Sermon Text:  Judges 10:6-16

          How long do you wait when someone is going the wrong way?  And I don’t mean in situations where no harm is done.  You know, when you are out to eat and your brother gets up to go to the restroom and the whole family notices he is heading toward the ladies’ room and not the men’s.  Everyone watches to see how close he comes before realizing his mistake, turning to see if anyone noticed and finds the whole family laughing.  I suppose if you are mean enough to let him make it the whole way without stopping him, then harm is done.  But what about when heading the wrong way is a big deal?  How long do you wait if you notice the driver is heading in the opposite direction of where he should be going?  Would you wait ten minutes? An hour?  A day?  I doubt it right.  Unless you really didn’t care about that person.  How long would you wait to warn someone who is heading the wrong way when it comes to their relationship with God?  I would hope our answer would be as little time as possible.  If you care about that person at all, even if that person is your enemy, wouldn’t love for their soul prompt us to give them a sincere warning?  We wouldn’t be able to wait.

          But if that is true about us, people who aren’t perfect at warning others, but we know we want to do so, can you imagine how long God can wait to do so?  He can’t.  He can’t wait to point out sin.  That truth is well illustrated in the book of Judges and especially in our verses here.  And specifically what God can’t wait to point out is this: Idolatry is stupid.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Consider with me what we see here.  We are told, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines.”

          Notice that little word “again.”  This was not a first time mistake for the Israelites.  In fact if you look at the book of Judges you see a constant cycle.  The Israelites forsake the Lord, he calls them to repentance, they are delivered and they shortly go back to doing evil.  What that means is they should have known better!  They have seen this happen before to their parents and grandparents.  Forsaking the Lord and worshipping false gods does not end well.  And it was dumb.  Think about who these gods are.  They are the gods of the people who have been attacking them.  They are gods that the Lord has shown again and again he has power over.  Let’s go worship these gods.  Are you kidding me?

          But that is not the end of the foolishness.  Look what happens when God sends them a warning.  “And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, he became angry with them.  He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them.  For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites.  The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.”  God is angered by their sin.  God sends them a strong rebuke in the form of the Philistine and Ammonites.  And Israel waits eighteen years to repent!  Think about that.  Eighteen years going in the wrong direction as God calls to them through suffering.  This person wasn’t even alive then.  How many of us were in grade school or high school.  That long!  How many people were lost because they rejected God’s call to repent.  How many peoples’ lives were shaped by suffering because they were going the wrong way.  How foolish is idolatry. 

          Is ours any less foolish?  You probably don’t worship the gods of Aram and the gods of the Philistines, but don’t we still worship the gods of America and the gods of the influential?  Idolatry that is hidden is no less heinous.  Our hearts still long after stuff, whether that shows in a desire for more in the bank or for more in my house.  Do I take more joy in my Lord or my new phone?  Do I wait longer on the Lord or on season tickets?  Do I rejoice more in building God’s kingdom or building my home?  Our heart still bows down to popularity.  Are you more excited to hear that your boss is happy with you than to hear your God is pleased with you?  Are you happier about a new relationship with a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend than your relationship you have with God?  Our hearts bow down to pleasure.  What brings you more joy?  Keeping God’s commands or doing what you really like to do? 

          How foolish can we be?  Haven’t we learned?  Haven’t we seen what has happened before us?  We can sit here and think, “Oh those Israelites.  Don’t they know what happened two chapters earlier in Judges.”  Couldn’t they say, “Oh you Christians.  Didn’t you see how phony those gods were last month when that source of pleasure brought pain.  Didn’t you see how empty that god was when it disappeared on you in a flash.  Didn’t you see how pointless that god is since it can’t bring you lasting joy.”  How long do we waste pursuing these gods?  How much of our life is consumed by them?  Scarier yet, what danger exists if we keep going the wrong way?  What will happen to our faith when our trust rests outside of the Lord?  What will happen to us when become accustomed to finding help elsewhere?  How many around us are lost as they stride side by side with us after these gods? 

          God can’t wait.  He can’t sit there and wait for you and me to figure out how foolish our idolatry is.  We would continue eighteen years and beyond.  So instead he takes action.  He issues a warning.  Notice what that warning was for Israel.  He handed them over to their enemies.  He allowed them to suffer.  He showed them there was a problem.  God does the same to us.  Now, we must be careful.  Here in Judges 10 we can say with authority, God handed them over to these enemies because of their sins.  God tells us that here.  We are not going to look at a particular suffering in our time and place and say, “Obviously here is God punishing you for this sin.”  We can’t be that specific because God doesn’t tell us that.  But he does tell us that he will use suffering as a wake up call for us.  That sometimes when you and I end up feeding the pigs so to speak.  When we hit the bottom or the bottom falls out, God is trying to bring you to your senses. 

          But you know what else God can’t wait for us to see?  How serious he is about sin.  Look at what he says when the Israelites cry out to him.  “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried out to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” Whoa.  If we really look at what God says here, isn’t it frightening?  We just sorta assume, well when I decide to call on God everything will be fine.  When I tire of putting these other things first, my time, my pleasure, my whatever, God will be ready to listen.  What would you do if God suddenly said, Go and cry out to your favorite team.  See if they will save you.  Let your image that was all important to you deliver you from trouble.  Call on your gods, see what they can do for you.

          It is uncomfortable to think about God saying such things to us.  But you know what?  He can’t wait to say it.  He can’t wait to draw our eyes to how stupid our own idolatry is.  To see how foolish we were to once again forsake God to serve other things, even things like our shape or our families or our friends.  He can’t wait to show you that, because it is through that truth that he is going to work.  He can’t wait to work real repentance in you.  No, not surface, oh I am in trouble so God now I need you, but real repentance that marks your whole life.  A turning from putting other things first and a realization that God is just.  That is where he led the Israelites.  “But the Israelites said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord.”

          God can’t wait for us to come to the same realization.  I have sinned.  Lord, do whatever you think is best to me because I have done what is wrong.  I have put something else in your place.  But Lord, deliver me.  Rescue me now, for I see how much I need it.  God wants to bring you and me to that point when we have sinned for one very important reason.  God can’t wait to show you mercy.

          “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”  Wow!  God couldn’t wait any longer.  He couldn’t stand another moment of Israel’s suffering.  He couldn’t bear it and so he sent deliverance.  We aren’t even going to see that today, but God would send another judge, this one named Jephthah who would deliver his people.  The Lord had taken action because he couldn’t wait for his people to return to him and finally he couldn’t wait to grab them back.

          God can’t wait to deliver you.  He can’t wait to show mercy to you.  Yes, God is eager to show you how serious he is about sin.  How very foolish we are when we look to something or someone else as our god and treat it accordingly.  But he is so eager to show us this so that we realize how doomed we should be.  For it is then that he comes swooping in with his salvation.  He can’t wait to rescue you!  He couldn’t wait to rescue you from your sins and so he took action.  For some of you, he couldn’t stand to wait another moment and so he rushed to put his name on you in your baptism as one redeemed from sin and lifted from condemnation.  For some of you, he couldn’t stand the thought of another moment with you lost in sin and so his Holy Spirit shined in your heart and brought you to trust in him.  For the world, every last person in his creation, he couldn’t wait to redeem and so from before the creation of the world he planned to send the Lamb of God, who at just the right moment was sacrificed for every single serious sin.  God can’t wait to show mercy.

          He can’t wait to deliver you either.  He does not delight in our sufferings.  While he may use them for our highest good he knows when we need rescue.  He knows when he must step in and perhaps miraculously grant us relief.  More often he removes the oppression of sorrow in more natural ways.  A caring friend.  A well prescribed medicine.  A new option.  And yes, sometimes he removes us from suffering because he can’t wait any longer to have us with him forever.  Whatever the case may be, understand how your God operates with you.  He can’t wait for you and me to figure out how scarring our sins truly are.  He can’t wait for us to simply decide on our own to give them up.  He takes action.  He uses suffering.  He loves enough to call out.  And he will continue to do so in your life, because he can’t help himself.  He can’t wait to show you mercy.  Amen.
  

 
 
Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 26:5-10

          What type of reaction did you receive this past Valentine’s Day?  I suppose that hinges a little bit on what type of action you took.  If you are someone who went all out this year, maybe planning some big surprise or purchasing a costly gift, perhaps you witnessed a dramatic reaction.  If instead you didn’t really celebrate the day or if you did, your plans were very simple, you probably witnessed a reaction of thanks but nothing too outlandish right?  My reaction this year was laughter.  You know, I thought I was going to be in that latter category of a simple reaction.  My plans were very simple.  I wrapped up a Communicating Christ class on Thursday night and on my way home I stopped to pick up a bottle of wine, thinking it would be nice to just sit with Rachel, have a glass of wine, and talk.  Pretty safe plan and I got home and gave her the bottle of wine and she pulled it out of the bag.  As she looked at it though she started to laugh and at just that moment I realized what I had done.  I had bought a bottle of wine the name of which was the name of her ex-boyfriend of several years in high school and college.  You can’t teach this level of smoothness.  I’m just saying.  Just so you all know there were no hard feelings I tried the wine and it was fine. 

