4th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 30, 2014

Readings for the day:

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.

 

As a pastor, I get the great privilege of listening to the joys and blessings that people have – from the birth of a child or grandchild, to getting a new job or moving into a new home.  I’m there when our children are baptized, confirmed and married.  But I am also there and listen to the hurts and pains of this world – from the diagnosis of cancer, to a risky medical procedure, to conflict within the home and the death of our loved ones.  But I also listen to the difficult words and reasons why people have left the church or why they are hesitant to come and it breaks my heart.

There are many reasons people give for why they aren’t part of a church, but one of the most common reasons I hear is because their perceived image of the church is a group of people who stare and judge.  People are afraid that their outer appearance will be the only thing that will be noticed.  So how they dress, how their hair is done, what car they drive, or how they walk or talk.  “I want to come to church, but I don’t want to be judged based on what I wear.”  “I want to come to church, but I don’t want to be judged because I’m in a wheelchair.”  Both of those are sayings that I have heard recently.  And it breaks my heart to hear that people are worried about being judged when they come to church.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me too much because this is exactly what happens with the blind man in the gospel reading.  The blind man’s neighbors claim that they were only able to recognize him when he was blind.  Now that he is able to see (meaning his physical appearance has changed, they no longer recognize him).  That seems strange to me because all that tells me is that his neighbors really didn’t know him.  If the only way they actually knew of him was by him begging at the street corner, then they didn’t really know him at all.  I wonder if his so-called ‘neighbors’ even tried to have a conversation with this man.  Did they interact with him at all?  More than likely not!

            Now Jesus’ disciples fall into the same problem though.  Even the disciples are only focused on this man’s condition rather than focusing on what God is able to do through his condition.  When you look at each other, do you see each other’s problems, sins, sufferings, sort falls.  Or do you see and treat each other as a brother or sister in Christ?  Through the waters of baptism, we all are part of a large family called the Body of Christ.  Do you look at and treat each other like you are family members or more like a stranger or maybe even an enemy?  If you say yes, then you are no better than the Pharisees in this story who kick this man out of the synagogue.

Rather than judging each other or talking ill of one another, how about we welcome each other as we would other family members.  Rather than giving people funny looks because of how they walk or the type of clothes they have on, how about we greet them and actually take interest in getting to know them.  Rather than avoiding or being afraid of people with physical ailments or sufferings, how about we offer assistance and care for them like we would any other family member.  Rather than insisting on people doing things our way, how about we show a willingness to try something new.

            Even though God did not cause this man to be born blind, God was able to let his glory shine through this man.  If we avoid people who don’t look like, sound like, or think like us, then aren’t we preventing the Gospel of Jesus Christ from being proclaimed?  If we push people like this blind man away, aren’t we being like the Pharisees and kicking them out of the church?  Just because someone might wear clothes that we wouldn’t wear, or someone who has a physical aliment, or even someone who wants to try a different approach to ministry – with any of these situations, if we push these people out of the church, aren’t we preventing the Gospel from being proclaimed?

            This is exactly what is happening with the man born blind in the Gospel reading.  This man was considered an outcast because of his blindness; meaning he was a second class citizen.  And God was trying to show his glory through this man, but the Pharisees wouldn’t allow it, mainly because they didn’t believe.  When we push people away from the church because of the car they drive, or the clothes they wear, or how much or little money they have, we are preventing the Gospel from being proclaimed in this place.

            We all are brothers and sisters in Christ.  God works through each one of us to show God’s glory and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  Let’s not let our differences prevent that from happening.  We all are a family working together for one purpose – to shine Christ’s light in the darkness of this world.  All we have to do is reflect Christ’s light by welcoming each other in the name of Christ and being kind to one another, not judging.

            Remember that you are a baptized child of God.  God has promised you eternal life.  He has already giving you the gift of salvation.  We just do what we are called to do – to love God and love our neighbors.  God takes care of the rest.  Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead not for you to go around judging one another and controlling each other.  No, Christ died so that your sins would be forgiven and that you would have life in his name.  Let’s put aside our judgments and our petty disagreements.  For the glory of the Father will shine through us and those around us whether we like it or not.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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Mid-week Lenten Eve – Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Theme: “A home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way.”

