MAKING A FRESH START WITH GOD'S HELP
Reverend Charles W. Roberts
First Presbyterian Church, Pascagoula, MS
We gather today to worship God, on what is obviously the first
Sunday of this New Year.
And as we gather, we come together to listen to the Word, to see
what God has to say to us today, as we enter this new year.
And as we do this, we come here today, many of us, having made some
new year's resolutions. We have resolved
to stop smoking;
to lose weight;
to end the control that alcohol has over our life;
to study harder;
to get in shape;
to be a wiser spender, and a better saver;
to clean up our language;
to pray more,
read the Bible more,
to grow to become better followers of Jesus, our Lord.
Sad to say, some of those resolutions have fallen by the wayside
already, here only seven days into the year. But they reflect our desire
to make a fresh start. We enter 2001 filled with hopes. The questions
about when the new millennium actually begins are behind us now. What
lays before us now, is the chance, the desire, the opportunity, for a
The text we have read today is, I think, about fresh starts. John's
preaching calls people to a fresh start. And when Herod throws John into
prison, Jesus' ministry begins or emerges, and is a fresh start, as well.
I want you to think today about making a fresh start in your life; a
fresh start with God, and a fresh start with God's help.
Several months ago, I sat at Nellie's Tea Room with a young man, and
listened to his story about a fresh start. He was once a member of this
congregation, but has moved to Gulfport, and since joined a church
there. He was over here on business, and called to see if I could have
lunch with him.
He has changed jobs since his move, has gotten married, and his wife
was the single parent of a small child. We laughed about the minor
changes that have taken place in his life since he left Pascagoula!
But it was in talking about his marriage-and coming to grips with
the realities of immediate parenthood-that the need for a fresh start
settled in on this young man.
As he put it, God was doing some major work in his life. The
responsibility of being a parent was overwhelming to him. He was taking
it seriously, and turning to God for help. And he found that God was
asking him to make some changes, and those changes were causing him to
make a fresh start with God.
Do you feel the need for that fresh start? I don't mean a job change
and marriage and children. I wonder if you, as we stand here still on
the cusp of this new year, are feeling, deep in your soul, the need for
a fresh start with God. Is there something in you, crying out for
change, something calling for a shift, for a fresh start?
I suspect that is what was going on in the lives of all those people
who were flocking out to see and hear John. There was something about
him that drew them. There was something about what he said that
attracted them. And there was something about what happened inside them,
that shaped them.
Everyone went; that is, all kinds of people. Men and women, tax
collectors, soldiers. They were all drawn to hear this man.
And did you catch the basic message? "It's time for a change in your
life, it's time for a fresh start." As Luke relates the sermon, John
"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to
gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with
Now, there is some language there, with which we are not familiar.
So allow me to help us understand it better, so we can better understand
the story, the sermon, and the message I think God has for us today.
This was by and large, an agricultural society. More people were
engaged in growing crops than we tend to realize. And when those crops
were harvested, there was no machinery to help with the process. So if
you were someone who grew wheat, for instance, this is what happened:
After cutting the stalks of wheat, you brought them to the community
threshing floor. This was a large place, flat, and made either of a huge
stone, or a number of stones placed together, or a very hard, packed
spot of earth.
Then you laid your wheat on this floor, and had it threshed out.
This was done in any number of ways. It could be hammered, quite literally
beaten with a mallet until the grain separated from the stalk and the
husk. It may be walked across, by you, your children, or others. Often,
there were animals used to pull heavy pieces of wood, in which pieces of
metal were inserted.
All of these means simply caused the seed, the grain, to separate
from the stalk, and make the husk fall off the seed.
Then you waited for a good breeze.
And you took the threshing fork, which was a wide, flat, tool,
almost like a shovel, and you scooped up some of the stuff on the floor, and
tossed it in the air. God took care of things from that point. The heavy
seed flew into the air, and then fell back to earth. But the remains of
the stalks, and the husks of the grain, which was called chaff, was
carried away by the wind, since it was lighter.
You continued that process, as long as necessary, until the wheat
and the chaff-which was trash-was effectively separated. You then collected
the wheat to take home, or to take to the market to sell. And the chaff
was collected, and burned like the trash it was.
John's message was basically a call to see life as a parallel with
this process. There were things in people's lives that they knew were
chaff-trash-that needed to be cleaned out, thrown away, and burned up.
And by extension, there were people who were compared to chaff, who
were going to be separated from the kingdom.
