‘Patiently’ Waiting

Readings for the day (Sunday, November 12, 2017):

Amos 5:18-24

Psalm 70

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

 

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

 

Are you a patient person?  A patient person, someone who is able to accept or tolerate delays.  Patience would not be how I would describe my children or my wife.  This impatience certainly comes out during harvest time.  As we’re going down the road and we come up behind a tractor, combine, or other slow moving vehicles, I’ll hear from the back seat of the car, “Why you slowing down, Daddy?  Go faster!”  Or when I’m sitting at a red light, I’ll hear from the back seat, “Go daddy!”  And then the second the light turns green, I’ll hear from the passenger seat, “It’s green.”

We are not always the most patient people, are we?  I wonder, is our impatience a result of the advancement of technology that keeps getting faster and more connected?  Or is our impatience self-inflicted by how busy we have become?  We can certainly blame technology for making us impatient.  My boys get frustrated when a Netflix show takes a little longer to load because of slow internet.  But what we would consider slow internet today is nothing like what dial up internet was just 15 plus years ago.  So yes, technology can be blamed.  But we also need to look at ourselves.  If we are impatient and unable to accept or tolerate delays because we have too much going on at once, then maybe our busyness has created our impatience.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids.  These bridesmaids are eager to meet the bridegroom.  They head out to wait for his arrival.  They all take oil burning lamps with them, but only five of the ten take a flask of extra oil.  And their eagerness begins to dwindle as the bridegroom’s arrival is delayed.  He is delayed so much that all ten became drowsy and fell asleep.  The wise and the foolish fall asleep.  No one is able to stay ready and awake for the bridegroom; especially with the bridegroom’s delay.

This parable is one of the many reasons why I like the lectionary and the flow of the church year; because without this structure, we wouldn’t study this parable much.  Who really wants to hear about the foolish ones who were not properly prepared for when Jesus returned and who inevitably were late to the party and were locked out of the wedding banquet?  But as we near the season of Advent, which is next month, we hear and study places in scripture where Jesus talks about His second coming – His coming in glory to judge the quick and the dead.  This parable being one of those texts.

In many parables, including this one, the main point of the teaching is to show the relationship between the Father, and the Son, and the church.  At the end of all things, when Jesus returns, there is going to be a wedding and more specifically a wedding banquet or what today we call a wedding reception.  And our Heavenly Father is throwing this party because his Son, Jesus, the bridegroom, is getting married.  He is getting married to the church, the whole church, the Body of Christ.

So we have these bridesmaids, or we could call them, the church.  The Body of Christ, some wise, some foolish, went to meet the bridegroom, Jesus.  But Jesus was delayed in coming for the wedding.  So the church must wait for Christ to return.  Waiting takes patience and preparation.  How good are you at waiting?  And what do you do while you wait?  The five foolish bridesmaids went out to meet the bridegroom, but they were not prepared for the delay.  And when Jesus did finally come, they had to run to get oil and ended up being late to the party.  What do you do while you wait?  Do you just wait?  Or do you use this time to prepare yourself for the bridegroom’s delay?

Some ways in which we prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s delay and eventual arrival, are two simple things: Word and Sacrament.  Hear and study God’s Word and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  The wise bridesmaids were prepared.  With extra oil, they were prepared for the future.  They were looking to the day of the resurrection and judgment when Jesus would return.  The foolish bridesmaids were not prepared.  With no extra oil, they were only prepared and focused on the present.  In order to prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s arrival, and delay, we must not get caught up in the here and now.  Rather than placing your hope in things of this world (which cannot save you nor can they prepare you for Christ’s return), instead place your hope in God (who can and does save you).  So continue to hear and study the Word of God throughout the week.  For it is through scripture that we fill our flasks with oil and thus preparing us for whenever the bridegroom returns.  And continue to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Through Christ’s Body and Blood, we are given the strength and the stamina to await the unknown arrival of the bridegroom.