Readings for the day:

Ephesians 2:11-22

John 14:1-7

 

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

 

Tonight we continue looking at and breaking down selected lines of the familiar hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus.  This week we continue looking at the first verse.  Two weeks ago we looked at the first line (“Beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand”).  Last week we looked at the second line (“the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land”).  Now this week we look at the third line of this first verse, “A home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way.”

First of all, think about where it is that you call home.  What is it about that place that makes you call it home?  It’s comfortable.  It’s familiar.  It’s the place you can relax and let your guard down.  It’s where your family is at.  And where is your home at?  Is it on the family farm?  Is it in town?  Is it a house or apartment?  Maybe this has been your home for decades.  Maybe you just moved to your home in the last year.  Regardless of the type of home you have or how long or short you have been there, it is your home, your refuge, your place of comfort, your resting place.

As I was thinking about this line and where my home is, I realized that where I live now is the first time in nine years that I’m actually living where my driver’s license says that I should be living.  Since graduating high school I have moved 11 times.  I have had a variety of places that I have called home – from various apartments, to a dorm room, and even a little two bedroom house.  But even through all of these various places that I have lived in the last decade, for me “Going home” still referred to going to my parent’s house – the place where I grew up.  Now after being here for 10 months, I am starting to refer to Trimont as home, not my parent’s house.

For the last decade whenever someone would ask where I was from, I would say Chandler because I never stayed in one place long enough to even claim that I was from there.  I am finally able to call Trimont (where I actually live) my home.  Where do you call home?  Is where you call home the same place where you live?  With moving around so much there are two important things that I have learned: One is that I really know how to pack efficiently.  And the second is that I learn how to get to my new earthly home right away.

Wherever you call home right now, is temporary.  “But pastor, I have been in this house for 20 years and I plan to retire here.  How can you say this is only temporary?”  This life is only temporary because of what was placed on your forehead three weeks ago – a cross made of ashes.  This ash cross reminds us that this place on earth, no matter how nice we try to make it look, or how securely we try to protect it – it is only our temporary home.  And Jesus alludes to this in John’s Gospel where He says, “I go to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”[1]  Our earthly home is temporary and can change quite often, but this heavenly home that Jesus talks about is permanent.  This heavenly home will be our final resting place.  And just as we know the way to our earthly home, Jesus says that He is the way to our heavenly home.  The cross made on our forehead is a reminder of that promised home.

But now if we read the entire first verse it reads, “Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand; the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land, a home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way, from the burning of the noon-tide heat and burdens of the day.”[2]  Elizabeth, the writer of this hymn is finding comfort, peace, rest not only in the church but more specifically near the cross of Jesus.  The cross by itself appears to many as not a comfort but rather a sign of evil.  However, the cross of Jesus is a comfort not because of what it does (killing people) but by what God did through the cross of Jesus (overcoming death, the power of the devil, forgiving our sins and making it possible for us to enjoy our final resting place with Jesus in our heavenly home).

So as we go about our days, wandering this earth; sometimes even feeling like we are in the middle of a wilderness, not knowing where we are at or where we are going – this hymn reminds us that to get a break from the wandering or the noon-tide heat or even the burdens of the day – look to the cross of Jesus for rest, for shade.  Because it is precisely the cross of Jesus through his death and resurrection that you are able to have everlasting peace, joy, and rest.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] John 14:3, NRSV

[2] Elizabeth C. Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (No 33) in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006)

3rd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 23, 2014

Readings for the day:

Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

 

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

 

Well now, where should we even begin this morning?  There are 38 verses in this long gospel reading with at least 5 different sermons in it.  And that doesn’t even count the wonderful text that we have from Romans in that we are justified by faith and boast in our sufferings.  But looking at the big picture of this gospel reading, it essentially is part of a sermon series.  We cannot solely look at this Samaritan woman at the well without looking at last Sunday’s text with Nicodemus.  The writer of John’s Gospel put these two texts side by side for a reason.  So I figure that should be a good starting point.

On one side we have Nicodemus who is the insider, a Pharisee, a leader and teacher of the Jews, who knows the ins and outs of God’s Word.  We are told his name.  He is a male.  He comes to visit Jesus at night (in the darkness) and he doesn’t understand what Jesus is talking about with those who are baptized receive the gift of eternal life.