          My action caused that reaction right?  And while people may differ in how they react to which particular actions the most, isn’t it generally true that the greater the action, the more amazing it is, the greater the reaction will be.  The greater the gift, the greater the response.  The reason that I am drawing your attention to this truth is because in our verses today, God is looking for some reactions from his people.  Reactions from you.  He is focused on his peoples’ offerings and worship.  But as he seeks such important reactions, notice how God draws his people to focus on the action that he carries out.

          Look again at how God describes these responses from his Old Testament believers.  This chapter is entitled first fruits and tithes.  The verses leading into our section explain what God wanted his people to do.  “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.”  It continues by instructing the people to bring the firstfruits to the place where God would cause his name to dwell.  They then were to speak the verses we read this morning, wrapping up with what?  Placing the basket full of firstfuits before the Lord and bowing down before him in worship.

          How does God seek these two important reactions from his people?  By having them recall the amazing acts which he carried out on their behalf.  As they brought their offerings, look at what they would say.  “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor.  Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.  So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  The people were to recall and recite these events not just so that they wouldn’t forget.  They were to marvel at the actions God carried out for them.

          To be amazed at how God took their father Jacob, who wandered from Canaan to Haran and back again and turned a perishing man into twelve tribes and a mighty people.  They were to recall the bitter suffering in Egypt and the way that the Lord had revealed himself as the true God.  To watch again in their minds the power and strength the Lord displayed in the mighty signs and wonders of the plagues and the division of the Red Sea.  They were to trace their steps through the wilderness as God guided them to the promised land which God gave them.  It was these actions and works of God to which they were to turn their attention in order to bring God the reactions he was seeking.  How happy they would be to bring him the firstfruits of their land.  The part of the crop that was ready first, when they remained focused on how God had brought them to their new home.  How sincere must have been their worship when they saw the great rescue that God had carried out for his people from Egyptian slavery and distress.

          It is worth our time to examine this because God wants similar reactions from us.  Maybe it is not an offering of fruit from the first of a crop in a new land, but it is offerings of our wealth and possessions.  Maybe it is not him finding us bowed down to the ground, but it is worship that reflects reverence and awe for the Lord.  We know God desires such actions from his people.  But what we don’t always keep straight is which actions are to produce such reactions in us.  And when we make mistakes in where we look, we run into problems.

          What happens when we try to produce these reactions by looking at other’s actions?  God seeks joy-filled and freely given offerings from us.  Is that what he receives when we are focused on one another?  Or is it something different.  Do we give our offerings out of guilt or obligation because we see our brothers and sisters in Christ giving them?  Do we give them with a judgmental arrogance that thinks, “Well I better give this because I know they won’t carry their weight.”  Or do we not give our offerings.  Do we not give an offering because we know we are getting by fine without my offerings, as if we only were giving to meet a need? Do we not give because right now we don’t have enough and it seems like whatever I could give would be insignificant compared to others?  Are these the type of reactions God is seeking from you?

          What happens when we try to produce these reactions by looking at our own actions?  God seeks our reaction to be that of the Psalmist, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.”  But what happens when I focus on my own actions to do this?  Won’t there be times that I come to worship for no other reason than I feel like I should.  I don’t really want to be here and I can list ten other things I would rather be doing, but I know I better do this.  Will I be sucked into thinking that I did my duty for the week?  Never mind that gathering to worship is a privilege and our worship should not be limited to an hour a week, but be our whole week.  Or how often will we not gather because you know what, my attendance is pretty good, especially when I compare my attendance with someone else’s.

          If we focus on our own actions and the actions of others, we will not offer God the reactions he wants.  We might still give offerings and come to church, but for all the wrong reasons and without the stability God seeks.  And so we might think we are giving God what he wants but we aren’t.  The answer is really pretty clear though.  It is the same answer he gave his Old Testament believers here.  Recall for yourselves what God has done.  Call to mind the amazing acts that God has carried out for you.  Your list of God’s actions will vary from these here, but only slightly.

          We might not talk about a wandering Aramean, but we can talk about how we were people who were lost and perishing.  That we and our loved ones were people separated from God and from our neighbors because of sin.  And yet behold the action of your God.  How he took you and made you part of his people.  How he made you part of the throng of saints as he welcomed you into his family in the waters of your baptism, where he put his name on you as one of his children.  We might not talk about suffering and oppression in Egypt, but we know the suffering and oppression of sin.  And yet behold the action of your God.  How he extended his mighty arm to set us free from sin.  How he sent you a champion named Christ to do battle with your evil foe and to crush him one temptation after another.  How he won the victory for you by paying for sin and setting you free from the sting of death.  We might not talk about being given a promised land flowing with milk and honey.  And yet behold the action of your God.  He has given you the Holy Spirit as a promise guaranteeing you the inheritance of a promised land flowing with peace and happiness.  How he has opened the kingdom of heaven to all through faith in Christ.  There is a reason we focus on these actions of our God.  We cannot afford to skip past the truths of our distress and God’s rescue.  We cannot produce the reactions God wants in ourselves or others by focusing on our actions.

          But when these actions of God are on our hearts and minds consider what happens.  Such works of God produce gifts of joy from us.  Gifts that spring from a cheerful heart, not from compulsion or obligation.  Gifts that respond to God’s grace, whether they are large or small.  Gifts that are given because we are in awe of all that God has done for us, not worrying about what our neighbor might be giving.  Such amazing works of God produces real worship in our hearts and lives.  Worship that is our desire because we can’t wait to hear again what the Lord has done for us.  Worship that spills over into our words and actions because we are so uplifted by God through his Word and Sacraments.  Worship that is a response to the saving grace of God.

          Reactions are in proportion to the original action.  If you want the reaction of someone joyfully giving of their treasure and giving their very hearts and lives, what action could you do?  We would never have an answer for that question.  But the Lord says, “Recall again what I have done for you.  Remember how I delivered you from death and sin.  See what I have in store for you for eternity with me.”  When we see such acts of God, we naturally will react with our gifts, with our glory, and with our all.  Amen. 

 

 
 
Sermon Text: Jeremiah 26:8-15

Please don’t react like this today.  Did you catch what happened here?  Jeremiah gets done preaching his message that the Lord had given him to share.  He says, “Amen” and what happens?  They mob him. 
“But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?’ And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.”  It sure makes the reaction of “Pastor, I didn’t quite follow you today” seem like nothing right?  They crowd around the prophet ready to put him to death.  And it is not an idle threat.  If you read to the end of this chapter you find out Jeremiah is actually spared but not so another prophet named Uriah.  He is put to death in front of the king.  What was it that Jeremiah had done that upset the priests, prophets and people so much?  He had preached God’s law.  He had warned them all that if they kept ignoring God’s Word he was going to destroy Jerusalem and the temple the same way he had destroyed Shiloh.  He proclaimed God’s law and what his judgment over sin was going to be.  This is what caused the people to react with such animosity.

          And it is that reaction that allows us to look at this account and gain some very valuable truth for ourselves this morning.  You see, you maybe have never finished saying something and had the people or person to whom you were talking gather around you and say, “You must die!”  But haven’t you had someone react very negatively to when you pointed out sin, maybe just by saying, “Do you think you are better than me?” or “Well aren’t you quick to point out others problems.”  You maybe have never gathered in a mob to put a prophet to death.  But haven’t we all reacted negatively when God’s Word hit a little too close to home with God’s demands.  You know, when it talks about the things I really like to do.  Or the sin that I really struggle with.  What is my reaction to that?  Ignore it?  Blow it off?  Change the subject? 

          The problem is how we handle God’s law.  Far too often we like to hide it.  Now I think there are two main dangers that we fall into here.  The one, we probably point out more often, and I will point it out now, but a little more briefly.  The temptation that exists to hide the law from others.  Do we really think Jeremiah was excited to preach this message?  How do we feel about proclaiming God’s law to the people in our lives?  It’s hard to do, no matter who we are.  We don’t want to upset people we love.  We don’t want to face an angry reaction.  We think someone else could do a much better job of doing it.  We feel like with the things I have done I am not the person to do this.  Yet what does your Lord say?  He says in Luke 17, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”  Certainly, we want to do so in humility with love.  But are we doing that?  It is not an enlightened position to take to think, I will let others figure it out for themselves.  God calls on us to share his law, not the same way Jeremiah did, but in our own places and with our own people, and are we?  Or are we hiding God’s Law?

          It would be well worth our time to dwell on that point even more.  But I think there is a connected thought that comes into play.  And perhaps this danger isn’t as readily seen as the other.  Do we hide God’s Law from ourselves?  Do we hide behind parts of it in order to avoid all of it?  And before you say no, I don’t think so, consider again our text here.  How would those prophets and priests have responded if you asked them, “Well, why won’t you listen to God’s law?”  They would have said, “Of course we are listening to his law.  We are trying to put to death someone who has spoken against the Lord’s temple that bears his name.”  They were so focused on one snap shot of the law that they missed the whole panoramic of it.  They were so worried about someone speaking against the temple that they ignored the Lord’s law preaching through his prophet.

