O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Wilderness of Manitoba
"The Wilderness of Manitoba"
December 5, 2010
Fellow baptized children of Abraham, have you ever had the opportunity to explore some of the rugged, uncivilized terrain of our beautiful province? Have you had the chance to venture out into the wilderness of Manitoba? We have a lot of it, I'm told. Way up north, past the cottages on the lake where there is nothing but trees for miles. We are not talking about the resorts or the ski hills where people enjoy leisure activities like snowboarding and snowshowing. No, we're talking about the uninhabited region of our province, the places you can only reach by foot or snowmobile.
Now I'd like you to imagine hearing about a man that is living way out there all by himself. He doesn't have a home, or electricity or heat. In fact, he wears bison fur to stay warm. He only eats what the land provides, like berries and honey. And what is he doing way out there? He is preaching. Saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
At first appearance, we would think this man is crazy. One screw loose in the old engine up top. But now picture the entire city of Winnipeg, even the mayor, going out to hear this man in the wilderness, confessing their sins to him, and being baptized by him. Now it would appear the whole city is crazy.
In our Gospel reading, John the Baptist is doing just that. He lives in a desert, where there is nothing but sand and stone. Where nothing grows - and there he is "The voice of one crying in the wilderness 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'" And sure enough, everyone in Jerusalem, Judea and the surrounding area went out to him confessed their sins, and were baptized. Through His crazy prophet John, God calls life to spring forth from the dead, dry, dusty desert.
Why would God do this? What is God trying to teach us through such a crazy account? He is trying to teach us about our spiritual environment. He reveals the truth about the spiritual world we live in. Our world is a spiritual wilderness. We don't have to travel to the Jordan River to be in the spiritual desert. We are always in the spiritual desert. For the key characteristic of the desert is that nothing grows there. Almost everything in the desert is dead. The same is true of our spiritual environment. We wander our barren wasteland in search of water, constantly thirsty. No matter how much water we stock up, it always runs out. No matter how much water we drink, we always need more. Without the life-giving Word of God, we remain dead and dry like the desert. We are like dusty stones with no hope of growth. God wants us to see that there is no life in the spiritual world into which we are born. This is why He sends John to proclaim His message in the desert.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The message was powerful enough to draw everyone from the safety and riches of Jerusalem, out into the dusty, barren desert. The message has the same power today. This morning, across our continent there are hundreds of thousands of people hearing these same words. Hundreds of thousands of people including yourselves that are interested in this crazy man preaching out in the wilderness. Hundreds of thousands of people that recognize their spiritual life is a desert where nothing grows on its own. For we hear the significance of what John says, "Humble yourselves before your God. Be honest with Him about your entire life." For He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, for He knows your heart. He knows that desert perfectly. You will not hide anything from Him. Not even in the biggest sandstorm your heart can generate to protect itself. He still knows. And He has granted you repentance that leads to life.
So do not resist Him like the Pharisees and Sadducees that approached John. They did not come to confess their sins and repent. They were spiritually conceited. They were descendents of Abraham. They presumed they were ok in God's eyes, instead of taking hold of the repentance God had granted them. They thought "I go to church - I say my prayers - I give money to the poor - I help people" - and indeed they did - but they also said, "I do not need this repentance for I am not a spiritual desert. Look at all the good things I do." John had a very strong warning for them.
And yet the good news continues to be proclaimed, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Take hold of the repentance God has granted to you. And what does that look like? What happened to those who wanted repentance? They were baptized by John. There in the dead of the desert the waters of baptism delivered them life. And the same is true for you today. God sends His Word into the heart of your spiritual desert that you may blossom to life like a flower. As Isaiah writes, "waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, the burning sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water."
Through His death and resurrection, Christ has conquered the dry spiritual desert into which you were born. He has given you Holy Baptism. A new birth through water into the spiritual oasis that is His Church. You may still live in the spiritual desert that is our world, but Christ has given you a spiritual oasis to come and be refreshed. A place of renewal and rejuvenation. His Sacred Church. His fountain of life. Here He serves fresh water to the thirsty. Here He washes the stinging sand from your eyes. Here He restores your spirit and gives you rest from the treacherous traveling of the spiritual desert. Here He reminds you of your baptism.
In the waters of your Baptism, God has changed your dry heart of stone into rivers of living water which flow from within you. He has raised up children of Abraham from the stones in the desert, just as John declared. In the eternal waters of Baptism, your heart has been fixed with a heavenly fountain, a source of life that will not end. So because, your baptism is life - live in your baptism.
Live in your baptism - that means, every day, take hold of the repentance that God has granted you in His Word of Baptism. Remember what it means. You are baptized. You have been and are being changed by God. Although you were a desert, God has created fountains and streams. Although you were a stone, God has made you His child. Although you were dead, God has made you alive in Him. Live in your baptism everyday. Remember your baptism everyday. Some Christians make the sign of the cross to remember their Baptism. To remember that they belong to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is what we are taught in Luther's Small Catechism. The sign of the cross was made over each and every one of you when you were baptized. Should you make the sign again, it is to reaffirm and remember the wonderful thing God has accomplished in you. "Lord, I deserve fire, but you have given me your Holy Spirit in baptism" "Lord, I should not grow, but you have made me blossom as your flower." "Lord, I should be dead, but life is what you have given me." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr