A repentance/Forgiveness primer
December 6th & 7th, 2008
What do Ed McMahan, an opening act, and the straight man of a comedy duo have in common? They are there to warm up and/or make someone else look better. For Ed McMahan it was to laugh at Johnny’s Carson’s jokes, for the opening act it is to get people ready for the “main event”, and for the straight man in a comedy duo his or her job is to feeds lines to the “funny man” who then makes comedic replies. I never thought I’d find the day when Ed McMahan and John the Baptist would be spoken of in the same sentence, but here it is. John the Baptist was the forerunner, he was the one “calling from the desert” paving the way for the Savior of the world. His message still speaks to us today.
We live in an age of advertisements, and age of hidden agendas. The commercialism of our time, can make even the most mundane everyday products seem essential to our existence. We have reality TV, but we know that many of these shows are scripted as much or even more as a “regular program”. What is true, good, and necessary is not as clear as we would like it to be. Trust is at the basis of our relationships, and frankly even of our economy. Yet, to often this trust is dashed early on in life as those who are supposed to be trustworthy disappoint us, fail us, and sadly even bring us harm. The whole credit system, stock market, and to a certain extent banking system is based on a trust, that each party will fulfill what they said we can do. Right now the credit crunch, is for better or worse, a clear example of breakdown in trust. People can so easily trust or rely on the wrong things, people, philosophies and when they are disappointed that these things don’t bring them what is desired, they can become cynical, and basically live trusting in themselves, but not much else.
Into this world of falsehoods, and crisis of real trust, John the Baptist speaks the truth. He certainly isn’t in it for himself. He is not someone the children grow up and say, boy I’d like to be like him. He looked funny, ate odd things, and he lived as a loner in an almost inhabitable location. Yet, when he spoke he spoke the authentic truth. This truth was first found in people recognizing what God already recognizes. That is our sinful state, and therefore need of repentance. When we confess our sins, both known and unknown, and even our inborn sin, we are not telling God something he doesn’t already know. It is simply saying back, or silently praying to him, that indeed we are unclean. This is the way this relationship (point up to Christ, and him back to us) always works. We come in the truth of our unworthiness. Notice that John’s message of repentance was for everyone in front of them. This included religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees, as well as the nice outwardly nice Gentiles, and even the openly even Gentiles. For us today, this includes regular church goers, those here once in a while, and even those brand new to the congregation. This includes those who have been part of the faith for 50 years, as well as those who have been part of the kingdom, less than one. What other relationship in our life, starts out with our unworthiness. If we were start a friendship in this fashion, who would want to be around us. Yet through the prophet, the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist we are in fact called to baptismal repentance. That is a change of heart, and a change of mind. This repentance takes place in the wilderness, assuming that this is where we live. Ultimately what we think about ourselves, what others think of us, does not matter nearly as much as what God says, and through John the Baptist we are called to repent.
John the Baptist, didn’t care what anyone thought. In other places he calls the religious leaders a ‘Brood of Vipers”, his ultimately demise comes when he tells the king about an illicit relationship, and soon thereafter he loses his life in a rather gruesome way.
John the Baptist spoke the truth, ultimately about the one who is the way, the truth and the life. One mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie is coming to town. All talk of sin, all talk of repentance, ultimately is intended to lead to one person, to make clear that this Jesus more than makes up the difference for the failures in our lives. The truth is, that this one of whom John the Baptist is not worthy to stoop down and unite, is also the one gets a great thrill at stooping down and untying our shoes. He is the one like a shepherd, gathers the lambs, his repentant lambs, into his arms. He is the one who gently leads sinners along the way. He is the one who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. This is the truth, and this is for you and me. You shall know the truth, the bible says, and the truth shall set you free.
We are here this morning/evening because God is in the truth business. Through John the Baptist he wants us to know the truth about ourselves, and the even greater truth of one who has come, and is to come.
What will he bring? He will bring with him not just an outward change, but a baptismal change accompanied by the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit who hovered over the waters that led the people in the desert with a cloud at night and a pillar of fire by day. This same spirit that would be with Mary as she was told she would have a child. This same Spirit accompanies this Jesus, and it is this Spirit, his counselor that allows us to believe that indeed this Jesus is for us and not against us. “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit”. This same Spirit that was bestowed at the font, is the same Spirit that will keep us strong to the end so that we will be blameless on the day of our lord Jesus Christ.
It’s all about the truth. The truth is repentance is simply part of our life. The truth is that, our relationship with God always begins with this assessment “we are unworthy servants”, and the greatest truth that the one whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, in fact comes down and leads us to himself. Thanks be to God for the message of John the Baptist, and the Jesus he points us to. Amen.