Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lent: Less Dessert, More Desert (Ist Sunday in Lent)

Homily: First Sunday of Lent, 2015
“Less Dessert, More Desert”

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:12-15
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, 
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Our readings today are grouped for the first Sunday of Lent, and there is a theme of personal repentance, purification, and obedience. I hope that you use this particular Lenten season to grow closer to God.

In the first reading, Noah lives a righteous life, brings his family through salvation, and we have the rainbow as a sign of God’s faithfulness. I love Noah as a great example of a godly husband and father; Noah got no support from the culture about him; he got no support from the schools, from the media, from the government, even from the community where he lived. All he had was the faith in Yahweh, but that was enough to sustain him…and his family
In our 2nd reading, St. Peter reminds us about Noah again. After speaking of the ministry of Christ after his death, and how he destroyed even death itself through his descent and resurrection, he recalls the example of Noah.

And we see how this holy man was only able to save his family—8 in all—and then he sees in the flood of Noah a parallel to Christian conversion.

Peter continues “a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.”

This is amazing….
Noah and his salvation is compared with and connected to baptism.
Both Noah and baptism have a relationship that in both cases brings salvation as a direct result.
Both Baptism and every Christian have a relationship, too.

And just as baptism and Noah are related for salvation, back then, we can share in that parallel of salvation—through baptism. No floods around today, but baptism saves us now.

Not a physical cleansing, but related to faith, obedience to the gospel, just as Peter preached in Acts 2:38, when he said “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and all who are far off, for all whom the Lord will call.” And we read that 3000 were baptized that day. You could say there was a flood of baptisms on the Day of Pentecost.

And they have something else in common…there is a water in both of these examples.

"Are you saying I have to be baptized to be saved?"
No. St. Peter is. And Noah, too….if Noah were around today, he would probably say, “hey man, you want baptism the way I got it? A lot more work involved.”

"Are you saying that there is water in baptism?"
No. St. Peter is. And Noah too….if Noah were around today, he would say, hey man, just do it in the baptistery…my way was a lot more dangerous.”

As an old preacher friend of mine used to proclaim, “There’s water in the plan”…water in the plan of salvation.

But you know what is sad?
---and some people still believe in “dry cleaning.”

There was not a make believe flood in Noah’s day, and you can’t be saved by a make-believe baptism.

There is water in baptism, and I will give you 100 dollars if there is a conversion in the Book of Acts—the history of the early church—that did not include or infer baptism.

I have a deep theological truth to share with you….you can’t be baptized by prayer alone.

OK to pray? Sure, but Paul prayed for 3 days in Damascus, he saw the Lord himself, and Ananias still said, in Acts 16, “What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Some people think that “calling on the name of the Lord is prayer.” They just say a sinner’s prayer and everything is ok. Paul prayed for 3 days. Ananias still said, what are your waiting for? He didn’t say, pray a little prayer while the choir is singing—he said, get up and be baptized, wash those sins away. No dry cleaning there. In fact, when Paul recounts his own conversion in Acts 22, he remembers Ananias saying, get up, be baptized, wash your sins away, calling on his name.”

Whoah…I call on the name of the Lord when I am baptized?

Yes, just like Peter said in our reading…it’s a pledge to Christ.

Folks, I am all for ecumenical oneness, and tolerance of different faith traditions, but Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:6, and said there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism—and he was right in sync with Peter, too.

You going to argue with St. Paul and St. Peter about conversion?

You going to argue with Noah, you going to argue with Peter’s saying the baptism saves us—it is not separate from faith, but there is no saving faith without response. Why are you so defensive about this? Noah still had to build the boat, folks. Didn’t make him earn forgiveness, but it was his response. You going to argue with Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, and Acts 2:38? Man, I would not argue with a guy who has an ax and two .38’s, at least not in Black Forest.

There is water in the plan, and if you have not been scripturally baptized, you have not been scripturally baptized. (yeah, that’s pretty heavy, so let me say it again…)

“I’m sincere, I had this experience”…so did St. Paul on the road to Damascus. But he still needed to get right, to have that cleansing, that appeal of a clear conscience before God.

If that’s not your experience, make it your experience. Study it out, let’s sit down, get out the coffee, open up the scriptures, and study it through. You have to have a good, education, scripturally clear sense about your own salvation. How are you going to save your family?

You don’t have to be baptized….you GET to be baptized.

But let’s look at the Gospel before we close today

Before his ministry began, it’s important to note that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Mark’s gospel says “the Spirit DROVE Jesus out into the desert.”

Jesus prayed and was tempted in that time of solitude, as he prepared himself for his public ministry.

During this Lenten season, are we preparing ourselves for ministry? Are we being led by the Spirit into the desert, into prayer and reflection? Are we giving ourselves to prayer, to fasting on Fridays (ladies, my wife did a vegetarian chili that had zero meat, tons of flavor, and it tasted so good this past Friday I thought I was cheating!)

The message of Lent is, less Dessert, more Desert.

More prayer, more study, more reflection.

We’ll talk more about this when we have opportunity.

But it’s time for all Christians to have that continual resentence, that continual conversion, refocusing on Christ, dwelling deeply in His Word, confessing our sins, preparing to meet Him.
That word repentance means to turn around, to pull a 180, and that’s what we need to do today.

It’s Oscar season this weekend, so let me close with a story about repentance, from a movie based on a true story.

Sandra Bullock won the 2010 Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Ann Tuohy in The Blind Side. The sensational film chronicles a Christian family who took in a homeless young man and gave him the chance to reach his God-given potential. Michael Oher not only dodged the hopelessness of his dysfunctional inner city upbringing, but became the first-round NFL draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens in 2009.

