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    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Meeting God on the Interstate
    Matthew 3:112
    Dec. 4, 2016
     Second Sunday of Advent  

     T HERE WAS A FAMILY TAKING A TRIP up the interstate. Topping the hill from the other direction was a semi — one of those big 18-wheeler trucks. The family was headed north. The semi was headed south. Emblazoned across the top of the cab were the initials G.O.D. Here’s a photo of one of those trucks. It’s a shipping company in the Northeast.

    As they passed each other, the family noticed that the initials G.O.D. represented Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. Here’s a side view:

    Nevertheless, the daughter in the back was struck by a thought and called out to her parents: “If God is headed that way, then why are we going this way?”

     † † † 

    JOHN THE BAPTIST APPEARED in the wilderness proclaiming much the same message. Why are you folks living lives opposite of what God wants and demands? Why are you going in the wrong direction — at full speed? He even called the religious folks a “brood of vipers” — not just snakes, but poisonous vipers. They were dangerous in their disregard for God’s way. We, religious folks, have to be careful when we read the Gospels. For those religious people are not that different from us.

    John the Baptist came out of the desert, right down the middle of life’s highway as loud and as noticeable as a semi rolling down the highway. He was a clear and unmistakable sign that God was headed south and everybody else was going north, headed the wrong way. His message was emblazoned for all to hear:

     “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

    The key word in John’s preaching is repent. The word means to “turn, to change, to reverse oneself.” It’s not a particularly religious word. It’s an ordinary word for turning around and going the other direction. Maybe the equivalent today of talking about a U-turn. In the New Testament, it’s more than a mere “change of mind”; it involves a whole reorientation of the personality. “If God is going that way and we are going this way; what should we do?”

    Let’s look at that prospect for a minute.

     † † † 

    MAYBE WHEN WE SEE GOD GOING in the other direction, we can be deeply sorry that we are going the wrong way. We might hit ourselves on the forehead, or beat our chest, and say something like:

    God, be merciful to me, a miserable driver with a poor sense of direction. I know I’m going the wrong way, but … there’s nothing I can do about it. After all, I’m already headed in this direction, and I’m making good time. I’m getting good gas mileage. I’ve got the cruise control on. It would be very difficult for me to change and go the other way. I’d have to slow down, take an exit ramp drive over the interstate, take that ramp, but then you’ll be gone. I know you’re a God of grace and love and you’ll forgive me for going the wrong way.

    Imagine Saul of Tarsus saying that. Jesus came to me and said I was going the wrong way. I told him, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, Thanks for saving me. Be merciful to me, but I like killing Christians, so I’ll just keep on doing that.

    Put in those terms, it sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? But all too often, that’s how we think about repentance; being sorry for going the wrong way in life, asking God to forgive us, but not doing anything about it, not changing direction. Keep doing what we’re doing. Going the same direction. We just feel better about it now because we’re forgiven.

     † † † 

    OR HOW ABOUT THIS: We find out we’re going the wrong way but we blame others for our misdirection. You could look at your spouse and say, “you told me to go this way,” or, “it’s not my fault, everybody else was going this way, how was I to know? I was following the traffic.”  Maybe even, that’s the way my GPS told me to go.

    Sounds like Adam and Eve. “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” And we know what happened to them. They lost paradise. Yet, somehow, we think the results will be different this time.

     † † † 

    WE CAN BLAME GOD for going the wrong way. We could spot God in the southbound lane and look over at our spouse and say, “Would you look at that? God’s lost, God’s going the wrong way, God’s out of touch with the modern world’s sense of direction.”

    When the Israelites were in the wilderness after their freedom from Egypt, Moses went on the mountain to meet with God and receive the commandments. He was gone for a long time. The people decided Moses was lost. God was lost and they needed something new and different to direction their attention and lives. So they collected gold from everyone and molded a calf. They worshiped it. As we know, that didn’t work out so well for them either. Yet, we think for us it will be different.

    We’ve always been good at explaining failure and avoiding change. We fall back on a variety of excuses and reasons, all designed to protect things as they are, we avoid change, especially when the change God calls for will be painful for us personally. We are more than willing to judge others and ask/demand them to change and equally unwilling to make changes in ourselves.

     † † † 

    REPENTANCE IS TURNING from the way we’re going to the way of God. Jesus is that Way. I learned last week in the Coffee with Keith class about Dojo. Dojo is the training place for Karate and other martial arts. It literally means “the place of the way.”

    John’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees strike at the root of the matter. The text says they were coming for the baptism of repentance, so why does John reject them? It’s because he recognizes that they were coming to join the crowd, they were not coming as people who knew they needed to change, nor were they willing to change. That’s the church at its worst.

    The church, at its best, is the place of the way where we hear the word of God, where we see our wrong direction, where we do a U-turn and begin a new journey following Jesus. Training with and being trained by others who are traveling the same highway.

     † † † 

    THE EVIDENCE OF HAVING TURNED from our northbound journey to following G.O.D. south on the interstate of life is fruit-bearing. I wonder what might be something in our sanctuary/chapel that reminds us what fruit-bearing looks like? [The pastor goes and stands by the banner of “Five Fruitful Practices.”]

    Look on the left side of this page to see what the banner says, and you can go to this page on our site to read details.

    — Keith Cardwell     
     

     Matthew 3:1–12
     
    New International Version

    John the Baptist Prepares the Way
    3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

    “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
        make straight paths for him.’ ”[
    a]

    4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

    7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

    11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    ——————
    Footnotes:
    a. Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3
    b. Matthew 3:11 Or in
    c. Matthew 3:11 Or in

    Comments on sermons are welcomed and appreciated. 
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    23208 Swift Church Road
    Foley, AL 36535
    Phone: (251) 943-8367
    email: swiftpc@gulftel.com