          Don’t we see the same thing in our Gospel?  Jesus laments over Jerusalem because they won’t listen to his teaching of God’s Law, but if you asked them, they would have said the law was their primary concern.  They put Jesus to death crying out blasphemy, but ignoring or hiding the real scope of God’s Law for themselves.

          The danger exists for us to hide behind parts of God’s Law as well.  Perhaps we pick and choose some areas of God’s law that we are willing to admit I could use some work on this part.  I know I could be more patient with my neighbor.  I could watch how I speak about others a little closer.  And I probably could be a little more content than I sometimes am.  Those areas for each of us where we probably say, yeah I need to hear God’s law.  What happens though when the Lord makes clear the problem is bigger than that?  What about when God’s Law confronts us with sin in the areas in which we think we are doing well?  What about when a friend points out how our schedule doesn’t reflect the priorities we claim to have?  What about when a sermon hits on that topic that you think should be more personal?  What about when you come face to face with a part of God’s Word that says here is what I really expect from you and you aren’t doing that?  How do we react?  Do we willingly heed God’s law?  Or do we angrily think, “This is ridiculous!”  You think my priorities are skewed?  Well here is what you are doing wrong?  Why did he preach about that?  This issue is a much bigger deal.
          Do we hide from the full extent of God’s Law by making a big deal out of the topics we want to make a big deal out of?  Are we like priests, who hear preaching calling for obedience, but are only worried about speaking against the temple?  Do we ignore what God really wants because we don’t really want to hear that?  Jeremiah made the Law’s message clear.  “Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God.”  Is that what we hear when God’s commands are preached or are we cherry picking a few to focus on while ignoring obedience in the rest?  Are we heeding all of God’s Law or are we hiding it from ourselves, limiting its reach to the areas of our lives that we want it to reach.

          The truth is, our problem with God’s law is often bigger than just I don’t want to share it.  We don’t want to hear it.  At least not what it really has to say.  We might settle for a cheap imitation with which we can be comfortable.  But to actually have the law speak to us about the parts of life we struggle with.  To see what the law actually calls for, reform in our ways and actions.  We would rather bury that and hide it.  And by doing so we really add sin on top of sin.  Not only are we doing the things the law points out as wrong, we reject God’s correction however it might come to us.

          And God’s reaction to such sinful misuse of his Word?  He continues to call out with his Word.  “Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God.  Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.”  God reveals his goals.  Oh, don’t be fooled.  He wants his law proclaimed to you, to me, to everyone.  He doesn’t wink at us and say, well don’t worry about that.  He wants the full weight of his law proclaimed so that he might work through that message.  So that he might bring each person to see the problem that exists between himself and God.  That she is lying to herself if she thinks she has done everything God demands.  Because look at what God accomplishes when his truth is heeded and not hidden.  He allows himself to relent. 

          Not because we deserve him to relent.  And not because the punishment was an empty threat.  God was not the parent who said if you don’t start listening I am going to take your favorite toy away for a year.  The destruction promised over sin was real.  It is death.  And yet God can relent from that punishment for you because he did not relent to punish his Son.  He did not leave any threat of the law unfulfilled, but he carried them out on a hill outside of Jerusalem.  He did it so that when you and I hear God’s Law and actually heed it.  When we actually see what the law has to say to us.  When we are brought down by those demands.  That then God can turn aside from the anger he rightly has with us.  He can relent from the destruction that he held in front of each of us and say, “Such is the punishment you deserved. But since my Son suffered that punishment and because I have led you to hear my law, I relent.” 

          Isn’t there a joy when a threat is avoided?  When you say to your child, if you do that no TV for a week.  No car keys for the next three days of school.  Aren’t you hoping that the child will listen and not force you to carry out such a punishment?  God continues to rejoice when he can relent over you.  When his Word has its intended effect and leads us to reform our ways and actions, yes even our thoughts and words.  Not because he is unwilling to punish sin.  He made that obvious at the cross.  But because he rejoices to not punish you for sin.  He is glad that because of his Son he can relent from making you and me like Shiloh, deserted and destroyed.  He rejoices that he can be kind and compassionate to sinners, who while not deserving mercy, to whom he delights to show it.

          And it is God’s willingness to relent that drives our proper attitude when sharing God’s law.  Yes, we reveal a problem to someone.  Yes, their reaction might not always be positive.  We see how we react to God’s Law.  And yet we love to proclaim God’s Word including his law.  It is our desire that God’s message of what is wrong allows us to proclaim what God has done to make things right.  So that we can share how he punishes Christ so he can relent over your sin, no matter to whom we speak.  Such a goal is what works in us the attitude of Jeremiah.  Come what may, we must proclaim the Word and the Law of God.  We must proclaim it to ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable that might be.  We must proclaim it to others, no matter how that might be received.  We continue to call out for God’s Law to be heeded, because God continues to call out for us and others to turn, so that he may do what he loves best.  Relent, and be merciful for the sake of Christ.  Amen.

 
 
When do we have a hard time listening?  There are a lot of issues that can contribute to that problem.  Maybe we are really tired.  We had a lot of work to do the night before and now in class, we are struggling to listen. Or maybe we just have a lot of other things on our minds.  Perhaps it is the person speaking to us.  He goes on too long, repeats too much, and simply just isn’t engaging for us.  No comments here ok?  Sometimes it’s the material.  It simply isn’t something that is interesting to us or has any real meaning or application for us.  And sometimes, we don’t listen simply because what is being said is something that we don’t want to hear.  I am sure there are more reasons we could think of in this regard.  But that might be enough for us to answer this question. Why is it so hard for us to listen to Jesus?
           
I mean, we know we want to right?  We know that we should listen to him and the directions that he gives to us.  But why is it still so difficult to often hear him when we should?  To put into practice what he tells us.  Again, we could come up with a list of reasons.  Well, sometimes I am so busy and have so much on my mind that I don’t think about what Jesus would tell me to do here, so I don’t listen.  It’s hard to listen to Jesus when it’s not him speaking directly to me.  He speaks to me through his word or through someone who shares that word.  That makes it tougher.  Sometimes, what he says is so wrapped up in words and expressions that don’t mean much to me, that it is hard to really apply it to my life and my situations.  Now, I think we could grant those thoughts some level of credence right?  There is some truth to them.  But is there a simpler and more encompassing truth that we are dancing around?  That perhaps the reason we don’t listen to Jesus is, he tells us a lot of stuff we don’t like to hear.  Or he tells us a lot of stuff that is difficult for us to hear.
           
Think about some of the things Jesus wants you to listen to.  He wants you to hear him say that he has to be number one in our lives.  That not even good things, like our families and our activities and our many blessings, can have that place of most importance.  And he expects you to live like that is true.  Isn’t that hard to listen to?  We hear everyone else saying something different.  Live for more of this.  Live for that person.  Life for this goal.  And we have our own sinful nature that reinforces that thought.  Hard to listen?  Jesus wants you to hear him when he tells us how to love others.  When he tells us to love those who hate us.  When he tells us to love someone enough to share the truth with them.  When he tells us to love like he loves us.  Tough to hear.  But maybe one of the toughest things we hear from Jesus is his directions about suffering. We don’t like suffering.  Our natural reaction to it is how do I stop this. What do I have to do to make this go away?  And yet what does Jesus tell you and me?  Expect it. Bear it with confidence.  Take up your cross, that which you suffer for my name, and follow me.  Embrace the fact that you will suffer because you listen to me.  Don’t let suffering be your excuse not to listen.
           
It’s not easy to listen to this.  You and I aren’t the only ones that such instructions were tough to handle.  Jesus’original disciples
were struggling to listen to what he was beginning to tell them.  Our verses begin, “After six days.”  What had happened six days prior?  Jesus had told them two unpleasant truths.  First, he was going to suffer many things, be rejected, he must be killed and rise.  And secondly, he told his disciples that they would need to take up their own cross and follow him, even if it meant forsaking the world.  We will see those verses in a few weeks, but let it suffice to say for now that it didn’t go over all that great.  But just because his disciples weren’t listening didn’t mean he just stopped talking.  Here in this moment of glory, and isn’t it a moment of glory?  We are told a few of the details.  “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”  What did this look like?  Mark focuses on the clothes.  So brilliantly white that no one could ever bleach them so.  Matthew focuses on Jesus’ face, that it shined like the sun. Luke covers both and says his clothes were as bright as a flash of lightening.  And Jesus isn’t alone.  Two key figures of the Old Testament appeared with him, and while we can’t say for sure what they looked like, we know they looked glorious as well.  Is there glory to be seen on this mountain top? Absolutely.  But let’s not miss that Jesus is still talking about what his disciples didn’t want to hear.
           
Luke gives us the detail of what Jesus was talking about with Moses and Elijah and what his disciples would have been listening to.  “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”  They spoke about the same things he had just told his disciples.  Suffering, betrayal, death.  What is Jesus going to say to his disciples on the way down the mountain?  Don’t tell anyone about this until I have risen from the dead.  There was no escaping what Jesus wanted his disciples to listen to.  Here comes the  cross.
           
