2nd Sunday of Easter – Sunday, April 27 ,2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

 

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

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that spring is here.  Stephanie and I have been waiting all winter to finally build a campfire pit in our backyard this year.  I think we will finally be able to start this project.  But what we are really looking forward to doing, is being on our patio in the cool summer evening sitting by the campfire.  And sure, sitting by a campfire is nice, but what’s a campfire without roasting marshmallows?  And I’m sure that everyone enjoys roasted marshmallows that are lightly brown right?  No!?!?  So some of you actually like your marshmallows burnt to a crisp?  No matter how you like your marshmallow roasted, I think we could all agree that campfires are better when marshmallows are present.

Now marshmallows change when they are put anywhere near fire (no matter if you like it lightly brown or burnt to a crisp).  All marshmallows change to some degree when placed near fire.  And for those initial readers of 1 Peter, some Christians felt that they were burnt to a crisp.  The original people that the letter of 1 Peter was written to were Gentiles who were recently new Christians in Asia Minor.  They were new.  They were in the minority.  They got ignored, bullied, and even tortured because they became Christians.  It was certainly not easy for them to remain faithful to God.  At times they probably felt like they were marshmallows burnt to a crisp.  Hence the reason for the letter of 1 Peter.

This letter begins with words of promise and hope, “By his great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”[1]  The writer tells these new Christians that because of the new birth that they received through the waters of baptism, that have this living hope that they will indeed receive an inheritance from God because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

And now that is all well and good down the road, but what about now?  Remember, they still feel like burnt marshmallows.  And so the writer of the letter continues – they are told that they will suffer various trials because of their faith, but these sufferings do not happen in vain.  For just as gold must be heated up by fire in order to refine it and remove all of the imperfections, so too, their marshmallows must be heated up by fire.  And when marshmallows are heated up by fire, they change – the writer of 1 Peter believes that this change is for the better for he says that the result of this testing by fire is praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed.

If you haven’t heard yet, we are beginning a 5 week study on 1 Peter.  This study is happening in both our worship services as well as small groups throughout the week.  The theme for this week is – we are “A Tested People”.  This testing does not mean that God causes us bodily or emotional suffering in order to test us and see how strong our faith is.  No, this testing is suffering for the gospel.  In the parish office this winter, I had mentioned how many people were vacationing to Florida to get away from the cold.  I asked when it would be my turn.  Pastor Eric told me that suffering for the gospel is that after I have been a pastor for 30 years and have suffered enough, then I can go to Florida in the winter.  Being tested and suffering for the gospel means to put others before ourselves, to struggle with the hard and challenging questions of our faith, and to rest in the unknown and be okay with it.

The writer of 1 Peter, tells us that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel and our faith is tested by the fire of the Holy Spirit, then we are changed and transformed into the person that God wants us to be.  So just as a roasted marshmallow is changed and transformed by fire, we too are changed and transformed through the trials that we go through.  When we dare to ask the hard questions, our faith is changed.  When we dare to think about those who everyone else forgets about, our faith is transformed.  We are told that this test will not be easy.  After all, how easy is it to constantly think of others instead of ourselves?  Isn’t it easier to just go with what has been done before?  Then we don’t have to be challenged or tested.  But this testing will result in Jesus being revealed to us and receiving the salvation of our souls.

So now Lindsey, this is the faith that you will be affirming today.  The faith in God that is certainly not easy because we cannot see God.  The faith that will challenge you.  The faith that will pull you to put others before yourself.  The faith that might even cause others to mock you.  Are you up for the task?  Of course you are.  I know you are?  Because through your last two years of instruction, you have learned that there is a living hope in this faith.  There is an indescribable and glorious joy in this faith.  Roasting a marshmallow at a campfire can be a difficult task as you try to keep the smoke out of your eyes even though it seems the smoke follows you.  And of course you have to find the right area of the fire to do the roasting.  But after the marshmallow is roasted there is only one thing left to do…feast and enjoy.  And this Lindsey, is the promise that we are given through Christ’s resurrection from the dead; we get to feast and enjoy in God’s house with an indescribable and glorious joy.  Until then, we live each day holding on to the living hope that we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Praise be to God!  Amen!

