Willfully Ignorant

Readings for the day (Lectionary 26 – Sunday, September 26, 2016):

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Luke 16:19-31

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Scholars aren’t really sure if the Lazarus in this parable is the same Lazarus who was a brother to Mary and Martha that we read about in John’s Gospel.  But there is so much more to this parable than determining which Lazarus Jesus is talking about here.

With interpreting this parable, how far do we really take it?  Do we use the parable as a way to give us a glimpse into what will happen after we die?  We could.  In the parable, we see that both the rich man and Lazarus (the poor man) die about the exact same time; and it appears that they immediately either go to Hades (for the rich man) or rest in the arms of Abraham (for Lazarus).  Does that mean that immediately after we take our final breath that we will either be in the fires of hell or enjoying the comforts of heaven?  Maybe.  This parable also brings up questions of will those in heaven and those in hell be able to communicate with one another?  And this also brings up questions about the Resurrection and the New Jerusalem that we are told will be on this earth, in this place.  Is where the rich man and Lazarus at in the parable (heaven and hell) just a temporary place before the Final Judgement?  We could certainly try to carefully analyze this parable trying to find clues into something that none of us know anything about: what life after death might be like.

But this parable could also be taken in another way, as to say that if you’re rich you are bad and being poor should be the better desired social status.  Since none of us have our own private jets to fly us around or any dedicated chauffeurs to drive us places, it’s not too difficult for us to write ourselves out of this category and to say that people like Trump and Clinton are to be considered the rich.  We’re not rich like them, so we can’t possibly be the rich man in this parable.  And since we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be poor either, we can figure that maybe we’re just off the hook.

As Americans, we certainly aren’t poor, but we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be rich either.  Except, we are rich – especially compared to people in other countries.  We are rich in this country.  And we like being rich.  We like being comfortable.  We have nice clothes.  We have plenty of food to eat whenever we get hungry.  We have more possessions than what we really need.  We are rich with blessings.  We are rich.  Now being rich is not in itself a bad thing.  But we are like this unnamed rich man.  We sit in our comfortable homes, protected from many of the poverty issues in this world.  We don’t have fences or gates around our homes, but we do have corn fields that separate us from the poverty issues that many in urban areas face.  Let’s face it, living here in rural Minnesota, we are comfortable.

Being comfortable is not a bad thing, but there are poverty and hunger issues in our local community.  It’s just easier, however, to ignore the issues rather than to face them head on.  We prefer to enjoy our comforts and riches, and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community.  When talking with Abraham, the rich man makes a request that Lazarus come and dip the tip of his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue.  The rich man referred to Lazarus by name.  He knew who Lazarus was.  And why wouldn’t he know him?  Lazarus sat outside the rich man’s gate probably every day for quite some time.  Since the rich man was known for his fancy clothes and abundant feasts, Lazarus could pretty much be guaranteed some sort of meal, gathered through the table scraps that were thrown out to the dogs.  So Lazarus sat at the gate, or like sitting at the end of your driveway.  Lazarus would have been the first person any guest of the rich man would have seen.  And with all of the parties this rich man had, he and his guests certainly would have seen and known who this Lazarus was.  They just didn’t want to know.  Because of our riches and comforts, we too don’t want to know.  There are poverty and hunger issues in our own community, and in surrounding communities.  But it’s a whole lot easier to simply ignore the issues rather than facing them head on.  We prefer to enjoy our riches and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community.  However, just because we ignore the issues doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.  They do exist!  The problem for us is that if we acknowledge the real issues in our community, then we can no longer play the ignorance card.  If we’re ignorant, then we don’t feel guilty, for then we can simply say, “I didn’t know.”

