Boxes Don’t Work!

Readings for the day (Lectionary 26, Sunday, September 30, 2018):

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Psalm 19:7-14

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

 

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

 

If you were here a few weeks ago, the Gospel reading was the eight verses that precede the reading for today.  However, the way the lectionary divides the reading up makes it appear that there are two different stories going on.  But that’s not true.  This is the same story.  The same people.  The same setting.

To refresh your memory, Jesus is traveling with His disciples and He gives them the second of three predictions about His death and resurrection.  He tells them that He is going to be betrayed, killed and three days later, rise.  But the disciples of course don’t understand any of this and instead argue amongst themselves over who is the favorite and best disciple.  So to get their attention, when they stop traveling for the day, Jesus takes a child in His arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Now that is where the lectionary ended this reading.  Today’s reading picks up with the next verse.  Keep in mind, however, that this is still the same store.  The same people.  The same setting.  So we can assume that this child that Jesus took in His arms, is still there.  We are not told that the child left.  So this child is still in Jesus’ arms when John interrupts Jesus while He is teaching to ask about someone who he noticed was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but who wasn’t a part of their group.  It would seem that what John is most concerned about is having complete control of the work they are doing.  This person that John saw wasn’t one of the disciples or a close follower of Jesus.  John wanted to control the situation because this person was doing work in Jesus’ name but he wasn’t an insider.  He wasn’t part of their group.  Plus John figured Jesus would be concerned about this too.  So if he interrupts Jesus while He is lecturing the disciples on how they screwed up, AGAIN, then maybe, just maybe, this would redirect Jesus on to a different topic and He would forget all about what the disciples were arguing about.  Nice try John.  It didn’t work.  In fact, the whole idea backfires on him.  Instead of Jesus being glad that John was concerned about the whole thing, Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  Don’t stop or prevent people who are trying to help our cause.

We can certainly relate to John.  We like control.  We long for control.  We feel more comfortable when life is happening on our terms, on our timeline, under our control.  We like to have control of our life.  But the reality is, is that many parts of our lives are out of our control.  Take this year’s harvest for example.  And when that happens, when we don’t have a sense of control of our own lives, we tend to turn to attempts at controlling someone else’s life.  But we all know that NEVER works.  When counseling couples before they get married, I tell them that the only person they can change is themselves.  They will not be able to change their spouse (or anyone else for that matter).  And yet for some reason, even though we know that controlling other people never works, that doesn’t stop us from trying.  And then when we realize that it really doesn’t work to control someone else’s life, then we turn to trying to control God.  As if controlling God is easier than controlling our neighbor’s life.  John was uncomfortable with someone from outside their inner circle doing healings in Jesus’ name.  John thought that only the people who have been with Jesus since the beginning should be able to do that work.  John was trying to put God into a box.  It is very easy as a church to put God into a box.  You’ve used or heard the phrases, “We’ve always done it that way.”  Or, “We’ve never done that before.”  We, too, get uneasy with God acting in ways that are outside of our expectations and norms.  It is uncomfortable for us for God to work outside of our box.  Much of Jesus’ ministry, though, was showing that this just doesn’t work.  That God does not and will not fit into a box of our own fabrication.  Jesus interacted with Gentiles and Samaritans and lepers and tax collectors and demon possessed people and anyone else who knew that they were a sinner and in need of redemption.

Our God does not fit into any size box.  And Jesus continuing His lesson to the disciples, says that not only will a box not contain the actions of God, but the odds will certainly not be in anyone’s favor if they get in the way of God’s actions and become a stumbling block.  Jesus says all of this while still holding this child in His arms.  He says that if anyone becomes a stumbling block for this little one (or any little one for that matter), it would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and thrown into the sea.  Better?  Having a huge rock tied to your neck and thrown into the sea would be the BETTER punishment for being a stumbling block for others?  Jesus is so annoyed with His disciples right now.  They have begun their journey to Jerusalem for His crucifixion and they STILL don’t get it.  They think this ministry is about them.  It’s not!  It’s not about them.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God’s love for His children.  And there is no one who understands true love more than a child who is picked up and held in the loving arms of a parent or grandparent because they fell down and hurt themselves.  Jesus uses children as an example on how we ought to love God, because children get it.  Children understand true, simple, no strings attached kind of love.

