Sunday, 7 December 2014

Into the Wild- Trying to get out of the mess

I preached a child-centered (and hopefully Christ focused) sermon this week that won't really work as a blog, so I thought I would share an older advent sermon. If you would like to hear the children's sermon it is here- SERMON

I saw a movie last week called “Into the Wild”. It is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. When he was 22, he graduated from college, and then walked away from his privileged life and disappeared from his friends and family. He burned his identification. He disposed of his car. Burned all the money in his wallet, and gave his savings of over $20,000 to charity.

While on the road he spends his days hitchhiking and taking odd jobs. As the movie unfolds we learn that Christopher is running away from a life of lies. He learns that his parents lied about how they met. His parents met in an adulterous relationship. His father left his wife to marry his mistress, who was Christopher’s mother. He learns that he has siblings that he has never met. He becomes suspicious of society. In his view it seemed to be a complex arrangement of lies and illusion. He was suspicious of consumerism and refused to buy into the World’s idea of success. He eventually gets sick of it all and wants to run into the wild. He wants to escape the sinful world. He wants to abandon the lies, and so in 1992 he heads for Alaska to live in the wild. He wants to live alone, off the land, in some pure state, away from the polluted, self-deluded, and sinful world.

He is one in a long line of people through the ages. Many have sought to escape the world and all its trappings; its seemingly pointless politics; its web of lies and false relationships; its unending complexity. They have sought to escape the lax morals and blatant cruelty; people abusing children; commercials saying you need this thing to be successful, or beautiful, or desirable, or cool.

I can relate to his desires. The problems of the world are just too big. Let’s just go somewhere, a place in nature, untouched where there are no people, where we can live in peace and simplicity. There maybe the problems can be dealt with. At least there you can get your head around the problems. What do I eat today? How do I keep warm? Where can I find water? No more worries about mortgages. No more worries about school, or taxes, or the car breaking down, or politics, or messed-up families, or the destruction of the forests, or the failing health care system, or terrorism, or Iran having nuclear weapons. I can relate to the desire to escape all that. Just the wild and me. It’s simple. It’s understandable.

The thing is that people who escape into the wild soon discover that they haven’t really escaped. They soon realize that they have brought the “World” with them. The brokenness follows them.

In the true story of Christopher McCandless, in 1992 he finds his way into the wilds of Alaska. He escapes into the wild. He finds an old abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere that had been at some point used as a makeshift hunting cabin. He soon discovers that he is not in harmony with nature. He shoots a moose, but fails to preserve the meat properly before it is filled with flies and maggots. He uses a field guide to forge for food, but ends up poisoning himself by gathering the wrong plant. He attempts to flee the wild and return to society, but a river that had been a little more than a creek when he arrived was now a raging torrent. Instead of discovering true happiness secluded in the wild, he discovers that happiness is only meaningful if it is shared. The brokenness and disorder of the world followed Christopher into the wild. His body, along with his journals were, discovered two weeks after his death.

Those who attempt to escape the brokenness, chaos, and sin of this world find that it follows them. When the London Times Newspaper invited a number of authors to write articles answering the question “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton replied. “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton”. We cannot escape the corruption of the world because it has crept into us. We bring it with us wherever we go.

Now it has become fashionable to underplay this. We’re all just human, we say. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. And it’s true. However, there are consequences. Take a lie for example. Or even just a broken promise. Everyone has made a promise with the best intentions, but have been unable to keep it. We get busy, or we just plain forget. Think about what that does to the world. … People become a little less trusting. The world becomes a little more suspicious. Our word becomes devalued. When our word is devalued we need some sort of system to make us keep our promise. Soon our “Yes” or “No” is no longer good enough. We have to promise by signing on the dotted line with witnesses signing under us, and agreeing to consequences that will then motivate us to keep our word. Take any little seemingly meaningless sin and multiply is across the world- Everyone committing “little” sins here and there everyday all over the world, and we are left with a very broken world.

When we say “nobody’s perfect” to justify our mistakes and not feel bad about them or do anything about them we are justifying our contribution to the mess of the world.