But salvation is not dependent on how much or how little wealth you have.  There will be rich people who will be saved and poor people who aren’t.  And there will also be poor people who will be saved and rich people who aren’t.  The bigger question is: where do you find glory.  The faithless heart prefers to find glory in itself and to find its joy in this earth, in money and wealth and power.  But the faithful, even though they may have to fight off the dogs of this world to survive, find glory not in ourselves, but in Christ.  And we find joy in this earth, not in money and wealth, but in the Word of God.  This simple word that we say each year, so simple and yet so true, so real, so complete, that there can be no question in our hearts.  “He is risen.  He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

This is the reason why we don’t have to worry about what will happen after we die.  We don’t have to tirelessly try to figure out exactly what will happen when we do take our final breath.  Instead, we put our faith in God and trust that Jesus is indeed alive and real.  And we hold on to that same hope that Mary sang so long ago in her Magnificat, “Jesus has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  One day, when Jesus returns there will be no more rich and poor, no more powerful and lowly, for we all will simply be viewed as God’s children at that great heavenly banquet with feasting sumptuously every day for all of eternity.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

What Are You Carrying?

Readings for the day (Lectionary 23 – Sunday, September 4, 2016):

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 1

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-33

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Gospel text today brings up that call to discipleship where Jesus calls us to carry the cross and follow Him.  Which has made me wonder, “What is it that you carry?”  On any given day we carry car keys to groceries.  We carry the laundry and the trash.  Those starting school are now carrying books and papers.  Over the years things have been created to make carrying things easier for us – from cars and carts, to bags and trailers.  We have many “tools” available to us to make carrying our “stuff” easier.

But it’s not just the everyday physical things, our “stuff,” that we carry.  We carry with us the joys of babies and weddings where we welcome new members into our families.  We carry those mixed emotions of our kids and grandkids entering a new phase in their life.  We carry the sorrow of losing someone close to us.  We carry the worry of the unforeseen future: will our loved one as they travel reach their destination safely?  Will I be able to afford health insurance this next year?  Will the yields this harvest be enough?  And I know all you Vikings fans are carrying that concern of how well the team will do now with their star quarterback out for the season.

In all seriousness though, we physically and emotionally carry a lot of things every single day.  Some days the load to bear is rather easy.  Other days that load to bear can be more than we can handle.  So when Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  That just sounds like one more thing to add to the long list of things that we need to be doing.  I think with each passing year we all get busier with longer lists.  This year our garden got away from us and is growing out of control because it was such a busy summer for us.  We all are busy and I believe that people’s busyness is one of the reasons why we are seeing (all over the country and across denominations) fewer and fewer people coming to church.  People’s plates are already overflowing.  They don’t need another thing on their list to check off.

So when Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  What does that mean for you?  What does it mean for you to carry the cross?  For me, to carry the cross daily means discipleship – meaning adhering to Jesus’ teachings and following Him, doing His Will.  While knowing full well that I can’t be perfect in my walk with Jesus because my sin puts up obstacles and barriers to following Christ.  This is why Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  In the English language today, hate is a very strong word – such as, “I hate mushrooms.”  I can’t stand them.  I don’t want them in my food.  I don’t want them on my food.  And I certainly don’t want them to ruin a perfectly good steak by resting on top of a good cut of meat that I’m going to enjoy.  To hate someone is to disown somebody, to say that you don’t want anything to do with them any longer.  So it would seem counterintuitive as Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem to tell the crowd that if they want to keep following Him, then they must hate their parents, their spouse, their children, and their siblings.  Even though Jesus is all about a man and a woman getting married and having children, but go on and hate your family because you can’t be my disciple unless you do.  Because that makes so much sense.

The word hate here actually corresponds to “not love more than.”  So what Jesus means is that you cannot love your family “more than” Jesus and His kingdom.  My sister-in-law just became a MaryKay director and there was a little ceremony to celebrate and recognize her accomplishments.  The MaryKay corporation is a Christian, for-profit business.  They are number 107 on Forbes List, making $4 billion a year.  They begin all of their business meetings with prayer and they instill in all of their employees the priority list of: God first, family second, career third.

That’s the discipleship that Jesus is talking about.  That’s the “hate” that Jesus is talking about.  If you are putting your family ahead of your faith and walk with Christ, then you cannot be one of Jesus’ disciples.  If you are putting your job or sports or extra-curricular activities ahead of your faith and walk with Christ, then you cannot be one of Jesus’ disciples.  God first.  Family second.  Career third.

