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.

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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

God’s Gopher

Reading for the day (Sunday, August 13, 2017):

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

 

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

 

In today’s text, we hear of God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet.  During this time the descendants of Abraham have been growing in numbers, but not necessarily growing and deepening their relationship with God.  Instead they have turned away from God.  They have neglected God’s Word.  They are no longer walking by faith.  Instead they believed that the temple in Jerusalem that King Solomon built was their safety net.  As long as God was in the temple, nothing bad would ever happen to them.  For my hometown of Chandler, it was believed that the valley that the town is in would never get hit by a tornado because if a storm would appear, it would simply jump over the valley.  Well 25 years ago that was proven wrong.  For the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time, they believed that the temple (like the valley in Chandler) was their safety net.  As long as God continued to be in the temple, they figured they were safe from harm.  They were walking by luck, not by faith.  And so since they were only walking by luck they had forgotten what true faith and worship was.  To them, God in the temple became their good luck charm, instead of a divine power who gives life and cares for them, like a parent cares for their children.

Sound anything like today?  People ignoring faith and trust in God; abandoning the church to follow after their own interests.  Figuring that God can’t help them anyway.  Yeah, sounds a lot like today.  So God calls on Jeremiah to bring these people back to the faith, especially in preparation for their time in exile and the destruction of the temple.  If people thought that God in the temple was their safety net, what do you think they would do when the temple was destroyed?  41 years after Jeremiah was called to be a prophet that is exactly what happened.  Just under 600 years before Jesus was born, a group of people known as the Babylonians came and took over Jerusalem, exiled many by hauling them off to their own country, and destroying the temple where God was.  So much for their safety net.

Now before all of this takes place, God calls Jeremiah to minister to these people.  God wants Jeremiah to get these people to repent and turn back to Him.  This is quite the undertaking as there were many that had turned away.  So Jeremiah feels that he is incapable of completing the job that God has called him to do.  And do you blame him.  Don’t you feel incapable of reaching out to the unchurched or the ones who have fallen away from the church?  And besides, that’s the job of a missionary or pastor, right?  Except God calls all of us to a life of service to Him for the sake of His kingdom.  So it actually isn’t solely the responsibly of a few, it is the responsibility of all.

And we need not fear our lack of skills, because just as God reminds Jeremiah that no matter what troubles he faces, He would be with Jeremiah; this same promise is for us and all of God’s servants.  No matter what troubles assail you, your faithful God stands with you, always.  So no matter if you are lonely, or stressed, or scared, or nervous, or afraid; our God stands with you in whatever life throws your way.

Just as with Moses, Jeremiah didn’t want to go and serve the Lord.  He told God, “I don’t know how to speak…I’m just a boy, just a child.”[1]  Jeremiah basically wants God to choose someone else.  Oh if only it was that simple right.  God, send someone else to do the work that we don’t want to do.  It’s like a gopher on a construction site; the one who runs around doing all of the grunt work that no else wants to do.  God, just call in the gopher.  That’s what Jeremiah wanted, and he got exactly what he wanted.  God did call in the gopher, He just made Jeremiah the gopher.  Jeremiah said he didn’t know how to speak.  So God reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth…today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms…”[2]  God calls us to be the gopher, to do the work that no one else wants to do: helping those in need, ministering to the sick and dying, befriending the “troubled kids,” reaching out to those who society pushes aside.  Jeremiah wasn’t called to judge but to speak, and the words that he spoke were words from God because He promised to be with Jeremiah every step of the way.  We don’t know what the future holds for us or our congregation or even this parish.  Many of you are probably like me and feel incapable of fulfilling God’s mission that we are called to do.  But I know, because I’ve felt it and experienced it, that by the grace of God we are giving the ability to carry out God’s mission in the world.  We are giving those gifts.  We can do this.  We can be God’s gopher.  And no matter what we are faced with, God faithfully stands with us.

Even though he didn’t believe it, because God was with him, Jeremiah does go and delivers God’s Word to His people.  All because God was with him and gave him the ability to fulfill what God was calling him to do.

Much of the book of Jeremiah is a word of judgment; naming all of the things that the people had been doing wrong.  But four chapters in the middle of the book are all about hope for the future.  Jeremiah proclaims:

“The days are surely coming…when [the Lord] will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…for [the Lord] will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”[3]

Jeremiah is telling the people that they need to turn back to God because something better is coming.  Something so great that even all of their sins will be forgiven forever.  For God Himself was planning on coming to save and redeem the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross.  Because of Jesus we need not fear being God’s gophers, the storm may very well meet us in the valley, but no matter what trouble arises in our lives, or whatever mission God calls us to do; we are not alone.  God has always been there, and promises to continue to always be with us, until we are all called home to our heavenly home where our gopher holes will be turned into mansions and we will finally be able to rest from our labors.  And we will finally get to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Jeremiah 1:6, NRSV

[2] Jeremiah 1:9, NRSV

[3] Jeremiah 31:31-34, NRSV

“Goodness in Action”

Reading for the day (Wednesday, August 2, 2017):

Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8

 

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

 

Throughout the summer, we have been working through stories from the Old Testament.  We heard how Jacob and his whole family ended up in Egypt.  And how Joseph was able to keep everyone fed through the seven years of famine.  And then how new leadership came to power and forgot all about the Israelites living in Egypt.  So they were turned into slaves, but God calls on Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land through the Red Sea.  And through great kings like David and Solomon, a great nation of God’s people was created.  Which leads us to our text for today, the story of Micah.