Jesus’ point is that He cares about people.  He cares about all people.  That is, all people who know that they are sinners.  People who know that they have screwed up and should be thrown into the sea with a great millstone around their neck – or maybe even something worse.  Jesus doesn’t care about who is the greatest.  He doesn’t care about how you compare to your neighbor.  Jesus doesn’t care how much money you have or what car you drive or how fast run.  All Jesus cares about is saving the people whom He loves from the punishment for their sins.  That’s it!  That’s what Jesus is most concerned about.  He is most concerned about you, and your well-being.  More so your spiritual well-being, than your physical well-being.  But nevertheless, Jesus cares about you!  And He is heading to Jerusalem to show you just how much He really does care about you.  Jesus didn’t go to the cross for Himself.  He went to the cross for you.  To save you.  To forgive you.  To free you.  Not out of obligation, but out of love.  So no matter how this harvest turns out in the end, God’s love for you is so great and He cares about you so much, that as a child of God, He picks you up in His arms and holds you tight; no matter what!  Just as Jesus did while He was talking to His disciples.  You are loved by God.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

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Confusing GETTING with GIVING

Readings for the day (Lectionary 25, Sunday, September 16, 2018):

Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

 

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

 

In the Gospel reading today, we have skipped over the transfiguration; that is, the trip that Jesus took with three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain to reveal His true purpose, revealing His true identity.  While the four of them are away, the nine remaining disciples are trying to heal a boy who is being tormented by an evil spirit.  They are unable to heal the boy, but when Jesus returns, with the littlest of effort, He heals the boy, completely casting out the evil spirit.

After this, Jesus leaves that area with His disciples.  On their journey, Jesus tells the disciples that He will be betrayed, crucified, and die, but three days later He will rise again.  Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for what is about to happen.  In fact, this is the second of three predictions of His passion.  Despite speaking plainly to His disciples; they don’t get it.  They don’t understand it.  All it does is confuse them.  Instead they argue about who is the greatest among themselves.  Jesus is trying to have a serious conversation with His closest friends and all they end up doing is arguing with each other.  Their friend just told them that He was going to die a horrible death and all they can think about is arguing over who is the greatest.  It’s like telling your children that you are going to die and all they care about is who is going to get your car when you’re gone.

They don’t get.  All they are doing is thinking about themselves.  All they care about is what they are going to get out of this.  They want the recognition and the praise.  They want to be considered greater than their peers.  They don’t care about what Jesus said earlier about His death and resurrection.  They only care about themselves.

When we go on a family vacation, no matter where we are at, we always seek out a church to worship in.  This summer we had two different camping trips and for each Sunday we went to a local church.  Two churches.  Two completely different experiences.  The first church, we entered late.  We under estimated how long it would take to drive to the church from our campsite.  So we walked in during the first hymn.  We snuck in the back and joined the other 30 some people in worship.  After the worship service, even though we were late and our children were not quite, almost every single member introduced themselves to us and welcomed us into their church.  They asked who we were; wanting to get to know us.  We weren’t going to stay for coffee, but they were so welcoming and so friendly and they invited us, so we stayed.  We left that church feeling like we had met more of the body of Christ.

The second church we attended this summer was a much different experience.  We arrived early enough this time to find a seat before worship began.  There were about 40-50 people in worship, and after the service was done, not a single person came up to us to even say, “Hi”.  Not a single person introduced themselves or welcomed us into their church.  We even had to find our own bulletins on a table when we first entered the church.  So we did not stay for coffee.

Now which church do you think was like the disciples, selfishly thinking about themselves?  Which church was welcoming like Jesus did by welcoming the little children?  Where are you at?  Which church are you more like?  The first church, which went out of their way to introduce themselves to people who entered their church that they didn’t even know?  Or are you more like the standoffish church that doesn’t say anything to people they don’t know?  Which church do you think Jesus would be proud of?

Jesus knew what the disciples were doing on the road.  He knew that they were arguing and He knew what they were arguing about.  But when Jesus called them out on it and asked them what they were arguing about, they couldn’t even own up to it.  They couldn’t be honest and tell Jesus what they were arguing about.  Instead they were silent; sheepishly saying nothing.  Since the disciples weren’t saying anything and Jesus already knew what they were arguing about, He takes a little child, placing the child in His arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”[1]

The disciples were so concerned about figuring out who was the greatest that they missed the entire Gospel message.  If you are so concerned about yourself and determining how well you rank among your friends and neighbors, then you have missed the entire point.  When you are focused on yourself, you will ignore those who are most in need.  You like to think you’re great, amazing, and wonderful.  But the reality is…you’re not.  I’m not.  But Jesus is!  Jesus is great, amazing, and wonderful.  He is the one who should get all of the glory, all of the fame, all of the praise.  So when we stop paying attention to ourselves.  When we stop focusing so much on our own needs, we open ourselves up to be able to see our neighbor and all of our neighbor’s needs.