The bridegroom might be delayed, but He is still coming.  Many in the church have been too impatient for the bridegroom.  So they have given up on waiting and have returned to living their lives focused on the present, here and now without any hope of the future resurrection and wedding banquet to come.  And they are the ones who will be sorry, for they will be the foolish bridesmaids who troubled themselves only with present matters, and forgot about God.  They are the ones who will scramble at the last minute to get oil, but by the time they return, they will be too late.  The wedding banquet between Christ and His church will have already begun.  And there the wise bridesmaids will be enjoying communion with all of the saints for all of eternity.

Until the day of Resurrection and of judgment, we gather around our Lord’s Table and feast on the Body and Blood of Christ.  For it is this simple meal of bread and wine that gives us a foretaste of that heavenly feast to come.  Can you patiently wait for that?  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

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Shaped by Saints

Readings for the day (Sunday, November 5, 2017):

Micah 3:5-12

Psalm 43

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Matthew 23:1-12

 

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

 

Throughout our lives, various people influence and shape who we are today.  Most of the time these influences have positively shaped our values and our faith.  Sometimes though we are negatively shaped by people around us.  And no matter what your age, whether you’re 90, 50, 20, 10, or even 5, you are constantly being shaped by the people around you.  Think of some of those people who have helped shape you.  Your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles.  Maybe a teacher, coach, or co-worker.  Or how about a neighbor, either when you were younger, or even now.

And each person contributes differently to how we are shaped.  I’ve learned many things from my parents and grandparents.  They have especially been great role models for marriage and parenting.  But from a basketball coach, I received great wisdom, not only about the game of basketball, but also life.  And I learned what being a neighbor to someone else really means and looks like from one of my childhood neighbors.

So you see, we have many different people that impact our lives.  And for Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, he is reminding them to rely on those people who have positively impacted and shaped their lives; not the negative ones.  Specifically he is talking about himself, Timothy and the other apostles.  Paul is not saying this in an arrogant sort of way, saying, “Look at how awesome I am.”  Rather, in matters of faith, we need people who encourage us, who model faithful living, and who will hold us accountable.  And Paul tells the Thessalonians, I can be that for you.  Paul knows all too well how difficult it is to continually live our lives for God, putting Him first and trusting in His saving grace.  So Paul tells them, I have been and will continue to help you through your walk with Christ by urging, encouraging, and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God.

You know, we all need these at different times in our lives.  When things are going well, we aren’t necessarily thinking about God and how to use our day to glorify Him.  These are the times when we think we’ve got a pretty good control of things.  So we end up not thinking about God as often.  It is times like these that we need some urging, some reminding, to stay the course.  Then there are times when we are doing it – we’re living our lives for God, faithfully walking with Him, putting our trust in Him.  Those are the times when we need that encouraging word to keep it up – you’re doing a great job.  And then there are times when we turn away, when we hit a patch of ice and go sliding off course.  And that’s when we need the saints to plead to have us come back.

Who has been that faithful saint in your life?  Who has positively shaped your faith formation?  Who has urged you at times, encouraged you at other times, and even pleaded with you that you would continue to lead a life worthy of God?  Today is All-Saints Sunday.  Every day, every week, we give thanks for these faithful saints who are no longer with us.  But today, on All-Saints Sunday, we especially give thanks for those saints in our lives who helped shape who we have become.  We lit candles to remember them, and we give thanks and praise to God for the life that they lived.

And at least for me, in thinking about these saints that have shaped and helped form my faith in God, Paul’s words describe their faith well.  Paul writes, “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”[1]  For Paul, faith is not just an idea or set of beliefs.  Faith is a practice.  Faith is a way of life.  Faith guides us.  Faith leads us.  Faith defines us.  For Paul, this faith in God is not just a badge that he wears or a card that he carries.  No, this faith fully defines who he is and how he lives his life.  And the saints that I lit my candle for this morning, lived their lives like the gospel mattered.  For them, faith wasn’t just an idea, the creed wasn’t just a set of beliefs.  Rather, it was a way of life.  For them, God was their ultimate influencer and shaper.