So Jesus tells the crowd to calculate the cost of discipleship.  If you were making plans to add on to your house, you would certainly add up your pennies to see if you had enough to build it.  Likewise, if you were a king and entering war with another king, you would first sit down and see if you had enough resources to win the fight.  I think many in our country today have done exactly that.  They have calculated the cost of discipleship and have determined that their family, their career, their sporting activities is more important; which leaves not enough time, energy, or resources available for walking with Christ.

Which is silly because all Jesus asks of us is to carry the cross and follow Him.  All we need to do is be aware of our sin that continually tries to turn our priorities out of whack and acknowledge that because of our messed up priorities and failed attempts at discipleship we deserve death.  And yet, knowing how helpless we are at true discipleship, Jesus goes to the cross for us; taking our place and says, “I forgive you.”  Jesus not only forgives you all of your sins, but he also carries all of the burdens and worries that you carry with you every day – if only you would let Him.  You don’t walk alone, you walk with Christ.  You don’t carry the burdens of this life alone, Jesus carries them for you.  Your sin has been removed.  The load that you carry has gotten lighter.  The cross that Christ calls us to carry, appears to be a heavy, appears to be a burdensome thing to bear.  But in all actuality, God first, family second, career third is the easiest, most freeing list of priorities anyone could have.  Jesus’ obedience and rules are easier than what any employer or coach expects of you.  If only we could have more companies and more families following Christ with the mindset of God first, family second, career third.  If only!

So, just as Jesus continues to make His way to Jerusalem (whether people are continuing to follow Him or not); we too continue to follow Jesus whether we have a large crowd or a small crowd with us.  Calculating the cost of discipleship, what does carrying the cross mean for you today?  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

God’s Expectations

Readings for the day (Lectionary 18 – Sunday, July 31, 2016):

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Psalm 49:1-12

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Do you ever struggle with living for God or living for this world?  Do I go to church, or go golfing?  Do I pray and give thanks, or just dig in and eat because I’m hungry?  We are constantly faced with this challenge of living for God or submitting to the desires of this world.  I don’t know about you, but for me this is a daily struggle.  There are temptations all over, and the more secularized our world becomes, the harder it gets to resist those temptations.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians that are faced with this similar struggle.  They are Christian in a very secular culture, and Paul tells them that they ought to be putting aside their earthly desires and only focusing upward towards heaven.  In theory that’s good and easy, but living that is so much harder.  It’s hard to follow Christ while resisting all of the temptations that try to pull us away from Christ.  We live in this world, and yet God has claimed us as his children.

Did your parents ever set some expectations for you?  I expect you to be home at a certain time.  I expect you to be respectful in public.  Did you always meet your parent’s expectations?  Probably not.  The expectation was set at home and then you go off to school for the day and there’s all of these temptations from other kids.  And you want to fit in so you start acting, dressing and talking like these “cool” kids.  God has set some expectations of us as His children.  So we hear them in this place.  But then when we walk out those doors, we’re going to look different to the rest of the world if we follow God’s expectations.  So we allow ourselves to be molded into what the world thinks a Christian looks like and sounds like.

So how do we continue living for God, faithfully following God, when this world does everything it possibly can to pull us away from God through temptations and other distractions?  Do we just sit here and take it, complaining about it without taking any action?  For me, I wish I had a truck.  Just ask my wife, I ooh and aww over trucks.  I find myself eyeballing those nice, new 2016s.  I’ll even do research and check out what all the new features are on the new upcoming trucks that are coming out.  During one of the 2015 Super Bowl commercials, Chevy released an ad that ended the 30 second spot with “You know you want a truck.”  And I looked right at the TV and “You’re darn right I do.”  Of course there is nothing wrong with looking, but in our ever growing secular world, it values money, sex, and power more than grace, forgiveness, and holy living for God, the secular culture certainly makes living in this world harder and harder for us as Christians.  “You know you want a truck.”  Well of course I do, and you see, that’s the point.  Our secular culture doesn’t care about helping us live our lives following the expectations that God has given us as His children.  Rather all the secular world cares about is making that sale, pulling us away from God through temptations and other distractions.  I’m not saying that buying a truck is a sin.  Rather, what pulls you away from faithfully following God?  That’s sin!  That’s what needs to be stripped away, as Paul says.  Rid yourself of those things that tempt you and distract you from living your life for God rather than satisfying the desires of this world.