Which church do you want to be?  Do you want to be the self-centered church that ignores visitors and newcomers?  Or do want to be the welcoming church that pays more attention to their neighbor’s needs than their own needs?

The disciples wanted greatness and all Jesus was trying to give them was grace.  All the disciples wanted to do was argue about how they could GET something.  All Jesus wanted to do was GIVE them something.  When we confuse GETTING with GIVING, and focus more on how much we can GET instead of how much we can GIVE, we have missed the point.  Then we are only in it for ourselves and not for the sake of our neighbor.  We give as we have received.

And we have been given something pretty amazing.  We have been given a wonderful gift, God’s grace.  We have been given God’s grace, that even though we are broken, self-centered sinners, He has sent His Son to die and rise.  He is sending His church to preach about this death and resurrection.  He is sending His Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin and hear Christ’s righteousness for you.  Our God does all of this so that when a little child comes into your midst, you’re not caught up in who you think you should be, but instead your eyes are opened to see the needs of the weakest in your midst.  God’s grace is for you.  It is.  It is for you.  And God’s grace is for your neighbor, too.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Mark 9:37, NRSV

Sacrificing Everything

Readings for the day (Lectionary 23, Sunday, September 9, 2018):

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

James 2:1-17

Mark 7:24-37

 

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

 

When I was in high school, I really wanted a job at the local grocery store.  I already had grocery experience, so it just seemed like a no brainer.  So one day after school, I went and personally handed by application to the owner and manager of the store.  He took my application but told me that he didn’t have any openings check back in another week.  So I did.  I returned a week later…he gave me the same answer.  I returned again a week later and again got the same answer.  I returned again about a month after originally turning in my job application and he told me that he was selling the store and that the new owner and manager would be handling all of the new hires.  Within a week after the ownership was changed, I received a phone call to start the next day.  Persistence pays off.

That’s true for many things.  If you want a particular job, you need to be persistent in showing just how much you want to work.  If you want good grades, you need to be persistent in your studies.  If you want a good harvest, you need to be persistent in caring for your crops and plants.  If you go to the doctor and the diagnosis that is giving is unsettling for you, do you A. Go home, accepting the diagnosis for what it is assuming that this doctor has made the correct diagnosis.  Or B. Go line up another appointment with another doctor to get someone else’s opinion.  Maybe you’ve already been in a situation like this where you seek out another doctor’s opinion.  Persistence pays off.

In our story today, Jesus has just finished feeding 5,000 men plus women and children.  So let’s just say 12,000 people.  And then he terrified his disciples by walking on water in the night.  Then as they came ashore Jesus healed many in the marketplace, got into an argument with the Pharisees about what is and is not considered “clean.”  Finally Jesus flees Galilee to get a break.  He heads north towards Tyre and Sidon; a Gentile region.  The Jewish people have seen the healings that Jesus has done.  Plus they just got free food from Him.  And the Pharisees keep complaining and arguing with Jesus about what He is doing.  All Jesus wants is a break.  So he flees to a non-Jewish area, hoping that maybe, just maybe, people there won’t know who He is and what He is capable of doing.

Even though Jesus enters a house trying to escape being noticed, He is spotted by a woman.  A Gentile woman.  She immediately comes over to Jesus, bows down and begs Him to heal her daughter.  Remember Jesus is trying to be on a little vacation here.  He has turned the phone off and put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door.  He doesn’t want to be bothered.  So Jesus tried to dismiss her saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”[1]  Meaning, Jesus came to feed the Israelites, God’s chosen people.  This woman was a Gentile, someone who was not part of God’s covenant with Abraham.  All Jesus wants is a little rest, so He basically says, “My mission is for the Jews, and you’re not a Jew, so leave me alone.”

And like any parent would do, she does not accept that answer.  Her daughter is suffering from an unclean spirit and she has heard that Jesus can help.  So she fights back and being persistent she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”[2]  Meaning, even though you may have come only for the House of Israel, couldn’t you spare just a little bit to heal my daughter?  Jesus, amazed by this mother’s faith, tells her that the demon has left her daughter.