Micah is a prophet in Israel 700 some years before Jesus was born.  This great nation of Israel that King David and King Solomon built has weakened.  The nation has weakened because of infighting, which led to the nation splitting into 2 separate kingdoms (Israel in the north, and Judah in the south).  The split creates a weaker nation, one that cannot always defend itself.  No different than fighting within families, churches, communities, or countries.  Think of what civil wars do to countries.

The kingdom is split, one half of the nation is already in exile and the prophets have already predicted that the other half will also be exiled; taken away from their homeland and hauled off to another country.  So in comes the prophet Micah who brings a word of judgement to all of those who are failing in their responsibilities to God and to their community.  Micah mainly directs his judgment upon the religious and political leaders of the time; saying that they are the reason everyone is in this mess.  These leaders where abusing their power and authority.  They were serving their own interests at the expense of others.

Micah’s word of judgment is not just for the religious and political leaders of his time.  We, too can hear those words of judgment.  As a spouse, a parent, an employer, a council member, a teacher, a pastor, we all are called not to take the power and authority that we have in our homes, work, school, church, or community and abuse that power for selfish gain.  So when you are selfish and only think about yourself instead of your children’s needs.  Or when you only think about your own profit without taking into consideration the employees that work for you.  Or when you only consider your likes and interests in the church without listening and hearing the likes and interests of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then we are abusing the power and authority we have been given for selfish gain.  And this is exactly what Micah is preaching against.  He says that the divisions and subsequent exiles came about because of the selfishness of the leaders and the community members.

But like any good prophet, Micah not only brings a word of judgment to the leaders and the people, he also brings a word of hope from God to His people.  Hope that something better is coming.  Hope that God has seen their pain and heard their cries for help.  So Micah says, “Bethlehem, you who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth from me one who is to rule in Israel.”  Bethlehem, not Jerusalem is where this new ruler will come from.  Welcome, not Minneapolis is where God has chosen to raise up a new ruler.  Bethlehem was not a big town.  In fact it was considered rather insignificant; kind of like how we can feel in rural America, rather insignificant and unimportant.  But even in the insignificant, unimportant areas of the world, God’s Word still comes to us; naming our sins and calling us to repentance.  But also giving us a word of hope.  Hope that even in a small community, there are people who need to hear God’s Word.  Hope that even in a small community, there are youth who long for meaning in their life.  Hope that even in a small congregation, God is still with us in the ministry that we do.  If God is able to raise up a savior for the world out of the little town of Bethlehem, what’s stopping Him from doing great and wonderful things in and through our little congregation?

So Micah calls on the people to turn from their old sinful ways of doing things and embrace a new way of life.  And not only a new way of life, but a new relationship with God.  A relationship that is not based on score-keeping, as in counting how many hours you spend helping others, or how many worship services you attend, or how many times you have received communion, or how much money you have put in the offering plate.  Instead, Micah says that with this new ruler that will come from Bethlehem, God’s requirements for His people have changed.  God no longer requires burnt offerings or thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil.  Instead, because of Christ, God simply asks of us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Micah says, “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.”  Do justice.  So be fair and honest with each other.  Don’t use your power and authority for selfish gain.  But also be fair and honest with yourself.  Many times I know that I am my worst critic.  I’m harder on myself than I am on other people.  So this is a good reminder for me as well, be fair and honest with yourself.

Love kindness.  So be loyal and steadfast.  Minnesota sports fans know loyalty really well.  But be loyal and steadfast to your spouse, to your children, to your employees, to your church, to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Martin Luther describes “steadfast love” as “goodness in action.”[1]  Be good, kind, and loyal to each other.  Remember that we are all in this together.  All working together for the sake of growing God’s Kingdom.

Finally, walk humbly.  So be modest and reverent or respectful, not just with each other but also with God.  Be reverent and respectful to the one who gave us life and all of the blessings that we enjoy each and every day.  Walking humbly with our God, means always being conscious of our own dependence on the Lord.

We know that we all have made mistakes.  We know that we are selfish at times.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[2]  Our problem is not a failure to know but a failure to do.  We know what we are to do.  We know what God has called us to do.  But where we fall short is in the action.  “God showed His steadfast love for us by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  We are ‘justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24).  The Holy Spirit leads redeemed sinners [like ourselves] to walk in justice, kindness, and humility.”[3]  May God not only help us to hear that call to walk in justice, kindness, and humility, but may He also lead us to love and serve our neighbors.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Luther, Martin (AE 14:50)

[2] Romans, 3:23

[3] The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1495

Specks and Logs, Logs and Specks

Reading for the day (Sunday, June 18, 2017):

2 Samuel 12:1-9

 

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

 

Today’s story centers on King David.  Now we don’t have time to cover the entire story of King David.  Because it would take too long to tell how God chose David among all of Jesse’s sons.  Or how as a little boy, David defeated Goliath, the Philistine.  Or even how David made Israel a great nation, conquered Jerusalem, and paved the way for a temple to be built (which was later built by King Solomon).

