A Frightening Celebration

Readings for the day (Day of Pentecost – Sunday, June 4, 2017):

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:24-34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

 

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

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.  Of all the festivals the church has, there really are 3 primary festivals that are celebrated each year: the birth of our Savior at Christmas, the resurrection of our Savior at Easter, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

For us, church festivals usually mean a celebration.  We celebrate at Christmas.  We also celebrate at Easter.  It is even common practice for some churches to have cake and celebrate at Pentecost.  But on that first Pentecost, people were not excited, they were frightened.  This was not a celebratory time, for they were confused.  They were bewildered.  They were astonished.  This was not an exciting day because when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, He came as a violent, rushing wind.  This was not a calm, gentle breeze.  No, the Apostle Luke, the writer of Acts, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as a violent, strong, forcible wind.  Certainly something that would get your attention and go, “Wow what just happened!”  Which explains all of the confusion among the crowd of people that gathered; even accusing the apostles of being drunk on new wine.  Today Pentecost is treated as a celebration, which it most certainly is a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles and to us.  But that first day of Pentecost was anything but celebratory.  It was frightening.

When we think of the gift of the Holy Spirit we often think of baptism or confirmation.  These are moments or milestones in life where we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals leaving us with a good, warm your heart kind of feeling.  Leaving us with the impression that the Holy Spirit moves like a peaceful, gentle breeze.  Except there is a reason why I tell parents when they bring their new child to be baptized that the first thing we are going to do is kill your son or daughter.  Of course not in a literal sense, but certainly in a spiritual sense.  In order to be renewed in Christ, we must first put aside – killing or drowning our old sinful selves through the waters of baptism.  Then, and only then, is God able to pull us out of that water into new life, clothed with Christ; giving us the gift of His Holy Spirit.  For the coming of the Holy Spirit is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing.

When thinking about the Holy Spirit, violent is usually not the first adjective you think of.  And certainly we believe that our God is peaceful, not violent.  So let me explain what I mean by violent.  Have you ever felt compelled to do something, but tirelessly worked to find excuses why not to act?  When I sensed that call to ministry, it was a rather clear call; but the call to be a pastor was rather painful.  For the longest time I was so convinced that my call to ministry was to be a youth director – and nothing more, certainly not a pastor!  So I did what I could to avoid it.  Ok, I’ll go to seminary, but only for a youth director.  Ok, I’ll get put on the roster but still not as a pastor.  But I have learned over the years that God doesn’t take no for an answer.  If He wants you to do someone, whether it is something for His Church, at your place of work, in the community, or at home, God will find a way to get what He wants.  The Holy Spirit tugs on us, and won’t give up until we do what God is calling us to do.  God doesn’t take no for an answer, and He won’t rest until He does – no matter how much force is necessary.  It took a while, but I finally gave in, realizing that it is much easier to just do what God calls you to do the first time.

Now the actions by the Holy Spirit don’t always make sense.  Many times it is hard to see the bigger picture, making it all very confusing and challenging to trust that there even is a bigger picture that God sees.  I have lost count on how many times I’ve told my kids, “Trust me, you’ll be fine.”  Or, “Trust me, the toy you’re looking for is in your room where you left it.”  It’s always easy to see the bigger picture for someone else isn’t it?  But when it comes to seeing your own, it doesn’t appear to be there.  Telling someone else to put their trust in the Holy Spirit is easy compared to practicing what you preach.  But it is in our best interest to put our trust in God, because when we don’t and we turn to our own selfish interests without giving any consideration to what God might be calling us to do; then our lack of trust leads us to despair.

So I said that the coming of the Holy Spirit, especially at baptism is neither peaceful nor gentle, but rather violent and confusing.  But I really should add one more adjective – astonishing.  Because it is rather amazing what God is able to do when we put our trust in Him.  Sometimes we even get to see what that bigger picture looks like.  Kind of like how the disciples never really understood what Jesus was talking about when He kept reminding the Twelve that He was going to die and rise again.  And yet, after the ascension of Jesus, Peter, the one who denies knowing our Lord and forbids our Lord from willingly dying, turns right around on that first day of Pentecost and begins telling the frightened, confused crowd the whole story how Jesus is the Savior of the world; dying and rising to new life.  Yeah, certainly something to celebrate!  The coming of the Holy Spirit to protect, guide, and lead.  Which is both confusing and astonishing.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

At the Center

Readings for the day (5th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, April 2, 2017):

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

 

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

 

Throughout Lent this year, the majority of the Gospel readings have been from John’s Gospel.  The story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee who sneaks around in the middle of the night all because he is curious to find out who Jesus is and what He’s all about.  The story of the Samaritan woman at the well, a foreigner, an outcast who has been married multiple times and yet despite her social status is given the promise of new life and life giving water through Christ.  The story of the man born blind, an outcast whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath which upsets the Pharisees and Jewish leaders.  But until today’s story, Jesus has only been upsetting the Pharisees and pushing their buttons.  The raising of Lazarus though crosses the line, a line that they had been waiting for Jesus to cross for three years.  They wanted Him to go too far and He finally did it.

So it becomes no surprise that John places this story in the center of his Gospel account, with 10 chapters before and 10 chapters after.  This story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus is the climax of John’s Gospel because it is not only tips the scales for the Pharisees to arrest Jesus but this story also points directly to Christ’s own death and resurrection to come.  And nestled in the center of this story, which is also at the center of the whole Gospel, is Martha’s confession to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  This is the main, central point of John’s whole Gospel.  If you get to the end of his Gospel account and you only take one thing away after reading it, he wants you to remember that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Plain and simple.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is the Messiah, God’s chosen, anointed One.

Now Martha makes that beautiful, wonderful confession, and just 12 verses later Jesus commands for the stone of Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away.  Martha, remember the one who confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, says, “Lord, there is a stench; he’s been dead for 4 days already.”  Oh how quickly Martha forgets about her confession.  Oh how quickly we can forget about who has given us life, who has forgiven our sins, and who has promised us eternal life.  Especially when things are going well in our lives, it is so easy to forget that we even need God around.  And we end up trying to do everything ourselves without the help of our God who says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  Jesus wants us to trust Him, He knows what He is doing.  Martha thought He was crazy for wanting to roll back the stone of Lazarus’s tomb, especially four days after he is dead.  There would be a stench.  And yet, trusting Jesus, the crowd rolls away the stone.

And then Jesus cries out with a loud voice, certainly needs to be loud enough for a dead man to hear Him, and says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And to the amazement of the crowd, the dead man walks out under his own power, still bound by the burial clothes.  So Jesus, for a second time, commands the crowd to do something.  This time He calls to them to “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Notice here that Jesus is not the one that rolls away the stone.  Nor is He the one who unbinds Lazarus, but Jesus is the one who raises him from the dead.  Could the things you are worrying about in your life be equivalent to raising people from the dead?  Are they rather serious concerns?  If so, give those to God.  Notice again what the crowd does as compared to what Jesus does.  Jesus commands the crowd to roll away the stone and He commands them to unbind Lazarus and let him go.  The crowd is not the one who raises Lazarus from the dead, that’s God’s job.  And many times, the things that we concern ourselves with and worry about, fall under God’s job description, not ours.

So what is God calling you to roll away in order to make room for Him to breathe new life?  What is our congregation being called to unbind and let go of in order for new life to take hold?  Maybe you’re waiting for new life and Lazarus to come out of the tomb; except Lazarus can’t come out of the tomb until Jesus’ disciples answer the call and roll the stone away first.  And likewise, new life cannot flourish until we unbind some things.

For the Pharisees, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was the last straw.  It is after this miracle that crossed the line that the chief priests and Pharisees held a meeting where they asked the question, “What are we to do?  This man is performing many sings.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  Now Caiaphas, the high priest said to them, “Don’t you understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus (one man), the whole nation would be saved.  He was right, just not is a physical sense.  Instead by killing Jesus, the whole world was saved through Him.  Because Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, God’s chosen One, who is the Savior of the world; which is at the center and heart of not just John’s Gospel, but it is at the center and heart of everything that we say and do as a congregation and in our daily lives.  Jesus is the Son of God, the One who we believe in and confess to be our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

The Good Old Putter

 

Readings for the day (4th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 26, 2017):

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

 

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

 

Well it won’t be too long now before the snow is all gone, the grass green again, and the flags waving at the golf courses again.  So it’s time to dust off those clubs because spring is coming.

Today our Psalm should have been very familiar to most of you.  Psalm 23 is a very important passage in the Bible that is essential to our faith.  Psalm 23 is like that putter in your golf bag – it is essential to your golf game.  That is of course unless you are really good at golf and never need to use your putter.  But I don’t think any of us are that good.  For me I think my golf score would actually be better if I never had to putt.  My golf game isn’t good enough to eliminate the putter from my bag.

Psalm 23 is essential for daily life.  When things go south in life, not if, this Psalm becomes essential.  When we can’t seem to see what’s really going on, this Psalm is essential.

No matter how hard we try to avoid going through those dark valleys, because of the brokenness of this world, eventually we do go through some dark places.  Parents divorce, loved ones battle cancer, those close to you struggle with chemical dependency, infertility issues arise, friends let current issues breakup years of friendship, and way too many children and adults wrestle with mental illness.  Like I said, it’s not a matter of if you will see a dark valley in your life – it is a matter of when that dark valley will occur.  And just because you go through it once, doesn’t mean that it can’t happen again.

These parents who have this son who was blind since birth certainly had to have seen this dark valley – especially since at that time if there was anything wrong with you, you were considered unclean, an outcast.  Plus if you associated yourself, and specifically toughed an unclean person, you too were to be considered unclean, an outcast.  So these parents did what they needed to in order to help their son, but since at this time when Jesus heals him, he is of age, the parents are not willing to stand up for him or speak for him on his behalf.  They simply say twice, “He is of age, ask him.”  How awful of a valley to walk through all those years, knowing that when your son gets older, he will be considered an outcast in society.

So the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”  Not even a slightly dark valley, or a partially dark valley, but the darkest valley… “I fear no evil; for you are with me…”  I fear no evil, not because I read something on Google and the situation doesn’t sound all that bad.  Not because I can justify a friend’s erratic behavior.  And we certainly don’t fear evil because we somehow think that if we just ignore the problem/the dark valley that it will just go away.  No!  We fear no evil because our God, the God who is our Shepherd and Lord, who doesn’t make us lie down in a pile of manure, but he makes us lie down in green pastures; is also the one who promises to be with us always until the end of the age.  We fear no evil as we go through the dark valleys of this life because our God is with us every step of the way.

So if you, your parents, or someone close to you is having marital issues – God is with you in the midst of that heartache.  If you or a loved one is battling cancer – God is fighting alongside you or them.  If someone close to you is struggling with chemical dependency, whether it be drugs, alcohol, pain medication, or something else – God is with them.  If you or a friend is struggling with infertility issues – you are not alone, God still loves you and them, and if it is God’s will, a baby will come in God’s time.

My friends, the judgments need to end.  Maybe you are part of the problem, maybe you aren’t, but more people throughout the country keep leaving the church mostly because of the judgments that they are faced with when they enter the doors of the Lord’s house on account of the dark valley that they are going through.  Now certainly our God is one of judgment and promises that on the Last Day there will be a judgment period where He will be separating the sheep from the goats.  But that’s not our job, and I’m very grateful that this was not included in my job description.  Instead we tell of this hope that we have because we don’t meet and play around in the manure pile, but in the green pastures with still (not rough) waters.  God wants the best for his children, not the worst.

