Advent 2, Dec. 6, 2020

The first four verses of our reading from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel will serve as the basis fo r this morning’s message: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your
way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths
straight,’” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins. Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

John’s words have echoed throughout the generations, calling God’s wandering and rebelling
children to do something exceedingly important: REPENT! And while it is easy for me and you
to sit here and say, “Yep… there are a lot of people out there who need to repent. I hope they’re
listening!”, I say to you and me: REPENT! This is an important theme of Advent, not just Lent.

As we prepare for Christ’s coming, let’s not think about the specks in the eyes of those around
us-- even if we think there are some awfully big specks. Here and now let’s consider the very
large beams in our own eyes. God is calling His wandering and rebelling children gathered
here, and those who might be watching and listening later on, to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in
assessing the depth of our woundedness and sin. After all, the first step in healing is diagnosis.
And before we do the painful work of diagnosis, we begin with the end in mind… “the end” in
two ways. The first is, as our text proclaims, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance
prepares us for the receiving of grace. And as we have noted many times before, we do well to
not try to hide or minimize the depth and breadth of our sinful woundedness. We remember
what Jesus had to say in Luke 7, pointing to the extravagant actions of a prostitute who anointed
Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears as being the result of a great love inspired by her being
forgiven of her many sins, adding that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Being forgiven despite the large plank in our own eye makes the concept of grace truly amazing
and exceedingly powerful… even life-changing. As a matter of fact, that is the second end we
have in mind: repentance leading to forgiveness leads to transformation; it involves turning and
heading in a new direction. We are to see that our Father’s will is that our response to the gift of
grace is to be obedience. As we focused on a couple of week’s ago, Paul lays out the sequence
in Ephesians 2, pointing that we are saved by grace through faith for good works.

And that is our take off point this morning for this process of repentance. Yes, there is almost
certainly plenty of wrong-doing on our part—what we call the sins of commission. This is the
evil we do in our thoughts, words, deeds… which is what we become aware of when we do the
kind of deep thinking stimulated by Jesus’ teaching regarding our being murderers when we are
angry or call someone else a fool, or being guilty of adultery when we look at someone with
lustful thoughts. And this kind of reasoning can be applied to all of the commandments. Yep, I
can only speak for myself, but there is plenty of evil and guilt on my record.

But I’d like us to keep digging, with our focus extending to guilt we incur because of all of the
good we fail to do. For example, when we recently heard Jesus speak of welcoming His sheep
to receive the inheritance prepared for those who had cared for the “least of these” through
deeds of radical compassion and generosity, how adequate has our caring for the needy been?

And let’s bring it closer to home. When the need for more and more of our members of our
church family to discover, develop, and deploy the gifts and resources entrusted to them by our
Abba Father to further our mission and ministry are laid out before us—as they have been in
recent weeks—how adequate has been our response? How many of us have listened to and
responded to our calling to go deeper in our faith relationship with God and our grace-inspired
discipleship and stewardship?

If our response has been lukewarm at best, or simply inadequate, then we need to hear John’s
urgent plea and REPENT. A lack of good works is not okay. No, not good works done in order
to merit salvation, but down because of the salvation won for us at exceedingly great cost. The
truth is, we repent for the forgiveness of sin. All our failures, weaknesses, and inadequacies
have been covered by the blood of Jesus, washed away and forgotten.

You see, this remains the primary mode and motive for growing our discipleship, our following
of Jesus. As a preacher, I could have stopped before grace and sought to capitalize on whatever
guilt or shame or fear you may be experiencing during this process of repentance, and told you
that it is time to shape up lest you be shipped out.

My primary message could have concluded with the use the words of our second reading from 2
Peter which asks this question: “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and
godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will
be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?” Or I could cite any number of
other texts, including words St. Paul and from Jesus Himself, which point to the need for good
works to follow our faith. Yep, I could really put the pressure on!

However… my understanding as a Lutheran theologian is that the primary use of the Law as
pronounced throughout the Scriptures is to create within us an awareness of our sin and guilt in
order to prepare us to hear and experience the truly amazing grace, mercy, and love of our Abba
Father, demonstrated in the servant life, horrific death, and incredible resurrection of our Brother
Jesus, brought to bear in our hearts and lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Love and
gratitude are to be the fuel for our good works.

The second-longest off-Broadway musical had a title that would be perfect of this sermon (if
my sermons had titles)-- “I Love You, You’re Perfect… Now Change.” Once the Law does its
work of stimulating repentance, the sweet Gospel message from our Lord is just that: “I Love
You, You’re Perfect… Now Change.” Jesus comes to us and says, “This is how much I love
you, with arms outstretched to receive nails which some believe held me to a cross. But it was
not the nails that held me there… it was my love for you.”

In grace, we experience the great exchange: Jesus received our sin and unrighteousness—and
the punishment and death that it earns, and we receive the righteousness of Jesus and His status
as a child of God. We are made perfect in the eyes of God.

He loves us, we’re perfect… now, let’s change! Let’s respond to God’s love with love expressed
in both worship and service, respond to His great compassion with growing compassion, to His
radical generosity with radical generosity. Let us commit to growing deeper in faith, moving
forward in discipleship and more faithful in our grateful following of Jesus. Amen.

  January 2021  
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