At a recent fund-raiser, husband Sean Tuohy noted that the transformation of his family and Michael all started with two words. When they spotted Michael walking along the road on a cold November morning (the movie depicts it as nighttime) in shorts and a T-shirt, Leigh Ann Tuohy uttered two words that changed their world. She told Sean, “Turn around.” They turned the car around, put Michael in their warm vehicle, and ultimately adopted him into their family.

Those same two words can change anyone’s life. When we turn around, we change directions and begin an exciting new journey. Some may need to make an about-face concerning their disbelief in Christ, this issue on baptism (man what is worth hanging on to your religious pride for?) or it could be a Christian needs to turn around and reconsider the value of fervent prayer. You may need to come face-to-face with your addiction to Internet porn, or alcohol, or your anger. Whatever your situation, a great story of wonderful change could be just two words away.

Turn around. In the name of Christ, turn around.


"It is finished." Good Friday 2015

There is no greater reality in our lives than the fact that Jesus died for us personally, as well as for the sins of the whole world. The cross shows us just how much Jesus cares about people. There were powerful words that Jesus spoke, but none more powerful than his last, uttered upon Calvary’s tree. His last words, possibly little more than a whisper, are what we consider today. And of those seven perhaps none more profound, so filled with meaning, than what we hear in John’s Gospel today.

"It is finished." John 19:30

Lest we feel the cross in only one dimension, these words of Jesus cause us to ponder another aspect of the cross. On Good Friday, there is a tendency to emphasize the sense of loss and sorrow and suffering by Jesus on the cross, and not realize that the cross was the greatest triumph ever realized. Lest we forget that today is GOOD Friday, let us listen closely to the dying Master, and  see the victory of the cross.

The three words in English are translated from a single word in the original language, the Greek word Tetelestai. It is a word rich in meaning, for its meaning is always determined by the context in which it appears. Thus it meant different things to those who heard it, and in these many meanings we gain even richer insight into the many facets of the work of Christ on the cross.

To a servant, the word Tetelestai was the word uttered when he returned from the fields following a hard day's toil. It was the word signifying the completion of work, that all was done.

And is this not true of Christ? When Jesus said "it is finished" on the cross, he spoke for the finished work of our redemption, the fact that there are now no impediments between man and the attainment of eternal life. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross needs nothing more on our part for its power; there is nothing more that we need to add to realize a complete and total salvation.

How should the completeness of the sacrifice of Christ affect our confidence? How many of us are still plagued by our insecurities, trying to gain our acceptance and approval by the regard of others? We need to rest in the finished labor of the one who "finished the work that you have given me to do." If we are saved, it will not be through our attainments, but only through the completeness of his atonement.

To a Jewish priest, the Hebrew equivalent for "It is finished" was the word that was spoken following the daily inspection of the sacrificial animals before they were slaughtered.. The word meant that the particular animal had been inspected and been found to be perfect, without any blemish or any flaw. Then that animal was worthy to be offered as a sacrifice before God.

Ironic that after the sacrifices of all the Passover lambs in the Court of the Gentiles, there was still one spotless Lamb left unexamined. What a picture of Jesus Christ! Truly the words of the Apostle Peter are most appropriate here in this context:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. I Peter 1:19

To a merchant, the word Tetelestai was marked on a receipt after goods were purchased. In the world of buying and selling, the world of business, the term Tetelestai meant "it is paid."

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Isn't this the essence of the gospel? It is all paid! there is nothing more to earn, nothing more to purchase, nothing that we could ever earn:

To an athlete, the word Tetelestai was the word the crowd cheered when the marathon runner finished the race. It was the cry of the gladiator upon vanquishing his foe. It was the cry of triumph in battle; it was the cry of victory in a great and thrilling contest.

Isn't that true of Jesus on the cross? Calvary was not the defeat of a good teacher, but the most powerful death of the most powerful being who would ever walk on this planet. What appeared to be the greatest defeat was turned, upside down, into the greatest victory. At the cross Jesus met Satan at his stronghold—at death itself—in front of the Gates of Mordor--and the two were locked together in mortal combat.

What had been preliminary skirmishes during the ministry of Jesus--the temptations in the wilderness, the suggestions by Peter regarding Jesus' messiahship, the faithlessness of his own disciples--was now a time of total warfare, with Satan unleashing every weapon in his demonic arsenal to undo Jesus from his mission of rescue. Just when Jesus was about to die, the satanic host had thundered "Check" to the forces of heaven, and all seemed lost. But Jesus, confident of the righteousness of his cause, confident of the power in his flawless sacrifice had the last word-- Tetelestai--Checkmate!

If there was anything that Jesus meant by this word he spoke, certainly it was the victory of the cross. This was no whimpering cry of defeat; these were no wounded words of a dying failure, but they were the bold victory cry of the conqueror. Jesus bested Satan on the cross; it was his finest hour!

Let us pray.

Lord, we see you breathing your last and nearing death. We see you doing this for us, and we honestly don't know what to say. It is hard for us to imagine the depths of your love for us. It is difficult for us to understand how someone could be so selfless and giving of oneself. Lord, you stayed the course. You persevered until the very end. You not only lived, but also suffered and died so that humanity could once again return to God. Lord, we thank you for your love. We thank you for your courage. We thank you for the example of how you lived and how you died that we should follow you; help us to become worthy bearers of your love. Help us to stay the course, to remain faithful until the very end of our lives. We know that we can do this only with your help. So help us, Lord, please help us. Mary, our mother, pray for us.