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Up, Down, Back, and Forth - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Let’s say that St. Philip has obtained a computer program that can graph all your reactions to everything that has happened in this past week.

First, you list the events of this past week-it’s all confidential-and second, for each event, the computer asks a series of questions about that event. Next, the computer determines if your reaction to that event was either positive or negative.

Based on your answers, it decides the level of positivity or negativity and assigns a value to it.

Lastly, on a line graph, the computer plots all the values of the events over the time of this past week.

Imagine seeing this graph that shows your whole week plotted out before you. On this graph, you can see the ups and downs of every hour for the past seven days.

Perhaps, back on a certain day, you see a spike of joy. After that spike of joy, it went down to a sudden dip that looks like a period of a down cycle. And then, you see a gradual climb back up to some level of happiness.

Maybe you see a time that is pretty much flat that shows how life went on with the same old stuff happening.

It can be stated that any week in our lives throws at us all kinds of stuff.

How about if this computer program shows a graph for all the events of your life?

I’m willing to say that my life has had all kinds of ups and downs. I’ve had times that I thought that I was climbing up the mountain of life quite strongly, but from a mistake that just took a second, I was knocked down as if an avalanche hit me.

Although I’m the one who thought of starting this message with some kind of computer program that can plot out our lives, I’m not sure I want a visualization tool that shows my whole life.

I’m sure my life’s graph looks like a drawing of a two-year-old. If you give a two-year-old a piece of paper and a crayon, the child will squiggle down lines and circles all over the paper.

Life is just so irregular. I don’t want my life to curl and loop around like a tangled mess of string. If things get all knotty, I want the mess to straighten out.

Who wants to live in chaos? Isn’t it best to get it all straight?

But, doesn’t that the word “straight” get us every time?

If we are not “seeing straight,” we are not thinking clearly.

If we are told to “straighten up,” we need to get things in order; it’s time to sort out the clutter.

If we are told to “go straight,” we are to stop engaging in something that is wrong.

If we are to get back on the “straight and narrow,” we are to proceed according to rules and plans.

If we are to “keep it straight,” we are to avoid confusing or mixing up something.

If someone told you that you need to get your life “straight,” doesn’t it come off sounding a bit intrusive?

“Are you judging me? Yea, stay in your lane. Don’t be telling me what to do.”

I know my life gets out of sorts at times, but I don’t like anyone pointing it out to me.

Although I know I can be wrong, I don’t like any judgment about what I’m doing with my life.

Judgment is like a sharp stick that points directly at what is wrong.

If you are saying something is wrong with my life, are you saying that something is wrong with me?

Okay, I will admit that my life at times has gone off the straight and narrow and was headed down a road of sharp dangerous curves that were leading to a dead end, but I will decide what needs to be done to get it all straight.

Oh! Wow! Did I just hear myself say how I can straighten out my messy life all on my own?

Sitting down and having a deep self-talk with ourselves has to be real, for it’s easy to fool ourselves that we are always going down the right path in life.

It might seem strange to do this, but when you are having a time of self-talk, find a place far from other people, and have a “straight” talk out loud to yourself.

Let you hear yourself talk about your life. There is something about letting the thoughts in your head out into the air in spoken words, so you can hear those thoughts come back to you. It can help to make looking at your life more objective.

We need to be candid about our lives to ourselves, and not only to ourselves but if we are going to be “real,” we need to be open to God and to one another.

Coming to worship today, we got “real” about our lives in the confession of sin.

We go deep and ask, “How did we react in our thoughts, words, and deeds to all the events of this past week?”

Some were good, and some were not.

Looking at this past week, we might have had a spike of anger, but it’s possible that the anger was positive because it was over something “righteous,” and you responded in a logical and reasonable way.

Can you make a mental graph of your week in the light of God’s will?

A life of good works and sin makes for a squiggly graph of thoughts, words, and deeds that go up, down, back, and forth.

When we are looking at the world and see chaos, it’s because of sin. And when looking at our lives and see a mess, it’s because of our sin.

To say, at the beginning of creation, God meant for the graph of our lives to be of constant joy with no dips or spikes down into any kind of sadness or misery.

After the fall into sin by the first humans, sin has caused nothing but problems.

We know what sin can do to a life, and each of us knows what our sin has done to hurt God, other people, and our lives.

So, we’ve come to church this morning, and we know what we are to do about our sin, for we do it just about every Sunday.