This mother believed in something.  She believed that her daughter could be healed by Jesus.  She believed in something, even though it meant sacrificing everything.  That is, unlike Colin Kaepernick in the new Nike commercial this week.  A multi-million dollar quarterback has not sacrificed anywhere near everything.  He might believe in something, like making a few million dollars on a two minute ad, but he has not sacrificed everything.  This mother though, for the sake of her daughter’s health, was willing to approach a male, Jewish, religious leader and beg for His help.  Culturally this was wrong on so many levels, but she’s a parent and as a parent she would do anything, even sacrificing everything she had to get her daughter well again.

Persistence does pay off.  Whether it is for a job or grades or a harvest or an answer from a doctor, or even getting your child well again.  Being persistent pays off in the end.  The same is true in our faith.  We must be persistent in our faith.  We must be persistent because the devil is also persistent in tempting us each and every day; trying to turn us away from our trust in God.  Hold tight to what you believe in.  Be persistent in your prayer requests.  Be diligent in your study of God’s Word.  Be insistent in doing what God has called you to be and do.  Don’t be complacent.  Complacency creates problems.

As James says in his letter, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[3]  Of course as Lutherans we know that our salvation is not dependent on our works.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”[4]  We are saved and given the promise of eternal life as not just any gift from God, but THE gift of God.  As in the greatest gift we could be given.  And this gift is not dependent on our works.  It is not dependent on what we do or don’t do.  But we have been created in God’s image for the purpose of doing good works.

Martin Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”  God doesn’t need our good works of kindness.  He desires our persistence in confessing our sins, talking to Him through prayer, and studying His Holy Word.  But He doesn’t need our good works.  Our neighbors on the other hand DO need our good works of kindness.  Our neighbors need us to be persistent in living out our Christian calling to be disciples of Jesus.

So how persistent are you?  Are you willing to believe in Jesus, following His command to make disciples of every nation, even if it means sacrificing everything?  Are you willing to try something even if it means you might fail?  This ministry that Jesus calls us to is one that calls us out of complacency and into a life actively living out the Gospel for the sake of our neighbors and for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  We believe in Jesus because He is the one who truly knows what it means to sacrifice everything.  Sacrificing everything for you!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Mark 7:27, NRSV

[2] Mark 7:28, NRSV

[3] James 2:17, NRSV

[4] Ephesians 2:8-10a, NRSV

Boldly Curious

Reading for the day (Sunday, June 17, 2018):

Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15

 

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

 

I can’t remember when, but at some point during my childhood, my parents replaced the front door of our house.  I’m sure it got replaced because was not very efficient and needed an upgrade.  Although, I don’t even remember what the old door looked like.  The new door is a solid white color with a half circle window towards the top of the door.  A window that only tall people can look out of.

This window is perfect for anyone who is tall and curious.  This house is at the top of a hill on a dead end street.  So growing up, this location was ideal for my brothers and me to play in the street and not have to worry about many cars coming up the street.  But living on a dead end street at the top of hill was not ideal for learning how to ride a bike.  Trying to keep your balance as you ride along the hill sideways proved to be difficult.

Like I said, living on a dead end street is usually pretty quiet.  Although, every once in a while, there would be a car that would not see the street sign that said “No Outlet” and they would drive up the street thinking that they could get to the next block.  And so, when you’re sitting in the living room in the evening and you hear a vehicle coming up the hill, what do you do?  Continuing to sit, watching your favorite show on TV?  Or get up and go look out the window to see who it is?  And which is easier, pulling the curtain back or simply taking a little peek out of the little window at the top of the new door?

Would you consider yourself to be a curious person?  How curious?  Curious enough to get up and peek through a window to see what’s going on?  Or curious enough to not only get up and peek, but get up and go right outside to see what’s going on?  If you’re anything like me, you’re fit more in with the first one.  You’re curious.  You want to see what is going on, but you don’t necessarily what others to know that you are looking.  That’s why you peek through small windows or pull the curtain back just enough to sneak a peek.  Like my children trying to sneak a peek into our bedroom when we are trying to get Christmas presents wrapped.

Today’s story is the beginning part of the Moses story.  First some background information.  The Israelites are in Egypt, away from their homeland because of a famine that led them to Egypt where there was food.  There was food in Egypt because of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, had earned favor with the king of Egypt.  So with the famine, Jacob’s whole family was invited by Pharaoh to live in Egypt.  And not just invited to live in Egypt, but to settle in the best part of the land.  Because of Joseph, Jacob’s family was respected and honored throughout the land of Egypt.

Fast forward a generation or two and a new king rose to power in Egypt.  This king did not know Joseph and all of the work that he did in saving not only the lives of the Israelites, but also the Egyptians.  Since this new king didn’t know any better, he viewed the Israelites as a threat – something to be controlled or they would control the Egyptians.  So Pharaoh ordered that the Israelites would all become slaves and do heavy labor.

It is during this generation that Moses is born.  Moses was born an Israelite, but raised in an Egyptian palace as Pharaoh’s grandson.  One day after killing an Egyptian for beating one of his own people, an Israelite, Moses fled the region because Pharaoh sought to kill him.  While he was away, Moses got a job as a shepherd.  One day, he was on Mount Horeb tending to the flock when he noticed a bush on fire.  But this fire was different than other fires.  There were flames of fire coming out of this bush, but the bush was not burning up or being consumed by the flames.  Moses was curious!  He couldn’t ignore this mysterious bush.  He had to go check it out, to see what was going on.

And what do you think Moses’ curiosity looked like?  Did he hide behind another tree or bush and gently push the branches back to sneak a peek at this bush that was burning?  Or did he walk right up to it to see what was going on?  All we know from Scripture is what Moses said after he noticed the bush.  Moses says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”[1]  We don’t know how he approached the bush, but I know how I would have approached the bush – similar to how I peek through the window at my parent’s house to see who is driving up the dead end street.

How curious are you when it comes to your faith?  Are you curiously shy – sneaking up just to get a small little peek at what’s inside?  Or are you boldly curious – confidently looking around and asking questions that come to mind?  If you’re curiously shy, then you’re one who sneaks a peek at worship – you come to hear a scripture reading or three, listen to a 10 minute sermon and then go home.  If you’re boldly curious, then you’re one who hears those same scripture readings and listens to the same 10 minute sermon, but then goes home thinking about what you’ve heard and going deeper into your own study of God’s Word.  Curiously shy keeps us from getting engaged in the text.  Whereas, boldly curious opens the door for us to become more engaged in God’s Word and to enter into a deeper relationship with our Lord.

It is curiosity that takes us further into an encounter.  If you’re curious about what is going on in your neighborhood, if you’re curious about what is going on at work, at school, at home, then your curiosity will drive you to get more information.  You’ll talk to people.  You’ll read the news.  You’ll ask questions.  Where there is curiosity, there is the potential for something more.  Without curiosity, you will gain no further information.  But as long as you are slightly curious, there is the potential for something more.

As we see in the story of Moses, our God works through curiosity.  When God saw that Moses stopped and turned towards the burning bush that is when God called out to him.  Through curiosity, God continues to reveal more about Himself and the more we know about God, the deeper our faith and trust is in Him.  Which brings us into a closer relationship with our Lord.

Our God not only loves you and cares about you, but He is also boldly curious about you.  He desires a close relationship with you.  As God told Moses regarding the Israelites, He knows their suffering.  He has observed their misery.  He has heard their cries.  And He has come down to deliver them from their oppression.  Our Lord knows our sufferings.  He has observed our misery.  He has heard our cries.  And through the birth of His Son, Jesus, He has come down to deliver us from that with oppresses us, our sin.

This God that we confess our belief in, is not only boldly curious about us, He is also a god of action.  God not only hears, but acts.  He heard the cries of the Israelites as they were slaves in Egypt.  And He acted by using a curious man named Moses.  We trust that our God also hears our cries for help and He acts by using curious people like you and me to carry out His mission as we answer the call to be boldly curious for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Exodus 3:3, NRSV

An Unending Promise

Reading for the day (Sunday, June 10, 2018):

Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

 

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

 

Last year, after Emma was born, I started working on a quilt rack for her bedroom.  I have already made quilt racks for Nicholas and David.  So I figured it would only be fair that I made one for her as well.  I’ve made a handful of these racks, so I figured this should be a rather quick and easy project to finish.  I measured and cut all of the parts and everything was going fine.  Everything was going fine that is until I screwed up.  Then when I tried to fix the screw up, I stripped the screw head – making it nearly impossible to get the screw out so I could fix the screw up.  I got so frustrated with it that I gave up on it.  Now a year later, the unfinished quilt rack is still in the garage.  The quilt rack keeps moving from one spot to another in garage.  Not moving towards completion, just moving when it gets in the way of other things.

It is frustrating when things don’t go the way we want them to go.  Do you ever get an idea in your mind as to how something is going to go and then when it doesn’t go exactly as planned, you get disappointed, frustrated, and upset?  Our story today is like that.  Abraham was chosen by God to be the “father of many nations.”  God chose him, and his wife Sarah, to create a whole nation.  It’s like starting a new colony and God chose Abraham and Sarah to be the first two people in that colony.  Now all they needed to do was to go and multiple.  And with no other previous experience to tell them differently, they trusted in God’s promise that they would be a great nation.

Now the only way to multiple and become a great nation is to have children.  And it wasn’t working.  But Abraham and Sarah still believed in God’s promise.  Eventually months of waiting turned into years, and those years of waiting turned into decades.  And as they aged, that belief in God’s promise started to weaken.  Their hope of having children started to fade as God’s promise continued to go unfulfilled.  How can you possibly create a whole nation when you are childless?  There is no possibility of future generations without at least one child.

After decades of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled, they eventually gave up on His promise for them.  And that’s when they took matters into their own hands – basically saying, “I’m not waiting around for you God any longer.  It’s time to take action.  And if you’re not going to, then I am!”  And that’s how their servant Hagar ended up having a son named, Ishmael.  Abraham and Sarah felt that they were ignored.  After all, they weren’t getting any younger.  Abraham was 86 years old and Sarah was 76 years old.  How much longer were they to wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled?  They felt that God had forgotten about them.

When things don’t go the way we expect them to go.  Or when life doesn’t go in the order or in the time frame that we set for ourselves, it’s easy to feel that God has forgotten about us.  When you’re hoping for a “yes”, and all you keep getting is “no.”  Hearing “no” can feel like absence or abandonment.  This leads us to get impatient; very impatient.  Impatience is what led to Ishmael being born.  We take matters into our own hands when we get impatient.  Why wait for someone who is never going to show up when you could just do it yourself?

It is frustrating when things don’t go according to our plans – when God’s timing doesn’t matchup with ours.  And even though things might not make sense now, know that your life is in God’s hand and in God’s time.

Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, the Lord appeared to Abraham.  Actually He really was there to visit Sarah, to tell her that He had not forgotten about her.  That His promise was still valid, and that she would finally have a son.  God’s promise was finally going to come to fulfillment.  Hope had finally returned.

Abraham’s visitors told him that his wife Sarah would in due season have a son.  Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent.  Upon hearing that she would bear a child at the age of 89, she laughed.  Sarah laughed because she thought it was impossible.  She laughed because after all of those years of pain, she had hope that joy would finally come in the form of a child.  She also laughed in disbelief.  Sarah couldn’t believe what she was hearing, that even in her old age God was giving her life, giving her hope for the future.  Sarah experienced unexpected joy.

Even though Sarah doubted, even though she laughed at the possibility that she would be a mother in her old age, nothing is impossible for God.  He turned around and blessed her abundantly.  Even though we doubt.  Even though we are impatient with God and we want the pain, we want the frustration, we want the challenge to be gone instantly – it’s not always in God’s timing to do so.  So whatever your situation, whatever it is that you are waiting for God’s answer to change from a “no” to a “yes” – remember that there is hope.

With Sarah, notice that God did not yell when she took matters into her own hands which resulted in Ishmael being born.  He did not punish her when she laughed at the possibility of bearing a child at the age of 90.  And God certainly did not revoke His promise to Abraham and Sarah when she did not believe.  That promise was made at the beginning when God chose Abraham to be the “Father of many nations.”  And that promise still stood.

God chose you when you were baptized and the promise to be with you forever still stands.  Even in your disbelief, God’s grace abounds.  He has not ignored you.  He has not abandoned you.  He has not forgotten about you.  God still upholds His promises.  He still graciously forgives you.  And God will still bless you abundantly.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Here I am, send me??

