Archive for January 22nd, 2012

It’s Not What You Feel, But What You Know That Matters!

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

3rd Sunday in Epiphany B, January 22, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 11:4-20

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.” [Mark 1:15]

What does a traveling preacher with a divine call and one of the most sinful cities known to man have in common?  Both were separated from  God because of their sins, and both heard God’s invitation to turn to Him for forgiveness and faith, and they did; both are examples of  repentance!

Many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah.  God ordered him to go to one of Israel’s arch enemies and announce the need to repent or be  destroyed.  Jonah threw a fit; he didn’t want them to repent, he wanted them to be destroyed, so he booked passage on the nearest freight ship  intending to get as far away from Nineveh as possible.  Why?  Because he knew the LORD “is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and  abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  In other words, he knew that if his enemy repented God would even love and forgive  them!  Isn’t that something?  At the expense of his own salvation, Jonah refused to play a part in bringing salvation to an entire city.

Well, eventually Jonah did repent, but it took the help of an angry boat crew who threw him overboard and the God  directed presence of a big  fish or whale, that swallowed him and safely spit him up at the shores of the very place he was trying to run from… Nineveh!  Through God’s  work in the circumstances of Jonah’s life, Jonah was put back on course for Nineveh and salvation; he returned to the call and will of God.

Now if you think that was miraculous, what about the entire city of Nineveh repenting?  That’s huge!  Christians throughout our nation have  been praying for that to happen right here in the good old US of A, and well, it hasn’t happened yet!  Abortion is still legal, even though God  say’s it is an evil abomination.  So if we as a nation haven’t repented yet, then what happened to save Nineveh?  Well, it was the very same thing that caused Jonah to repent; the Word and work of God.

The people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, both the law and the gospel.  The law was the Word of truth that the Living God was angry with their sin and about to destroy their entire city.  The gospel was the truth that this same living God was giving them 40 days to repent, to turn and confess their sinfulness and receive mercy and forgiveness.  Through both the law and the gospel, God created faith in a city full of faithless hearts.  In the darkness of sin, He created a city of light!  Could that happen in this country?  Could we ever repent of the sin of abortion?  Yes, but only through the work of God causing us to repent and turn to His forgiving love!

So what is repentance?  Really it’s a person’s pain over their sins and a turning of faith to a God who will show mercy and forgiveness.  It’s realizing that everything that you’ve done apart from God and faith in Him, is nothing but evil and darkness.  Everything?!  Yes, everything!  God’s Word confirms it, listen:  “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one!” [Romans 3:10—12]

Do you understand what that means?  It means that no matter how hard you try to change your life, to become a better person, you will never succeed in pleasing God!  Why?  Because God can see into your heart; he knows that whatever you do or try to do will be self-serving; that is you will only be trying to save your own skin!  Just as it didn’t matter if the whole city of Nineveh voted and decided to take care of the poor with their vast amount of wealth, God was still going to destroy not just the city but everyone who lived in it!  Even if they decided to never make war again, and even if they freed every one of the slaves from every country they ever conquered, God was going to destroy them, unless… unless they confessed that they deserved His punishment and acknowledged that the true and Living God was the only one who could save them.  But this work of repentance, this one work that was pleasing to God was impossible for them to do, unless… unless God desired it to happen.  And here is the miracle, God did desire that very thing, so he created faith in the hearts of all of those sinful people through the preaching of Jonah; He created faith  so they could see the truth about their sins and turn to the LORD who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  When they turned to God’s forgiving heart He relented from bringing down punishment for their many sins.

Now, there are some here this morning who are in the very same predicament as the people of Nineveh.  You’ve been living a lie; you’ve been telling yourself that if you try real hard to live a good life, God will see that and help you to be better.  But like I said, that’s a lie.  You have to see, like the people of Nineveh had to see that you can’t do better; you can never get rid of all of the evil that is in your heart.  You can’t erase all of the sins you’ve committed and you can’t prevent the sins you’re going to commit.  So what are you going to do?  Nothing but the only good work that God counts as righteous; you must by faith turn to God and confess that He is right and you are wrong.  You must call out to God for mercy and pardon and do what He tells you!

And that friends is the obstacle you can never overcome unless God wills it; unless He creates faith within your heart to see this narrow doorway into His kingdom of forgiveness and peace.  It’s like the little boy who got His hand stuck in His mother’s expensive vase.  His parents tried everything to free him; they tried soap, cooking oil, lard, even engine grease, but nothing worked.  Reluctantly, the father went to the garage to get a hammer to break this expensive vase.  It was then, when the boy asked one simple question that changed everything: “Dad, would it help if I let go of the quarter I dropped into the vase?”