Even in the midst of our dark valleys, the Psalmist says, “You [God] prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Our enemy is whatever dark valley we find ourselves walking through.  Maybe it is a mental illness or addiction.  Maybe it is cancer or some other illness.  Maybe it is marital or friendship issues.  No matter what the dark valley is, God sets the table anyway, anoints your head with oil, fills your cup until it is overflowing, and says, “I’m not going anywhere.”  In fact you shall dwell in the house of the Lord your whole life long.

We have lots of tools at our disposal, and there are many good passages in Scripture, but the minimal length and the richness of the imagery in Psalm 23 certainly makes these 6 verses your putter – an essential part of our daily lives as we put our trust in God alone to help get us through the dark valleys that we walk through.  The Lord is your shepherd and He will lead you in right path so that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

The Best Kind of Love

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 12, 2017):

Genesis 12:1-4a

Psalm 121

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

 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.

 

If you were to go on a road trip, how would you do it?  Would you carefully plan out your route with a detailed itinerary?  Or would you just jump in the car and drive off somewhere with no real idea on how you would get to your destination?  If you’re anything like me, you would want to have your route carefully mapped out, knowing where you’re going, how many miles you will drive, and roughly how long it would take to get there.  With knowing our path, we have a sense of control over where we go and how long it will take us to get there.

In life it’s nice to have a sense of control over our lives.  Some things in life we do have control over: we get to choose what we do, where we eat, who we associate with.  We are free to choose our career path, our friends, our spouse, where we live.  By getting a choice, we have a sense that with us in control we can see what is coming and thereby have the ability to maneuver through the changes of life as they happen.

But in reality we don’t have control over everything do we.  We can’t change other people.  We can’t control the markets.  We can’t control the weather.  We can’t control our family challenges.  We certainly can’t control the political polarization.  We can’t even control our own finitude.  With all of these things in our lives that we can’t control, we begin to lose heart.  We feel powerless and hopeless.  Any crisis or conflict in our own lives veils who we are and veils our vision; how we see the world.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a powerful Jewish leader, comes to visit Jesus in the darkness of the night.  He can’t visit during the day when the sun is out because he might be noticed seeking advice from this carpenter from Galilee.  Nicodemus would be seen as weak, as powerless, rather than strong and knowledgeable.  And yet, he is curious enough, weighing the risk, he takes a chance, stepping out, making himself vulnerable in order to find out more about who this Jesus fellow is.  Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  This confuses Nicodemus as he thinks that Jesus is talking about having a second earthly birth.  Nicodemus’ vision is veiled.  He can’t understand how one is born from above.  He keeps trying to following a path and a vision that he is familiar with and knows.  Except all he knows is simple human biology which tells us that we cannot have two earthly births.  The path that we know and are familiar with is comforting, giving us a sense of control.

Of course we like having a sense of control in our lives, but when our vision is veiled, making it challenging to see clearly – how much control do we really have?  When life is going well, going the way we would like it to go, the family is mostly happy and our stress level is low-ish, then we get the sense that we are the ones in control of our lives.  Which is a comforting feeling to know that we have control.  But when crisis hits and the family isn’t happy, our stress levels are out of control, and we conflict seems to be surrounding us, then our vision becomes veiled, not being able to see past the crisis.  We become unable to see the bigger picture.

Nicodemus thought that he had things figured out, but then he started listening to Jesus’ teachings and just got more and more confused.  His stress level was probably increasing as conflict continued to grow among the Pharisees.  He could no longer see past the conflict.  Today is no different, actually it might be worse.  People are so quick to jump to their own conclusions without fully understanding what is going on or what the big picture is.  But when a perceived crisis comes to mind, our whole vision becomes veiled and we can’t get past the crisis.  And when we can’t get past the crisis with our vision veiled, we are left feeling confused and helpless.