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] 1 Peter 1:3-4

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Resurrection of Our Lord – Sunday, April 20, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Colossians 3:1-4

Matthew 28:1-10

 

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

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We survived another Lenten season and maybe it was just me, but it sure felt long this year.  And that could just be because of the long, never-ending winter that we finally have behind us (I hope).  Every year we come, again and again to an Easter service to be reminded and celebrate the wonderful saving work that God did with Jesus’ death on the cross.  And each year we hear a slightly different story told.  This year our focus is on Matthew’s Gospel and this morning we hear Matthew’s version of the very familiar story of Christ’s resurrection.  Now unlike the other gospel versions, the angel appearing at the tomb is the one that does almost all of the speaking.  Jesus says the word “Greeting” and that is all.  The rest of the speaking is from the angel.  The women are silent and the disciples don’t even go to the tomb.  In Matthew’s Gospel, it is actually the angel who proclaims the message of Christ’s resurrection to the women.  Jesus eventually does appear to the women, but not until after they leave the tomb.

            Now when the women arrive at the tomb, the angel first startles the strong, tough guards who are supposed to be watching the tomb.  But the angel’s entrance doesn’t seem to even cause the women to blink an eye.  I wonder if that is because of everything that they had seen and witnessed within a matter of a week (from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his arrest, trial and crucifixion).  There had already been so many surprises that an angel appearing like lightning after an earthquake would be nothing out of the ordinary at this point.  But the message that the angel gives, that’s the startling part.  The angel says, “…you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples…”[1]

            Come, see the place where he lay.  That’s really what we all are doing here this morning aren’t we?  We have come to see the place where he lay, but we already know the whole story.  The tomb was empty, Jesus wasn’t dead but alive.  The angel says, “Come, see the place where he lay.  THEN go quickly and tell his disciples.”  Come and see.  Then go quickly and tell.  The angel tells these women that this is wonderful, exciting news.  Certainly come and see for yourself that the tomb is empty, but then go and tell people.  No one is going to know about this wonderful news unless you tell them.  Go now and tell.  Tell the world what God has done.

            God has made a place for you.  God’s son has paid the price.  He has made the sacrifice for you.  You need to worry no longer.  For Jesus overcame sin, death and the devil all so that you would have life and have it abundantly in his name.  This abundant life may not be filled with riches and wealth of this world, for when you enter Christ’s kingdom you will have the greatest wealth of all – everlasting life, everlasting peace.  This is the promise that you hold on to as you continue your journey in this world.  That in the end, when your time has come to an end, you will be raised to new life and have everlasting peace in God’s house.

            And suddenly when you meet Jesus, you will respond like the women did on that first Easter morn.  All he will say to you is, “Greetings” and you will take hold of his feet and worship him.  For there is nothing else you can or need to do than to kneel at your savior’s feet and worship him.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] Matthew 28:5-7, NRSV

Good Friday – Friday, April 18, 2014

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

John 18:1-19:42

 

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

 

            In tonight’s reading of the passion story from John’s Gospel, we get a completely different picture of Jesus.  This past Sunday when we heard from Matthew’s Gospel, it appears that Jesus is greatly grieved in the garden.  He even prays to the Father saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…”[1]  Tonight’s reading gives a completely different perspective.  Instead of being grieved and agitated, Jesus is focused and determined.  He knows what his purpose is.  He knows what his mission is.  Just as he told his disciples that “the shepherd willingly lays down his life for his sheep,” tonight he willingly lays down his life without putting up a fight.

            Now this is not the type of picture that is usually painted in our minds.  Usually when we think of the crucifixion we have Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in mind, with a special focus on all of the horrible suffering that Jesus went through on the cross.  And now I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of crucifixion and the certain suffering that Christ endured for our sake.  But tonight’s service is not a funeral service for Jesus.  We should not be mourning his death.  Remember the name for today is “Good” Friday.  And today is GOOD because of what God did through the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross.

            The writer of John’s Gospel is actually putting forth the argument that while on the cross, Jesus is not suffering but reigning.  As he is hanging on the cross, Jesus is being glorified.  And he is being glorified because through his sacrifice he has conquered and overcome death.  Therefore, since Jesus has overcome any and all obstacles by going to the cross, we are given abundant life in his name.  “It is finished!”

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] Matthew 26:39, NRSV

Maundy Thursday – Thursday, April 17, 2014

Readings for the day:

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

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

 

How do people know that you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?  Do you have images or symbols that clearly show who you are and who you belong to?  Maybe you have a necklace with a cross on it, a cross tattoo, a Jesus bumper sticker, a faith stepping stone in your front lawn, or a picture of the Lord’s Prayer hanging in your dining room.  In our home, since there is not one but two pastors living there, we have lots of religious “stuff” around.  There are books, pictures, crosses, icons, and paintings of Bible verses.  But is this how we share our faith?  Is it simply that easy?  Just slap a Jesus bumper sticker on your car and you’ve shared your faith!  Just put a necklace with a cross on it and you’re done!  You see professional athletes doing this when they are crossing themselves before entering the batter’s box or right after they score a touchdown.  But that is all just for show!