And in the gospel reading today, this is exactly what Jesus was getting at when He told the crowd and His disciples to be careful of modeling after the scribes and the Pharisees.  Jesus said, “Do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”[2]  Jesus didn’t have a problem with their teachings because they were teaching the Old Testament.  He had nothing wrong with that.  What Jesus did have a problem with was that they would teach the crowds one way and then act in a completely different way.  Certainly not someone who you want to be following and learning good faith practices from.  This is why I strongly encourage parents to pick not their best friends to be God-parents of their child.  Instead I suggest picking people who model good faith practices that their child will be able to learn from.

So as we remember those saints who urged us, encouraged us, and sometimes even pleaded with us, we give thanks to God for the life they had, for the memories that we have of them, and the faith in God that they modeled for us in their daily living.  May our faith in Jesus be ever strengthened by their witness and service to God.  And may your witness and service to God for His kingdom be an example to others of what faithful living looks like.  For one day we all will be remembered by others.  How do you want to be remembered?

Praise God we have been blessed with the saints in our lives and we look forward to the day when we will gather together with those saints around God’s wedding banquet for all of eternity.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 2:13, NRSV

[2] Matthew 23:3, NRSV

A Hymn of Comfort

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 29, 2017):

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

 

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

 

This Tuesday will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  For Luther, he never intended on separating from the Catholic Church.  He saw abuses within the church and he wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of these abuses, so that something would be done about it.  Have you ever seen something that needed to be changed or done differently?  Did you say something?  Or did you just complain about it to yourself?  By nailing his 95 theses (or issues/abuses) that he saw within the church, Luther was publicly saying something.  He chose to do this specifically on October 31st, not because it is Halloween (something that we celebrate in this century), but because of November 1st; All-Saints day.  As the priest, Luther knew that people would be coming for mass on November 1st to commemorate All-Saints day.  So posting this publicly on the bulletin board the day before worship made sense.

What Luther did with a pen and some paper, along with a hammer and a nail, was he started a movement.  A movement that is still happening today.  Reformation is not something that just happened on one day and then everyone went home.  Through his preaching and more so his writings, Luther reformed or changed the way the church preached, taught, read, and sang.  He translated the New Testament into the language of the people.  So that they could actually read the Word of God.  He also created resources for parents to teach the faith to their children at home.  That resource is called the Small Catechism.  And he wrote numerous hymns.

Now Luther was a troubled man.  He certainly did not have everything all put together.  He struggled with finding God as one who is forgiving and merciful.  All he felt was wrath and anger.  He didn’t feel grace and peace.  And it wasn’t until he started studying the Word of God that he was able to find God not as angry and wrathful, but rather full of grace.

The hymn that we opened with, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, is also known as the “Hymn of Comfort.”  Luther wrote this hymn and the tune.  And he based the text of this hymn on Psalm 46.  For Luther, our God is great and powerful, like a mighty fortress who wins victoriously with a sword and shield.  With all of this might and power, we can feel as though God is out to get us.  The Psalmist says, “the mountains shake…the water roar and foam…the nations are in an uproar.”  Utter chaos is what that means.  The world is in chaos.  Our lives are in chaos.  Maybe for you, most days you seem to have a handle on things.  While others long to take hold of something, even if it is but for a moment.

Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see that second group of people (those who don’t have it all together).  Because for some reason they believe that they have to have a really good handle of everything in their lives in order to walk through our doors.  And to top it all off, those whose lives are in chaos believe, as Luther did, that God is a vengeful God.  Someone who is out to get us.  Someone who finds joy in making us suffer.  Which leads people to believe that God is the cause of all this chaos.  So people believe that cancer, shootings, disasters, injuries are all because God wanted that to happen.  My friends, that God is a jerk!  And certainly not who I believe and put my trust in.

