Messiah Lutheran Church :: GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION

GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION

Dear friends in Christ,

            In 1873 Charles Tillman wrote a spiritual entitled, “Give Me That Old Time Religion.”  He had heard it for the first time at a Camp Meeting in Lexington, South Carolina and then wrote it and published it.  It is not complicated to sing.  “Give Me That Old Time Religion” is the chorus. It was repeated three times and then was finished with the phrase, “It’s good enough for me.” 

Then there are verses like, 

“Makes me love everybody,
Makes me love everybody,
Makes me love everybody,
It's good enough for me.” 

Then comes the chorus again,

“Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It's good enough for me.”

The next verse,

“It was good for Hebrew children
It was good for Hebrew children
It was good for Hebrew children
And it's good enough for me.”

Then comes the chorus again. There are more verses always followed by this same chorus. 

Charles Tillman doesn’t sound German, does he?  Maybe that’s why the song didn’t make it into a Lutheran hymnal. I’ve always liked the Negro spirituals as they were called when I was younger.  They didn’t have the deepest theology, but they were easy to remember and the tune was catchy and singable all day long.

            I love that sentiment “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” That’s needed today when we live in a time of post-modernism where people claim there is nothing that is really certain.  As we look at John the Baptist this week just “Give Me That Old Time Religion” is so appropriate.

            Larry King once interviewed Joel Osteen, one of the most popular televangelists these days from Houston, Texas. Larry King asked Osteen about his preaching: "You don't call (the people) sinners?" Joel Osteen replied, "I don't."  Then King asked, "Is that a word you don't use?" Osteen said, "I don't use it.  I never thought about it.  But I probably don't. But most people already know what they're doing wrong.  When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change.  There can be a difference in your life.  So I don't go down the road of condemning."

            John the Baptist called people sinners. So let’s see…Joel Osteen or John the Baptist?  I think we will go with John the Baptist.

When John came along, his mission was to prepare the world for Jesus.  Repentance was the heart of his message.  “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This translation says he was preaching.  The Greek word means to herald.  Royalty had heralds.  When they went somewhere the herald would announce that royalty was coming.  Heralds were also used to announce decisions or decrees they had made.  Towns had criers or heralds. There weren’t newspapers so a herald would go around town announcing important news or warnings for the city.  John was a herald.  He wasn’t holding Bible classes and listening to people’s opinions.  He was calling out for people to repent because God’s kingdom and rule through Christ was coming.  

            His message was repentance.  You can’t talk about repentance without talking about sin.  God sent a lot of prophets to Israel to confront people with sin. Hosea the prophet compared sin to the adultery of an unfaithful bride.  The people were unfaithful brides; God is the bridegroom. The people were committing adultery. Hosea called on people to repent. Isaiah described sin as flat out rebellion against God.  Isaiah called on Israel to repent. Jeremiah called sin forsaking the Lord.  Jeremiah called on Israel to repent.  Sin is a big deal.  It ruins our relationship to the Lord. 

When the prophet or when John the Baptist calls for repentance he is calling on us to have a different mind and thought about sin. Repent means to change your mind, have different values to think and act differently.    

Give this good thought. People are born with a sinful nature.  You and I were born with a sinful nature.  We call that original sin. It is part of the package with which we were born.  Yet we like to think that when we hold a baby it has a clean slate with God. But the Psalm says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Sinful at conception?  Yes, sinful at conception! No one needs to learn sin. We do that quite well without practice.  Change your mind about original sin! Repent of original sin!

            There is more.  The human religion is to worship self.  It is natural to think I am number one around here.  I am the one I need to be concerned about.  Wrong again!  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.”  Our creator is number one and we ought to be focused on living him.  Or how about Philippians Chapter two?  “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  Repent!  Change your mind about selfishness and self centeredness!  

The sinful mind likes to think that the more something is done the more it should be accepted as a way of life.  Like what?   Vulgar in speech!  What’s the big deal?  Just expressions of one’s feelings! How about sex in every movie or TV program or conversation?  Get used to homosexuality!  It’s a right people have.  Says who?  Certainly not God!  Repent!  Change your mind!

