Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Out of sync with the times. . .
In the Margaret Thatcher movie “Iron Lady” she is old and ailing and the doctor asks her how she feels. She doesn’t want to talk about feelings but about thoughts and ideas. She laments an age when people care more about feelings than thoughts or ideas. She is out of place in her own time.
John the Forerunner was out of place in his time. He still is. We still wince to hear him. John is shockingly blunt and cuts to the heart. He does not care about our feelings. He comes to call us to repentance, to confront us with our sin and God’s mercy and he does not shy away from the consequences of failing to repent. He does not presume anything for himself but defers to Him whose way He prepares, the One who is Mightier than he.
John shows up without regard to fashion or comfort. He wears the prophetic clothing of camel’s hair. His leather belt and his diet of locusts and wild honey stand him apart from the people around him. He comes not as one who is like them but who is completely other, who stands apart and out of step with the world so to be in step with God.
His job is not to comfort anyone with the kind of comfort we expect -- a pat on the back and lies about how everything will be okay. No, he comes to stir up trouble by calling the people to repentance. He will not let them live in the lie of their sins nor will he let them be occupied with feelings. The Messenger of the Lord is on His way. You better prepare for Him. His words speak truth and nothing less than the truth prepares people for God.
Whatever happened to preaching like John? We tend to like pastors and churches that are in sync with us and our lives. We want pastors to tell us how to enjoy our lives and get what we want and we want churches with comfortable seats and foot tapping music and drink holders to put our Starbucks. We run after whatever is new or different in everything from restaurants to religion. Our churches have become pale echos of society and we follow culture more than God. It is no wonder that we are closing churches every day.
John did not come to appease our feelings or to encourage our itching ears. He did not come with fake comfort that ignores divine judgment. He did not come to get all religions to coexist or to dilute the doctrine of the Scriptures. He did not come to inspire but to call a world to account. The wages of sin is death. The only answer is repentance and baptism.
The miracle is, of course, that people listened. John was out of synch with his age and with the religious leaders of his day but the people who heard him knew he was telling the truth. They had tried lying to their consciences, running from their sins, and calling their sins normal and even good. The same stuff we have tried in our own age to dismiss the warning bells of judgment and draw our attention from God to us.
Faithfulness to God never comes without a cost. John would end up in prison and without a head. And those who hear and heed his call will also suffer in a world at odds with God and at odds with His Word. Do not let anyone tell you that you can have your best life now and do whatever you desire and on the last day stand confidently before the throne of judgment. Do not give in to the tyranny of feelings as a substitute for the truth that saves.
Yet John was not preaching for himself. He was preparing the way for the Mighty One who is not simply Lord and Judge but Savior and Redeemer. Unlike John’s baptism of repentance, the Mighty Jesus will give you THE baptism of water and the Word, in which the Spirit works to forgive you your sins and bring you to faith.
Jesus comes as Savior and Redeemer, to put Himself in your place, to wear the stain of your sin, to suffer for you the punishment for that sin, and to die to make atonement for that sin. Jesus comes to purify what is tainted, to repair what is broken, to heal what is sick, and to give life to what is dead. We are talking about you and me.
In THE baptism of Jesus, what is already dead in trespasses and sin is killed so that Jesus may make it new. He makes you new by connecting you to His cross and empty tomb there in that water. He takes His Church and cleanses her with water and the Word so that she may be a fit bride for Himself, the Bridegroom. He does this so that when He comes again, we will be ready, kept blameless by our life fed and nourished in the Word of the Lord and at the Table of the Lord.
We work so hard not to offend people with the Word of God. We work so hard to make faith more about feelings than about truth. We work so hard to make the Church normal and ordinary, about as threatening or shocking as the mall where we shop. Then we lament the fact that the Church seems weak and our faith is absent when trials and troubles come our way. What is wrong?
What is wrong is that preachers have abandoned the call to repentance to the world and have failed in their duty to encourage the people of God to live out their new baptismal lives. You in the pews have scratched your itching ears not with the Word of God but with every new gimmick and evangelical author who claims something new. And we have all exchanged the mighty hymns of old for the passing songs of the moment that sound good but say nothing at all.
You are not who you were. You have heard the call of the Lord in His Word and you have been washed in the blood of Christ in your baptism. You are not who you were. You have been made new. You do not belong to yourself, you belong to Christ. The goal of your life is not to be happy but to be holy. The place where you live out this new life is at home where husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and where wives respect their husbands as God’s man in the home.
The place where you live out this new life is at work where you work for the glory of the Lord more than money or the recognition of your employer or your peers. The place where you live out this new life is in your neighborhood where you love your neighbor as Christ has loved you. And this new life you live as people who are not at home here in this world but at home with the Lord, fully prepared to suffer persecution if that is what must be in order to be faithfully. Knowing with confidence that he who is faithful unto death will receive the crown of everlasting life.
John’s voice is still needed in a world whose ears are closed to God but who burn at everything new or cool or designed to bring a sentimental tear to your eye. John’s voice is still needed for a Church in which repentance has become a dirty word and we have come to think that just as it is God’s job to forgive, it is our job to give him sins to forgive. John’s voice is still needed in a world for a world no longer looking for Jesus or expecting Him to come as He has promised to bring all things to their consummation.
Dear people of God. Repent and believe the Gospel. Remember who you are as the baptized children of God. Rejoice in the promise that is yours. Resolve by the grace of God to live within the realm of this grace. Return to the Word of the Lord every Sunday in the Divine Service and daily in your piety and prayers. Receive the Holy Sacrament of the Altar believing and rejoicing in the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and the sin of the whole world. Let this be the mark of our identity and Word we preach to the world. For the Mighty One is coming again and just as we need to be ready to receive Him, we have been called to ready the world with the voice of His Word. Amen