A Forceful Change                            Matthew 4:12-17

Epiphany 3A                                                      January 22, 2023,                                  St. John, New Orleans

From the time she was a child my wife, Susan, loved the beach.

 I had never seen the ocean before we were married.

After college her sister relocated to Sarasota FL which was one of the best beaches in the world. 

Through 30 years of living in the Midwest,

 going to the beach was an important trek for our family, 

if not an arduous one.

At least once every two years we drove the 24 hours or so to get there to enjoy it.

When we were younger we didn't see the need for stopping halfway, and we drove straight through.

The goal was to be at our accommodations and on the beach by noon the day of our arrival 

And as we drove through the night the traffic would diminish 

and between 4:00 and 5:00 AM we usually found ourselves somewhere between Gainesville and Tampa FL. 

In other words, the middle of nowhere.

 and as I drove through that inky blackness with bloodshot eyes and four or five others snoring in the car behind me it was a very spooky setting of loneliness 

nothing seemed alive at that hour.

Even the sky yielded it to the heavens and it looked as if the stars were falling around us.

You wondered, “will daylight ever come?” 

and this was usually when I’d pull into a truck stop.

First, for the break and the opportunity to stretch my legs and get the first cup of coffee from the fresh pot they were brewing for the truckers. 

But, secondly, to be able to awaken the rest of the occupants of the car, 

so that they could keep me awake these last couple of hours on the road to Sarasota. 

And it was truly amazing that if I timed the stop just right 

we would stop at a time of the night which was truly the darkest. 

But after filling the tank, making pit stops, and gathering coffee, the sky was suddenly bright. 

From pitch black to rosy gold in under 20 minutes.

While busying ourselves with other tasks the environment and the setting had abruptly changed.

When we say, “it's darkest before the dawn,” we aren't usually talking about Daybreak are we? 

We are talking about the difficulties that come in life before we see positive change.

To find your perfect mate you go on a lot of bad dates.

To earn a degree, you spend years in hard study.

To get yourself in better health you work hard, eat well, and sometimes withstand painful therapies and surgeries.

And this feeling of darkness is especially true in dealing with personal shortcomings and failures.

 Some are fairly benign if not really annoying,

 while others are very painful.

They cause others to end their relationship with us.

They lead others to not trust us for a long time.

They may cost us financially or professionally. 

And while we are going through the darkness, we wonder, “will daylight ever come?” 

Will I be relieved of this feeling that I'm groping in the darkness,

looking for a foothold on which to stand or a handle to keep me from falling?

As my eyes are burning, peeled for the first signs of improvement, will that moment ever arrive? 

And without an intervention we know we will never escape this dark place.

Yet we are ashamed to be found there 

because now that we are there we are embarrassed that we got in so far, so deep, into this predicament

In today's readings we learned about the darkness. 

First, that there is no place so dark that we can hide from God and his judgment 

While people commit crimes in the dark to conceal their role in committing their sin, 

God sees all and he knows everything we've done to dishonor him. 

We hide in the shadows like a kid playing hide and seek.

But God finds us and says, “Aha! I gotcha!” 

But, paradoxically this also means we can never get lost in the darkness either.

When life, and even our sin, beats us down into thinking we are where we need to be, 

God shines his light in the darkness and offers his love and forgiveness to those who believe. 

When we cower from His Holiness in fear and shame 

he reaches down, pulls us up out of that pit, and says, “Don't worry, I've got you.” 

both ways we are helpless. 

Lost in the dark with no way to save ourselves.

Fearful and alone, either from guilt or despair.

And in both settings God ends our time in the shadows by arriving on scene

either to judge or to save.

Either to condemn or to reconcile.

Only God can bring about this change of fortune and only God can put an end to the darkness.

When God's Law sheds light on the shadows of sin the guilty person runs and hides like a Roach caught in the middle of the night.

But when his Gospel sheds light on our repentant sorrow, 

we seek its warming glow,

and we bask in his love and forgiveness. 

When Jesus said, “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” it was both law and gospel.

For those who did not want or know his love, it was the law which brought eternal punishment 

For those who trusted in his love, it was the sweet gospel that restored light and life to those who believed in him 

God will eventually force change upon all of us at the last day,

 either to bring us out of the shadows of this life into the eternal darkness of hell,

or to raise us up out of the dark pit and into the marvelous light of his glory.

And the best part of all of this is that you don't need to wait till that day to know which one waits for you. 

Jesus went through the land telling everyone the gospel 

so that they would know the light of forgiveness 

and he called disciples to help him and to continue that ministry after his ascension into heaven. 

And even when he warned the unbelievers of the dire consequences which would come when they were exposed by the light, 

it was because he loved them, 

and wanted them to repent and trust in him for their salvation. 

You and I, who have been baptized, already know the light of Christ as the light of love and forgiveness.

We don't fear the darkness because it holds no power over Jesus.

And when we find ourselves in the darkness we know he is near and will eventually rescue us 

Though we may have been baptized with but a few drops of water,

it was a powerful flood which changed us our lives forever.

We were forced out of the devil's cold, deadly, clutches,

and placed into the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior Jesus

On some level every person knows they are capable of wickedness and their conscience takes them into the shadows of darkness and the fear of judgment.

What are your greatest darkest fears?

What would you rather no one find out about you?

What would you like to bury in the deepest darkest shadows of your heart?

Well, God already knows about it! Hiding place gone! 

But he offers you forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

The light of Christ changes you and your situation if you have faith in God to do it. 

This is not to say you are some superhero for having faith under such duress,

For, even faith is a gift.

And God gives it as it is needed.

Because God could not be a loving God if he was not capable of affecting our salvation.

All that is required of you is to surrender.

Let down the human desire to save yourself,

and open your heart to allow the free gift of saving grace, 

and the love and forgiveness of Jesus 

to bring you from darkness into light

When God's people collectively surrender their lives to Jesus amazing change comes to his church as well.

When we pick up our crosses in life and follow Jesus, 

knowing he has already suffered in our place, 

and is preparing the next place for us at his father's side,

 we are freed from our burdens and pointed to service in his name.

And when we join together with other liberated sinners like ourselves,

who are following Jesus without the shadows of doubt and guilt,

he not only empowers us with joy in our service 

but equips us with everything we need to accomplish what he is leading us to do. 

Yesterday our council met all day to talk about how we should lead this group of believers called Saint John Lutheran.

And one of the points made by a couple of our leaders spoke about that surrender.

That we must trust and rely upon God for all things, 

that no matter how things go in the future God will prevail in the end,

and that we are the ones that he will use to accomplish it 

And to help us in that we want to focus on prayer as part of our strategy to shed light in the darkness. 

We also talked about how important it is to communicate well with one another and with those with whom we seek to bring ministry,

so that no one is left in the dark,

and so that the light of Jesus can be shared with as many as possible. 

We have assigned some work and laid out some concrete plans.

We aren't ready to share them yet. 

But by Easter you will hear about them and might even be asked to play a part in implementing them,

all so that the positive change which comes from the light of the gospel 

would grow and flow flourish among us. 

May it happen as is God's will, and may each of us be willing to join him. Amen.