And I think the same message today, speaks the same way to us. We
are called to look at our lives, and let John's message-which is God's
message-settle onto, and into, us.
So how do we do that? I think there are three things that need to
happen, if we are to hear this word, and respond to it rightly.
1. OPEN YOURSELF TO THE WORD OF GOD
What I mean by that is the internal willingness to listen to, and to
hear, the Word of God for your life. It is all too easy to listen to the
Word, but not to hear it.
Look at the people who went out in the desert to hear John. They had
to get out of their homes, go to a place that was unfamiliar to them, and
listen to words that were not easy words. And they had to hear them.
And they did it. When John spoke, they heard the Word of God. It was
not God's voice, the voice that Jesus heard later, but it was the Word
of God, nonetheless. There are so many voices speaking today, that it is
dangerously easy in our culture to filter out the things we do not want
to hear. If the news is bad, we change channels. If the chair is
uncomfortable, we move. If the food does not taste right, we demand
We have grown too self-centered, thinking and acting as if the world
revolves around us. We need to hear the Word of God, and let it sink
into our soul.
And when that Word makes us uncomfortable, we need to listen even
closer, and hear it even more. We need to learn that uncomfortable is
not always bad. We need to let God change us.
But that will happen only when you pick up the Word, and let it
settle into you. Use one of the Through the Bible in a Year Guides that we
provide for you. Then learn to make that daily ritual a vital part of
your day. Don't rush through it; read the Word slowly, listen to it, and
pray your way through it, asking God what he wants you to hear from him
that day, in that Word.
I promise you this-if you read through the Bible, it is a commitment
that you will NEVER regret. God wants you to read his Word; and he WILL
bless you for doing that. In addition, his Word will shape you in new
What are you waiting for?
2. GET RID OF THE CHAFF IN YOUR LIFE
Some of you, as I have been talking for the last few minutes, have
been thinking, "That sounds good, but I just don't have the time to read the
Bible every day." Listen friends, you don't have the time NOT to read
the Bible every day. God will call you to account one day, and when you
stand before him, whining about your busy life, he's going to point out
the chaff that you held onto, to avoid his Word.
I don't know what the time wasters in your life are. It may be
it may be surfing the internet,
it may be talking on the phone,
it may be reading novels,
it may be any number of things.
But they are chaff, trash, that you need to clear out.
And those things are just the tip of the iceberg. There is other
chaff that lingers, trash in your life that needs to be burned up.
Attitudes that are ungodly;
language that is unchristian;
behavior that is an abomination.
You know what the chaff in your life is; and as you open yourself to
the Word of God, you will discover more and more of that chaff. Get rid
of it, friends, and let God up clear your heart, and your life.
Do you remember what "Spring cleaning" is like? it's something we
put off, and avoid, because the work is not fun. But remember what it is
like when Spring cleaning is over. It feels good, it feels fresh, it
feels liberating. That same feeling can be yours if and when you get rid
of the chaff, and let God clean you up.
What are you waiting for?
3. PRAY FOR THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT
The way Luke tells us about Jesus' baptism is a little different
from the other gospels. He points John out as the one who prepared the way,
and shows Jesus demonstrating solidarity with the people by being
baptized. But then Luke shows us a different angle.
He tells us that it was when Jesus was in an attitude of prayer,
that the Spirit came upon him. In fact, if you take a careful read of Luke's
gospel, and the book of Acts which he also wrote, you will see that Luke
is particularly interested in the prayer life of Jesus, and the emerging
The reality is this: you cannot clean the chaff out yourself; you
need God's help. You cannot understand the Word of God yourself; you need
God's help. You cannot live an effective, vital, Christian life
yourself; you need God's help.
Ask God to fill you with his Spirit, and you will be equipped to do
all the things you want to do, and so much more. Try and make a fresh start
on your own, and you'll do alright for a bit, but then you'll fall, just
like those resolutions that have already fallen.
But with God's help, you can do anything. Remember, Jesus told us
that with God, all things are possible (MT 19.26).
The same God that called John; the same God who brought Jesus into
this world and brought him into your life; is calling for you to make a
fresh start with him today. I invite you, I challenge you, to respond to
that call today. God WILL bless you, and make your dreams come true.
What are you waiting for? God is ready, and willing to help.
Won't you make a fresh start with him today?
İFirst Presbyterian Church Pascagoula, Mississippi
Used by permission.