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Indulgences

I know that Lent is supposed to be the season of repentance and applying more discipline to our lifestyle, but New Years brings its spate of resolutions. Here are some that a friend of mine in Illinois sent by email:
~ Gain weight. At least 30 pounds.
~ Watch more TV. I've been missing some good stuff.
~ Procrastinate more.... Starting tomorrow.
~ Get in a whole NEW rut!
~ Buy an ?83 Eldorado and invest in a really loud stereo system. Get the
windows tinted. Buy some fur for the dash.
~ Create more loose ends.
~ Focus on the faults of others.
~ Whine about your own faults.
~ Never make New Year's resolutions again.

There is something about turning a page on the calendar, or entering a new year that reminds us that time is passing but also reminds us that here is the opportunity for a whole new beginning.
Those resolutions about diet and getting into shape also have a sense of a newly disciplined lifestyle, which is never a bad idea, but often needs to be connected with some other motivation to make it stick.

John the Baptist is the poster boy for the self disciplined life-style. In fact . . .

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
And this was his message: ?After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.    
Mark 1:4,6-7


I know that Lent is supposed to be the season of repentance and applying more discipline to our lifestyle, but New Years brings its spate of resolutions. Here are some that a friend of mine in Illinois sent by email:

~ Gain weight. At least 30 pounds.
~ Watch more TV. I've been missing some good stuff.
~ Procrastinate more.... Starting tomorrow.
~ Get in a whole NEW rut!
~ Buy an '83 Eldorado and invest in a really loud stereo system. Get the
windows tinted. Buy some fur for the dash.
~ Create more loose ends.
~ Focus on the faults of others.
~ Whine about your own faults.
~ Never make New Year's resolutions again.


There is something about turning a page on the calendar, or entering a new year that reminds us that time is passing but also reminds us that here is the opportunity for a whole new beginning.
Those resolutions about diet and getting into shape also have a sense of a newly disciplined lifestyle, which is never a bad idea, but often needs to be connected with some other motivation to make it stick.

John the Baptist is the poster boy for the self disciplined life-style. In fact it occurs to me that "poster-boy" and  "John the Baptist" do not belong in the same sentence.
Look at his description.
He lived an ascetic life, out in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey.

I was reading a sermon by a preacher named Steve May, and he said something that I thought was quite true.
John the Baptist disciplined himself physically as one route to becoming a better person.
Then he dared his listeners to dare to become better persons in service of the king.
He said that John curbed his physical appetites because he did not want them to be his master.

He said that we need to curb our cravings, put a lid on materialism and be willing to sacrifice our comforts to live closer to God.

It is true that Jesus did not live the ascetic life that John lived and was criticized for it.
But he was as disciplined as John. He rose well before dawn to pray, he was willing to endure hardship and even his own death to follow the mission God had given him.

So it may not be Lent, but maybe a new year is still a good time to resolve not to let our appetites or our emotions govern our lives.

The theme of wilderness was familiar to Jews.
There was always a dichotomy between their life in settled cities and their earlier life as a nomadic people.
When the prophets wanted to be closer to that immediate level of intimacy with God, they generally did not go to the temple, they went to the desert.
What the desert meant was a return to simplicity.
They had built a beautiful temple and by the time of Jesus, there was an elaborate
religious system in place.

Going to the desert meant laying aside all the trappings and meeting God face to face.

So John was baptizing in the Jordan at the edge of the wilderness.
When Jews came to see him he called on them to turn away from their life of privilege and luxury and indifference.
He called them to do something extra-ordinary. He called on them to repent and be baptized.
Jews did not baptize. They didn't need to. They were children of Abraham and as long as males were circumcised at birth, their credentials were guaranteed.

But John was saying, your pedigree or your credentials from birth mean nothing.
If you want to escape the judgement of God, turn from your life of indulgence and repent and be baptized.

I wonder how we indulge ourselves.
Is it in our physical appetites?
Do we indulge ourselves with believing that we are doing pretty well and nothing more is needed.
Do we indulge a particular set of beliefs that is contrary to scripture.

Are you prepared this year to lay aside any pet indulgences and come face to face with God?
Are you prepared to hold yourself to a higher standard and submit to a higher authority?
Being a follower of Jesus means accepting the challenge of living a radical life-style and submitting to a higher authority.

John did what he did, but his life had only one purpose, to point to Jesus.
Our life has one supreme purpose, to point to Jesus as Lord.
Is there anything you need to let go of in order to stand face to face with God?



Preached  Jan. 8, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

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