We love to justify sin on the basis of others sinning.  I was watching C-Span last week kind of late.  They were showing hearings where they are investigating just how much power does the president have?  Can a president suddenly decree money to be shifted for one use to another in a bill that has been passed?  Can the president change laws arbitrarily?  Mostly it dealt with the new health care law.  You have Democrats and Republicans so you know where that went.  Here are men arguing like little children.  Well, President Reagan did it or President Clinton did it.  President Bush did it. Because someone did some thing doesn’t make it right. Change your mind.  Repent! Who makes the rules?  You and I don’t.  The Lord does.   

God doesn’t change.  His standards don’t change.  That has been true throughout the ages. Matthew says, This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”  Matthew quotes from the book of Isaiah, the 40th chapter about John the Baptist.  He compares the preaching of repentance to road building.  We want the Lord to come to us with the forgiveness of sins, but we must get rid of the obstacles that stand in the way. If you have driven Highway 20 from Cumming to Buford they are making it a four land highway.  It is a mess.  You can see where some hills need to be leveled and some valleys need to be filled in to have a decent road.

The Lord wants to come to us.  There are obstacles in the way – pride!  Mountains of pride!  Why does Jesus want to come to us?  To bring us forgiveness!  Pride keeps from seeing how desperately we need Jesus.  Change your mind.  Repent of that pride.   

Or it might be the other way around too.  There are valleys.  When we get so miserable over the sins we have done and conclude that there is no way God can forgive us.  Change your mind.  Repent!  No sin is too big or repeated too often that God doesn’t forgive.  I saw this the other day and it is true. “We may be worse than we ever thought, but God is better than we ever imagined.” That’s the old time religion.

There are some other things we learn about repentance.  It’s powerful. Matthew writes further, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”  John was anything but a millionaire preacher with body guards and limousines.  His dress was as simple as his message.  When John preached people went out to hear him.  There is something about that good old time religion of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus.  You know what it is?  It’s the Word of God and has the Holy Spirit works through it. People’s hearts are touched.  Sin is real and the need of forgiveness is real.   

            Repentance can’t be faked. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” John’s preaching was a far cry from what the Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders.  Neither, however, was teaching that old time religion of repentance unto life.  The Pharisees laid more laws on people making it impossible burdens on the people leaving them hopeless.  The Sadducees didn’t even believe in life after this life.  When you die, that’s it!  Take all you can now because that’s all there is.  God have mercy on the soul who believes that.   

            Something interesting occurs. Those Pharisees and Sadducees went out to see John.  Why?  They went because that was the “in” thing to do.  God sees through that.  Forgiveness and peace with God is about connections, but not because of the title one has, or the family that someone might be a part of.  Jesus made it clear salvation is not about being a member of a race of people or tied to Mom’s spiritual apron strings. The only connection that counts is the connection with the Heavenly Father through the Savior Jesus Christ.   

John preached and he baptized.  “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”  A sermon on the blessings of Baptism is a sermon all by itself.  Just be clear on this that Baptism is more than a symbolic act.  Luke’s account of this very incident says that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

The Old Testament people had all kinds of washings or baptisms but John’s was different.  It dealt with the inner man.  Jesus would point out to Nicodemus that baptism brings about the inner being “to be born again.”  The Bible says that the Spirit is at work in Baptism on the inner man.  “Baptism saves” according to Peter.  Baptism makes us members of the body of Christ-God’s church says Paul. “Baptism clothes us in Jesus Christ.”  This was the message of John.  This is the message of God’s church.  

There is so much to say about John and the message of repentance.  There will be more in the weeks to come.  Think about this.  If your name were used in the Bible in prophecy, if you had such a fine turn out to hear you preach, it would have been tempting for John to say, I am a pretty important person.  He didn’t.  He knew he was a sinner too in need of repentance.  He confessed he wasn’t worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.  He was a sinner. 

So are we.  Do some soul-searching, but turn to the Savior that John also proclaimed.  He’s in the manger.  He is Christ the Lord.

 Amen

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