We speak out loud our confession of our sins.

Although we can confess our sins in a whisper in a prayer by ourselves, and in that prayer, we receive forgiveness, but when we come here, we leave no question about our sin in a public confession.

We confess to God, to one another, and, I might add, to ourselves that we are sinners.

Because if we don’t realize that we are sinners, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us as Scripture tells us.

What we want here this morning is a path to Jesus, so he can forgive our sins.

Our confession makes a straight path for our Lord to come to us.

If there is one thing that we can do that is perfectly straight in our lives, it’s to repent of our sins.

To be sure, we don’t pat ourselves on the back for coming here this morning, for it was the Holy Spirit with its tow truck that lifted us out of bed that got us here.

The work of the Holy Spirit has been going on from the prophets of old until the last prophet.

As the last prophet, John the Baptist was the voice of one crying in the wilderness to tell of the coming of Christ.

Our picture of John is one of a rough, unkempt person. When he told of the coming of Christ, he shouted and pointed.

We could say that shouting and pointing is rude, but we are talking about repentance that makes a straight path to Christ, so let’s be vigorous to get out this crucial message.

Everything of the world depended on people seeing the coming of Christ, the world’s Lord and Savior, so there needed to be some shouting and pointing by this man of the wilderness man named John.

The din of the world is loud which makes it hard to hear anything, and the messes of the world give nothing but confusion.

The world has many messages with so many political points of view, religions, and philosophies.

What message will truly work for every human being?

Today, we hear John crying in the wideness, “Make straight your path.” Or in one word, “Repent!”

Don’t we need someone like John to be in this present day’s wilderness to shout about repentance and to point to Christ?

Several years ago, I heard a sermon by Dale Meyer, a former Lutheran Hour speaker, now recently the president emeritus of our seminary in St Louis.

This sermon was after one of the too often mass shootings that we have been so sadly seeing.

In the sermon, he said he was finding that people wanted an explanation as to why such horrific events like mass shootings happen. How can a person do something that is so awful?

He began by talking about the human explanation. From a psychological understanding, a person can have such a mental illness that it leads that person to act out very violently.

Dale Meyer, then, gave an explanation from a theological perspective.

Anything that is horrible is the result of sin. Because of our sinful nature from the first human’s fall into sin, bad things will happen. All sin is wrong, and anyone sin damnable, and at times, evil will strike out and cause something really bad.

The theological explanation for this time that we are leaving in with this pandemic is that of what Scripture says in Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

After we read this verse, we might ask, “If God is love, why would he create calamity?” We get the prosperity part, but we don’t get the calamity part. That part needs to be explained.

God doesn’t need a computer program to see how the world is doing.

As God did in Old Testament times, He sees the world going far from His will, and He lets or makes things happen, so people will turn back to Him.

Our selfish egos that only see our own ways get us in trouble every time, and it’s our humility that comes from faith that sees a loving holy God who wants the best for us that will get us out of our problems every time.

I don’t want to disparage government and science as they are working to get the world back to “normal” again, and all is looking like that these efforts are going to be successful to get to the point of ending this time of “calamity.”

We believe that our help only comes from the Lord, and, in these modern times, we know how God works through ordinary means-like government and science to accomplish His goals.

But, from a theological stance, this time is a sign for us to be shouting and pointing like the way of John the Baptist.

I’m not saying we all have to wear camel’s hair and start eating insects, but in a clear way, we need to be telling others to make a straight path to Jesus.

God the Father wants every person in the world to make a way to Jesus by repenting of their sins.

At first, people will not want to hear about sin, for they will have to admit that they are wrong.

So, our shouting and pointing will have to be done in ways that connect to people who have little or even no idea of who and what God is.

The whole purpose of God the Father sending Jesus to this earth as a human was to show His love and care for the world.

Dale Meyer has also recently preached a sermon that has the title, “It is a Good Time to be the Church.”

Today, it is good for us to be here, so we can receive forgiveness for our sins.

Then, as we leave here, it’s in these bad times that make for a good time for us to be shouting and pointing to Jesus who gives the world God’s love and care.

We are living in an up, down, back and forth time, but we are meant to be in this time, for we have a purpose.

Just like John the Baptist, we are to be shouting and pointing to Jesus who has come to take away the sins of the world.

The world is hurting now, but if people repent, they will make a straight path to Jesus who then will come back straight to every person who repents with a Christmas message of glad tidings of peace and joy for this time and for every day.


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