King David is known as a great king who had many accomplishments and who was very successful.  However, no one is perfect.  And so the story for today is about one of King David’s biggest mistakes.  His eyes locked on a beautiful woman who was not his wife.  He desired her, got her pregnant, and tried to wiggle his way out of his sin.  But when that didn’t work, instead of confessing his wrongdoing, he committed another sin – ordering the killing of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.  After receiving word that Uriah is dead, King David takes Bathsheba as his wife.  So this great king of Israel, known for his wonderful accomplishments and being chosen by God, not only commits adultery but also commits murder.

God certainly is not pleased with His chosen servant.  So God sends in His prophet, Nathan, to try and straighten David out.  And to easily get the point across, Nathan tells a story.  A story of a rich man and a poor man.  The rich man had many possessions.  So many possessions he probably didn’t know what to do with all of them, kind of like my kids’ toys.  The poor man had barely anything, just one lonely lamb that he loved and cared for it like it was his own child – the lamb ate and rested with the poor man.  Nathan tells David that one day a traveler came to the rich man’s house.  The traveler’s name is not even mentioned, so we can assume that this was not a very important guest of the rich man’s house; just some no named traveler stopping by.  And where did the rich man go to get food to feed his guest who wasn’t all that important?  His own barn?  No, he didn’t take from the multitude of livestock that he had.  Why waste perfectly good livestock on some no named traveler?  Instead he went and took the poor man’s one and only lamb.  As should be the case, this story upsets King David.  He is so upset that he even calls for this rich man to die because of his cold hearted action.  Then Nathan says, “David, you are that man.”

Just as it was so easy for King David to cast judgment on others, we too don’t have any problem casting judgment onto others.  It always seems easier for us to see the flaws and specks in other people’s eyes before ever noticing our own flaws and the logs in our own eyes.  David quickly jumps to call for the death of this rich man for what he had done.  But of course not seeing any fault in his own actions.  We are so quick to judge, aren’t we?  We look at the type of vehicle someone drives, or the quality of clothes they wear, or the job that they have, or how their children behave in public, and it is so easy for us to draw up a conclusion about them without even knowing the full story.  It’s like what Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?”[1]

King David quickly found the speck in the rich man’s eye that needed to be taken out.  But when Nathan said to David, “You are that man.”  Nathan made David realize that there was a log in his own eye.

A Sunday School teacher having just finished her lesson for the day and wanted to make sure that she had made her point.  She asked the children, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?”  There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up. “Sin,” he said.  Sure you can’t obtain the forgiveness of sins if you haven’t sinned, but we certainly don’t need to go searching for sins to commit just so that we can receive from God the forgiveness of our sins.  We already have sinned; all of us.  We all deserve punishment for our sins.  But how can we receive the forgiveness of our sins if we never notice the log in our own eyes?  We can’t!  It’s so easy for us to see and name the sins of others, but until you acknowledge your own sin and shortcomings, you will never truly know the forgiveness of your sins.

After Nathan calls him out, King David finally notices the log in his own eyes.  He acknowledges his sin and seeks forgiveness from God.  His request is granted, God does forgive David for what he has done.

David’s confession to God for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah has long been understood to be Psalm 51.  David begins his confession with, “Have mercy on me, O God…according to your abundant mercy…cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”  Here David is acknowledging his sin.  He knows that he’s got a big, huge log in his own eye, and he knows that God is merciful.  He calls for God to wash him, so that he is so clean of sin that he is whiter than the snow.  And then David uses those very familiar words that we typically sing as our gifts are offered to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

If you’ve ever lost a job, or got kicked off the team, this is what David is feeling like.  He fears that because of his sin and what he did, that God will disown him.  So David confesses his faults to God and cries out, “Don’t blot me out, don’t forget about me!”  David desires restoration.  He wants to make things right again.

Our sin hinders our relationship with God.  When we truly confess our sins, we are striving to make things right with God again.  Is maybe part of the problem with society today is that we have become so prideful, that we have forgotten how to admit our faults and shortcomings, and confessing our sins to God and to each other?  I might be wrong, but I think we could be better off if we focused more on getting the log out of our own eyes than trying to find the specks in the eyes of our neighbors.

So as King David did, we cry out to God, “Have mercy on me…according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love all because of Christ’s sacrifice for us and for the forgiveness of our sins.  Because of Jesus, your heart is made clean.  In baptism you received a new and right spirit within you.  God promises to always be with you, until the end of the age – He will not cast you away from His presence.  And when you truly have received the forgiveness of your sins, meaning you truly believe that God indeed has forgiven you, then you experience that joy of your salvation that King David mentions.  That joy that you indeed are solely, and completely forgiven of all your sins and that your relationship with God has been made right.  Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done for you through the cross.  For this will certainly make us all sing for joy.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Matthew 7:3, NRSV