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Some time ago, there was the story in the news about a cinematographer who wanted to film skydivers during their decent. Like a lot of others who have do the same thing, he jumped with a group of skydivers and filmed them as they descended to earth. The film he made was aired on most of the major networks, but he never saw it. It showed the skydivers floating through the air in various patterns and formations. And then it showed them opening their shoots and gliding this way and that. And then, after the last shoot was opened, the picture suddenly went berserk and everything was chaotic movement, and then it just stopped. Turns out, the cinematographer forgot to put on his parachute and it wasn't until he reached for the ripcord that he realized that he was freefalling to his death.
We can only hope that he was better prepared to meet his maker than he was to jump from the plane.
It makes you wonder, how may people are just freefalling through life to their death. How many people move from day to day and year to year, never even thinking about how they're going to land, never thinking about meeting their maker?
And what about you? Are you prepared to meet your maker? Now there's a question that'll get your heart beating. It might sound pretty esoteric and theoretical while we're all sitting upright in a cushioned pew. But it sounds much different if you're lying flat on your back in a hospital bed or trapped in a burning building or under a hummvee that just met a roadside bomb. 'Are you prepared to meet your maker?' There's nothing hypothetical about it.
When the Word of the Lord came to John the Baptist, the whole world was about to meet their maker. Jesus Christ was coming into the world, and by Him all things were made, apart from Him, nothing is made that has been made. He is your maker. There's nothing hypothetical about that either.
So, are you prepared to meet Jesus Christ, your maker? There's a question that will stir you up. Which is just what we prayed for this morning. In the Collect this morning, we prayed, "Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son that at His second coming, we may worship Him in purity."
John the Baptist was sent to stir things up, not a pot of stew or a can of paint, but stir up our hearts. He was the stick that the Lord used to stir up our hearts, to make ready the way of the only-begotten Son. And John didn't stir lightly. He dug down deep and got right to the bottom of things. "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins."
I'm afraid that when you and I hear those words we're hardly stirred by them. We've heard them so often that they hardly disturb us and shake us up. But these are words that should get our attention like no other words do. For when John says, 'repent,' what he means is that you're not ready to meet your maker the way you are. You're freefalling to your death.
I'll admit, it's a rough analogy but bear with me. Let's just say that the chairman of the Ford Motor Company gave you a brand new car. It's yours to use however you'd like for as long as you live, but it belongs him. So, you need to take care of it and use it responsibly because there'll come a day when he'll come for it and take it back.
And so you use the car and after awhile, it doesn't take very long really, you forget that it was given to you and that you're going to have to turn it back to the one who made it and gave it to you. You begin to think about it as though it were yours to use however you please and treat however you will. But then one day this messenger shows up at your door and says, 'are you prepared to meet your maker?' 'Ready to turn it in?'
But this car is real mess. The body is scratched and dented. The oil's never been changed. The tires are badly worn. And the inside is trashed, cigarette burns in the seat, and too many McDonald's wrapper's to count. And now, the time has come to turn this thing in to its maker, who gave it to you.
We still haven't gotten to what it means to 'repent,' but we're getting there.
Now, unless you've been 'stirred up,' you're going to face this inevitable day in one of two ways. You're either going to say, 'I never knew. I never knew that this car belonged to someone else and that I would have to give it back. I never knew that I was accountable for the way I used this car or its condition or that someone would come to take it back.'
Or, the 'unstirred heart' responds, 'I always knew that there was a maker of this car and that someday He'd come to claim it. But I never thought he cared what condition He got it back in. I always thought that he'd be happy just to get the thing back. And really, it's not in that bad a shape. If he thinks that my car is in bad shape, wait till he sees my neighbor's. Compared to most of the clunkers out there, he'll be glad to have mine just as it is.'
Now, we've gotten to what it means to "repent."
When John says, "repent," what he's saying is 'you've got the wrong idea about this. You need a change of mind. When you meet your maker there will be a judgment, and you will be held accountable to your maker for everything He has given to you. And of course, we're not talking about cars here. We're talking about your life – body and soul. And "who can stand when he appears?"