And part of living your life for God is in how you treat each other.  Remember those expectations that were placed on you before you left the house.  God expects you to treat each other in a loving way.  That’s why Paul says that there is no distinction between us.  Because at your baptism, a cross was marked on your forehead and that cross is all that God sees.  That cross is all that is used to define who we are.  God doesn’t see us as male or female.  He doesn’t see what denomination we are, what race or color of skin we are, what ethnic background we are, what town we live in, or even what kind of vehicle we drive.  God doesn’t see us that way.  God only sees you for who you really are – a sinful, broken, lost person who He has claimed as His child, who He has forgiven, and who is now righteous in His eyes.

So today, as our secular world is arguing, fighting, and even killing each other because of the distinctions that are made between us.  Remember that you belong to Christ, and that my friends is all that truly matters.  You have been claimed by God.  You belong to Him.  You are God’s and God is yours.  And Paul says that since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.

So even though when we walk out of these doors, we walk back into this world that DOES show distinctions, that does define us by how much money we have, by what brand of vehicle we drive, by the location we live in, by our skin color, by our age, by the level of our education.  We all are defined and labeled in this world.  And how do we reconcile that?  How do we continue living in a world when we come to church and hear in scripture, that God doesn’t view or define us by our characteristics, but by the cross that was marked on your forehead at your baptism?  How do we reconcile that with this world?  By setting our minds on things that are above and not on the things of this world.  You belong to Christ, and nothing that this world says or does can change that fact.  It’s not always easy, but let the hymn we are about to sign be our prayer for strength, wisdom and courage in the days ahead.  For God alone is our hope and our strength.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Instructions for God’s Chosen

Readings for the day (Wednesday, July 27, 2016):

Psalm 103:1-14

Colossians 3:12-17

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

I’ve read Paul’s letter to the Colossians before, but I have never studied it as in depth as I have this month.  It has been truly amazing to see just how much we have in common with the Colossians, and how fitting Paul’s words to the Colossians is also words fitting for our ears to hear today as well.

Here at the tail end of Paul’s letter, he is concluding with some final instructions for the Colossians.  Final instructions on how as individuals, and as a church, they can possibly survive the brutality of living as a Christian minority in a world where the majority is anything but Christian.  Especially when these false teachers are telling the Colossians that they really aren’t fully united with Christ because they don’t have some special knowledge.  Plus how can they know for sure that God even exists?

Any of this sound familiar?  Fewer people are making church a priority; many are even denying God’s existence.  Tension builds as giving and attendance is less than desirable.  Many feel too old or too tired to continuing the ministry that has been entrusted to us.  And what happens when you get stressed, tired, and frustrated?  Who do you take your frustration out on?  Those whom you are closest to, right?  Your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents, your closest friends.  When our world feels chaotic, we take our frustration out on those closest to us and make irrational decisions.  Paul is aware of that and so gives instructions for hope and peace and cooperation.

Some of you may have heard that news yesterday, that two men walked into a Catholic church in France while the daily Mass was taking place and murdered the priest in the middle of the service.  Yesterday a fellow brother in Christ was martyred.  We never met him, but with Christ as the head of the church, the head of the body, we did know him, through Christ.  Fear, uncertainty, sadness, and frustration are all natural feelings to have in the wake of someone’s martyrdom.  But do we let events like this drive us to insist on more violence?