Readings for the day (Holy Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018):

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

Romans 8:12-17

 John 3:1-17

 

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

 

Today is defined as Holy Trinity Sunday.  I’ve preached on the complexity of believing in our Triune God.  The three-in-one who is also one-in-three.  And understanding the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, is confusing.  So instead, this week I was drawn to the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah is a rather significant prophet of the Old Testament.  Many of the prophesies about the birth of Jesus are found in Isaiah.  We just heard Isaiah’s call story – how God called Isaiah to do His work for His kingdom.  It appears that Isaiah’s call is simple and easy.  God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  And Isaiah responds so simply, “Here am I; send me!”  That’s ridiculous!  Without even knowing exactly what he was to do, Isaiah just says, “You’re lookin’ for someone; I’ll do it.”  We usually aren’t that quick to volunteer for something we know nothing about.  Our response to the question, “Whom shall I send?” would be more like, “Here am I; send someone else.”  It is much easier to volunteer someone else.  Especially when you look at the verses that follow.  After Isaiah willingly says, “Send me,” we learn that his work was certainly not a simple and easy call.  His call was going to be challenging and difficult.

Would you consider yourself to be a successful person?  How do you measure success?  And if you consider yourself to be successful, or even if you consider yourself to be unsuccessful, you are probably using numbers in some way to measure your success.  Students measure their success in the classroom by seeing how many questions they got right on a test.  Businesses measure success based on how much profit is made.  If the moisture in the crop is low and the yields are high, that would be considered a success.  This weekend we remember our fallen heroes and they are remembered by their successes, such as how many missions they did and how many years they served our country.

So if those achievements are what make us successful, then is the church successful?  Is the ministry that we are doing today successful?  In the church, we do measure success and effectiveness.  And often we use numbers to measure that success.  We look to see how many were in worship, how many attended Bible study, and how many children are in the Sunday School.  Now if we use numbers to measure the success of the church’s ministry, the trends would say that the church is not very successful.  And maybe some of you are getting worried that with the late, wet spring that maybe your crops will be like the church – unsuccessful.

Earlier I said that Isaiah’s call was challenging and difficult.  After saying, “Here am I; send me” God responds by telling Isaiah what he is to do.  God says, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’  Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”  God tells Isaiah that this work is going to be hard.  His preaching, his leadership, his ministry, God says, will not work; it will not be effective.  Isaiah is being sent into an uncertain, unstable situation where people will not listen to him.

Sound familiar?  When only a few children show up for Sunday School.  Or when confirmands never return to the church after Confirmation Sunday.  Or when your own children and grandchildren will not attend a church even though you’ve encouraged, you’ve asked, you’ve invited them to come.  I get it.  It is frustrating and challenging.  It feels as though we, the church, have become unsuccessful.

Or even as a parent, it’s challenging when your children don’t listen.  Maybe you feel like you are an unsuccessful parent.  But you know, take a closer look at the Prophet Isaiah.  He spoke and no one listened.  He proclaimed God’s Word and he was ignored.  By the world’s standards, it would appear that Isaiah was a very unsuccessful prophet for God’s kingdom.  But who was it that made all of those prophesies or predictions that the Messiah, the Son of God would be coming into the world?  Oh yeah, his name was Isaiah.  And when God called Isaiah into this challenging ministry, He did so through a vision.  A vision that clearly defines a massive God who has power and strength.  A God who is able to forgive sins.  A God who is willing to come down from His throne and join in the suffering His creatures endure because of their sin.

This is our Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  This is the God that we believe in.  This is the God who views our success through different lenses.  This is our God, who cares for us like a parent cares for a child – frustrated at times when the child doesn’t listen or completely ignores their parents.  God gets frustrated with us when we don’t listen or when we ignore His call.  But our God also has deep love for us and we can see that love through the fulfillment of what Isaiah proclaimed to the Israelites – that God Himself would take on human flesh in order to save the world from sin and death.  And today we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us, navigating us through the obstacles of life.  So that we may be successful.  Maybe not always 100% successful in what we do every day, but being successful in God’s eyes.  And as long as we are faithfully doing God’s Will, we are successful – even when the involvement and attendance in the church doesn’t show that.

There are days when God’s call for us is challenging and difficult.  There are days when you may feel like Isaiah, feeling unsuccessful.  Those are the days when it is hard to remain hopeful.  Keep your faith in our Triune God.  For God is our hope and our strength in the midst of the chaos.  Sometimes all we can do is take a leap of faith and say, “Here I am, send me!”  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

Prayers FROM Jesus!