Luther realized that as well; especially as he studied the Word of God.  He realized things like verse 5 from Psalm 46, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; He will help it when the morning dawns.”  Which influenced Luther to write things like verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress, “Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat’ning to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us.”  “…for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.”  Our God is not a vengeful, angry, jerk who is out to get us and cause us harm.  Rather, He is love, He is grace, He is peace and comfort.

The Psalmist ends with, “Be still, and know that I am God!”  Be still.  That’s actually really hard for us to do.  Be still.  Meaning to let go of those things that we really don’t have control over but still strive with all of our might to control them.  Be still and be silent, so that you may witness God’s powerful ability to not only reform or change something, but to save.  And specifically to save us from the world, the devil, and our sinful selves.

Luther was trying to tell the church that salvation, the way in which we are saved, is not by any doing of our own, but only through the cross of Christ.  We cannot work for our salvation.  We cannot pay for our salvation.  We cannot earn our salvation.  We can’t do anything to get into heaven because that gift has already been given to us through the waters of baptism.  And our faith in this gift is sustained through the meal of bread and wine that Jesus provides for us.

So the Psalmist concludes with, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  In Hebrew, the phrase “to know” doesn’t mean simply to acknowledge something.  Such as, I know that God exists.  Or I know that there is pizza in that box.  Rather, “to know” means to internalize or to embody the truth fully.  So to know that there is pizza in that box means to actually eat the pizza, not just look at it.  “Be still, and know that I am God,” then means to be silent, witnessing God’s almighty power and to not only acknowledge God’s presence among us, but to actually live our lives like He actually is here.  Therefore everything that we say, think, and do would reflect this reality that our God is real, He is alive, and He is active in the world.  So God’s presence isn’t just some cute idea that is supposed to bring us comfort, but in fact I believe that God truly is present in our lives, working and moving through the chaos of our lives in order to bring us joy and peace, comfort and grace.  And this is why Luther wrote this “Hymn of Comfort.”  Because it embodies this knowledge that even in the midst of chaos, our God is here with us now.  Be still, and know that He is God!  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

A Good Reason to Party

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 15, 2017:

Isaiah 25:1-9

Psalm 23

Philippians 4:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

 

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

 

Well that went quick.  Nearly five years of partnered ministry together has already past.  We’ve tried different things, some have succeeded while others have failed.  We’ve had to make compromises, just like any good relationship has to.  And yet, there is still so much more that we can do, all for the sake of the Gospel.

We live in a different world, though, than we did when you were growing up; even when I was growing up.  Spirituality was different.  Religion was different.  Politics was different.  Parenting was different.  We live, work, play, and do ministry in a different world than what we grew up with.  And many times when everything else around us is changing so rapidly, we long to hang on to someone that remains constant, stable, and unchanging.

For us Christians, God is that rock, that stability, that constant for us.  But often we struggle with allowing the approach of our ministry to change.  Our message of Christ crucified for the sins of all, doesn’t change.  But we can’t do ministry like we used to because the world that we live in now is not what it used to be like.  We live in a completely new world.  A world that questions everything.  A world that longs for proof of anything.  A world that is so fed up with the church’s extreme social justice left and the Bible thumping right that instead just gives up on the church all together.  Like I said, a whole new world.  You can’t assume that someone you meet is Christian or that they even know the story of Jesus.  You can’t even assume that they believe in God.

So what are we to do about all of this?  Talk to Pastor Eric, maybe he has the answer.  And when that doesn’t work, we turn to Scripture.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been having a busy week with these Pharisees.  After His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus has been speaking in parables and the Pharisees just adore these parables.  No, just kidding.  They actually hate them.  And with each parable Jesus tells, they get increasingly angry.  They haven’t arrested Him yet, but they are getting close.  And with each parable that He tells, they get closer and closer to saying enough is enough.  And today’s text is no different; Jesus shares with them his third and final parable before the Pharisees will go off and plot to arrest Him.