On the other side we have the Samaritan woman who is an outsider, someone who isn’t accepted in the Jewish community.  Her name is not given to us.  She is a female.  She comes to the well and encounters Jesus during the day (in the light) and she does understand what Jesus is talking about with those who are baptized receive the gift of eternal life.

You see, we can’t read one without at least talking about the other.  These two stories are meant to go hand and hand with each other while also being at odds with one another.  So we have one person who is supposed to get it and doesn’t – a Pharisee.  And another person who isn’t supposed to get it but does – a Samaritan.

Now it is so easy to read these texts and think that we are supposed to be like Jesus with the Samaritan woman and just focus on the outsider or the people on the margins.  But that is not what this text is about.  No, this text is about our sinfulness and Jesus.

Look at the text!  Jesus tells the woman about this never ending, always flowing “Living Water” that Jesus gives.  At this point she is still thinking in a literal sense because she says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”[1]  She wants that water just so that we doesn’t have to keep walking out to this well every day to fetch water.  Right now she doesn’t care that this living water that Jesus talks about is eternal life.  All she cares about is making her life easier.  Now we are never like that, are we?  We never think only of ourselves and do something that would give us instant gratification.  She isn’t thinking long term, she is thinking about tomorrow.  She’s tired and doesn’t want to keep making the walk out to the well every day.

But then Jesus reveals her sin.  Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”[2]  But currently she has no husband.  And Jesus says, “You are right…[you] have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”[3]  Now it is easy to get caught up in analyzing this woman’s sins and labeling her, but in the text Jesus doesn’t do that.  All He does is acknowledges that she indeed was a sinner and that he was coming to give her forgiveness.  We should do the same with this woman as well as each other.  Yes, we have all done wrong, and if you think that you haven’t made a mistake in your life then you can get up right now and leave because you obviously don’t need to hear the rest of this sermon.

After the Samaritan woman confesses and admits to her sin and Jesus acknowledges her sin, then Jesus moves on to give her forgiveness.  They talk a little bit about worship and how she was told that God was only for the pure Jews and the only true worship of God happened in the temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus confirms that and says yes that is true, “but the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  When the Israelites came into the Promised Land from Egypt, they had the two tablets with the Ten Commandments on them (these were stone tablets, not like the one that I am using).  These two tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant and God told them that the Ark of the Covenant would be a place for them to know that He was with them.  So when the temple was built, the Ark was in the temple and everyone knew that this is where they could find God at.  But Jesus says, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain [in Samaria] nor in Jerusalem.”[4]  He says this because Jesus is the new temple.  Jesus Christ, the incarnate word, is where God is found.  Not in a particular building, but rather in a person, Jesus Christ.

And with this new temple, Jesus Christ, standing right in front of her, He forgives all of her sins and gives her the promise of living water.  One Biblical scholar even suggests that the reason why she leaves her water jug at the well to race back to the city is because the writer of John’s Gospel is trying to tell us that she no longer needs that water jug in theory because she is now filled with Christ’s living water.

All of us are like this Samaritan women – ashamed of our sin, tired of the same old boring routine, embarrassed and prideful to ever ask for any help.  So instead we try to do everything ourselves.  We put on a good show so that no one thinks there is anything wrong with us.  We struggle with admitting out wrong doings.

But did Jesus care what the Samarian woman’s excuses or reasons for her sin?  No, all he wanted was her confession; for her to admit her wrong doings and move on.  She confessed and then Jesus forgave her.  This is the type of behavior we are to model and use.  Admit our wrongs, seek forgiveness, and forgive one another.  But we should not dwell on the past.  Jesus doesn’t, so we shouldn’t either.  After all, why should you dwell in the past?  You are a baptized child of God who has the gift of eternal life.  What more do you need to worry about?  I say to you today, God has forgiven you!  He has given you life!  Praise God for this gift!  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] John 4:15, NRSV

[2] John 4:16, NRSV

[3] John 4:17-18, NRSV

[4] John 4:21, NRSV

2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 16, 2014

Readings for the day:

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.