Readings for the day (7th Sunday of Easter, Sunday, May 12, 2018):

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

 

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

 

Have you ever prayed before?  Okay, of course if you’ve been to church before, you’ve prayed to God.  You probably pray at home, too.  Maybe at work.  Maybe at school.  It seems that no matter where we turn, someone is requesting our prayers: prayers for healing, prayers for peace, prayers for a good outcome, prayers for safety.  Prayers are requested for family and friends who are in the hospital, someone struggling with mental illness, a family dealing with a financial crisis, a couple dealing with infertility issues.  We request prayers for favorable weather, for a loved one who is dying, for a family who is grieving.

In any given week, we can receive numerous requests for prayers – many of those requests coming from posts that we read online through Facebook and other sites.  I think there is something to be said about the power of prayer.  Even though there are many people who have no desire to be involved with the church, they still do request prayers for various situations.  And why would you request prayers for something or someone unless you actually believed in the power of prayer?  Even the lukewarm Christians believe in the power of prayer.

We have come to the end of the season of Easter.  Next Sunday is Pentecost.  In John’s Gospel, there is no teaching of the Lord’s Prayer.  There is no institution of Holy Communion.  Instead, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet during His final meal with His disciples.  And then Jesus teaches His disciples about loving each other by serving one another.  And then He enters into this long prayer.  First a prayer for Himself, as He prepares to head to the cross.  Then Jesus prays for His disciples, meaning His twelve closest friends.  Finally Jesus prays for “those who will believe in me through [the words of these disciples].”[1]

Did you know that?  Did you know that Jesus prays for you?  Jesus, God’s only Son, the Messiah, the Savior of the World…prays for you.  You’re from Martin County Minnesota, you’re not all that important.  You’re a farmer, a teacher, a business owner, a nurse, a student, a golfer, a fisherman, a retired person who is living the dream.  None of us are really all that important.  I mean, it’s not like we are Pastor Eric or anything.  But we really aren’t all that important.  We don’t have a security detail.  We don’t have a wait staff at home.  We haven’t changed the course of history.  Generations down the road will not learn about us in history textbooks.  And yet, Jesus, the Savior of the world, the Son of God says that He is praying for you.

You are being prayed for.  Not just by your family, your friends, your neighbors, your pastors, but also your Savior.  The one who went to the cross because our sins put Him on the cross.  Yeah, He’s the one who is praying for YOU!

How are you all doing?  Stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Tired?  Worried?  Scared?  The weather certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors.  The late winter and now this wet spring is effecting all of us.  With all of this rain, the fields and gardens can’t get planted.  Windows of opportunity to mow the lawn between the rainfall is rather small.  And if your house is anything like ours, you are certainly sick of sucking up and bailing water out of the basement.  Maybe you’re exhausted.  Maybe you’re frustrated.  Maybe you’re impatient.

Well, I have some good news for you.  No matter how unimportant and insignificant this world says that you are.  Know that you are loved by someone.  And not only are you loved by God, but Jesus is also praying for you.  You know, it seems culturally okay to ask for prayers around the time of death, or when you or someone is in the hospital.  But when you are stressed and scared, when you are beyond tired, when you are overwhelmed and worried, then it appears that asking for those types of prayers is not culturally acceptable.

Thankfully for us, Jesus says that He does not belong to the world.  Which means He does not belong to whatever the world has deemed as “culturally acceptable.”  Jesus also says that WE do not belong to the world.  He says that we are still in the world, but as God’s children, chosen and called, we are not of this world.  One way to think of this is that you are an ambassador for Jesus.  Throughout the world, our country has U.S. ambassadors all over.  As a U.S. ambassador in say, Italy, that ambassador is still considered a U.S. citizen, even though they are living in Italy.  So the ambassador is subject to any and all U.S. laws.  But the ambassador is also living in Italy.  And in order to create and maintain healthy relationships with the people in Italy, it would be wise for the ambassador to follow the Italian laws in addition to the U.S. laws.

We are God’s ambassadors in this world.  We are in the world.  The world that God created for us.  But we are not of this world.  This world is not our home.  As my son said this weekend about making cards for Mother’s Day, “Don’t forget to make a card for Grandma.  We can bring it to where she will come back with Jesus.”  This world is not our home.  We are not of this world.  We are simply God’s ambassadors, living in this world, following both God’s laws and the laws of this world, doing what God has called us to do until the day comes when Jesus does return for my Grandma and for all of us.

No matter what crazy thing this life throws your way, know that Jesus, your Savior, the Son of God Himself is praying for you…His beloved ambassador!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

[1] John 17:20, NRSV