In this parable, the king’s wedding banquet for his son is all ready to go.  The decorations are hung.  The tables are set.  The food is prepared.  The bridegroom is ready.  Now all that needs to be done is to fill the banquet hall with guests.  The king sends out the invitation, but all those who are invited ignore the kings invitation because they are “too busy” with other things.  Doesn’t that feel like doing ministry today?  People are “too busy” for church.  If only all those “busy” people knew what Jesus was actually talking about here.  Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven and the great never ending wedding banquet that we are looking forward to.  He’s talking about the celebration of the marriage between Himself, God’s Son and His bride, the church.  The bride and the bridegroom, coming together at last.  And at the joining of these two for all eternity, God is throwing a really big party.  The Prophet Isaiah describes this party as “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, a feast of the greatest’s, richest foods.”  And this is never ending; for all of eternity.  So amazing!  What a wonderful thing to look forward to!

And this isn’t just good news, its great news!  This is what has kept our churches doing ministry for 118, 122, and 143 years, not to mention 5 years of partnered ministry together.  This is why (I hope) that you keep coming back week after week, to be reminded of who and what we have hope in.  This is why Marilyn found that organ bench 50 years ago and has never left.  Because this is great news!  When the party is ready, we get to be included in the festivities.

So when we go through those dark valleys of life of seeing our world shaken by tragedies like the shooting massacre in Las Vegas, or the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  Or when those dark valleys hit home and we have to say farewell to dearly beloved friends and family members.  Or we watch as loved ones battle depression, addiction, and mental illness.  Or we hear of a friend falling off of a grain bin with multiple traumatic injuries; all we can do is look towards the hope of the wedding banquet to come.  Because everything else just leads to despair.

With all of the unbelief out there, coupled with all of the tragedies of life around the world and directly effecting our lives, it can be hard to find the energy to continue doing ministry, doing the work that God has called us to do.  Because what’s the point in trying if people are “too busy” for church, or who have given up on the church?  In the parable Jesus says, “Then [the king] said to his slaves (that’s you and me!), ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’”  There’s your purpose.  There’s your mission.  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s a different world out there than what it used to be, but we keep trying different things.  We keep trying to reach those who desperately need to hear these words about Jesus and that there is a wedding banquet to come, and God desires their presence in the banquet hall with the rest of us.  Many of our attempts to reach the unchurched and those who have fallen away will fail, but hopefully by the grace of God, some of our attempts will succeed.  And we will certainly have to continue making compromises as a parish as we work on the next 5 years of our partnered ministry together.  And Marilyn is just gonna have to keep playing for another 50 years.

So let me end with a word of encouragement.  Notice in this parable, the wedding banquet was ready, but the guests were not.  So the king invites everyone to come; both good and bad.  So no matter how messed up you think your life is.  No matter how unfit you feel you are in carrying out the ministry of Christ’s Church.  Remember this…God loves you.  God cares for you.  God is obsessed with you and He wants you at His wedding banquet.  You will not be thrown out of the wedding hall, as mentioned in the second part of this parable.  For unlike the man who attended without a wedding robe on, you already have your wedding robe on.  You got it when you were baptized.  Being clothed with Christ through the waters of baptism is your wedding robe for the banquet.  You’re ready to feast.  You’re ready to drink.  You’re ready to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

God’s Vineyard

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 8, 2017:

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:7-15

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

 

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 been to a vineyard before?  They are always so classy looking with their elaborate landscaping, their abundance of flowers, and their incredibly green grass.  Even the bad wineries look nice.  And why is that?  Probably because they want you to schedule a wedding or a reunion or some sort of party at their winery.  But they also just want you to come sample their different types of wine, buy a bottle or two, and spend some time relaxing and enjoying the music, the atmosphere, and the people.

Ever since entering Jerusalem on a donkey while having people lay tree branches and coats on the road, Jesus has been having issues with the religious leaders.  They have been questioning his authority.  They are wondering who he thinks he is, barging into their city, and not only over turning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, but he also welcomed those awful sinners into the temple and then healed them.  And since last week’s parable about the 2 sons went over so well with the religious leaders, Jesus says, “Listen to another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.”  Most of the time, in the parables God is the landowner or master and the location or scene of the parable is the kingdom of heaven.  Often parables start off by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Even though Jesus doesn’t preface this parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  I think it is safe to assume that the landowner is God and He has planted a vineyard.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard.  Think about that.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard.  A vineyard that produces fruit; specifically grapes.  Grapes for making wine.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard that makes wine.

If you’ve ever been to a winery, can you think of a time when you noticed someone not having a good time?  Traditionally, wine is for celebrations: consuming at special occasions like a wedding, an anniversary, a retirement party.  For God, the vineyard is a sign of the joy and celebration the kingdom of heaven will be like when Jesus the bridegroom is finally united with His bride, the church.

Until that day comes for the eternal celebration, there is work to be done.  Now the text says that the landowner planted the vineyard, put a fence around the vineyard, dug a wine press, and built a watchtower.  Then after all of the prep work was done, he leased the vineyard out to tenants who were called to care for the vineyard and share in the harvest with the landowner when the harvest is ready.  And that’s where we find ourselves at today. We are tenants in God’s vineyard.  This world is not ours.  You might have a deed to your home or a title to your car, but really nothing in all of creation belongs to us.  Everything belongs to God.  We didn’t start with any of this; it was here before us.  For example, look at our church.  Our congregation has been around for 122/143 years.  No one here is that old.  Now what if we looked at this parable with the church as the vineyard.  The vineyard belongs to the landowner, not the tenants.  The landowner is God.  Therefore, the church belongs to God.  It isn’t ours.  It never has been.  It is God’s.  We simply are tenants, called through the waters of baptism to faithfully care for God’s vineyard, God’s church.

And the church, is much more than just this building and the contents inside.  Over the years, how much time has been spent on arguing over things regarding this building?  Probably more than anyone would care to admit.  No, the church is actually the body of Christ.  We are called to care for the body of Christ, all of God’s children.  Again, we are just tenants, called to care for and nurture the growth of those in the vineyard.  God has taken care of the hard part.  He is the one who planted the vineyard, put a fence around the vineyard to protect what is important to Him.  Then He dug a wine press and built a watchtower.  But even with all of the hard work done, we end up acting like those wicked tenants.  It was common practice in the 1st century that a landowner and his tenants would split the produce that was collected at harvest.  These tenants decided that they didn’t want to follow what was agreed upon in their lease and keep everything for themselves, rather than giving back what wasn’t even rightfully theirs in the first place.  We do act like these wicked tenants, don’t we?  We don’t always want to share God’s blessings with others.  We wonder why we need to help others who aren’t even willing to help themselves.  And when we do help, when we do share, we don’t always do it with a smile on our face.

And this is where we have to remember who we are and what our purpose is.  We are tenants; not the landowner.  None of this belongs us.  And we have been recruited to work in God’s vineyard.  We don’t always know why.  We don’t always know if the work that we are doing is even producing any fruit.  But we do know this, one day the harvest will come, and God will come to collect His harvest for it will be time for the marriage feast that has no end.  And there we will share in the joy of the celebration of Christ and His Church for all eternity in the vineyard.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Last to First; First to Last

Reading for the day (Sunday, September 24, 2017):

Jonah 3:10—4:11

Psalm 145:1-8

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

 

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

 

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Life isn’t fair.”  And I think we all know this to be true, but even though we know this, we still can’t help ourselves from wanting things to be fair.  We long for things to be fair.  Don’t you hate it when you see people who get things that they haven’t worked for or earned?  And of course, we want everyone to be paying their fair share of taxes; not getting out of their fair share because of some loop hole.  No butting in line and no short cuts, right?  People should only receive what they have worked hard for.  So it is definitely unfair when people seem to just get things while barely lifting a figure to work for it.  That’s not fair!  That’s not just!  We want fairness, we want justice.  And this is why today’s parable that Jesus tells frustrates us and makes us mad.

