Message from the Desert

John the Baptist, some would say an unlikely messenger of God, but is he? If we were to see someone like John, all scraggly looking with old worn clothes preaching the word of God we probably wouldn't listen to him would we?

Well, in some ways it's hard to believe the people of his day would, after all John was very different from the other religious leaders of the time. Not only did he look and dress differently, his attitude and message were very clearly different from the other religious leaders. While many of the other religious leaders were greedy, selfish and preoccupied with winning the praise of the people, John was only concerned with the praise of God.

John lived differently to show folks that his message was new and fresh, and was very different from what the people were currently hearing from the religious authorities.

John came preaching a powerful, prophetic, and truthful message of repentance, a message calling people to change their behavior. He was telling folks that they needed to turn away from their self-centered ways, because they led to wrong actions such as lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, taking revenge, abusing others, and sexual immorality.

John was telling people they needed to move away from all of this sin, and turn to God by following God's way of living, as defined in the scriptures. John urged folks to admit their sin before God, and then to allow God to receive them and help them live the proper way.

John's message was true then and is still true today. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all are sinners, and we all are in need of God's forgiveness and help.

As I reflect on what John was telling the folks in Judea it's very clear to me that John's message can be summed up simply by saying, "we need to change." We're going down the wrong path, we need to turn away from the ways of this world and turn back to God.

But how can we change, it's hard sometimes to change from the way we've always done something, or to change in a way that perhaps causes us to be different from our friends, our family, and society in general. And as we get older we seem to believe changing gets harder.

Well, change is hard, but change is always possible, regardless of situation or age. Yes change takes time, patience, and perseverance, but with the empowering grace of God leading and encouraging us, change can occur.

Some people hide behind the excuse that they just can't change saying, "I grew up this way and I'm not about to change now." But the truth is, it's never too late to change. And change is important to our very existence.

Did you know that change is essential to growth. If we stop changing, we stop growing, and if we stop growing we're in trouble. What do you call a tree, bush or plant that's stopped growing? Dead! And it's no different with people, if we stop growing, we start dying. Some of us know people who stopped growing years ago. Granted we might not have buried them yet, but they really died several years ago because they aren't willing to consider change in their lives.

A famous inventor once said, "The world hates change, yet it's the only thing that's brought progress." The church, in general, doesn't like change either. But if the church doesn't change, the congregation dies and the doors will eventually close.

So the question we each have to ask ourselves is, "what changes do I need to make in my life to grow and to move closer to God, and how open am I to making these changes?"

When we refuse to change we're refusing to follow God's leading in our life, and as a result our lives can become pretty miserable, not because God makes our lives miserable, but because we've decided to take a path not of God, sowe get caught up in things, or do things that creates the misery we experience. And sadly, many of us won't change until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.

Before technology changed the way we navigate on the water, bullhorns and whistles were used to communicate from ship to ship. Well one day, a large armored battleship was slowly making its way through uncharted waters in a fog-covered bay.

Suddenly through the fog the captain noticed what appeared to be a light off in the distance heading right towards him. Quickly, he grabbed his megaphone and shouted, "This is Admiral so and so of the United States Navy, steer yourself 10 degrees south. We're on a collision course, and I'm coming through with priority orders."

Through the fog the admiral heard a faint reply, "This is seaman umpty scratch, you steer 10 degrees to the north."

The admiral got very upset saying to himself, "I'm an admiral and this seaman is telling me what to do, who in the world does he think he is?" So turning up his megaphone the admiral yelled, "This is admiral so and so of the United States Navy, you steer your vessel 10 degrees south, I'm coming through!"

Well, through the fog came the reply. "This is seaman umpty scratch, you steer yourself 10 degrees to the north." By now the admiral was fuming and yelled, "I said steer yourself 10 degrees south immediately, I'm a battleship!"

Through the fog can an unwavering voice. "This is seaman umpty scratch, steer yourself 10 degrees north, I'm a light house."

Our approach to life is like the rudder of a ship. And we can either be ruled by the rudder making the necessary course corrections as we go, or we can be stubborn and ego-centric eventually allowing ourselves to be ruled by the rocks. The choice is ours.

If we refuse to change, for whatever reason, we're in trouble. And if we think we can't change, we won't have the faith to change, even if change is possible. On the other hand, if we believe we can change then the Lord can say, "Now you've got the faith so let's get to work."

The willingness to repent and the desire to make the necessary changes in our life releases the Lord to do his work. God is always willing to work in us and through us, if we will just give him something to work with. If we say we can't, then we won't have the faith to cooperate with God's attempts to bring wholeness and healing to our lives. Our stubbornness and lack of faith ends up interfering with God's work in us.

So do you believe you can change? Well, we must believe we can. We must believe that our hearts can change, that our attitudes can change, that life can be better. God is able, the question is are we willing to repent, are we open to changing those things in our life that are not of God, are we willing to prepare ourselves anew for the coming of the Lord? This really is the heart of our Gospel message today.

It's a hard message to hear, but quit frankly, God has no use for people who call themselves Christian but then do nothing about it. Like many people in John the Baptists day who were God's people in name only, we are of no value if we're Christians in name only. But we can change, it's never too late. We can become the productive, fruit-bearing witnesses God calls us to be.

In just a few minutes we will all be invited to share in the Lord's Supper. To United Methodists the Lord's Supper is more than a remembrance; it's a time when we commune with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and a time when we commune with the real presence of Christ.

Now Christ isn't present through the physical change in the bread and wine. We believe the change in the bread and wine is a spiritual change, and we believe by taking part in the Lord's Supper we become "one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world."

During our time of Holy Communion, I invite you to seek God's forgiveness of you sin, ask God to help you change where change is needed, and commit yourself to following Jesus Christ and experience his saving grace.

Listen to the message from the desert. Prepare yourself, Jesus is coming! Thanks be to God.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade