Calvary United Methodist Church July 3, DO YOU NEED A NEW BEGINNING? THE STORY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST Rev. R. Jeffrey Fisher

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1 Calvary United Methodist Church July 3, 2016 DO YOU NEED A NEW BEGINNING? THE STORY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST Rev. R. Jeffrey Fisher Children s Sermon: Ezekiel 36:25-26 I m so glad. I thought earlier there might not be any children. Good to see you all here today. So have you had any picnics yet? Maybe today or tomorrow a picnic? I hope there will be a picnic. (We went to a concert) I but the concert was good. Well, I am so glad you are here today and I want to talk about something I ve mentioned before. It s about getting cleaned up. And I know that sometimes we get tired of people telling us to go clean up, like clean up your room, clean up your office, clean up many things in our lives. Sometimes if we go outside and play and you get dirty and it s time to come in and they look at your feet and they say, You re not bringing those dirty shoes in to my house! And if it s time to eat we want to be clean so we don t get sick from bad germs and things in life. But there is something about life that a lot of times it seems fun that we are out playing. Have you ever played in a mud puddle? When we are wee little, wee, wee, wee little, there are a lot of times when we really enjoyed those things and I don t know what it is but little boys and girls sometimes if they are left out in the woods and partying and camping and farms, they find these places where we play and there is just no way you are going to get them back in the house looking that way. And sometimes even the crafts we do do you like to hand paint and finger paint? Do you ever do those things? And when you are done it s like, Now what do I do, my hands are all covered with this paint or dirt or whatever it is, sparkles, and we have to get cleaned up.

2 In the church you see, from time to time, ways we use water to get cleaned up and one of them has been baptisms and I m sure you have all seen a baptism. Just a few weeks ago Dr. Parks was baptizing and infant and in that we take water that symbolizes cleaning up, right? We get showers or baths, we go to the pool, we do all kinds of things to get cleaned up, but it s a different kind of cleaned up than what just the dirt. It is something about inside us that needs cleaned up. And we ll talk about that a little more here, but the first one that really talked to us about baptism and about getting cleaned up on the inside was Jesus, the one who we come here to worship week after week, because he knew that in our hearts there are some things that aren t right. Like, for instance, did you ever get angry? Well, sometimes there are plenty of reasons to get angry and that s not a bad thing of itself. It is what we do with our anger if it s not appropriate at times. Sometimes we get mad; sometimes we don t treat people nice, so those things inside us that God says, We gotta clean that up. It s not always a good thing to carry those things. Now on the outside we use water and soap and stuff to get rid of the germs. And we sometimes wash our feet. It s a great thing to be cleaned up. In areas of the world one of the most common things they do is actually wash their feet when they go to visit someone because they have been walking in their sandals or flip-flops and it is just really refreshing.

3 Some of you will probably be swimming on beaches and if you do, before you go into your house or your pool you have to clean up. Sometimes you like to play in it. Sometimes you like to swim in it. Sometimes I just like to look at water. It s very calming. Do you like to look at water? Waterfalls sometimes, not always, but sometimes just listening to it, it can make you almost tired. Some people love the ponds we have nowadays, with all the beautiful fish. Sometimes we like to water our gardens. But back to this baptism thing, what would Jesus mean about getting cleaned up inside? Because when we see infants being baptized, do they look sweet or what? Do they look like they can hurt you in anyway? I don t think so.

4 But inside of us there s a brokenness and sometimes when someone says to go do something and you get that grrr feeling inside, that why do I have to do it now? Why do I have to give in to other people? And sometimes when we are playing someone wants the toy or activity we want then we get upset. Sometimes even adults, even adults, get upset at things like someone cuts you off in traffic or gets ahead of you in a store, or you can t get in to somewhere you want. And so the problem isn t dirt on the outside, it s the things we think and it s the things that sometimes are in our heart and God says we have to clear that out because we don t want angry people going around all the time or mean and nastiness and bullying. We have heart problem and because of the heart problem, it can be a pain thing because if I m mad, as I said it s okay to be mad and angry, but it s what we do with it. If I start being mean to other people in my madness then that is a problem and I create more pain. Sometimes people get sad because we say mean and nasty things to them. Sometimes we get frustrated by the difficulties of life, the things we are trying to do and we can t do. And God says, again, these are not outside problems, these are problems of our heart that need repaired. And he tells us there is a way to repair it, to get cleaned up.

5 In Ezekiel we read this: I ll pour water over you and scrub you clean. I ll give you a new heart. I ll put a new spirit within you. I ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that s Godwilled and not self-willed. But I want to do everything I want to do I m pretty happy. Are you happy when you get to do everything you want to do? But what if your friend doesn t want to do anything you want to do, how s that? Not as easy, is it? No. Same thing out there, right? Life would be great if everybody would understand that it should be my way, but it s not and that s where the pain comes in. But God wants us, as he said in that scripture I just read, to be cleaned up, that we get cleaned up thinking that it s not about us. Our life is about loving others. That means I have to care about others and what they think. That means that if we want them to have one world, we have to get along with one another. We want to have peace in this world in which we live. We want to be able to come to a place where we are not angry and we are not mad and we are not fighting anymore. Those things don t please God and they are really not very happy in our homes either. Because all of us have had those problems before. So I would remind you this weekend that what God wants us to do when we talk about cleaning up is to love one another and the best way to do that is just to learn to accept other people and know that we are different. Different doesn t need bad; it just means that we are different. So thank you for coming up. I wish you wonderful picnics and a wonderful time this weekend.

6 Message: Matthew 3:1-3 VIDEO Ready to leave your past in the past? Ready for a new beginning, a new start? I don t know about you, but I usually need them about, oh, every morning. When I read this story about John the Baptist this week I was reminded that he came at a time when those around him were in despair. They had been disobedient to God, they had been isolated from the kingdom, they had been in exile for many years. He was reminding them of another prophet who told them that the only way to really find peace in their life was to come back to God. Coming back to God isn t a once and done thing, it is a journey I ve wrestled with from the time I have met God and a part of the wrestling is a part of, I believe, of just sitting here thinking a moment ago of our whole upbringing and especially as human beings we always compare ourselves to others, whether it is brothers or sister, whether it is classmates, whether it is to others around us, we sometimes think little of ourselves and God is saying, I wish they wouldn t do that, they are mine. They are my kids, they are pretty good. I am just happy with you the way you are. I started going to church as a young boy. My parents took me before I knew of it, I m sure. And I was blessed to be in a little church choir and sang, just loved it. Through the years, growing in a church and became active in the youth and going to Bible school, going to church camp. In a little country town, church was about all you had and it was a good placed to be raised, at least for me. And in the midst of that we learned about caring for others, the kind of things Calvary does whether it is the Food Pantry, whether it is reaching out in hundreds of ways around this church caring for other people.

7 And it was always a great thing, a great feeling for me to be a part of that. But I have to confess that a journey for me, and it s probably, and this isn t a pity Jeff thing, it s all of us, is there are times even as a pastor and after working for God and trying to serve God with my best, I m thing, Why can t I do better? Have you ever had that moment? It s comparing ourselves with others. It s thinking that I look at my life and you look at your faults and failures and you know them better than anyone else, don t you? And you think, I wish I wouldn t have gone down this road, I wish I had gone down that road and so there comes a time that we re the people like John the Baptist, that we reflect on it and what I want you to walk out of here today hearing is this: It doesn t matter. God loves you. God loves you. His grace, His mercy, no matter what faults you have, no matter what failures you ve had, God is saying Today is a new day. Don t keep bringing up your past; don t keep worrying about what you ve done. Be concerned about the future. Make wise, make conscious decisions that today s a new beginning that you are where you want to be, where you need to be, where you ought to be, for the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This whole wresting thing, I never knew this word before: Atelophobia, the fear of imperfection; the fear of never being good enough. There are a lot of people who have it out there and it drives some people to the point that they stop trying. If I m not going to be good enough, I m not as good as some sibling or some parent or never be as good as mom or dad or the other person in the office or some previous spouse or whatever it is, they just quit trying. That s not what it s about. God says Enough of this. You are my child. You are precious in my sight. I have made you and I will redeem you and I will make good out of whatever gift it is that you have. And if you think you are perfect, I want to show you my imperfections. I can be just feeling really good about myself and then I get in one of these roads and I see this and stuff comes to my mind and it ain t pretty. Right?

8 Or I m in a very busy day and I need something for church or home or whatever and you rush into one of those stores and there are 120 different checkout lines and there is one open and it looks like this. The words and the thoughts and the deeds that come to my mind are embarrassing. And I want to say God, drive that stuff out of there. Where does that even come from? Why do I have to think those things when I want to have a smiley face on? Somedays we put it on, we all do that. But some days it is an inward rage saying If people only knew what I was thinking inside they would never have me as their pastor. It s not a matter of being a pastor, is it? It s a matter of being right with God. We all have those issues and thank God most days we control what does come out of it and how we act around other people. But in the midst of all of these things, hear this: He loves me despite the fact that I fail every day God s love is amazing. God s love is amazing, that no matter where you have been, no matter what we have done, God says, You are still mine. The thought that I m reminded of constantly from an old pastor friend of mine says God is not nearly as angry as he is; well, not nearly as angry as he is disappointed in his children. When I go down a road and I go down that wrong path, God is saying, Jeff, you knew better. Why would you go down that past? Why did you let this get to you or that get to you and why did you go down a path where you know it is going to be trouble for you? God love me. Our parents, you know most parents are loving, kind parents. We realize there are some who haven t met that standard, but most parents want you to find peace and joy and contentment and abundant blessings in your life. This is our Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father says I want to set your feet on a path that when you get on that path you are going to find abundant blessings and He wants us to realize that whatever has happened in our past, it really is there. God is not going to keep bringing it up, saying, You know what you did last week? No, God is going to say, That s behind you.

9 I want you to hear this scripture: In those days Jon the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come new. This is he who was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. When John came, he was talking to people who were lost. Have you ever felt lost? Yeah, we have been there, right? Because you think you ve done right in a relationship and it s not coming out right. You think you ve done right at work and it s not coming out right. You think you ve done right with your children or finances or whatever it is and we live in those frustrations. And it s to that point John the Baptist was saying, I want you to come out of the wilderness, I want you to come into a relationship with God. When I think of wilderness, some people find wilderness different. If you have been raised in New York City and you come up into the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, that s wilderness. And if you ve lived in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania and they drop you in Time Square for a night or so, that s pretty much wilderness. It is not the place, it is the spiritual, it s the inward experience of what is going on inside us and most of us have had those experiences where we have felt like Jesus when he was left alone 40 days and nights in the desert and the wilderness, we felt like there was no one there, no one to turn to. We didn t know where we were going and what we were going to do. And it is into that wilderness that the Lord Jesus Christ comes in and says to you: I am with you always. In the midst of this beginning a new life, you might feel like you are in a wilderness. New places are strange. New places are frightening. New is not always easy, but new can take us to places where God would want us to be.

10 I don t know what your wilderness is today. For some people, it is the struggles, especially for young people today, it s the bullying. It s the meanness and the nastiness of people around us. It s someone trying to make us feel that we don t fit in and that we ll never be able to fit in. For some people the wilderness is the relationships we are in. It could be with spouses or children or parents. It can be with family members. In my joy I see this all the time, in all times and in all places. The brokenness within family and it s a wilderness and we don t know what to do with it and yet we know there needs to be a new beginning somehow. Sometimes the wilderness can be the catch up of our life in the materialism of life. Life is so good and quite frankly even though we complain about the economy; we are so blessed, abundant food, abundant blessings, more things in our lives than most of us need. But it is really not trying to go through life being remembered for the stuff in our life. It s not always the addictive things in our life that we need a break from, but they can be a wilderness, places where we feel stranded because they put us on a pathway. The pathway to hell is lined with good intentions. I want to tell you, God wants more than a pathway that leads us to hell.

11 God wants our feet to be on a path that gives us abundant life. Yet when you get up in the morning, you say Good morning, Lord not Good Lord, morning. It s a new day, it s a new chance, it s a new opportunity for new life. Repentance is making a decision. It s about change and it s about realizing whatever is happening in my life right now, you know a lot of times it is many things at one time. I m going to make a decisive decision here. I am going to be in charge and I am going to choose where we are going. It s a fresh start a new beginning, a beautiful beginning. And that start doesn t come easy. I read of a pastor this week, his name was Jim Sauer and he was talking about going through a rebellious stage of his own life and a friend came up to him and said, Jim, in order for you to change this part of your life, and it was an addictive pattern, he said, It s like slapping your lover in the face. I thought, Wow, that s a different kind of a point. Because, he said, in order to make room for the right you ve got to get rid of something else. That was a real wow for me. It s like, if I know I have a money problem and I have to slap goodbye to all the credit cards, that was your lover. You have to do it to make room for responsibility. That doesn t matter what that is in your life that needs to go, most of us have things in our life that need to go. I want to be clear about this. Sometimes we get the idea that if things are going in our life that somehow we make judgements that someone is not good enough because sometimes what needs to go in our life is people. That that s not easy. I ve dealt with several of my own family members and others through the years with drug and alcohol addictions, with relational problems with others. Some of it is parents and children. Some parents have been abusive, some children are abusive. Some people were in pathways that lead to a lot of trouble. And when you finally decide you are going to take a new beginning, sometimes

12 we have to say goodbye to some toxic people, toxic situations and that doesn t mean we are better than any of those other people, it just means if they haven t chose for a new beginning and I keep hanging around them, they are going to draw me into a pit that I can t dig my way out of. If you have a friend that wants to keep going shopping and you like to shop that s a problem. I can t window shop because if I see something, I want it, right? And if you have a problem with some addictive behavior, whatever that is, might be food, buffets, friends invite you to buffets all the time. Doesn t matter if it is alcohol, drugs or food, they are all addictive things. If there are things in our life that need to go, if there are people that are unhealthy, we need to let them know that we love them, that we care for them, we will pray for them, whatever, but sometimes we need to separate that we can make that determination that I m on this path and I m not getting off of this path and I m going to go to a place where I find peace every day of my life, every day of my life. And that is not an easy decision to make. I will lead you into the wilderness and speak to your heart. Sometimes when we are in that wilderness, it s in the quietness alone that we will finally realize what it is that God wants for us. Those desert moments are not easy. I can t imagine Jesus when he was out in the desert asking for others to pray for him in that wilderness being tempted in the ways he was that that was an easy journey. But it brought clarity to his mine. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from the things of this world that are not so healthy. We need to bring clarity to our own mind that we can choose the right path for life. When John the Baptist came he was for some people like a reincarnation of another prophet that I just spoke to you about on Memorial Day, the Prophet Elijah. Remember the Prophet Elijah was the last prophet of Israel telling them that they were not going to find peace, they were not going to find happiness, they were not going to find contentment unless they turned to God who they turned their backs to. And he was the one who lead the way. And in his leading he was reminded of folks like Moses before them, there is only one way, God s way, and any other way is a path of destruction and that is a truth.

13 And so it was that John the Baptist and he didn t want to baptize Jesus, he thought he was unworthy and Jesus said, You must baptize me. Because it was a reminder to all the people then and it s a reminder to all of us, we need new life. We need it not once, not just in the past, every morning when I wake, or at least I pray most of the mornings, I say Thank you, Lord, for this day. Let me live for you. But there are struggles at the end of the day when I look over and I see that I am not yet perfect. But I do know this: we are forgiven. We are forgiven. But my question to all of us, like the people that John the Baptist was tied to, have we forgotten that we have been redeemed? Have we forgotten what God did through Jesus Christ that we could have the life we did because he died that we might have new life, that we might put the past behind us and not have to keep bringing it up. But instead we could have a good and abundant life. And that good, abundant life comes when we are born again; When we ve chosen, we ve made a choice to repent to change our ways. Change doesn t come easy. How many of you like change? Not much, right? Sometimes even changing the room around, when you come in, Why did you have to change the room around for? Right? Just little things, changing the sofas, changing the chairs, changing the colors. Sometimes it feels good later, but most of us aren t people who are big into change and new beginning, but most of us, as we gather here today need a thing called a new beginning. And we need it almost on a daily basis. To repent is a decision. It is deciding, Lord, life isn t just what it ought to be yet in relationships and what it is that I am doing. It s a decision to turn my life around. Going my way to going God s way, going down a path that really wasn t giving me peace at all to a pathway where I will find some peace in my life. It s giving up the old life for the new.

14 In this past year, pastors are called upon a lot of times to share in celebrations of life for those who have passed who do not have a church home, and I ve had the sad privilege to celebrate at least four people under 24 years old who accidently took their lives with drugs. And I look at that. At the one service the one young man stood up, asked if he could talk. He said I ve lost three friends in two weeks. And I look at that and this service is a lot more than just about drugs and alcohol, we all have issues. The service is about the ability to turn around. We can do it. And not only can we do it, we need to help one another do it. We need to be strength for one another. And sometimes the church isn t so good at that. I ve heard of churches that someone like that come, they say, Well, I ll give that five weeks! We judge, we condemn, we put down, instead of praying and encouraging and being there to support one another. You see, all around us are people struggling, marriages, relationships of all kinds actually, parents and children and children and parents, finances. I mean, the list of what is going on in our lives is long and in the midst of that, God is saying I want to give you a new life. If it s a part of your life that needs change, I m bigger than that. It s easy to stay on an old path, but paths can become ruts and they can lead us into places we don t want to be. It takes a conscious decision to choose which path, which road I am going to go on, but sometimes we need new paths, we need new guides, we need to surround ourselves with people who will be positive influences in our lives, people who will encourage, people who will pray, people who will hold us accountable to be the Godly person we need to be. They will be our friends; they will be those who provide new beginnings. I have been privileged, growing up as a child I saw many times around the farm new life coming in and new life coming in, birth, isn t always easy, but I was privileged to watch two of my grandchildren being born and again, birth is not easy and yet from birth comes great joy, great possibilities. Who knows what every infant that comes into this world, what lies before them and what joys and what knowledge and what wisdom and what leadership they might bring to all of us. Today is a chance for a new beginning. It s a reminder to us that when we change, and that word repent sounds so old fashioned and it sounds almost dirty to us, but I like it. One of the messages I read this

15 week in preparation said really repent is a word of hope. It means we can. We can change; we can have a new beginning. A lot of people think they can t start over, but we can; we can by the power of Almighty God. Repent is a beautiful world. It is a compliment. And when I read this I thought what do they mean, and they said, Well, you know, animals have natural instincts. They really can t change a lot of their behaviors, but the compliment from God is, you and I have the ability, if we want to, we can. I don t say it is easy. There are many things that draw us back into places we ought not to be, but the compliment from Almighty God is saying, You are my child and I will be there. I will help you bring the change into your life that you can have the new beginning, you can have the positive life that you need to have today. We are always standing at roads that are headed different ways. And it is up to you and me to choose which of those roads we will take. And when we choose the road and choose to be a follower of Christ, we then become a pointer of the way of Jesus Christ to other people who are looking for someone to walk down that road with us. You know, there are many passages in the scripture that refer to roads and paths and how narrow some of them are and how wide some of the dangerous ones are. There are those in this life who would love to

16 hold your hand and walk down that road, to have a positive person around them, to take you down a path that says together we can make it on this journey. We need to be washed up, we need to be cleaned up, we need to know that there are better days ahead and it is all possible by Jesus Christ, who says If you come to me and lay your burdens down, I will pick them up and I will bear them for you. I pray today wherever we are because we all have those moments, that if you ever feel like I m not good enough and that you re not all you should be, that you realize God says, That s ok. I love you just the way you are. By His mercy, by His grace, we are accepted, we are accepted, we are loved and God is with us for every step of the journey. Let us pray. Almighty and Everlasting Father, we thank you that you love us just as we are and we thank you that you pray for us to find your peace. Lord, in the world in which we live today, there are many who are tossed about by the things of this world, always have been. We are praying for strength. Help us come home to you and help us be those who are helpers of others, who are trying to get their feet on a path. Help us walk them through those treacherous waters and find your peace. We ask in Your Most Holy Name. Amen We are blessed and God invites us to share our blessings with others as the ushers will wait upon you to receive your gifts and tithes.

17 Benediction: We are a new creation daily by the power of Almighty and Everlasting Father in heaven. Let us go forth with the love of God our Heavenly Father, with the grace and the peace of our Savior Jesus Christ and may the fellowship of the Holy Spirit bless us and keep us, each and every one. Amen.

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