Last week, a sister congregation in our synod, Hawk Creek Lutheran Church near Sacred Heart burned to the ground.  A lighting storm struck the steeple and the fire quickly spread throughout the building.  As the church was burning, the mother of the pastor that serves this congregation was praying for this congregation.  And she was specifically praying that God would spare the altar area as a witness to the world that God is still in charge.  On Monday, the altar as well as the pulpit was removed from the charred building.  Aftermath photos show the majority of the church just a pile of ashes and burnt boards that once was the walls of the church.  But in the background stands the altar, completely untouched by the fire.

There is so much chaos and evil that surrounds us in our world today; much like the world the Colossians were living.  So Paul’s final instructions are not of justice, getting ahead or getting even.  Rather, Paul’s instructions are one of peace, of hope, of assurance, in the midst of uncertainty.

With all of the horrible things we see in the world, from a priest getting murdered at the altar of our Lord, to a church building crumbling all around the altar of our Lord; Paul reminds us to be compassionate, kind, humble, and patient with and to each other.  Why then is it so hard to do this?  Why is it that at the first sign of something wrong we jump to being so negative?  Why do we look for the faults in others rather than their God given gifts?  When you have a complaint against someone, is your first response to forgive them?  I wish I could say that is how I always act.  But this is what Paul teaches and instructs, that if anyone has a complaint against another, we ought to forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven us.

Lately I have been finding myself re-evaluating my perspective on things in life.  And asking myself what really matters.  When I hear of a congregation’s church building burning to the ground and a priest who has been called to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, has been murdered kneeling at the altar – do the little things really matter anymore.  Let’s face it, we live in small towns.  We make big deals out of the little things.  We turn petty little issues into deal breakers.  We do this in our communities, in our homes, and in our church homes.

This is why I think Paul’s final instruction to the Colossians is so fitting for us even today.  Hear again Paul’s instructions from a different translation:

 

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.  Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It’s your basic, all-purpose garment.  Never be without it.

 

“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.  None of this going off and doing your own thing.  And cultivate thankfulness.  Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house.  Give it plenty of room in your lives.  Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.  And sing, sing your hearts out to God!  Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”[1]

 

We are the body of Christ.  We are brothers and sisters because of Christ.  Therefore, we work together for the sake of the Gospel message.  We play and laugh together because without fun and laughter all the negativity in the world would get the best of us.  We worship and sing praises to God together because everything that we have and everything that we are comes from God and was given as a gift to bring honor and glory to God’s name through Jesus Christ.  We pray together because we need God’s help and this world needs God’s help.  We pray for the congregation that Father Hamel faithfully served up until his martyrdom.  And we pray for Hawk Creek Lutheran as they recover through the ashes of their church building.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Colossians 3:12-17, The Message

Rules Made By Blood, not gold

Readings for the day (Lectionary 16 – Wednesday, July 13, 2016):

Genesis 18:1-10a

Psalm 15

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Our lectionary focus has now changed.  Throughout the month of June we were working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Now we will still be talking about Paul, but we are looking at one of his other letters.  Throughout July we will be looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  The Colossians are located in what would be present day western Turkey.  Paul has only heard about the Colossians; he has not had a chance to actually visit them in person.

Now much like today, the Colossians are being faced with strong influence from a large external source known as the Roman Empire.  The Colossians find themselves conflicted – how can one be Christian in a very secular culture?  How can one possibly continue following Christ when it appears that neither you nor the church has any control or influence?  Which then brings up the question, who really is in control?  So who does have control and influence in our world today?  In my opinion, looking at life today, it isn’t the president, or our governor, or anyone in government that really has the control.  They have some power, but the real control is found in the media, Hollywood, and the rich.  The media has influence and power.  Based on what they choose to report, they are able to influence our thinking, sway our decisions, and ultimately control what happens in our world.  But remember that there are two sides to every story.

The other big power player in our world today are the people with all the money.  You’ve heard it said, “The one who has the gold makes the rules.”  And oh how true that phrase is in our society today.  Did you hear that the Koch brothers have budgeted to donate nearly $900 million to political campaigns during this year’s election?  $900 million to influence the candidates to make political decisions that will benefit the donor if the candidate wins.