So why weren’t they listening?  Were they tired and couldn’t listen?  Were other things on their minds?  Peter gives us a glimpse.  What does ole Peter step out and do?  “Peter  said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)”  Was Peter blown away by what he saw here? Yup.  Was he afraid of the glory streaming from Jesus? Yup.  But was that it for this fear.  No.  Lord, let’s stay here.  This is the place to be, let’s not leave this place.  Forget about what you told us.  Ignore that which you are speaking to these heroes of faith about.  Let’s stay here.  Peter wasn’t listening because he was afraid of what was said.
           
Are you willing to listen to what Jesus says is coming, both for him and for you? Are you going to listen?  Or do we have a list of
reasons why we won’t be. Well, we are just too busy to gather a second time on Wednesdays and hear the account of Jesus’ sufferings leading up to his death, his passion history.  Well, the material just isn’t all that engaging.  I’ve heard it all before.  Or I really don’t see what it has to do with my life.  There doesn’t seem to be a really clear meaning for me.
           
Do we attempt to use such excuses?  Sure.  My sinful nature is no different than yours.  It is easier to find reasons not to hear what Jesus wants us to listen to. But deep down isn’t the problem for us the same that it was for  Peter?  We don’t want the suffering.  We are afraid to see what Jesus wants to tell us about.  Part of us is afraid to admit that this one who is beaten, despised and killed is the person that you are basing all your real hope on.  Why does it have to happen this way?  Why didn’t God just do something different?  Why did Jesus have to look so pathetic and humiliated? This is the guy that I claim is the Son of God.  I don’t want to hear it.  Are we afraid that the one whose will guides my life is one whose life is going to be taken from him in a gruesome way?  Or is it a different fear.  A fear that springs from knowing that as I hear about this again I come face to face with the fact that it should have been me there.  That it’s my own fault, me and no one else’s that this happens to the sinless Son of God.  Is that why it is hard for us to listen to what Jesus wants us to hear today?  Here comes my cross.  Here comes your cross.  And whether you like it or not, it’s what will happen.
           
The Father’s command stands doesn’t it?  “Then  a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is  my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  So how do we listen to him when we our very nature fights against hearing what he wants to say?  We must look closely at what he shows us here.  The Father knew that Peter, James, and John needed to see this moment of glory. They needed to see it because they would leave that mountain and walk  with Jesus to Jerusalem and his death. God knows that you need this glimpse as well.  So look here to listen.  Look here and see what will comfort you in the coming weeks.  Yes, you will see this one beaten and crucified, but see here who this one still is even in the midst of that.  The one who shines with divine glory.  The one who is pleasing to his Father because of his holiness.  That  doesn’t disappear with Moses and Elijah. See again who you are listening to. Who you are basing your hope on. Yes, he will seem weak and our hope foolish, but see here the truth.  This is Christ, the Son of God.  This is Christ, who has come to tell you what must happen to him because of your sins and mine.  But this is Christ, who tells you that and then does what must be done for you. Listen to the truths we will see in the coming weeks of Lent.  See the unpleasant reality of what sin against a holy God demanded.  But then hear your Savior say to you again, all this I suffer for you.  All this I do for you.  Face Lent with this assurance.  The glory of this Jesus is only hidden.  Listen to what he has to say no matter how grim it might appear.
           
When it is tough to listen to Jesus, look here again.  When he calls on you and me to suffer, when it seems to be a time of darkness and despair, let your eyes look again upon the glory revealed here at this mountain top.  And then dear Christian, pick up your cross.  Listen to your Savior as he tells you to deny yourself.  To love those who hate you.  To put a bloodied criminal as your highest priority.  To live for him who died for you.  Look at this glory and go forth to listen to your Savior’s voice, resting assured that what you have seen will sustain you.  Amen.

 
 
Is there anything good to be found here? How would you answer that question if someone asked that about our church?  Can anything truly good come from this congregation?  What would you say?  Would you answer with a list of things, that you consider our strengths as a congregation?  There’s a lot of good here!  We have a group of people who genuinely care and support one another, as best as they can. We have a committed Sunday school which wants to teach the truth’s of God’s Word to all ages.  We have a good worship environment, where we enjoy gathering together on a regular basis.  We have fun together at events like a Hawaiian Luau and Ladies’ Advent by Candlelight.  We try to work in our community with things such as our free garage sale.  There is plenty of good here.  But couldn’t someone look at any of these things, or whatever other strength you and I might list and say, “You know what, I’ve seen a lot better.”  There are still problems there.  There are weaknesses there too.  Weaknesses that still prompt that question,“Can any real good come from here?”  Would the better answer be the one that Philip gave to Nathanael?  Come and see.
           
What caused Nathanael to ask that question in the first place?  There is really a small chain of events.  We are told in our first verses, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  In this first chapter of John’s Gospel, we see John the Baptist trumpeting loudly an Epiphany fitting message of “Look  there is the Lamb of God.”  He tells his disciples several times, this is the one I told you about.  And so we start to see those disciples following Jesus to find out more.  We hear about Andrew, Peter, and most likely John in the verses before this.  And now Jesus goes and finds Philip before heading north to Galilee.  Philip is convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, the one promised in the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. He runs to tell Nathanael the news and he is met with that question.  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"
           
What’s Nathanael’s problem here?  We sometimes rush to the point that Nazareth was a pretty unimportant place in the backwaters of Galilee. But I don’t think that is all that is going on here. What do we hear about Philip, and Andrew, and Peter?  They are all from Bethsaida, a simple fishing village up in Galilee.  It wouldn’t make a ton of sense that all that is in Nathanael’s mind is “Oh Nazareth is the sticks.”  It would be like someone from Cottage Grove acting like there is nothing good from Hastings.  Is it possible someone would say that? Sure.  But wouldn’t it make more sense that Nathanael is not just picking on Nazareth? Instead he is meaning something very good with his question?  Philip just said to him, we found the Messiah, Jesus from Nazareth. What would a true Israelite, one who knew his Old Testament say?  Can the good one come from Nazareth?  He is supposed to be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.  Can that which is really good be found there in Nazareth?
           
Isn’t that the question that people are asking, aloud and mentally about this place and others like it?  Can that which is the highest good really come from there?  There is a lot of doubt that real good can be found in the church. One of the members of our church posted a video on her Facebook page that is a dramatic telling of how Jesus is greater than religion and how the church seems to teach a different message than Christ taught.  It’s an interesting video, because it very subtly sets up a new standard of what makes someone a Christian.  But that is someone who is a Christian asking if there is anything good here.  What about those who aren’t?  What about those who are unaware of the real message we teach? Are they convinced that nothing good can come from this?  And if they are, what are we doing to answer it?
           
How are we showing them that there is something good to find here?  Do we act like we are convinced there is?  Are we willing to give Philip’s answer to those people who ask us?  Come and see what good is here.  Or are we afraid?  Afraid that if they come, they won’t really be convinced there is much good or impressiveness here.  Are we embarrassed, that if we ask them to come they won’t find some of Scripture’s teachings to be good on their first taste?  Are we afraid they will come and see people who aren’t any better than they are, people who still struggle with sin like they do?  Or is the problem that we have convinced ourselves there is good here, but we are putting forward the wrong “good” thing?  We love to point out some of the things that we do as a church to others, as if that was really the good that comes from our congregation. Is the good that we offer something that could easily be found  elsewhere?  Do you and I act like there is something good to be found here?  How do you talk about coming here?  Something that you know you should do once in a while or something that you know will reveal to you the highest good?  Do you prepare to taste and see that the Lord is good, or do you come because you have done so every week for a long time?  Are we acting and living like we have an answer to this question, “Can anything good come from there?”
           
Jesus had the answer to Nathanael’s question.  Nathanael didn’t even ask it but Jesus answered it.  “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared,‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Jesus revealed to him what good thing he had found.  As Jesus in a simple way showed Nathanael his omniscience, that he knew all things, Jesus revealed to him who he had found.  Not just a good teacher from Nazareth.  Not just a charismatic leader to follow.  But just how good it was that he was there.  He revealed to Nathanael that he was the Son of the living God.  He was the long promised good and gracious Savior.  He was the King of Israel.  And he would show Nathanael just how good he really was.
           
How do we reveal how great of a good can be found here?  I can’t say to someone who walks in, here is a true Cottage Grovian, in whom there is nothing false.  I saw you at Cub before so and so invited you here.  But see what does happen here.  We like Philip tell everyone, including ourselves, we have found the one written about in the Old Testament and witnessed to in the New.  We have found the one who is the Son of God and King of Israel.  That is what is good to find here.  We get to reveal the Christ.  We get to say to the hurting and the lonely, here is the good you seek.  Not people who are caring and supportive, even if they are.  Not a pastor who is willing to counsel you, even though I willingly try to help. Here is the good. The one promised is revealed here.  The one God who can heal your hurt.  The one King who reigns over sin and death for you.  The one who showed up to walk in Galilee and then to Jerusalem to Calvary. Here is the good you seek.  God eternal in human flesh.  Set to keep the law for you.  Set to die for you.  Here he is. Come and find this good, here as his Word is proclaimed.  As we sing his word back to him in our hymns.
           
