all this, is that the Lord God who created this world in 6 regular days and then rested on the seventh, did not rest from that point on.  He still sustains the processes that he himself put into action at creation.  If he withdrew his hand at any time, the universe would fall apart. We heard Paul say he gives all people life and breath and everything else. The Psalms say he sends the rain, makes grass grow for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth (104:14). We might be tempted to attribute those things to nature and it’s order, but who created the natural order? Who regulates the seasons? The Creator does.

Jesus says, You are children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil (unbelievers) and the good, (believers) and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Our heavenly Father feeds and waters the whole world, whether the unbelievers acknowledge it or not.  One quarter of the world’s population confesses to being Christian. That means our one true God feeds ¾ of the population even when they do not worship him or give glory to objects of their own creation. See how gracious our LORD God is, how he still preserves us?

This week in the devotions that I posted to our facebook page from Your Time of Grace dealt with worry.  They were great reminders taken from Matthew 6 where Jesus reminds us we don’t have to worry about anything.  We have a heavenly Father who knows all things and knows how to provide exactly what you need so that your physical and spiritual life will be taken care of.  Elsewhere in Scripture, God tells us he even has an army of angels that he sends to carry out his will.  You have nothing to fear.

What is our response to all of this? David wrote in Psalm 8, When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (angels)  and crowned him with glory and honor.  Our response is awe and wonder that the LORD God of all creation sent his Son to save us from our sin and death, to make us children of God. Our response is to thank and praise, serve and obey him!  Our response is to carry on in life knowing that nothing is really ours, but everything is the Lord’s to be used for his glory and purpose. Our response is to trust our creator God, not worry. Our response is to remain calm day by day even during a drought.  We can trust our loving God’s care and protection. Our Lutheran Legacy is to believe, teach, and confess these simple words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

God grant it.  Amen.