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.

Confer with God?

Readings for the day (Lectionary 10 – Wednesday, June 8, 2016):

Psalm 30

Galatians 1:11-24

 

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 get confused?  I get confused.  I get confused by people in our country, by what they say, by what they do.  I’m confused as to how some of these people can possibly be in their right mind when they say or do certain things, and most of the time this leaves me just scratching my head.  And then there’s what people think is acceptable to post onto social media, but this is a sermon and not a soap box, so I won’t go down that road.

Instead, let’s talk about the Galatians.  Last week, we heard the opening 12 verses of Paul’s letter to the church of Galatia.  By verse 6, he has already made it very clear that he is mad; extremely mad!  He is mad because, the Galatians heard Paul, listened to the Gospel message that he was proclaiming and turned from their pagan ways and became Christians.  After the church is established, Paul continues on to another community to bring the Gospel message there as well.

The Galatians however, are now getting confused.  They are confused because they heard Paul preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them – specifically telling them that they are saved through grace alone that is only found in Jesus.  Meaning that they don’t have to do anything in order to receive their salvation.  God has saved them in spite of who they are and what they have done.  They can’t earn their salvation, it’s impossible to earn one’s salvation and to gain righteousness before God.

So that makes some sense; no salvation without Christ, and it is a gift that is given to you without having to do ANYTHING!  Except now comes the confusing part (at least for the Galatians), Jewish-Christians are telling these Galatians who are Gentile-Christians that they still need to follow the Law of Moses in order to receive salvation.  Basically that for the Gentiles, their faith is not complete and they are not worthy of being saved by God without also adhering to the laws and rules of the Jewish faith.  After all, Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jews, and Paul himself is a Jew.  So you see Galatians, you are not fully Christian unless you also follow our Jewish traditions; is what they were told.  So now the Galatians are extremely confused.  Paul told them one thing, and the Jewish-Christians are telling them another.  Who should we believe?  What’s true?  Hence the reason for Paul’s frustration with them and his letter to set them straight on what is true.

So in the reading that we have for tonight, Paul is continuing with the introduction to his letter.  He tells them that there are not 2 gospels.  There is only one true Gospel and the one true Gospel is what he preached to them, not what they are being told from the Jewish-Christians.  And this Gospel that he proclaimed to them came directly from God – he did not confer with any human being, nor did he receive it from the Jewish-Christian apostles living in Jerusalem (such as Peter or James); he received the Gospel message from God.

Notice here, that Paul talks about conferring not with humans but with God.  In order for him to decide what to do, he didn’t seek out the advice of other humans, but rather God.  And now the text doesn’t say how he conferred with God, but my guess would be through prayer; our main form of communication with God.

How much time do you spend conferring with God?  As compared to how much time you spend conferring with each other.  When Stephanie and I were entering the assignment process, we were told don’t network, don’t talk to bishops (they were the ones who were deciding what synod we would be assigned to after seminary).  We could talk to our families and friends, but we couldn’t talk to the ones who decided our fate.  With our futures out of our control, we did the only thing we could do – confer with God through prayer.  We prayed that God’s will would be done (whatever that looked like).  We had no other choice in this situation than to put our trust in God.  And then when Stephanie and I were in the call process and interviewing in churches over 100 miles apart, we again consulted with God on helping us determine where to go and what to do.

Now I tell you that story as an example of when I did consult with God on what I should do and where I should go.  But I don’t always do that.  Many times I forget.  When I have a decision that has to be made, I think about it on my own, and then I vet it with Stephanie and a few close friends, and then I usually act on it.  And many times I simply confer with Dr. Google.  So this text tonight is a good reminder for myself as well, to not forget to confer with God.

This actually is why we begin all of our meetings for the church with a devotion and prayer.  The devotion is used mainly to get us into the right frame of mind for the meeting, and the prayer is to ask God to be present with us and give us guidance in the midst of doing His ministry, something that we really don’t know what we are doing (at least not without His guidance through the Holy Spirit).