 

For today, and the next three Sundays after, the Gospel lessons come from the Gospel of John.  In John’s Gospel there are a few very common themes, the big one is the light versus the darkness.  This gospel even opens with “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”[1]  But there are also other notable comparison themes, such as the difference between flesh and spirit, the difference between believing and not believing, the difference between earth and heaven (the physical and the spiritual).

So in this first of four stories from John’s Gospel, we have Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a leader and teacher of the Jews.  He would be considered an expert on God’s law.  At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus has just begun his ministry, but Nicodemus implies that he already knows a lot about Jesus.  Now Nicodemus comes and pays Jesus a visit at night, when it is dark.  Remember, Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a group of people who will soon oppose Jesus (who is the light of the world).  So we have someone who is interested but out of fear of being noticed and different, he comes at night.  Have you ever gone and done something at night so that way no one would notice?  No, nothing?  We live in small towns, everyone’s got a secret that they don’t want the entire town knowing.  The same is true for Nicodemus.  He is curious about Jesus, but he comes to Jesus at night because he doesn’t want his fellow Pharisees to notice.  Can you imagine if they found out?  His credibility with his colleagues and his people would be destroyed.  So we have Nicodemus (a leader of the Jews) sneaking around at night.

Now when he actually encounters Jesus, he says, “Hey, pisst, so I know you’re a teacher from God because no one can do what you do without being from God.”  But Jesus doesn’t buy into his trick.  Jesus knows that Nicodemus is probably just trying to test him and find something to use against him.  So Jesus says, “…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”[2]  Here Jesus is talking about the need to be baptized in order to see the kingdom of God.  We need to be born of the spirit, but here Nicodemus makes a mistake that many of us do often.  He thought instead of baptism, Jesus was talking about being reborn from his mother’s womb.  When Nicholas was born, Pastor Stephanie looked at me and said, “Well it’s a good thing he is cute because we can’t put him back.”  This seems like a no-brainer, no one can be reborn or born again.  And this is Nicodemus’ big mistake, he was thinking from a literal, earthly perspective.  He was thinking, the cycle of life goes as follows: you are born a baby, you grow up, you live, and you die.  It is impossible to be reborn or born again.

Many people, Christian and non-Christian, get stuck in the literal, earthly perspective like Nicodemus.  We long for the answers to all of our questions.  We want to know, “Did Noah and the flood really happen?  And if so, how?”  Or, “What did Jesus really look like?”  And how about “What happens when we die?”  And probably the most sought after, “When is the ‘Last Day’, the end of the world?”  We long for answers to these questions and more.  Certain individuals try really hard at finding answers to these questions and when they think they have found the answer they publish it to a book; some even get made into movies.  What we end up getting then is the Left Behind series and Heaven is for Real.  These predictions are just that, predictions.  No one actually knows the answers to these big questions that we have about the past or about the future.  No one has an answer because these questions are about heaven, but we are coming from an earthly point of view.

Now with Nicodemus coming from an earthly point of view, he knows that be reborn or born again isn’t possible.  But this is God we are talking about here.  The one who created the world, the one who created all of the materials in this world that you use to make things, the one who created life, and even the one who sacrificed himself on a cross, forgives all of your sins, and promises you eternal life.  From a literal, logical, earthly perspective…yes how can any of that be possible or even believable?  Well, it can’t, but remember, God isn’t playing by the same rules that we are.  Our rules are quite simple, we have life and then we die.  God, on the other hand, says that, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[3]  So from life comes, more life.

How does any of this make sense?  It doesn’t.  That’s the point.  It’s not supposed to make sense to us.  I heard once that if we could fully understand scripture and God’s actions, then he wouldn’t be God, we would be.  It is not our job to have everything figured out and know all of the answers.  Nicodemus was sure trying to get all of the answers, but even if he continued to seek for these answers his entire life, he would fail. 

I think that the biggest thing that we can learn from this story is to be a peace with the reality that we don’t have all of the answers and we can’t have all of the answers.  It is time to relax and know that not everything needs to be proven.  Instead of demanding proof, trust in God.  Instead of searching for answers that don’t exist on this earth, trust in God.  We don’t have to know and understand everything in this world.  Some things are probably better left unanswered.

So we don’t fully know if Noah and the flood actually happened.  We also will never know exactly what Jesus really looked like.  We don’t know what happens when we die until that day comes for us.  We don’t know what heaven is actually like.  And we certainly don’t know when the end of the world will happen (if it ever happens).

This is what I do know.  Through the waters of baptism, God claimed you as his child and you were given the Holy Spirit which has created faith in you so that you may believe in God.  Jesus died on the cross and rose again defeating death thereby forgiving your sins.  And now God promises to us that because of the actions on the cross – even though we die, we will live and “whoever believes in [Jesus] may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[4]

You don’t have to have everything figured out, with all of the answers to how the world works.  Trust and a believing heart is all you need.  Trust that what God says in Scripture is true and that he will indeed keep his word.  Trust that whatever happens after you die, God will not forget about you.  Faith comes from trust, not from answers.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.


[1] John 1:5, NRSV

[2] John 3:3, NRSV

[3] John 11:26, NRSV

[4] John 3:16-17, NRSV

Mid-week Lenten Eve – Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Theme: “Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand”

Readings for the day:

Philippians 2:1-11

John 16:16-33

 

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

 

Tonight we begin our five week Lenten Series looking at the very familiar hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus.  Each week we will look at particular lines within this hymn.  Tonight we are going to focus on the first line of the hymn which reads, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand.”[1]  But before we get to the hymn I thought it would be good to hear a little background on the writer of this hymn, Elizabeth Clephane.

Elizabeth was from Scotland, born in 1830.  Both of her parents died when she was young and her health wasn’t the greatest either.  She and her two sisters then devoted themselves to charity.[2]  Even though Elizabeth struggled with health problems, she still ended up writing many hymns (our hymnal only has one of her hymns in it, but she did write many other hymns).  She also spent her time serving others despite her health problems.  Her nickname was even “Sunbeam” because of how energetic and cheerful she was in serving others.

Even through everything that Elizabeth had gone through – parents dying young, growing up with only her siblings, and struggling with her own health problems.  Even through all of this, she writes this hymn that we have today Beneath the Cross of Jesus.  A hymn that talks about desiring to remain at the foot of the cross of Jesus; longing to keep our faith focused on Jesus, even when he is hanging on the cross.

The hymn begins right away with “Beneath the Cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand.”  We long to not be like Peter in this case and deny our Lord.  We long to take our stand at the foot of the cross and to not lose our faith or our focus of Jesus.  But the truth of the matter is that we do lose our faith and we do lose our focus.  We are like Peter!  We hope that if we were in Peter’s situation that we could resist the temptation to deny that we even know Jesus.  But we get scared, we get nervous.  We wonder what other people will think of us.

In the gospel reading tonight from John, Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what is to come – the events of Holy Week, where he will be arrested, put on trial, flogged, crucified and eventually die.  As a way of preparing them, Jesus even uses the analogy of child birth to relay the message to his disciples that they are going to be in pain for a while.  They are not going to feel joy.  They will struggle for a time.  But he says that just as a mother “no longer remembers the anguish [of child birth] because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world,”[3] so too they will one day have joy again.

Then the disciples say that they understand what Jesus is telling them, but really they don’t because if they actually understood that their pain would be at his crucifixion and death, but in three days they would have joy again at his resurrection, then they would not have fled as Jesus was crucified.

I believe this is what Elizabeth was trying to get across with the first line of her hymn, “Beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand.”  We long to stand at the foot of the cross, enduring whatever pain and suffering that is necessary for the sake of the gospel.  But instead we chicken out.  We flee like Peter and the other disciples.  Instead of doing what is necessary for the sake of the gospel, we continue to do what is comfortable, what is the norm, what we are used to doing.  We don’t want to go through that suffering.

But do you know what is on the other side of that pain and suffering?  You do know what it is!  It is what is on the other side of the cross of Jesus – joy, resurrection, peace.  On the other side of pain and suffering is joy, is peace, is resurrection.  The beginning words of this hymn are our confession to God.  God, we long to take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus.  We know that we will not always be able to do this.  Help us when we fail.  Encourage us to remain beneath the cross of Jesus; staying focused on Jesus, and keeping the work of the Gospel in the forefront.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.