You know, maybe that is what drove Nicodemus to sneak out one night to find Jesus in the first place and ask his burning questions, because he felt helpless and confused.  Now when Nicodemus does confront Jesus in the darkness, He could have just blown Nicodemus off.  He could have just said, “No, I’m not talking to you.  I’m not acknowledging you.  You’re a Pharisee and you guys are causing lots of problems for me.  So just go away.”  Jesus could have also tried to negotiate with Nicodemus a little, saying, “So, you’ve got some questions do you.  Well let me see here, I would like for you get the rest of the Pharisees off my back.”  The problem with negotiating though is that you put power back into someone else’s hand.  “I’ll love you if…”  A conditional form of love that puts the person you’re going to love in control.

Instead, Jesus answers all of Nicodemus’ questions (maybe not the way he was hoping for, but they were answered).  And most importantly, Jesus offers to Nicodemus unconditional love.  Love that gives him no control and makes him completely powerless, that the only thing Nicodemus can do is to accept this love knowing full well that with God loving the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, completely removes him from the equation.  Nicodemus wasn’t looking to be saved on that night; he just wanted some questions answered.

When you think about it, you never asked God to send his Son to die for you.  You never even asked Jesus if He was willing to hang on the cross for you.  He just went and died for you without you asking for it.  This puts God in control and makes you powerless.  He never asked your opinion on the matter.  And for those who like being in control of what’s going on and where you’re headed, this can be a terrifying thing because this means that we must completely put our trust in someone who just makes decisions without consulting us.

And this is exactly what true unconditional love looks like.  God loving you and the whole world so much that he willingly gave up his only Son, being lifted up on a cross, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish in an eternal death, but may have eternal life with God.  Indeed, he did not send his Son into the world to condemn us for sins, but in order that we might be saved through him.

Our freedom of choice in this world appears to be where our freedom lies, but in all actuality our true freedom lies in this unconditional love where without your consent, Jesus willingly died and rose for you, claimed you through the waters of baptism so that Jesus who is the light of the world could shine light on your path, removing the veil, allowing you to see clearly.

We don’t always know what lies ahead for us, but with Jesus in control we can trust that He can see where we are going, with the all-powerful by our side.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

Hot or Lukewarm?

Readings for the day (Ash Wednesday – Wednesday, March 1, 2017:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 103:8-14

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

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

 

What makes waking up in the morning so great (request responses)?  Yes all of those are wonderful reasons for waking up in the morning, but what about the whole room being filled with the wonderful smell of coffee brewing?  And then to sit, holding that warm cup of coffee in your hand as you take those first couple sips of that delicious hot beverage.  For all of you coffee drinkers out there you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For those of you who don’t drink coffee, now you know what you are missing.

Drinking any hot beverage for that matter has a way of energizing us for the day.  The caffeine might play a part in that, but I think there’s something about sipping on a hot beverage in the morning to warm you up.  Kind of like having to warm your car up in the morning.  Things just run better after being warmed up.

After a while though, I get distracted by other things, but then I go grab my mug, which seems to have gotten a little lighter, I take a sip of the beverage…YUCK!  That delicious, savory beverage that I was enjoying is now disgusting.  It’s become lukewarm!  Coffee, tea, vegetables, pizza, bath water – none of these are enjoyable when they are lukewarm.  We desire them to be hot.  In fact that’s how they were meant to be enjoyed – hot.

Now our beverages and food are not the only things that get lukewarm.  Over time we can become lukewarm in our relationships with our spouse, with our children, with our friends.  Oh it starts out as the usual excuse, we’re really busy, and it’s so hard to find time to get together.  And then that makes way for fewer conversations.  We become relaxed, comfortable with how things are, but unfortunately when we become complacent and content, we have become lukewarm.  Not hot, energized, and excited, but relaxed and content which this leads to our relationships breaking down.  And what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold.

We become lukewarm in our daily activities too.  When we just don’t care as much about our work, not putting forth a good effort.  Or in school when we don’t put in as much effort into our studies as we could.  And even in our extra-curricular activities and hobbies.  When we don’t put in a very good effort, that’s a good sign that we have become lukewarm.

