Have you ever felt like what we heard in our first reading?

"I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”

It’s sad enough to feel that way about relatively minor things.  A mom tries out a new recipe.  She puts a lot into it, including two extra trips to the store for ingredients she thought she had, but didn’t.  And finally after all dicing and mixing and anticipation of how much everyone’s going to love it, the kids go, “yuck”, and her dear husband says, “Interesting!”  Actually, the higher the importance of a work, the greater the frustration, when it doesn’t turn out as hoped. 

This is especially true of the ministry of the Word.  Nothing is more important than a blood bought soul.  And so, we put everything we got into sharing and witnessing, and inviting, and encouraging.  And maybe the person you’re working on even comes to services for a while.  But then it happens just like in the parable of the sower and the seed.  He doesn’t let the Word get into his heart, and he’s done!  Or, he stops growing in the Word.  He says, “I’ve heard it all before.”  And then in time his attendance gets less and less till it’s none at all.  Or, maybe it’s not that he’s against the Word or bored with it, he’s just too busy.  Unfortunately, as soon as that one thing is done, there’s always something else that has to be done, until the Lord has to wake him up BIG TIME, if that even happens. 

In our Sunday morning Bible Class, we are reviewing and revising the mission statement of our congregation.  It’s good to do that from time to time, because without realizing it, a congregation can slip into using the wrong mix of ingredients to ministry.  The sad result is the congregation might not be reaching as many souls as it otherwise could.  Or, maybe the congregation is doing everything as Scripturally fine as can be done, but the meager results are causing members to think to themselves,

"I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”

This morning we have an opportunity to see if our ministry is on track, whether as a congregation or as individuals reaching out to family and friends.  From John the Baptist we learn that this is the Mission of the whole Christian Church.  1.  Call people to repentance.  2.  Point people to Christ.  3.  Baptize people into God’s family. 

1.  Call People to Repentance

We read in our text: John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. – Mark 1:4-5 

John preached repentance.  Repentance is changing one’s mind about sin.  For example King David thought it would be fun to sleep with his neighbor’s wife, while his neighbor was away fighting in David’s army.  After Bathsheba became pregnant, David thought it was necessary to murder his neighbor in order to cover up the affair, otherwise bad things might happen to the whole country, if his infidelities were found out.  And so, for nine months, David lived the lie that he had made some bad mistakes, yes, but he was still a basically good person.  Well, there you have the kind of thinking that needs to be changed – that sin is fun, that sin is necessary, that sin is excusable as long as you’re a good person. 

John preached repentance.  He told everyone what adultery is.  It’s adultery, and it’s an abomination to God, who hates divorce.  John also told the people that needs and desires or the popularity of a sin doesn’t make the sin okay.  For example in his day soldiers and tax collectors routinely took from anyone anything they wanted.  Imagine if you were a soldier or a tax collector then.  So what if everyone else was stealing?  It’s still wrong.  However, equally wrong, John said, was being self-centered and not helping others even though they could.  So, what do all sins make a person?  John said dead wood destined for burning! 

John also warned that no one should think he can get away with sin, because he’s a Christian.  Christians repent.  And when a Christian repents he hates the sin so much that he does everything in his power to make things right again.  On the other hand if he doesn’t want to make things right, because that’s no fun, or it costs too much, or it’s convenient, is that person repentant?  Only God can look into his heart.  But John’s mission and OUR mission today is to keep calling people to repentance by clearing stating what sin is and what repentance means.  

We read on in our text: John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. – Mark 1:6  This was another part of John’s call to repentance.  People in his day were very much impressed by wealth.  By the way he lived, John was careful not to feed into that.  We need to be like John.  Something might not be wrong of itself.  But if that thing in anyway clouds our message of repentance to others, let it be!  Because if we insist on our rights and that misleads someone else, we could be guilty of lovelessness; and then we’re the ones who need to repent! 

Is anyone here about ready to give up?  Is anyone thinking that this repentance stuff is just too hard?  Yet if we don’t completely repent, we’re in trouble with God.  Also, what about our loved ones and friends, who clearly need to repent?  How can we get through to them, when we can’t even get ourselves straight?  Here’s what John did whenever anyone got to that point of frustration.  He pointed them to Christ.

2.  Point People to Christ

Our text reads: 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.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." – Mark 1:7-8                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Did you ever feel unworthy to be speaking God’s Word to others, you’re in good company.  John felt unworthy to do even the least little thing for Jesus.  However our mission isn’t about us.  It’s about Christ, who is God Himself.  Everyone, God Himself lived a holy life in your place.  That’s an unchangeable, unconditional fact!  Then God Himself suffered death and hell in behalf of everyone.  This too is an unchangeable, unconditional fact.  All we have to do is just like that jailer in our second reading – believe it!  However, when a person believes it, he will continually repent.  Then as he gets better at facing sin and striving to make the changes that need to be made, he’ll realize even more that his head and heart and his words and actions come up short.  And so, he will continually need Christ. 

But now as his needing Christ continues year after year, and after one sad sin after another, a person might begin to wonder deep down, “Has Christ had enough of me yet?”   What John the Baptist did then was, he didn’t back down on repentance.  And he didn’t smile at them and say, “There, there, everyone sins, but that’s okay, God loves you.”  Rather, John baptized them into God’s family.

3.  Baptize People into God’s Family

Our text reads: At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." – Mark 1:9-11  The water of our baptism washed away all the guilt of our sins.  Jesus didn’t have any sins.  Nevertheless Jesus insisted on being baptized, because through His baptism He identified Himself with us as our brother.  Now since Jesus is our brother, when the Father said to Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”, what is the Father also saying to us in our baptism?  The same thing.  You are my son/daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. 

Through this very message the Holy Spirit works to renew our repentance and our faith in us.  The result is that we grow in our love for God and one another.  But what if a person feels his growth isn’t fast enough?  What if this makes him feel that he wants to speed things up by being baptized again?  Being re-baptized is actually a misunderstanding of baptism.  It’s like saying, “God, you didn’t really mean it when you said the first time, “You are my son/daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  But now God doesn’t lie, and God doesn’t change.  And so, whenever we want renewal in our repentance and in our faith and in living our faith, the solution is to point ourselves back to our baptism, regardless of how many years ago that was, and remind ourselves again what God said to us through our baptism and that we are members of His family.   

Did you notice in this sermon how I kept switching back and forth between talking about ourselves and talking about other people?  This was intentional.  How God works in us is the same way He works in others.  This makes us compassionate toward others.  It also takes the pressure off of us, because it’s GOD, who does the work of changing hearts and lives.  OUR mission whether as individuals or as a congregation is simply this.  It’s too call people to repentance by stating clearly what sin is.  It’s pointing people to Christ by stating clearly who He is, that He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  And finally our mission is to keep reminding people that through baptism they too are members of God’s family.  There’s nothing in life that’s more fun, more needed, and blessed.  May God help us in our mission!  Amen. 

Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net