[1] Elizabeth C. Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (No 33) in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006)

[2] Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), 133.

[3] John 16:21

1st Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 9, 2014

Readings for the day:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalm 32

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

 

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

 

On Wednesday, we began the season of Lent with having an ash cross placed on our foreheads reminding us of our mortality and our imperfections.  Lent is 40 days long and yes that is connected with the 40 days that Jesus was fasting in the wilderness.  After the 40 days were up, Jesus was visited by Satan to be put through a series of temptations in order to get Jesus to doubt his calling and question God’s faithfulness.  The quick and easy 30 second sermon on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness would be, “Be like Jesus!  Resist temptation by quoting key Bible verses.  If you can do that, you’ll be fine!”  But my sermons are longer than that, and anyway, that would be terrible sermon.

As I think about these temptations, I think most of us probably hear one of two messages from this story.  One message would be that we do need to be just like Jesus and if we can successfully do that then we will be a good Christian.  But if you could successfully do that, then you probably didn’t need that ash cross marked on your forehead on Wednesday.  Your imperfections make it impossible to accomplish this task.  And failure leads to discouragement and discouragement leads to quitting.

The other message that is probably heard from this story is that since I did get an ash cross on my forehead and I know I have imperfections, I can’t be like Jesus and overcome temptations.  So I might as well not even try.  There’s just too many rules and too many expectations so I might as well not even attempt it because if I make the attempt I’ll fail anyway.  Might as well save the time and disappointment.

Now neither of these messages are all that great.  One says, “Try, but you will fail.”  The other says, “You will fail, so don’t even try.”  Well this is just great!  On Wednesday you were reminded of what no one wants to be reminded of [that you’re going to die].  And now today the message is that you can’t do anything right.  This is shaping up to be a really long season of Lent; kind of like winter this year!

Thankfully, I think there is a third message that comes from this story.  This message is completely different from the first two.  Where the first two have us looking to Jesus as our model or an example; the third focuses not on being like Jesus, but looking at what Jesus is doing through these temptations.

As you probably already know, 40 is an important number in the Bible.  Lent is 40 days long because of the 40 days and nights Jesus spends fasting in the wilderness.  The rains fell on Noah and the Ark for 40 days and nights.  Moses was up on the mountain with God for 40 days and nights.  And the Israelites wandered in the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land for 40 years.  The number 40 is pretty significant.  And actually as you look at the story of the Exodus and Jesus’ temptations; there are many similarities.

In the wilderness, the Israelites failed to trust that God would provide for them.  They complained that God led them out of slavery just to starve.  So God provides manna for them to eat.  But then they still aren’t convinced – manna appearing on the ground every morning wasn’t enough.  So then they doubt God’s plan to protect them from dying of thirst.  And God provides water for them to drink.  But food, water and protection wasn’t enough either.  They continue to doubt and have little faith in God and eventually they think that God has abandoned them so they worship a golden calf.  And God gives them the 10 Commandments and a promise that he will provide for them and all they have to do is worship and serve him alone.

Now Jesus’ first temptation is to use his divine powers to turn stones into bread, and unlike Israel, He isn’t grumbling about being hungry (remember He was fasting for 40 days).  He trusts that God will provide for his physical needs.  Then Jesus’ second temptation is to throw Himself off the temple because Scripture says that God will save him.  Again, He doesn’t use power to get what He wants.  Instead He continues to trust God to protect Him from harm.  Finally, Jesus’ third temptation is to bow down and worship the devil, but He stays true to His faith and continues to worship and serve God alone.

Are you seeing the connection?  Israel grumbled and doubted God’s ability to provide and protect, not to mention their doubt of God’s very existence.  Jesus stands up and resists these temptations of doubt and unbelief.  Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness are to fix and correct all of Israel’s wrongs.  These temptations are not told as a guide book for life.  They are told as a testimony of faith.  In this testimony of faith we hear that Jesus is overcoming the temptations of the devil in order to save the world.

So what does all of this mean for us today?  In the season of Lent we certainly make the attempt to try and resist temptations in order to strengthen and better our relationship with God.  But after a few days or weeks it becomes almost too difficult to resist the temptation anymore.  We strive, but we fail.