And as good as this is, Jesus says you will see greater things.  Jesus says, if you are amazed at how good I am that I came and was revealed, watch this.  Watch as I take simple water and by my powerful word wash this child’s sins away and make him my own.  Watch as I take bread and wine, and miraculously by my powerful promise give you my very body and blood for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins. Watch, as I strengthen you as you return here over and over again to hear of my great love for you, a sinner whom I have called my own.  Watch as I help you and care for you in a variety of ways.  Watch as I place my cross upon you to keep you trusting in my power and my work.  
           
This is the good that is being sought.  This is the good that we enjoy  here.  This is the good that more need to hear and to see.  You do not need to be a fearful Philip or a master of misdirection. If we tell someone come and see, they will come to hear the greatest good that is found in the gracious God. If we tell someone come and see, we are not basing our confidence on any  of the things that we do or who we are. All such works and efforts should be serving our desire to share the greatest good.  We can pursue excellence in our ministry, but we pursue it knowing that we do so to see and to share the one who is truly good.  Answer the question, “Can anything good be found here?” with a resounding yes!  Here is found my Savior Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Here is found the answer to our problem of sin and the fears of our lives and others.  Here is found the greatest good, the Son of God, the King of Israel.  Amen.

 
 
Jonah had a big task in front of him. The Lord was sending him fishing for men, but it was not a handful of perch he was after.  It was not a command to simply float around the lake and maybe land a bass or two.  No, the Lord told Jonah that he wanted him to try to reel in the Muskie that was Nineveh. Nineveh was a big city in several senses of the word.  It was geographically big, as some accounts have it encompassing three cities with a span of twenty-five or so miles.  It was politically huge as it was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, one of the foremost powers of the day.  And it was large in the sense of how  challenging it would be for a prophet of the Lord to make headway in a place  that didn’t know the Lord or the truths revealed to Israel.  But the Lord promised his prophet Jonah that he would provide him with the message or the lure to accomplish his work.  The right message to hook the people of  Nineveh.  Our Savior has given you and me, his church, a large order as well.  He commands us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them his Word.  How are we to carry out this work?  We use the lures that God has provided us.  But are we using the same lure that Jonah used?  Are we speaking clearly the message God has for the world today?  Are we using the right lure?
           
What was the lure that the Lord told Jonah to use in Nineveh?  It was the message that the Lord gave Jonah to share. “Then the word of the Lord came  to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the  message I give you.’ On the first day, Jonah started into the city.  He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be  overturned.’”  A pretty blunt message isn’t it?  Forty days and it’s over.  Forty days and this city is going to be overturned.  And this was really just his sermon theme right?  He would have got specific with them.  Here is why Nineveh is going to be overturned.  Here are the things that you people are doing that are going to quickly lead to your destruction.  Here is what is making God’s decision to destroy an easy one.
           
Jonah is using the lure of the law.  He is telling the people of Nineveh that there is a big problem with their lives and that they need to change.  They need to repent and leave many of the things they were doing.  If they didn’t, you could count how many days they had left on four people’s hands.  This is a strong message. But it was the right lure.  What happened with Jonah’s message?  “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”  The law that Jonah spoke brought the people of Nineveh to repentance.  They turned from the wickedness they were committing and humbled themselves before God.  They believed the warning that the law gave, and wanted God to show them mercy. Such a total change is nothing short of miraculous.
           
And is that the reason why we struggle to use the lure of the law?  It seems like only a miracle would allow it to work. Our work is not any less daunting than Jonah’s was.  Sure, we are not called to go fishing for men in Nineveh, but is the pond we fish from that different.  A time and place with lots of people who need to hear what Jesus said today in the Gospel, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near?”  That’s law.  But aren’t there all kinds of reasons we can give to not share the law?  Well, people are going to get mad when they hear it. You know, they might let you preach to them pastor, just don’t get too preachy.  They won’t want to listen if all you are doing is showing sin.  What about as an individual.  My friends don’t want to hear from me what is right and wrong. This isn’t going to help me land anyone as a follower of Christ.  Wouldn’t it be better for us to just talk about Jesus and all the good things he does for us?  Wouldn’t it be better to just offer lots of good reasons and benefits of being a Christian? Wouldn’t it be better to use different bait?
           
But my friends, we cannot afford to leave this lure in the tackle box. Because this is the truth that our world and our neighbors need to hear.  Understand what you are trying to do if you never take the law out of its box.  You are trying to convince people they need Jesus when they really don’t think they do.  You are running around the streets of Nineveh saying believe in God without warning people what happens if they don’t.  We need to share the law.  The people that we claim to care about and so we don’t risk offending need to hear the message of God’s law.  Many of the people we see around us on a daily basis have more than 40 days to repent, but shouldn’t it stop us in our tracks that some don’t?  We need to get fishing, as we apply God’s law to people specifically and clearly. 
           
I know.  We gave some reasons not to do so and we could probably come up with a boatload more. But isn’t the main reason fear? Fear that God is not going to do what he promises to do with his law.  Fear that the Holy Spirit won’t work through that word and convict people of sin.  Fear that it isn’t worth the effort and loss of clearly stating the truth and what is contrary to God’s will in his word.  Fear stands in the way of our message of repentance.
           
What is the answer to that fear?  Go trolling in your own heart again.  What is the best way to preach the law in the proper, fisher of men sense?  By preaching it to yourself first.  Let God’s law convict me that I could sharpen that tool in my preaching to you by more effort and time.  Let God’s law convict you, that you don’t share it as clearly as you should.  Let it convict us that we far too often treat it as that teaching that we get around to only if someone has really ticked us off and we want to put them in their place. Hear God’s law say to us today, “You have not treated the holy and  righteous will of God in the proper way. Such actions deserve to be overturned and destroyed.”  
           
And once we have been crushed by this command, we see our Lord change baits. We are reminded of the deliverance that our Savior brings to us.  That he fished us out of our sins but draining them all at the cross.  That he reeled us in, when we stubbornly fought against his will.  That he has restored us, forgiven sinners, to be his people, chosen and dearly loved. Equipped and empowered by his mercy to go and show mercy to those around us.  Jesus shows us that the work that we carry out is not what makes us his own. If our status with God was based on how well we shared his word, both law and gospel, with others, how terrifying that would be.  But instead our relationship is based on his perfection and his work.  It is the message that he shared, that he was ushering in the kingdom of heaven through his Gospel.  
           
Now pick up your lures dear Christian.  Pick up the law that God calls on you to share.  Share it not out of arrogance or a lack of love.  Share it because you can’t stand the thought of anyone not knowing what you know.  That Jesus has revealed himself as the Savior of sinners.  Show people that is what they are and what you are as you hold up God’s holy law as judge.  Expect them to fight back against that truth.  It is what you and I do by nature as well.  But don’t let that be the reason that you let them off the line.  Drive home the verdict of God’s law.  Here is one who is less than holy and deserves damnation.  Let that truth ring clear in your speaking.  But then take the net of the gospel.  Swoop up the one who has been brought face to face with God’s law.  As they are led to repentance, assure them that God is merciful and gracious.  He has turned away from his anger against you because of Christ and him crucified.  
           
Do not be afraid that God’s law will not accomplish its purpose.  It will by the power of the Holy Spirit as you, I and the people we share that law with are lead to repentance.  Don’t be afraid to preach the law in all its power, because as it hooks souls we know what else we have to share.  The good news of a God who is merciful and does not want any to be lost.  A God who knows exactly how you break his law and punished his only Son accordingly.  A God who still wants to snare the people who are drowning in their sins, even though they might not recognize it.  So fish for such people.  Use the right lure that God has placed into your hands as you let the law of God work true godly repentance.  And then meet such repentance with the assurance of the Gospel that tells of a God who turned from the destruction that he rightly threatened because of sin and instead pardoned you because of Christ.  Take these truths and daily apply them to yourselves. Daily seek to share them with those you know and those you don’t.  Daily seek to use the lures of law and gospel.  Cast away, my friends.  Amen.

 
 
Which of Jesus’ miracles would you point to as the prime verification that he was the long awaited Messiah?   That’s a big theme of this season of Epiphany.  Jesus reveals himself as the Savior.  If you were going to show someone that Jesus was the guy, what would you start by showing them?  Would it be Jesus taking five loaves and two fish and feeding a crowd of probably 15,000, give or take?  Would it be Jesus causing the blind to see and the deaf to hear?  Would it be Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, several days aged in the tomb?  Would you think about what we see here this morning?  After all, there is verification of who Jesus is in our text today. It’s important we see it in this text, because we need to know.  We need to verify that this Jesus is going to be able to do the things we are counting on him for.  We need to verify this Jesus to a world and people who are skeptical.  We need to find the verification that will stand for us at all times, and today’s verses are a good place for us to look.
           
Our Gospel picks up right were Mark left off last weekend.  Jesus had called to himself a few disciples, and now he heads to Capernaum.  “The  went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and  began to teach.  The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”  We see Jesus doing something that we will find him doing often in his ministry.  Going to the synagogue and teaching.  Jesus teaching style immediately grabbed the people’s attention because it was different. Jesus did not teach like the other teachers of the law, who would have  cited different people’s opinions and weighed them and then listed some  possible conclusions that could be drawn. No, Jesus taught with a knowledge and insight that were his by right as the Son of God.  He said this is what it means.  This is what is true and what is false.  This is God’s Word and how it applies to you.  This theme appears often  in the Gospels.  The people are amazed at how Jesus teaches.
           