How dare Jesus tell a parable that says no matter how much you work, or not work, you will ALL be rewarded the same.  That’s not fair, and that certainly is not justice.  Of course it isn’t fair when looking at this parable with money in mind.  The landowner sets out in the morning (probably around 6:00 am) to hire workers to work in his vineyard for the day.  He finds some and they agree to be paid $100 at the end of the day.  The landowner still has work to be done.  So he goes back out at 9:00 am and hires more workers.  There still is more work to be done.  And the landowner goes out again at noon, at 3:00 pm, and at 5:00 pm.  Then at 6:00 pm, the work was done for the day and the hired hands come to collect their pay for the day.  Those hired last are paid first, and they are each given a $100 bill.  Ok, that’s fine.  The landowner must have gotten a really good price on grapes at the local winery.  This probably means more money for those who worked longer.  Next to be compensated are the workers hired at 3:00 pm; given $100 as well.  But you know, they only worked 3 hours as compared to 1 hour.  Those hired at noon also are given $100.  This is starting to get confusing, but maybe the extra pay doesn’t kick in until one works more than 6 hours.  And then things get frustrating.  The workers hired at 9:00 am are paid the same $100 for the day.  And then the unthinkable happens, those hired at 6:00 am are paid the same as everyone else; even all of those who worked 3, 6, 9, and even 11 hours less than those hired early in the morning.  This is maddening.  What started off fine, turned into okay to confusing to frustrating to maddening.  How could Jesus ever say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”?

This all means that those of us who have followed Jesus our entire lives are going to receive the same as someone who near the end of their life decides to finally believe and follow Jesus.  Like I said, maddening and unfair.  That is of course as long as we look at this parable with money in mind.

What if we changed the perspective?  What if instead of focusing on what the vineyard workers received (or didn’t receive), we focused on the landowner’s actions and motives.  The landowner isn’t concerned about the wage, he’s got enough to go around.  He’s more concerned about getting the work done.  There’s got to be ample work in the vineyard because the landowner is obsessed with hiring every possible person he can find.  The landowner is also generous that he overpays almost his entire workforce.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like this landowner who continues to go out and hire workers for his vineyard.  The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.  God is most concerned about the proclamation and sharing of the Gospel with the world.  He doesn’t care how much someone as 6:00 am makes as compared to someone hired at 3:00 pm.

When we look at this parable by comparing the pay of the laborers, we’ve missed the mark.  Instead, the landowner wants as many people involved as possible.  And he is so generous that he’s willing to give people whatever they need.  Our God is so generous that he willingly gives us the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and unconditional love no matter how long it took us to get to his vineyard.  The important thing is that we are here, working, and we will receive a fair wage for our labor.  And there are more laborers out there looking for work, who are longing for work.  And yet we are focused more on what is considered fair.

We look at the world and rank people.  Who’s first and who’s last, all for the sake of being fair.  But who really is last?  Who really is first?  Jesus says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  And we so like to be first.  But actually because of your sin; because of your strong desire to be fair, to be just, to be first in everything that you do, you are the one who is last.  Your sin puts you into last place.  And if you are in last place, who is in first?  Well Jesus of course.  Jesus, who was first in all of creation, who was in the beginning when God created the world.  So Jesus is first, and we are last.  But we really should continue reading beyond the appointed text to get a full understanding of this phrase…

“While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

Jesus who was first before creation, made himself last, taking on all of your sins and bringing them to the cross; so that you, who were last, would be made first in the eyes of God.  God sees you as first, not because of your sin, but because of Jesus.  So yes, the last will be first, and the first will be last.  You were last, but now you are first because of the cross of Christ.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Obligation or Love?