But in Christ we aren’t failures and we don’t have imperfections.  Christ took all of our failed attempts at overcoming temptation to the cross.  So when God looks at us, our sin and the multiple times we have given into temptation are not what God sees.  No, he sees his children free from their imperfections for all of those imperfections went to the cross with Christ.

Now giving into the temptations of this world certainly do not please God – God doesn’t want you to sin and be overtaken by temptations.  But when it does happen, know that God will not disown you just because you gave into temptation and ate that chocolate bar.  God’s love for us is bigger than that.  God sent his only Son to be tempted, mocked, flogged, rejected, spit on, crucified and die all for you.  Do you really think that God will just forget about the cross because you ate that little chocolate bar?  No, God’s love is much bigger than that.

Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness were to show Israel and all of us that Jesus has come to overcome the devil.  Because of Christ you have been freed from the bondage of your temptations.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Ash Wednesday – March 5, 2014

Readings for the day:

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.

 

Today is Ash Wednesday; the day which begins Lent for us and so many Christians around the world.  We begin a forty day journey of fasting, prayer, and preparation as we near Holy Week and hear once again how Jesus took our sin to the cross – making the sacrifice that we no longer need to do, and then overcoming death and the grave.

The purpose of Lent is preparations.  The forty days of Lent are closely tied to the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent in the desert before he was tempted by Satan.  But that is our text for Sunday, so you’ll have to wait 4 days to hear that sermon.

Ash Wednesday is a very solemn day.  We don’t have any special music.  The worship services begins and ends in silence without any music being played.  It is a solemn day because of what happened at the beginning of the service, an ash cross was marked on your forehead and you heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  This is certainly not a comforting phrase to here.  This phrase reminds us of our own mortality.  We will not live forever.  One day we all will perish and die.

Of the funerals that I have had since I started here, three of them have been during this never ending cold winter.  During the funeral service we hear the promising words that there is hope of a resurrection with Christ.  Then afterwards we proceed out to the cemetery where we bury our brothers and sisters in Christ as we all wait for the last day when God will raise us and all the dead.  And as we stand out in the cemetery, all bundled up with multiple layers on, hats, gloves, heavy coats, and we are still cold.  I say these words, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  These words remind all of us that one day that phrase will be said to us at our funeral.  And the message from the phrase is strengthened as we stand in the frigid cold temperatures with the wind ripping right through all of those layers of clothes and reaching your bones.

We are mortal and there is nothing that we can do to change that.  We can bundle up all we want, but that cold winter air still finds a way to break through that barrier of clothing and give us that chill.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We were created from the dust of the earth and when we die, we will return to the earth.

Tonight we have a cross on our forehead made from ashes.  The ashes remind us that we are mortal and will one day die like our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ.  The cross reminds us of who we belong to.  At our baptism, the pastor made a cross on our foreheads essentially put God’s seal on us.  This seal shows who we belong to – that God claimed us as his children.  This ash cross that has now been marked on your forehead is a reminder that yes one day we will die, but because we have been claimed by God in our baptism we will live.  Through Christ we will have eternal life.  So the ash cross is bitter-sweet.  Bitter in that it is a hard reminder for us that we will die, because no one likes to think about their death.  And it is sweet because we know what happens at the end of the forty days; we know what Christ does for us.

So throughout Lent, many people will give up something for these forty days – fasting in order to help them focus closer on the bitter-sweetness of the ash cross that was placed on their forehead.  Fasting is a good practice as long as you are doing for the right reasons.  Fasting for the sake of fasting is not helpful, but if we give up something for Lent in order to fill that extra time with something that helps strengthen your relationship with God, then it is a helpful fast.  But fasting is not necessary.  What is necessary is that we take this time during Lent to focus on the bitter-sweetness of the cross.  The cross is bitter-sweet because that is our sin on the cross and Jesus died on the cross for us, for you.  And the cross reminds us of our own mortality, but as Paul writes in Romans, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[1]  There is hope of the resurrection to come someday.  Lent is time for us to prepare for both the bitter and the sweetness of the cross.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.


[1] Romans 6:5, NRSV