But on this trip to the synagogue something out of the ordinary happens.  “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’”  Jesus’ teaching is interrupted by this man possessed who makes one thing very clear.  Those demons knew who Jesus was and they shout it out for all to hear.  Jesus reaction is swift.  “Be quiet!,’ said Jesus sternly, ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”  Jesus does not waste much time to silence this man and then to free him, driving out the demons that possessed him.  
           
Yet here we run into one big question?  At least I do.  Why does it seem so bad that this man is yelling out?  I mean if it was someone pointlessly interrupting Jesus’ sermon, I could see how it would be a bad thing.  Or if it was something that Jesus wouldn’t want being said or a problem he couldn’t take care of it would be bad.  I appreciate it that none of you are yelling at me in the middle of this sermon, but Jesus was pretty well equipped to handle the situation.  And, you have to admit, the man was crying out something that was a fairly fitting Epiphany theme right?  This is the Holy One of God, would not be a surprising sermon theme for these verses today.  Couldn’t you say it was verification for Jesus that even the demons had to acknowledge who he was?  Yeah, we know Jesus wasn’t publically announcing he was the Christ quite yet, but it wasn’t like he was hiding either, with all the clues and signs he gave. And yeah, a demon’s testimony probably wasn’t the best source, but wasn’t the message still right on? Wasn’t this another great opportunity for Jesus to be verified as that promised Messiah?  Didn’t this verify
Jesus?
           
One of the reasons that it seems like a natural question to wonder if this was all bad, is that we are sometimes looking for just a tad more verification ourselves.  It’s not that we doubt Jesus is who he said he was.  We just would love to have a little bit more to put our minds at ease.  We  wonder what it would be like to see what Capernaum saw.  To see a demon driven out of a man at church, shrieks and all.  To watch as all types of diseases were cured in a touch.  To watch a lame man who had been lowered through the roof on a mat, pick up that mat and walk home.  We would love to see any of these things.  Just one more  verification.
           
But you know what we would rather see than any of those things happening in Capernaum?  We would really like to see a little verification in our lives.  To see that person we know miraculously recover from that illness that seems to be the end.  To watch as an amazing resolution unfolds to a gigantic problem that we are facing.  To have no doubt that this whole church thing matters as we witness God at work in our lives. Maybe it is just a little hindsight we want.  We are waiting on God to give us some understanding of why we went through what we went through and for it to be so obvious that we could draw the picture for all people to see.  We want to be able to verify Jesus right?  We want to see a little bit, feel a little more, and have the trump card to play when doubt comes calling in our minds.
           
Would any of those miracles be enough verification?  We sure think so!  But they weren’t for most of Capernaum.  What does Jesus say about that place where he gave such evidences that we would deem overwhelming?  “And  you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.”  None of those miracles in themselves overpowered unbelief in Capernaum. Jesus knew the limit of what those miracles did. They called for attention, but they weren’t the verification.  If they were, he would have done them all.  Jesus had not run himself out of opportunities to do more, but he knew they weren’t the point.  He didn’t view them as something he had to do to offer proof or a sign of who he was.  So no, the miracles aren’t what would be verification.
           
What about in your life?  What about the things you want to see for a little more assurance?  Sometimes we see such things. But let’s be fair.  We still see them by faith.  If you want to make the miracles of your life the reason why you know Jesus is who he says he is, then what about when the miracles don’t happen.  What about the times that someone could say, well that isn’t anything great, there are plenty of reasons why that happened.  Is this solid ground to stand on?  Wanting to find little  verifications in our lives.  Aren’t we building the verification of our Savior on something subjective?  Something that he doesn’t tell us to look at.  Something we want rather than what where he says to look.  And if we move our confidence in Jesus somewhere he hasn’t directed that confidence can be let down.  Jesus doesn’t say to you, I am always going to heal you the way you expect. He doesn’t say I am always going to show you what I am doing for you right now.  Such things can’t be the way we verify our Lord.  We open ourselves up to the sting of doubt when we say here is where my trust will be built.
           
Where does Jesus want us to look for his verification?  The same place he wanted those people in the synagogue in Capernaum
looking.  He wanted them to see his authority in his teaching.  That is why he shut up that demon so quickly, and yes, that showed his power, but it showed the power of his word.  He wanted those people to see how different his teaching was as he showed them this is what God says to you.  Don’t waffle on it.  This is not a matter of debate.  I the Son of the Most High have come to show you the truth.  That truth is what will vindicate me.  Build your confidence on me because of what I am teaching you. Because I am showing you what shall stand.
           
Jesus directs your eyes this morning to the same source for verification.  He wants you to look closely at his teaching. To see here is the one that Moses talked about.  The prophet who would arise from among the people to speak the Word of God.  Here is the one whose lips speak the very Words of God. Here is the one who gives you teaching that shall not fall to the ground or fail
you.  And see where he points you  in the middle of doubts.  Not to some miracle that you hope to see or think you see. He points you back to his words, the product of the miracle of  inspiration.  That words that are just as true for you and me today as they were when Jesus spoke them.  This is why we preach from this word.  This is why it serves as the sole basis of what we teach.  Because it is through these pages that God still speaks to us from our pulpit.  It is here where you find your certainty.  Your Jesus has said so, and because he has said it, there is no doubt that it is true. 
           
Let this Word be the source of your trust.  Let this Word be your help and stay in this life.  It shall not fail you.  The one who demonstrated his power over the devil and his demons says that here, in this word is where you will find him and will find the life that he has won for you.  When you are searching for someone to count on, someone who will never prove false to you, find your Savior speaking to you, reminding you of his great love for you. Pointing out to you who he is, the long awaited prophet, and preaching to you the good news of what it means that he has come.  Here, listen to his claims, that your sins have been washed away.  Here, listen to his statement that the doubts that have spotted your record and mine, those secret desires to see more have been banished by the truth of his life for you.  Here find the truth you are seeking, the one who teaches with authority as he teaches us today.
           
May this be the verification you are seeking today.  Not found in the calming of storms or the raising of the dead. But found in the teaching of your Savior, that shall not be changed despite heresies attacks.  That shall not fail you, no matter how hard this world and the devil try to convince you it will.  That shall not be made optional, even when our sinful nature tries to do that. Here is the certainty that is yours. The prophet has spoken, and your Jesus’ words to you will not fail.  Amen.

 
 
There is something especially hurtful about being forgotten.  Perhaps it is because you feel as if, “Well I must not even be important enough to that person to cross his mind.  If he remembered and didn’t care, well at least he acknowledged me.”  That’s the danger you have to watch if you plan a surprise birthday party right?  If you do too good of a job convincing the birthday person that you forgot her birthday and nothing is planned, the hurt, frustration, and anger might start to build up to the point
that even a great surprise can only get you back to even. There is something very hurtful about that thought, “Have you forgotten
  about me?”  Job was being tormented by that question.  
           
Job is a very interesting person in Scripture. Many of you might recognize his name and think of him as an example of patience.  We are quick to recall the first two chapters and the last few chapters of his book, but without making anyone raise their hand or putting anyone on the spot, how many chapters do you think Job’s books has?  The answer is 42 chapters.  And the Job that
we find in the middle is someone we can identify with.  Someone who is holding onto faith, but struggling with fear and doubt.
           
You may recall the incredible amount of disasters that took place in Job’s life. He faced big time loss.  As you read the first chapter, Job is confronted in rapid succession with the loss of his vast wealth of oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and worst of all, his ten children. He also faced big time suffering. He was afflicted with painful running sores all over his body to the point of it was relieving for him to take a broken piece of pottery and scrape himself with it.  Yet in an amazing display of faith, Job did not turn on God.  He said, “Naked I entered this world, naked I will depart. Shall I accept good from God and not trouble?”  Job continued to trust God.
           
It is here that many lose track of Job’s story.  The bulk of his book is conversations that Job has with his three friends named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Any expectant moms here today feel free to take those names.  But these three friends come to try and help Job. It starts out ok.  They sit in silent support of him for seven days. The trouble starts when they open their mouths. 
There are a lot of different points that come up in the three’s discourses with Job, but one main idea that sticks around is this.  Job, you must have done something wrong or God wouldn’t be punishing you. Repent of that sin you are hiding and everything will be great again for you.  
           
How does Job respond to them?  Well, again there are a lot of different points Job brings up that would take some in depth study.  Job might be a great book for us to study soon in Bible class.  But Job’s answer is essentially, “That can’t be right.” 
I know that I am sinful, but I also know that I trust God.  It isn’t some great sin I committed that caused this.  I was sinful before when I had so many blessings.  God knows my sin now.  Good rebuttal, but the only problem is Job doesn’t really have an answer either. And that is what leads him here to these verses.  His situation is a miserable one.  God I trust you.  But have you forgotten about me?
           