This same thing is true in our spiritual lives.  When we are energized, when we are excited about our walk with God, we are on fire.  We’re praying, taking time for devotions, putting our trust in God to guide and lead through the Holy Spirit, we joyfully come worshiping our God who formed us in His image, we cheerfully give of our time, our talents, and our treasures to God all for the purpose of growing His kingdom.  But when we sit ideal for a while, like the coffee cup on my desk that I forgot about, we become lukewarm.  And that’s when prayer and devotions get skipped, we start putting our trust in ourselves and our checking account, attending worship becomes a chore, and giving becomes another bill to pay.  Just like with our relationships with each other and our daily activities, what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold, including our relationship with God.

But you know what’s wonderful about lukewarm coffee?  You can add more hot coffee to the cup to warm it back up, and it doesn’t take a lot of hot coffee to do that.  The same is true in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, and in our daily lives.  Today begins the season of Lent, 40 days where we focus on who we are as sinners and God’s call for us to repent, setting aside those things that hinder us, making us lukewarm, and turning back to God, warming ourselves back up.  So in the next 40 days, what is something that you would like to work on, maybe it is a relationship, maybe it is spending more time in prayer or studying your Bible, maybe it is living more by faith, trusting that God will be with you, maybe it is opening yourself up more to helping grow God’s kingdom through your own time, talents and treasures.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples that to avoid being lukewarm, good spiritual practices include prayer, fasting, and giving.  Let’s spend the next 40 days warming ourselves up.  Because as Paul tells the Corinthians we do not want to accept the grace of God in vain.  Meaning we should not become relaxed and comfortable all because we know that God has already saved us through the waters of baptism.  Just because you have been claimed by God, welcomed into His family, and given the promise of eternal life and forgiveness of all your sins, does not mean that God enjoys you as lukewarm coffee.  He desires that you take this life that He has graciously given to you and share this Good News of God’s saving grace with others.  And we do so, as Paul did, by being patient, kind, offering genuine love, being truthful in what we say, and above all, trusting in the power of God.

You all are Christ’s ambassadors, whether you’re 12 or 50 or 90.  And as Christ’s ambassador you are a representative of not only your respective congregation, but your two sister congregations as well.  You represent Circle of Faith Parish.  You represent the Body of Christ.  You represent Christ himself.  You are His ambassador, called to bring you’re A-game, not your lukewarm coffee.

Paul says that now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation.  There is no greater time than these 40 days of Lent to turn away from our lukewarm tendencies.  For there will come a day when God will no longer desire confession or repentance on account of our sins.  For at that acceptable time, when the words that we heard earlier will come true (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return), then we will enjoy the abundant blessings from God beyond any can ever imagine.  That is when you, the ambassador, will be called home, the work will be completed and there will be rest for His faithful servants.

Until that day, let’s warm our coffees up, and bring our A-game.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

The Inevitable Change

Readings for the day (Transfiguration of Our Lord – Sunday, February 26, 2017):

Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 2

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

 

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

 

In the upstairs hallway of our home, we have numerous pictures of the past.  I find myself from time to time looking and studying these pictures as I walk by.  Some of the photos are occasionally replaced with more recent ones.  Others however are never replaced.  There’s a picture there that was taken during a recent vacation trip to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River when we were vacationing with some friends of ours.  The nice thing about pictures is that they become documentation of how people and places change over time.  The picture from the Headwaters is of both our families together, four adults and four children.  This picture will soon be out of date because there will actually be six children.  Now next to this picture in our hallway is a picture of my friend and I standing in the Fargodome after our college graduation.  This is where is all began.  What started out as two friends, turned into ten.

Comparing these two photos leaves me amazed at just how much can change in just eight years.  Change can be viewed positively or negatively.  When Jesus ascends the mountain, taking with Him Peter, James, and John, things change.  Jesus changes, or rather – transfigured; which is what transfiguration means – to change.  His face shines like the sun and His clothes become dazzling white.  But that’s not the only thing that is changing.  Here the focus for Jesus changes from healings and miracles to Jerusalem and specifically the cross.

Now some change is good, right?  When a new baby is born into the family, that’s good.  The family is growing by one, maybe even two.  When a child or grandchild gets married, that’s also a good thing, usually (as long as you like the future spouse).  60 degree weather, friends and family moving closer, and income raises are all good changes that are welcomed.  And then there are those other changes that we would rather have stay the same.  Children growing up too fast and getting ever closer to driving and High School graduation, small town businesses closing, losing a spouse, losing a child; these are changes that aren’t welcomed and we grieve over what will become of the future with these changes.

Often we know that a change is necessary, it is just hard to accept that truth.  We desperately hold on to the past because we aren’t ready for what lies ahead.  Up on the mountain, Peter wants to build three dwellings (or tents).  One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  He is so happy with the way things are that he doesn’t want it to go away.  A couple summers ago I was fishing up in northern Minnesota.  It was so peaceful, nearly perfect weather, excellent fishing.  I didn’t want to leave that place.  For me, leaving meant change.  For Peter, if there were tents for these three, maybe they wouldn’t have to leave.  And I think this is what makes change the hardest, when you know what needs to be done, you know that things need to change, but you’re afraid that if you allow a change to occur you will lose the past, and it will simply become a memory of what was.  When a child graduates from High School, there is no reminder to clean your room, but rather just a memory of what was.  When we lose our spouse, there is no more conversing or spending time together, but rather just a memory of what was.  This is why we race so quickly to capture a photo of something; pictures help us retain those memories of what was.  Pictures don’t help make change easier, but does help keep the memories from changing.

With our church, I think we all know that change is necessary.  We are like Peter, wanting things to stay the same while knowing that change is inevitable.  Things cannot stay the same.  We will have to come down the mountain.  We will have to get off the lake.  The 60 degree weather, as we learned, will not last forever.  The weather will change.  Milestone events will come and go.

But God’s fame, God’s glory, what He is known for, will not change.  Maybe this is where we and Peter get lost.  The Transfiguration moment on the mountain top appears to be perfect, with Jesus all dazzling white and shining as bright as the sun.  But don’t be fooled.  This isn’t what God is known for.  His glory is not found on the mountain, but on the cross.  In the brokenness of a dehumanizing act of what humans do to fellow humans, the cross (a tree with some nails) is exactly where God’s glory, God’s fame is found.  We expect God to be found where there is perfection, but Jesus flips our worldly perspective so that where we find God is not in the perfect, but in the broken, where we least expect it.

So maybe the reason why change is so hard is because the past, with all of our pictures, we have created an image that our past is perfect, and with the future so uncertain that’s where the brokenness must lie.  But you know, how many of your photo albums or pictures that you hang on the walls show the brokenness of your past?  You see, the only thing that has been perfect in our past or ever will be perfect in our future is the saving work that Christ did on the cross for us by turning the brokenness into perfection.

I do not know what lies ahead for the future of our church, but I do know that like the pictures on my hallway wall, some will stay displayed for a very long time while others will change.  Not everything will be able to stay the same, it will be necessary for some things to change.  But no matter how hard the change will be, it will be done all for God’s glory, making Christ’s death and resurrection known to all and for all.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Hope for Tomorrow

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 15, 2017):

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-11

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

John 1:29-42

 

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

 

Around 600 years before Jesus was born, an outside group, a group of foreigners, came in, captured the Israelites, chained them up, led them off to a far off country, and completely ransacked Jerusalem.  Homes were destroyed.  The city walls were damaged.  The temple that King Solomon built (essentially their church) was completely destroyed.  The Israelites were hauled off into exile, away from their homes, away from all of their things, possibly even away from their family and friends.  And on top of that, their place of worship was desecrated and destroyed.  Can they worship God in a foreign land?  Can they worship God in another place other than their building?  This is an important question for the Israelites because the temple was where God told them He would be; they could find Him there.  And now without the temple, can they still worship God?  If so, where?