Reading for the day (Sunday, September 10, 2017):

Ezekiel 33:7-11

Psalm 119:33-40

Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20

 

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

 

Don’t you feel grateful today?  We have food, fuel, and shelter…and we aren’t having to seek dryer ground.  Texas has already begun recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey.  And Florida is preparing for one of the worst hurricanes ever.  And unfortunately after Irma moves through, Hurricane Jose isn’t that far behind.  Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those affected by these natural disasters as well as all of those who are helping with evacuation, rescue and recovery efforts.  With all of the attention on the southeast with the hurricanes, many forget that the western part of our country is on fire, literally.  26,000 firefighters are battling the blaze in western Montana, California, and all over the Pacific Northwest.

Now with all of these natural disasters, the question comes up, “How much do we help?”  We certainly can’t help everyone, and unfortunately the call for charity increases the amount of scammers.  Between mail at home and especially mail at the church, we receive so many requests for financial donations that at times I just get to the point where I want to scream, “No one is getting my money!”

But the real question that needs to be asked is, “Do you help out of obligation?  Or do you help out of love for your neighbor?”  The book of Romans is Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Rome.  When he wrote the letter, the government and all of society was not Christian.  In fact the Roman Empire would not become Christian until Emperor Constantine’s reign about 250 years after Paul.  So these Christians living in Rome have heard the Good News about Jesus and are trying to live a godly life.  Plus they have heard that Jesus is their king.  And if Jesus king, are we subject to the Roman Emperor and other governing authorities?  Do we have any obligation to them?  In short, Paul says in chapter 13 of his letter, yes we must be subject to them – not only because they can arrest us, but also because of our conscience.  Paul says, “For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.  Pay to all what is due them – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”[1]

We have an obligation to pay our bills and settle our debts, because that is the right and fair thing to do.  But then in the very next verse, Paul goes on to say, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”[2]  Here Paul is making a shift in his letter from a standard formula that in the end needs to balance, to an entirely new way of living our lives.  Paul says we still need to do what is right and fair, in regards to our obligations.  But as for helping others, doing no wrong to our neighbor, and instead loving our neighbor, is not done out of obligation like paying taxes or paying the electric bill.  Rather we do so out of pure love and care for our neighbor because we are children of God.

God calls us to love our neighbor, but what does obligatory love look like?  If you feel obligated to love someone, then you do as little as possible.  This means not going out of your way for anything.  So you help only when there is nothing else better to do.  From His children whom He has claim, God desires much more from us.  From before we were born, God chose us to be His own children.  He has no obligation to love and care for us.  Instead out of genuine, unconditional love we have been given this gift of salvation and eternal life because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  And out of this great love that God has shown us, we respond by sharing this same love with those around us.  Let’s call them our neighbors.

Love for your neighbor does not have to be complicated nor expensive.  In fact, how we love our neighbors can be compared to how we are to love our children.  I tell parents that the greatest love you can give your children is the love that you give to each other.  So by loving your spouse, your children will see, feel and experience that same love.  I think the same goes for our neighbors.  Maybe the greatest love you can give your neighbor is the love that you give to God.  So by loving and serving God, your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors will see, feel and experience that same love that you have received from God.  I think our witness to the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, really is that simple.

Out of this great love that we have received from God, many feel that call, that tugging by the Holy Spirit to not sit silent, but to act.  I saw a story that a man from Austin answered that call to love his neighbor by flying his single engine plane down to Texas carrying over 300 cans of Spam.  “One day you have everything and the next you have nothing,”[3] is what the pilot said.  He was not obligated to fly his own plane, paying for his own fuel to go help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  Rather it was out of love for the neighbor that he acted.

If you do feel called to respond, there are bulletin inserts provided with information on how to give.  If you do decide to give to other organizations, make sure you do your research on how much of your donation goes directly to helping.  Some organizations take as much as 40% out for overhead expenses.  Lutheran Disaster Response makes sure that 100% of your donation goes for disaster relief efforts.

So obligation or love?  What is God calling you to do?  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Romans 13:6-7, NRSV

[2] Romans 13:8, NRSV

[3] http://abcnews.go.com/US/pilot-flying-canned-spam-hurricane-harvey-victims/story?id=49704964