I said before that Job is someone that you can identify with, and I think that is true.  His suffering might be different from yours in intensity, but it’s not that different in frequency or type.  Look at how Job describes it.  Maybe you and I might use a different picture or two, but we get it right?  “Does not man have hard service on  earth?  Are not his days like those of a hired man? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me.” You and I both have things in our lives that we just can’t wait to be  done with.  I can’t wait till I graduate.  I can’t wait till I retire.  I can’t wait until this project or that project is done.  Life is tough.  It sometimes seems like all we are waiting for is it to be over.  Like the worker who can’t wait for five o’clock, we have nothing better sometimes than to dream about when this day is done. 
           
But we admit with Job, we really don’t find much relief for a very long time at least. “When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.”  Doesn’t our life always seem easier in another time?  I can’t wait for this time in my life to come, and then when it comes, we wish for the time that has past because it seems so much easier.  I am sure you have examples from your own life, when it just seems like one problem comes after another.  All we can console ourselves with is when will I move on. We lie down and can’t wait for morning. We wake and can’t wait to get back to sleep.
           
Job brings up two more sources of concern.  “My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.  My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope.”  Maybe you don’t have worms and
scabs right now, but our bodies suffer too.  We get hurt doing everyday activities.  We have big injuries that require lots of time to recover.  We get sick and feel miserable.  Bodies are worn out by disease.  
           
And our lives seem so quick.  We look back at the time that has flown past us, quicker than the cursor on our computer screens moving to the right.  We start to realize there might not be some big epic ending to them, but instead they might peter out with no seeming hope or purpose.  
           
Is that enough to make you cry out with Job?  Have you forgotten me God?  I know I am not sinless but I am your child.  I don’t see any hope or anything that will change some of the miserable things I have to face in my life.  Is the only answer that God has forgotten us?  Why else must such things take place?  Cry out with Job, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again."
           
But isn’t it foolish for us to think that God has forgotten us?  Isn’t it silly for the heartache of this sinful existence to convince us God isn’t aware of what we need?  You see, God hasn’t forgotten what he said.  He hasn’t forgotten the curse that he pronounced because of sin.  He hasn’t forgotten telling mankind that his days would be full of frustration and toil and sweat.  That he would spend his life working the ground and then return to the dust he came from.  He hasn’t forgotten what he told Eve, that the relationships that are so important to her would now be marred by sin’s touch and bring hurt and disappointment rather than perfect fulfillment and contentment.  There would be pain, yes in child birth, but in more ways than that. God has not forgotten what you and I experience now and what we will experience before our day draws to a close. We will experience the hopelessness of sin.
           
God has not forgotten you and me in our sinful state.  He knows and remembers exactly who were are and what our lives are like.  And he acted to give us hope.  He did not take action so that our days might be slightly more ease than work because that was not the answer for us.  He took action so that his Son’s work might bring you a purpose, even if your life seems to be nothing more than a gerbil wheel.  He remembered the pain and worry that sin would bring into your life.  And instead of whisking away one thing from your day to day existence, he gave you the answer that brings peace in the midst of sin’s battering.  His Son, Jesus Christ, took on flesh and blood so that he might know the burden of this life.  He lived and died for you, so that as you toss and turn and feel no peace in this life, that you can stand in the middle of such problems and fears and declare that you are at peace with God because the blood of his Son says so.  God remembered how brief are days would be and how marked by illness and weakness they are.  But instead of remembering to give you a few extra pain free days, he remembered to provide a solution to the weakness of sin.  A solution that was put into effect by his Son’s death, as that death makes your death the beginning of an eternity free from the pain brought about by sin. 
           
God did not forget you, no matter what is happening to you.  He remembered who you are and what you needed.  And so his Son came.  Teaching the good news to all that here was the promised Messiah who would atone for the first Adam’s disobedience.  The disobedience that brought sin and suffering and death in to your daily existence.  By the obedience of this Son you have the solution, even if you are a modern day Job.  See such sufferings not as evidences that God has forgotten you.  Oh no, they are evidences that God knew you and what you would face from eternity. They are evidences that the only solution that would bring real help was to be found in the death of his Son to bring you from this life of sin filled sorrow to one of eternal happiness.  Take heart dear Christian.  God has not forgotten you.  Cry out with Job, Remember Me O God, and see in Christ revealed, God’s promise that he has.  Amen.

 
 
What would you do for a Klondike bar?  Would you stand up during this sermon introduction and recite the books of the New Testament backwards?  Would you agree to sing a solo for verse one of our final hymn this morning?  Would you find a way to
beat me at the limbo contest at our Hawaiian Luau next week? Would you be willing to do one of these things for a Klondike bar?  That’s really a great slogan isn’t it?  You invite someone to think to themselves,“Hmm..would I do that for that treat?”  
 How important is it to me to get it.  Am I willing to risk embarrassment as I work my way through the New Testament books or to belt out that hymn verse? Am I willing to risk injury to humble pastor and beat him at the limbo?  It shows you just how valuable that treat is to you. Today, Mark’s gospel gets us thinking about what God is willing to do, and it’s not about what God is willing to do for an ice cream bar.  What is God willing to do for you?  
            
The man in our verses this morning knew exactly what he wanted Jesus to do for him.  “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’”  There is a lot said in this statement.  First of all, it shows that this man understands who Jesus was. Saying to him, “If you are willing you can heal me of leprosy,” is not the same as going to someone and saying to him, “If you are willing you can do ten jumping jacks. He was asking Jesus to do something that no one else could. Leprosy was a disease that sentenced the one who contracted it to a life of separation and hopelessness. 
There was no cure for it.  The people who had it were commanded by the law to stay away from people who were uninfected so it wouldn’t spread.  Whenever someone came near to them they were commanded to cry out in a loud voice, “Unclean, Unclean!” so everyone was aware of their situation.  No, leprosy was not something that was pretty, and it wasn’t something that any man could simply take care of.  When this man said to Jesus, hey, if you are willing you could cleanse me, he is saying loud and clear, Jesus, I know you are the Holy One and I know that you have divine power to help me.  You can do this.
           
But notice what else this man recognizes.  It is a matter of whether or not Jesus wills to do this.  He is acknowledging that Jesus could decide to do it or not, and it has nothing to do with his ability or power to accomplish it. I mean, we have read these verses once already and we will look at them some more, so we know what happens. We know the next verse says, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”  But this man didn’t know what would happen next.  We might wonder how he would have reacted, but that man definitely knew Jesus could have not healed him and it would have only been a matter of will. This man comes to Jesus and says, “I know who you are. I don’t know what your will is in this case, but if you wanted to, you could heal me.”

Does such an attitude exist in your heart toward your God?  Do we bring our problems to him humbly and eagerly and say Lord, if you are willing you can help me with this. If you are willing, you can give me my health back. If you are willing, you can give me a few good friends. If you are willing, you can help me find more work or better work.  If you are willing, you can grant success to this undertaking. If you are willing, you could give me this blessing that I have been waiting for so long for.  Lord, I know you have the ability to do any of these things for me.  It’s simply a matter of whether or not you are willing to do it.
           
Sometimes we do pretty well at that right?  We know who we are talking to in our prayers.  We know what he can do, which is everything.  We know he is going to listen.  But don’t we run into a sinful snag often in what we are willing to do in this regard? 
Sometimes we aren’t very quick to kneel down next to the leper.  We aren’t in a hurry to rush to God and drop a problem in front of him and say, Lord, if you wanted to you could take care of this.  Instead, what do we so often do?  Well we try to take care of it.  If we want to get healthy, we are going to try every medical means offered.  If we want new friends, maybe we try some new ways of social networking.  If we want a different job we start floating our name around.  If we want success we do everything we can to bring it about. None of those things are wrong. But do they ever hide something more sinful than we would want to admit.
           
You see, it’s not that we don’t think God could use his power and help us. It’s just that you and me, we have sorta gotten tired of God saying he’s not willing.  If every problem we brought before God he answered the way Jesus answered this leper, yup I’m willing, we would never stop bringing our problems to him would we?  But because there are times when God’s answer to our request is, no, I’m not willing, what have we done?  Don’t we judge which of our problems God might actually help us with?  Rather than bringing all of our cares to him, we have a feel worked out.  Ok, this is something God might actually do something about, I better pray about it. This is something that I will just have to do.  Or there are things that whenever we pray about them we tack on that phrase, in accordance with your will.  Nothing wrong with that.  It is good to pray for God’s will to be done.  But do we sometimes sneak that in there as God’s out?  That we ar  convinced that God isn’t going to do anything about this problem, that he isn’  willing, and we don’t want it to look like he blew it.  Is the reason that we don’t act more like this leper, and bring our problems to God and dump them there and say, God if you are willing to take care of these, because deep down we have doubts that there is even a chance he is going to say, yes I am willing?  
          
But why do you doubt what God is willing to do for you?  Is it because you don’t get the chance the leper did?  You don’t get to throw yourself down at Jesus feet and say, Lord if you are willing?  But dear Christian, you do get that opportunity.  And before we look at that, isn’t it amazing to think about that God has told you what he is willing to do for you?  Before you and I could say anything to God about what he wills to do or not, he revealed his will to the world.  He revealed that he was willing to provide an answer to the problem of sin.  He revealed that he was willing to send his Son to stand in front of a leprous man, more than that to touch and cleanse him.  Why?  Because his will was for people to take  notice of who this was.  His will was for you and me to see the Son of God revealed for our certainty.  His will was for his Son to show himself as the Lamb of God and then to die as that Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.  God willed that his glory and grace be revealed to all through Christ. And his will was done.
           