Are we going to make mistakes, yes. But, we must take the consequences of those mistakes seriously. We must own the fact that we make the world a worse place, because of our failings. I’m not okay. You’re not okay. And that’s not okay.

This doesn’t mean we go around with long sad faces feeling sorry for ourselves. That’s hardly the point. The point is that God wants to change it.

The Israelites had this sense of failure. The Israelites lost their Promised Land when Babylonian empire took the people into captivity. The prophets tell us that the people had turned their back on God. They had ventured off the path set for them by God and they had fallen into a pit. They messed up. And, because they messed up they lost their land, and it seemed God was no longer with them. They walked away from him. Even when they returned from Babylon nothing really seemed to change. They were back in the Promised Land, but there was no glorious kingdom like King David’s or Solomon’s. They were oppressed by a foreign power- the Roman Empire. There were no more prophets giving good or bad news. There was no word from God. God was silent. They had walked too far away from him to hear. They messed up, and there were real lasting consequences. The people who were to bring the light of God to the world, were homeless and scattered, and they had no idea where God was.

Finally, after 400 years of silence, they saw another prophet. He was in the wild, by the Jordan River. John the Baptist received the Word of God and was proclaiming it to the people. God has broken the silence.

3:3 [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

The Word of God through John the Baptist told the people to “get ready”- “Prepare!” Don’t you see he’s coming any minute? Get ready. Stop what you’re doing. You’re not too busy for this. There is nothing more important than this. The Greek word translated as “Repent” (metanoia) means change your mind. Stop. Re-evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. God is reaching out to you! What are you going to do about that? Are you going to grab his hand? Or, are you going to keep on doing what you’re doing? […]

Just when we might become depressed as we reflect on our sins and shortcomings. Just when we realize that we are a part of the problem God has to deal with, we hear a voice crying out from the wilderness. We hear a voice saying that we can be changed. We can be made ready for God’s coming. We can change our minds and hearts. The road to be made straight for the Lord leads right through our hearts. As we are confronted with God’s coming presence we can’t help but look at ourselves. If God is going to rule the world, he has to rule our hearts first. John’s prophetic voice is crying out telling us that we have been given another chance to change our ways- to align our hearts with God’s heart. John’s baptism is about that new start. It is about washing away our old way of life and taking on a new way. It is about changing the direction we are headed in.

But John’s baptism was of water. John’s baptism is about admitting that you’re part of the mess. John’s baptism is about recognizing your part in oppression, and tyranny, and Sin. But that recognition doesn’t give you the power to change. It recognizes that you want to change, but it doesn’t help you to act any better in the future. No, if we are to be truly changed we need more than water.

John’s baptism is only a shadow of the baptism that is to come. He helps you prepare. He helps you recognize how you need to be changed. John points away from himself to one who was greater than himself. John points to the one who will come to baptize the repentant with the Holy Spirit. The one who will come will fill you with God’s power. He will fill you with God Himself. He will bathe the people in God Himself. He will not only wipe the slate clean. He will give you the strength to live as people of God’s kingdom. He will not only forgive and wipe away your sins. He will empower you and use you to change the world. He will make it so that God will live in you and change the world through you. God deals with us by transforming us into his people. That is what it means to be baptized by Jesus with the Holy Spirit. To be baptized by Jesus means that you become one of those places where God breaks into the world. You become one of those places where God’s rule comes into the world.

Right now many of us are preparing our homes to receive guests this season. We put up decorations. We keep the counters a little more clean. We keep the house smelling a little more fresh. As we prepare our homes, let’s prepare our hearts to receive God. Lets pray a little more. Reflect on our priorities a little more. Lets expect God to show up in real ways in our life. As we get the guest room ready and cook cookies and finish up what has to be done for work or school before the holidays. Lets get ready for God. When he knocks on our door lets make room for him. Lets not tell him that there is no room in our inn. Set aside the business. Refocus. Let’s prepare. He told us he’s coming. Lets make room. Let’s expect him to show up. Jesus wants to be born again into our lives, if we are open to him. Let’s prepare.

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