That question is maybe a little easier for us to think about with many churches in the area.  And yet, when we spend much of our lives going to Sunday School and Luther League in this place or all of the Christmas Eve and Holy Week services over the years, it still can be hard to think of our future without this church, without this building in our lives.  Could we even possibly join another church if our church was no longer here?

While in exile, the Israelites were not only dealing with the loss of their church building, but they lost everything.  And regardless of what the loss is, when we lose something, a void is created in our lives that needs to be filled, but it can be rather challenging to accomplish this and actually fill the void, especially when the void is big.

For the Israelites the future is so uncertain.  When will they be able to return home?  Will they be in exile for as long as their ancestors were in Egypt?  The future always carries with it a certain level of fear and anxiety because we don’t know what that future holds.  Now we aren’t exiled to a foreign land.  We still have our homes and our families, our jobs and our possessions.  But we still have no clue what the growing season will look like this year, nor do we know what the crop prices will do.  We finally know what is happening to the health insurance premiums this year, and it’s anything but good news.  And as of Friday, we have a new president.  For some, this news brings hope for a better future.  For others, this news brings great worry and anxiety since no one truly knows exactly what our new president will do in the next 4 years.  It could be good.  It could be bad.  It’ll probably be a little bit of both.

Now the job of a prophet is to first tell God’s people what they have done wrong that has upset God, but also to tell them what God is going to do for them in the future – giving them some hope.

In our story with the Israelites being hauled off to Babylon, they have no clue how long they are going to be there, if they will even be able to return home.  And now in comes the prophet Isaiah who has predicted many things.  Isaiah prophesied that Babylon (the place where the Israelites were exiled to) would be overthrown, allowing for them to return home someday.  And he also prophecies that a Messiah (God’s anointed One) would soon arrive.

Isaiah knows what he is supposed to do.  He knows that he is to deliver God’s Word to His people.  God says, “You are my servant…in whom I will be glorified.”  But Isaiah responds, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…”  Isaiah feels like he isn’t getting anywhere with God’s people.  He says that he has labored in vain, spending all of his energy for nothing.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt as though you have tried really hard at something all for your efforts to seem useless and all for nothing?  It’s like when you are trying so hard to teach your child or a student something and they just aren’t getting it.  Many times it even appears like they aren’t even listening.  But then there’s that moment.  That moment when they surprise you and you realize that all of that hard work has finally paid off.

Sometimes it can feel as though we have labored in vain; that all of our efforts, all of our work and dedication to our church, in our homes, in our community, on our farms and in our businesses, that all of our efforts have been for nothing.  But have we tried everything we could?  Is it time to give up and throw in the towel?  Have we labored for nothing?

Or do we do as the disciples did and follow after Jesus whatever the cost?  Now following Jesus takes work.  Having a relationship with God takes work.  In fact, any relationship for that matter takes work.  If both parties aren’t good about maintaining the communication lines, then the relationship weakens over time.  The same is true with our church, if we just passively enjoy the reality that our church is still around but don’t lift a figure to help it, then it is all for nothing.  It takes work.  Just as Nathanael asks Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  I ask you, “Can anything good come out of Waverly?”

Isaiah’s prophecies were not only promises from God, but they were intended to give the Israelites some hope.  Hope that someday things would get better.  Hope that someday they would be able to return home.  Hope that someday they would be free again to worship their God in their own building again.

The future of our world certainly is uncertain.  We don’t know what the future holds for us.  We don’t know what health care or crop prices are going to look like in the future.  We don’t know what the weather will do or what our new president will do.  For all of this and more, we put our faith and trust in God that He would continue to provide for us for as long as He feels that there is work for us to do for the sake of God’s kingdom.

So regardless of what happens in the future – whether it rains or not, whether President Trump’s leadership is good or not, whether we live or whether we die, know this: know that you belong to God.  Your labor for the Lord is never in vain.  He has chosen you.  He has called you by name.  You are His.  And nothing, absolutely nothing in this world can ever take that away from you.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.