And that is what some of you need to do this morning.  You need to let go of your own efforts to please God and do the one and only thing that will; you need to hear Him speaking to you this morning and let go of the ways of this sinful world and turn to His forgiving heart and be freed, changed, forgiven, and loved!  You need to agree with God that you can’t change yourself, and that your only hope is for you to allow Him to change you!

In our gospel lesson this morning, God’s only means of salvation is made to stand right in front of us and speak the only Word’s that will make us right with God!  “The time is fulfilled” Jesus said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.”  What time is he speaking of?  The time when God will bring both judgment and salvation.  The time that everyone, including the evil city of Nineveh was waiting for… the time of God’s final work; God’s solution to sin.  It is the time to repent and believe.  Believe in what?  Well, the better question is: Believe in Who?  You see the what and the who are the very same thing.  Believe in the good news of God’s forgiving love; believe in the Living Word of God Who is telling you that through Him alone, God will forgive you and save you from your many sins!  Believe in Jesus Christ!

As Jesus spoke to the people in Galilee, He not only proclaimed God’s forgiveness, He demonstrated it.  Standing before them was God in human flesh; their only means of forgiveness and salvation.  What must they do to be saved?  The very same thing we must do; hear the Words of eternal life and receive them.  Repent and believe.  Even now, God is working within our hearts to provide faith, faith to receive this message and live.  Jesus is inviting you to let go of your past and to receive your future.

Listen to this poem by Theodore Brennan and see if it doesn’t describe your life and your heart as well: “I looked upon a farm one day, that once I use to own; The barn had fallen to the ground, the fields were overgrown.  The house in which my children grew, where we had lived for years—I turned to see it broken down, and brushed aside the tears.  I looked upon my soul that day to find it too had grown, with thorns and nettles everywhere, the seed(s) neglect had sown.  The years had passed while I had cared for things of lesser worth; the things of Heaven I let go while minding things of earth.  To Christ I turned with bitter tears, and cried, “O Lord forgive!  I haven’t much time left for Thee, not many years to live.  The wasted years forever gone, the days I can’t recall; if I could live those days again, I’d make Him Lord of all!”

Friends, if that is how you feel, then God is working a mighty work in your heart right now.  That pain you feel over your wasted life, your sinful life is called contrition.  Now the only thing left for you to do is hear God’s gospel Word and receive His forgiveness.  You are forgiven!  Leave those feelings of regret behind and turn to Jesus Christ and live.  You see, it’s not about what you feel, or even how you felt in the past, instead it’s about what God says to you now… you are forgiven through Jesus Christ!

You know, we’re all a lot like Jonah when you think about it.  We have been forgiven and loved by God.  We’ve been washed clean in the waters of our baptism, and yet we can get caught up in our own anger and disappointments to the point where we can no longer see Jesus upon the cross crucified for us.  We can sometimes get to a place where we no longer see the miraculous life giving work God did for us in our baptism.

And now, here is Jesus standing before us in His Word, saying to even we life-long Christians, “Repent and believe.”  Put to death that old angry and sinful nature that was drowned in your baptism and turn to God’s forgiving love; a love which can only be yours by turning to Jesus.  That was the only work that the people of Nineveh could do that pleased God and it is the only work that we as Christians can do.

When you let go of how you feel, and grab onto Jesus and His Word and believe that He alone is your source of hope and salvation, something amazing begins to happen… you begin to change.  The good things that you use to wish you could do but failed become the very things you can do.  And as you do these good things, God begins to give you right feelings to replace your old feelings of guilt, anger, and disappointment.  He gives you a feeling of peace and satisfaction, as you realize that it isn’t you doing these good things, but God doing them in you and through you!  That’s the message that saved all of Nineveh from their sins, it’s the message that’s saving you, and it’s the message that can save even our great nation from the sins of abortion and many others.  All it takes is turning to God in repentance and receiving His forgiving love as we forget the sins of the past and embrace God’s will.

So you see, it really isn’t about what you feel, but it’s about what you know.  And what is it that you know?  In God there is forgiveness; there is new life when you receive Jesus’ work upon the cross, His suffering, death, and resurrection, as your only source of hope and peace in this life and the life to come.  I pray that you will hear Jesus message of repentance and not just believe it but share it with your neighbors.  I pray that you will let this forgiveness of God cause you to be salt and light, as you continue to speak the things of God even to your elected officials, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!