So who really does have control?  For the Colossians, and much of the rest of the world at that time, it was the Roman Empire.  The Roman Empire was big, powerful, very influential, and not Christian.  Today, it is the media and the rich who make puppets out of our political leaders.  And what about the church?  Who is in control of our church?  Is it the pastors or council president?  Is it the ones who give the most money to the church or the parish council?  Sometimes it might seem that way in the church.  Sometimes it can feel like someone (or a small handful of people) hold all the power and control of our church.  Our church, that’s where we go wrong.  Paul finds it fitting and necessary to remind the Colossians who really is in control of the church.  Paul writes, “[Jesus] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”  So it isn’t the large givers of the church, or the parish council, or even the pastors who are the head of our church.  Jesus is the head.  Jesus is in control.  Jesus has power over our church because this church is not ours, but His.  We are in Christ’s church and since it is Christ’s church, He is the one in control.  He is the one who guides our decision making.  He is the one whom we look to for guidance.

And this is a good thing.  Just look at what happens to things when sinful, broken humans, like ourselves, are given too much control over something.  Just look at the mess of our world today.  Terrorist attacks happen so frequently that we can’t even keep track or remember all of them.  The nonsense that comes spuing out of the mouths of politicians gets ignored by many.  Police officers, who are supposed to be protecting us, are getting shot at and ambushed.  People feel like there is so much injustice in our world that they stand on interstates during rush hour to block people from getting to work.  And the stories that the news media reports on becomes all too predictable.

Thankfully there is an alternative.  Paul says that in Christ all things are held together.  Which is true.  Weddings are actually where we see this most clearly.  During the wedding ceremony it is fitting to use symbols of showing the unity that the husband and wife have vowed to each other.  Many times we see a lighting of a unity candle – one candle is lit from two candles – showing the two becoming one.  Unity sand is becoming quite popular, however.  They each have a different color of sand and during the ceremony they pour their sand into one jar, mixing the two colors together.  When couples want to do this, I encourage them to add a third color of sand – white, representing Jesus in their relationship.  Jesus is what holds all things together, whether it is in the church, in our marriages, or in any relationship that we have with each other.  It is in Christ that all things are held together.  Without Christ everything falls apart.  And that is noticeable throughout our world today.  You can see things falling apart wherever Jesus has been uninvited.

Now wherever things are being held together because of Christ, they are being held together through his blood that was shed.  It is only through the blood of his cross that peace is made, that relationships work, that ministry happens.  Not because of who gives how much money, or because of the pastors, or because of the church leadership.  Everything is held together and works because of Christ.  For us as Christians, living in an ever growing secular world, rules are made by the blood of a Jewish carpenter, not by wealthy millionaires.

Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that even though they have a bad history, that they were once estranged and hostile and doing many evil things, there is hope because of Christ.  Because through his death on the cross, Jesus has reconciled (or reunited) you to God.  Notice it isn’t because of how much money you have given or what you have done.  Actually you have been reconciled to God in spite of all the sinful things you have done.  But then Paul does have to add verse 22 where he says, “…provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard.”

Remain steadfast in the faith, putting your full and complete trust in God alone – not in your checkbook but in the One who completely paid your debts, not in the works that you do but in the One who did the ultimate work of dying for your sins, not in politics but in the One who has supreme control over everything, for in Christ all things are held together through His own blood that was poured out for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Clothed with Christ

Readings for the day (Lectionary 12 – Sunday, June 19, 2016):

Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 8:26-39

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

In the time period of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the Gentile Christians are confused by the Jewish Christians that have come in to Galatia.  The Jewish Christians are telling them that there is a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, even though they are all Christians.  Really this isn’t any different than today.  We too, like to name the differences between people.  We make distinctions between “us” and “them”.  Who is on the inside and who is on the outside?  The Galena people and the Waverly people.  Maybe you don’t refer to each other in this way.  But when Stephanie and I moved to Trimont we did hear people refer to each other as the Triumph people and the Monterey people.  We like making distinctions between each other.  Most of the time it isn’t done in a mean way, but rather just simply noting our differences.  But regardless, we are still drawing lines between each other.