There is also something wonderful that is found in the preceding verse.  Before Paul says that he didn’t confer with humans, only God, Paul says that God had set him apart before he was born and called him through His grace.  God has chosen you!  He has chosen you to do this work of ministry, sometimes it is hard (like showing up when there is only 12 people, or serving the lunch for countless funerals).  Ministry is not always easy.  But regardless, God has chosen you and has set you apart from the rest of the world to do His work.  To be His hands and feet in the world.  He has called you not because you are awesome and always confer with Him before every little decision that you make.  Rather, he called you because He loves you.  And because He loves you, God has given you forgiveness of your sins along with the promise of eternal life made possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is grace, grace is a gift, a gift that is given.  It can’t be earned.  It can’t be bought.  It can only be given.  And God has freely given His grace to you!  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Darkness of Despair Meets Light

Readings for the day (Lectionary 10 – Sunday, June 5, 2016):

1 Kings 17:17-24

Psalm 30

Galatians 1:11-24

Luke 7:11-17

 

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

 

Two widows.  Two sons.  Two deaths.  The Old Testament and Gospel readings have a lot in common today.  The first reading from 1 Kings is the last half of the story about the widow of Zarephath.  Elijah has just received word from God that there is going to be a drought.  He is supposed to go and find this widow in Zarephath who will feed him.  Except when Elijah finds the woman, she certainly doesn’t want to feed Elijah; she doesn’t even have enough food to feed herself and her only son.  She tells Elijah, “I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  She does end up doing what Elijah had asked of her, for God promised that her jar of meal would not be emptied and her jug of oil would not fail until the rains came.

And then the reading continues with what we read a few moments ago.  The three of them made it through the drought – neither the jar of meal nor the jug of oil ever ran out.  But then the woman’s son becomes sick and dies.  And that’s when this woman loses it with Elijah.  She wasn’t happy in the first place that he insisted on joining her and her son in eating their last meal together.  And now even after she has faithfully done what Elijah wanted her to do and she saw that God’s Word remained true throughout the drought, she is extremely upset with Elijah and even more so, she is upset with God.  “What have you against me, O man of God” she says.  “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”  She did exactly what was asked of her and God remained faithful to what He said He would do, and yet her son still dies.

It doesn’t make sense and certainly isn’t fair.  It seems as though bad things happen to good people.  So we get mad, and we get frustrated like this mother, because this life is not fair.  And it can appear that God is not fair; that God is out to get us; that God is the one who causes cancer, God is the one who kills innocent people, God is the one to blame for accidents – as if to say that God is to blame for all of the horrible misfortunes in life and that if our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to, then God must hate us.

When you’re mad, go ahead, get mad at God, He can take it.  But don’t stay mad at God.  For just as Jesus told Nicodemus, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came to save you, not to condemn you.  And we can see that in the Gospel reading where we find another widow whose only son has just died.  As Jesus is traveling, He has with Him His disciples and a large crowd that is awe struck and keeps following Him in hopes of seeing another miracle.  As Jesus is approaching the outskirts of the city, He is met by the funeral procession for the woman’s son.  Ancient Jewish burial rites say that the dead must be buried within 24 hours of death.  The crowd filled with the darkness of despair is met by the crowd filled with the light of hope that is found only in Christ Jesus.

Jesus had compassion for this boy’s mother.  He touches the mat on which the dead boy is laying on and He tells the boy to rise.  Jesus does not find joy in your suffering.  Rather he has deep compassion for you in the midst of your pain.  That word, compassion, is a weak one.  The word here literally means the complete outpouring of one’s inward parts.  Jesus’ compassion for this woman was so great that His compassion was felt deep inside His organs.  That’s the compassion He has for you as well.  Jesus came to save you, not to condemn you.

For the widow of Zarephath, God doesn’t forget about her.  He hears Elijah’s plea for the son’s life to be restored and He does exactly that.  Likewise, Jesus has compassion for the widow of Nain and raises her son to life again.

Now it is tempting to listen to these two stories and think that maybe this could happen to our loved ones; that maybe God would restore their lives.  Which it could happen, for anything is indeed possible with God.  However, I see both of these stories pointing to a third story of an only begotten son being raised from the dead.  In fact, the crowd even predicts that Jesus will one day rise from the dead; except they didn’t even know it.  The word that Jesus used to tell the boy to rise from the dead, is the same word that the crowd uses in saying that a prophet has risen among them.  Not only has a prophet arisen in their midst, but He too will rise from the dead, just as this boy did, just as the boy did in Zarephath.  By the boy rising from the dead, he social saved his widowed mother.  By Jesus rising from the dead, He eternally saved you sinners, restored your life, gave you purpose, gave you forgiveness, gave you a seat in His kingdom forever.

Our loved ones may not be raised from the dead in our midst like the boys in these two stories, but we do continue to follow Jesus like that awe struck crowd that follows in hope of seeing another miracle.  For one day we will see our loved ones again.  We will be raised to new life with them.  For that is what Jesus has promised us will indeed happen on the Last Day.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.