Unless you're stirred up, you're not going to be prepared to meet your Maker. So John wanted to "stir up" those who came out to hear him preach. He wanted to shake them out of their ignorance and get them to wake up to the crisis that was at hand. They were about to meet their Maker.
Just the way he greeted them tells you that this was not going to be one of the "affirming" sermons. Preachers who hate to stir things up greet their parishioners with a smile and say, 'The Lord be with you.' (And also with you.) But John greeted his parishioners with, "You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?" (I've sometimes wondered how it would work if I were to greet you on Sunday mornings like John greeted his congregation. But I know if I did, you'd respond with, "and also with you." And rightly so.)
But some of John's parishioners responded by saying, "But we have Abraham as our father." To which John replied, 'don't even think it! Even Abraham met his maker and had to give an account for his life.'
So, when John says, "repent," he means, you need "metanoia" – a changed mind. You need a whole new worldview. You don't need a paradigm shift, your whole paradigm needs to go and be replaced by an entirely new one. One in which every single life is created by God and given by God and belongs to God and is accountable to God.
St. Paul stirs up the clueless Corinthians who thought they could do what they wanted with THEIR BODY saying, "You are not your own. For you were bought with a price. Don't you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1Cor.6:19-20). And so you're to use your body and life according to God's commandments and for God's purposes. And when the day comes, you will meet your maker and He will judge you and demand an accounting for your life. And no excuses or explanations will work. Return it in the condition it was given to you. "You shall be holy as I, the Lord your God am holy."
Prepare to meet your maker. Jesus Christ is coming into the world. You're not coming to Him, He's coming to you. Stop procrastinating and putting things off. "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
And then, just when you thought that John had stirred the pot as much as it can be stirred, he'd turn the whole thing upside down and say, "be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." Here's what you do with that wreck you call your life so that you're ready to meet your maker. You run it through the wash. And in the wash, your Maker uses His fullers' soap and He cleans and restores you. You go into the water a lemon and come out in mint condition.
You run it through the furnace. And in the font-shaped smelting furnace, your Maker is like a refiners fire and He purifies you so that when He comes for you and you offer your body and life to Him, He says, "I do declare – you are holy and righteous, spotless and perfect. "Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years." (Mal.3:4).
Through holy Baptism, "every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be come straight and the rough places shall become level ways."
Holy Baptism is where we meet our maker. And when we meet our maker there, which is right where He tells us He will meet us, He carries out His judgment upon us, and the judgment goes like this, "I forgive you all of your sins."
It doesn't matter if it was in the Jordan River or in a Catholic font or a Methodist font or a Baptist swimming pool. Doesn't matter if it was in a hospital emergency room. Wherever there is water applied in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, there you have met your Maker – Jesus Christ, because, and only because, that is where He has promised to meet you and judge you and restore you to the image in which He created you in the beginning. And there's nothing more certain than the promise of Jesus Christ.
Are you baptized? Then you're prepared to meet your maker. Count on it. Rely on it. Don't rely on your own preparations or where you think you found Jesus. That's like skydiving without a parachute. Rely on WHAT God has done for you through Jesus Christ WHERE He has promised to do Jesus to you.
So, after the crowds who listened to John's sermon repented and met their Maker in their baptism, after that, they asked John, "what then shall we do?" That's how it works. The only proper place to ask a question like that is after repentance and baptism.
John's answer is, "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." In keeping with your changed mind. Use your body and life for the purpose He gave it to you and in the place where He put you. Are you a member of a community? Then be a good neighbor. "Whoever has more than enough clothes is to share with him who has none. And whoever has more than enough food is to share with those who don't have enough."
Are you a tax collector? Then be a good and honest tax collector. "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Are you a soldier? Then be a good soldier. "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations and be content with your wages."
Now you fill in the blank with whomever you are and whatever you do. Are you a parent, a child, a spouse, a brother or sister? Then be a good one. Are you an employee, an employer, a citizen, a neighbor? Then do these things honestly and to the best of your ability.
Now that you're prepared to meet your maker, you're really prepared to meet your neighbor.
"Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son that at His second coming, we may worship Him in purity."