And this is all quite common isn’t it.  We get put into categories based on where we live, what our occupation is, how old we are, how much money we have, and what color tractor we drive.  We name the differences that we have with each other, because how else will we be able to tell each other apart?  We need some sort of parameters.

Except, these Jewish Christians that have come in are telling the Galatians that they aren’t really Christian unless they also fall under God’s covenant with Abraham.  And according to God’s Law, you are not a descendant of Abraham unless you are circumcised and follow all of God’s Laws that were given to Israel.  They are telling the Galatians, “You need to be just like us if you want to be Christian.”  But Paul, a Jew, doesn’t see it that way.  So he explains a little earlier in chapter 3:

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.”

His point is that God’s Law is not the promise, the Law is still good in that is sets up boundaries for us on how we should live.  But Paul’s point is very clear, the Law is the Law, and not the promise that was given to Abraham because God’s Law came after the promise and covenant that God made with Abraham.  And the coming of the Law did not undo or nullify the promise that God made to Abraham.  The promise still stands.

And what is that promise.  All the way back in Genesis 12, God tells Abram (Abraham before his name was changed), that He will make of Abram a great nation, and to his offspring God will give this land that he sees.  Paul’s argument here is that the word offspring does not mean “the Jews” or “the house of Israel” because the word offspring (or seed) is singular, meaning one offspring or seed – who is Jesus.  So they don’t have to worry about doing the right things, praying the right way, or looking a particular way; because Jesus is the offspring of Abraham.  And so if you are united with Jesus in faith, then you certainly should also be considered heirs of Abraham and heirs of the covenantal promise from God.

And Paul could have just left his argument with that – “don’t listen to the Jews who are trying to tell you that you aren’t Christian because you aren’t Jewish.  You are Christian not because of God’s Law, but because of God’s grace that is found in Jesus.  That would have been sufficient, but Paul takes it a step further.  He says that if you were baptized into Christ, then you have been clothed with Christ.  (That’s actually the reason why the baptismal gown is always white.  That’s also why the pastors’ albs and acolyte albs are white, and when a funeral pall is used – the white cloth that is draped over the casket at a funeral); all of this is because in our baptisms we are clothed with Christ.  And if in your baptism you have been clothed with Christ, Paul says, then “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So for Paul, with the coming of Jesus, there is no longer any distinction among us, baptized Christians.  Since we were clothed with Christ in our baptisms, which is what God sees in us – Jesus.  He doesn’t see a difference between which side of the blacktop you live on, or what your occupation is, how old you are, or how much money you have.  All what truly matters for God, is where you put your faith.  Is your faith in what your occupation is or how much money you have?  Or is your faith in the one that claimed you in baptism, clothed you with His Son, and made you righteous by freeing you from sin and making you part of the promise that was made to Abraham and his offspring?

We like to make distinctions between each other.  Sometimes naming those differences can be helpful; and in this world the distinctions are at times necessary.  But when it comes to how we treat each other, talk about each other, and work with each other; remember that we all are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus – including those of other Christian denominations as well as those in our own congregation and in our two sister congregations.  We all belong to Christ.  Rather than beginning with naming our differences as humans, let’s beginning with names what we all have in common as children of God.  We all are one in Christ Jesus.  And if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Lured to the Right Side

Readings for the day (Lectionary 11 – Sunday, June 12, 2016):

2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15

Psalm 32

Galatians 2:15-21

Luke 7:36–8:3

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Do you ever have that argument with your spouse or your children or your co-workers about who is right?  Many are convinced that what they know is right; which makes everyone else wrong.  Take politics for example, some people think that Donald Trump is right.  Some people think that Hilary Clinton is right.  Most people think they’re both wrong!  Ok, so maybe not a good example.