And now God has a more detailed will for you.  What God is willing to do is to listen to your every need.  To be the one that you can cast all your anxieties on. Yes, your big life shaping problems, but also your daily cares and  concerns.  Your daily challenges that the hardest part sometimes is simply getting up for them.  God is willing to do anything for you.  He is willing to even say no to you.  Notice the emotion Jesus shows here.  He is overwhelmed with pity for this poor man.  He knows the life that he has had to live and the shame of it.  When you come and present your problems to God, know that he cares.  He is seized by his love and compassion for you.  If you doubt it, look at what he was willing to do for you through Christ. And because of that great love he has for you, he may say to you, “I am  not willing.”  What you are asking to be resolved is serving a good purpose for you. You can’t see it now, but I do.  I know it is what’s best for you.  Trust me.  God sometimes says I am not willing, even though he knows it opens the door for us to sinfully doubt him and his power.  But see his great mercy.  He is still willing to forgive us for such doubts.  He is still willing to forgive us for struggling with our selfish doubts and fears.  He is still willing to
cleanse us again from our sins, a much more miraculous work than healing a leper.
          
What God is willing to do for you is everything.  Trust his power and his wisdom.  And as you see him carry out his will for you that centers on the forgiveness Christ won, go and tell others about what God wills for them.  The leper was supposed to offer the sacrifices and show himself to the priest, that would have been the powerful testimony Jesus wanted him to give.  Instead he talked up the miraculous healing and it made Jesus’ ministry adjust.  God is willing to cleanse sinners like you and me. He is willing to wash us of the sins that we continue to struggle with.  He is willing to rinse us and make us holy.  He has the same will for the other people in your life, those who like us have problems and sins.  We don’t need to wonder, “God are you willing to forgive me?  Are you willing to forgive this person?”  God’s answer is a resounding yes.  May God help us to go and give our testimony to the world around us of what our God was willing to do for us.  And may we continue to place all things before God and say, “Lord, whatever your will is for me, do it.  And to you be praise.”  Amen.
 
 
When is the best time for you to pick up around the house?  Now I don’t want to put words in your mouth this morning.  Maybe you have a scheduled time each week, that during this hour of this day you make sure stuff isn’t lying around at home.  Maybe you don’t have to set a time like that because in your mind it is always time to pick things up.  If you make a mess or set some mail on the table, you always take care of it right away.  You don’t clean up clutter because you don’t give clutter time to accumulate.  If you are in one of those schools of philosophy or even one better, I am happy for you.  But for me, and I am going to guess maybe a few of you here this morning, the best time to pick up around the house is when someone is coming over.  We morph into a frenzied ball of activity 30-45 minutes before company comes over.  Taking care of items that have sat at rest for days or maybe even weeks.  When it is all said and done and your company comes in and is impressed with how organized your home is, you are somewhat surprised with them because you haven’t had time to stop and consider how it looks following your whirlwind cleaning.  When is the best time to get your life ready for Jesus?  We saw last week, that every moment is a good time to be watching, because he is going to come and we don’t know when.  Today as our focus shifts to John the Baptist and his message, we want to consider when and how we can clean our lives up and get them set for our Lord’s coming.  When is the right time for us to turn things around, from sin and the ugliness of it, to holiness and the purity that God demands?

            The time to turn had come for the people in Judah and Jerusalem.  That was clear with the appearance of the messenger.  We heard in Isaiah chapter 40 this morning, how already at that time God promised to send a messenger that would prepare the way for the glory of God to be revealed.  Mark doesn’t leave it for you and me to miss the connection does he?  He lays it out right at the beginning of his Gospel.  “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  John was the one long foretold who would mark the Lord’s appearance. 

And his message was geared to get the people to turn.  He preached repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.  He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  His message was turn from what you have been doing and saying.  Turn from sin and turn to the one coming after me.  John’s baptism brought the people repentance and forgiveness of sins.  John’s baptism and preaching were needed because John knew that the One coming after him was close at hand.  He focused the people’s attention there when he would say, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  John urged the people to repent because Christ was coming.

The time for us to turn has come as well.  We have just as much of a reason to heed John’s message as the original hearers, if not more.  We find ourselves in a time in which we need to prepare.  We need to prepare for our celebration of Christ’s birth.  And our preparation is more than just making sure we have our lists checked off and houses cleaned up.  Our preparation for Christmas is getting our hearts ready to see our newborn Savior.  And we also know that now is the time to prepare for our Lord’s second coming.  John will not show up again preaching to us, repent for Christ is coming.  He does that to you and me right now.  The Advent messenger still cries out to you and me through these pages, turn from sin.  Turn from your hardness of heart and your mishandling of God’s commands.  Turn from such things and get ready because the Great One is coming behind me.

John implores you and me to see today as the time to turn.  The time to repent.  Do you?  Do you and I think about repentance very often?  And if we think about the word, do we actually do it or could we be guilty of lazy repentance?  What do you think about when we confess our sins together at the beginning of church?  Is it just one particular sin that bothers you that stands out in your mind or do you consider what you are saying when you confess you have disobeyed in thoughts, words, and actions?  When you do something that you know is contrary to God’s will during your week what do you do?  Do we let that sin pass with maybe a thought of, “oh I shouldn’t have done that,” and not much else?  Do we actually take the time to acknowledge that what I did was sinful and I need God’s gracious forgiveness for it?  Do we even attempt to leave behind the sins that we fall into regularly?  Not that our forgiveness is conditioned by never doing that sin again, but could you honestly say that you were making every effort not to fall again.  Or is it not a big deal?  Is daily repentance really how we live our lives or would it be more accurate to talk about “spot cleaning” repentance?  We will occasionally fess up to something and try to leave it.

Don’t you know who is coming?  The one for whom John the Baptist was unworthy to even untie his sandals.  What will you do if he comes and your life is not in order by repentance?  If you are racing around trying to clean and put things away, how does it feel when suddenly that company pulls into the driveway ten minutes early?  A sinking feeling if there ever was one.  How will you feel when your Lord finds you unprepared for his coming?  When he finds a life that is still wallowing in the mire of sin.  When we don’t take this time to turn from sin.

May you never find out what that would feel like.  But then let us take today to get ready.  Let us take today to turn from sin.  To repent.  How do we carry that out?  The way that we prepare for our Savior’s birth, the way we make the path straight for him, is by seeing how much we need him.  We honor the coming Savior when we see how much sin is a part of our life and our existence.  How often we do the things we don’t understand why we do.  How frequent are the thoughts that we don’t know why we think.  How abundant are the words that we don’t mean to say.  And then there are the sins that we enjoy!  The things we have rationalized and made small or not even really sinful anymore.  Finally, there are the big sins, the ones that we have to just try to forget about or pretend didn’t happen because if we acknowledge them or look at them we are crushed by the guilt of them. 

Prepare your heart for the coming of the Savior!  Don’t act like these problems don’t exist for you.  Don’t pretend that you are doing what God demands of you in his Holy Law.  Don’t close your eyes to your sins because you are afraid of them.  Turn from them.  Turn from them by seeing them for what they are.  Horrendous offenses to the holy and eternal God.  This sight of your sins is accomplished in your heart by the power of God’s Word and it is this sight that prepares you to welcome your Savior.  It is the truth of your sinfulness that sets your hearts utter and utmost desire on a Savior, who has been born to you.  As God’s message of repentance takes hold of your life, it is also what brings you to daily trust in this Savior who came once and is coming again.  Let today be the day that you understand that the reason you do those things you can’t believe you do is because of a sinful nature that still frustrates you.  But let it be the day that you see a God who did what the world can’t believe He did when he sent his Son to pay for those actions.  Let today be the day that you see those daily weaknesses not as small unimportant things, but constant reminders that God’s work of repentance in you is not a one time and done, but is your very life.  Let today be the day that you are no longer shocked by the big sins of your life, but let it be the day that you are shocked that Christ’s blood would cover those as well.  Let today be the day to turn.

God has equipped you and will work in you.  One of the powerful works that God places in your hands is your baptism.  John’s baptism brought repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Your baptism does as well.  Remind yourself daily of what your baptism means for you.  It means power to repent.  It means God’s power at work in you as you recall the gracious promises he made to you in your baptism.  That you are his dear child.  That sin need not control you any longer.  That he has washed your sins away.  Daily return to the waters of your baptism by daily enjoying the power God unleashes there.  The power of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  A power that is rooted in baptism connecting you to your coming Savior.

I am not going to tell you today how you should go about the business of keeping your house clean.  If you like me want to roll the dice and hope we can finish up before the doorbell rings, may your tidying be swift.  But let us together remember what our God encourages us when it comes to repentance.  It is not a last minute ditch effort before he shows up.  It is to be your way of life, as you daily see your sins in God’s law and turn from them.  As you daily are renewed in the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ’s life and death that he carried out in his first coming.  This is why we can say with certainty that now it’s time to turn, because your God is eager for you to grow in holiness as you daily see and reject sin’s power, and as you daily trust in Christ’s forgiveness, the power of your turning.  Amen.