Many of us though do think that we are right.  So what’s the big deal: do we like being right or do we hate being wrong?  I like to be right and I especially dislike being told I’m wrong when I know that I’m right.  But I also don’t like getting things wrong.  When I am wrong, I use it as a learning opportunity, but I still don’t like being wrong.

King David in our first reading and the Pharisees in our Gospel reading today, all think that they are right.  They believe that they have this all figured out and that God is on their side.  Except they’re wrong; really wrong.  King David listens to the story that Nathan tells him of these two men (one rich, the other poor).  As the story goes on, King David gets very upset that with all of his riches and resources available to him, when the rich man has a guest come by, he steals the one and only lamb from the poor man, and serves that lamb for the rich man’s guest.  King David is so angry that he demands that this rich man be killed.

Likewise, as Jesus is dining with some Pharisees, they become agitated that this sinful woman has been washing and anointing Jesus’ feet in their presence.  The Pharisees are scandalized by the sheer reality that Jesus is allowing this woman to do such a thing.  So Jesus tells them a story about a creditor who has two debtors.  One person owed the creditor 500 denarii (or 500 days’ worth of wages, well over a year’s worth of work).  The other person owed the creditor 50 denarii (or 50 days’ worth of wages, almost 2 months’ worth of work).  Now the Pharisees are probably thinking that if this story even pertains to them, and that’s a big if, then they are probably the creditor or maybe the debtor who own only 50 denarii.

And that is exactly what these parables do.  They lure you in, just like when you’re fishing, you’re trying to entice the fish to come and check out this shiny, colorful thing in the water.  We get lured into these stories, thinking that we are the ones on the right side.  Just like King David thought it was awful for the rich man to steal from the poor man.  And likewise, the Pharisees don’t see how they fit into the creditor/debtor story.  We like being right.  We like to always be on the good side of things.  But so often we aren’t.  Often times we do get it wrong, we do fail.  We make mistakes that in fact do effect other people.  Hopefully the mistakes we make aren’t as hurtful as killing someone’s spouse in order to marry them, like what King David did.  But we still do make errors that cause other people to suffer the consequences for our failures.  You may think that you are the creditor or maybe, just maybe the debtor that owes 50 denarii.  Meaning you’ve done some bad things, but you know that what you’ve done isn’t nearly as bad as your neighbor.

It is so easy to think that, because we so desperately want to be on the right side of things.  We believe that we are in the right and it’s always the other who is in the wrong.  Like when you come up to a four way stop.  Every once in a while you probably encounter a driver who thinks that they are in the right of way (even when they clearly aren’t), and so they go anyway.  Anyone else experience that?  Or maybe that’s just me.

Being wrong means that we have failed.  And since no one likes being a failure, we strive to prove that we are right.  Except, then the story turns on us.  We took the lure because we thought we were on the right side of the story, and then just as Nathan tells King David, YOU are the rich man; we too hear those words, YOU are the rich man.  You aren’t on the right side, you are on the wrong side.  You messed up.  You displeased God.  You have failed.  You aren’t the creditor nor are you the debtor who owes 50 denarii; you’re the debtor who owes 500 denarii, possibly even 5,000 because of your sins.

So Jesus tells the Pharisees, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for [not one, but] BOTH of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”  A Pharisee responds, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”  And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  Your sins have created a large debt for you.  A debt so large that you can’t pay it back.  But just as the creditor in the story canceled the debt of both of the debtors, Jesus has canceled your debt.  The cross has made you free.  The cross has made you debt free.  Your sins have been forgiven.

In this world, you are bound to make mistakes, you’re bound to fail.  You’re bound to be wrong at times.  Admit when you are wrong.  This is the way of life; none of us are perfect.  And yet, because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven and so God looks at you not as a child that has failed, but as a child that is learning from their mistakes.  You are on the right side, with God; not because of anything that you have done, but solely because of what Jesus has done for you.  The cross of Christ has taken you from the wrong side and brought you to the right side.  Forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.