Tonight’s Gospel reading is anything but a show or a symbol that is to represent something.  Jesus kneeling down to wash his disciples’ feet is where the action is at.  Jesus says this is where and how we are to show that we are faithful followers of him, through our actions.  Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[1]  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  We don’t need to make big glorious signs or use fancy bumper stickers to show that we are followers of Jesus.  It is by loving one another that we show others who our faith is in.

Now loving one another is not simply just saying, “Oh, I love you!”  We love one another by showing our love for each other.  It is through our actions that our love for one another is shown, and likewise, our faith in Jesus is shown to others by our actions.

So what does loving each other look like?  It certainly is not going around town spreading rumors about someone else.  Loving each other is being mindful of each other’s needs and doing something about it.  An ELCA congregation in Sacramento is doing exactly that.  This congregation took some of their land and turned it into a garden where they take the harvest and donate it to the local food pantry.  They are not simply saying that they love one another, they are actually showing it by working the land and donating the fruit of the land to people in need of fresh produce.

When Jesus is dining with his disciples for the last time before his crucifixion, he interrupts the meal to take the position of a servant, kneels down in front of his disciples and begins to wash their feet.  Their leader, their teacher, the one they look up to is now kneeling at their feet washing all of the dirt, all of the filth away.  He doesn’t just say, “I love you,” he bends down and shows them just how much he loves them, by washing their feet.  And by washing their feet he not only tells them how much he loves and cares for them, but he also shows them.  And on top of all of that, as he is washing their feet he is not only washing away the dirt from their journey to supper, he is washing away all of their sins.  You see, actions truly do speak louder than words!

            And this is where we get the term “Maundy” from.  Maundy is Latin for mandate or command.  Jesus is not commanding us to now go and wash the feet of everyone that we meet.  But he is commanding and establishing a new pattern of humility in how we live our lives.  We are to humbly serve one another just as Jesus humbly served and cared for his disciples, the disciples that he loved so much.  This life of being a humble servant to each other is difficult for some and easy for others.  This is because this life that Jesus talks about is not about taking but releasing, not about keeping but giving, not about ruling but serving.

            “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” Jesus says.  You don’t have to work hard to try and prove your faith in Jesus by trying to put on a big show.  Jesus calls us into humble service.  The kind of service where we kneel in front of our neighbor to wash their feet not to glorify ourselves, but because we love and deeply care about them having clean feet.  It is the kind of service where we spend an afternoon cleaning up someone’s lawn not to make ourselves look good, but because we love and deeply care about this person having a nice looking lawn and they can’t physically do the work.  It is the kind of service where we bring food to people that are starving not for self-glorification, but because we love and deeply care for our neighbors who don’t have enough food to live.  This is humble service.  This is the humble service that Jesus calls you to.  Not because you need to do it to earn your way into heaven, but because since Jesus loves you, he desires you to share that love with one another.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] John 13:34-35, NRSV

Palm/Passion Sunday – Sunday, April 13, 2014

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66

 

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

 

Today we begin Holy Week, the most important week of the year for us and the whole church.  We began our service this morning with a joyous, triumphant high; waving the palm branches and singing All Glory, Laud, and Honor.  Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem got the crowds excited because some hoped that His kingship would involve overthrowing the Roman control.  This would probably be similar to the uprisings that we have seen in recent years in the Middle East.

But as you can tell, the tone of the service has changed.  We have just heard the Passion story where instead of rising to power, Jesus submits to the Roman authority.  Instead of fighting for himself, Jesus is silent.  His kingship did not lead to a palace, but rather a cross.  Instead of overthrowing the Roman control and authority, Jesus goes to the cross to overthrow the Devil’s control and death’s authority.

As we go throughout this week, we will continue to hear and be reminded of the events that led to our Savior’s death.  We all know what is coming next Sunday, but there would be no resurrection without crucifixion and death.  And all of these events that we remember during Holy Week, Christ did with one purpose in mind…YOU!  From His triumphant entry into Jerusalem where He was praised, to the moment when He was arrested and He was abandoned.  Jesus did all of this, sacrificing His life, for YOU!  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Mid-week Lenten Eve – Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Theme: “I take, O cross, your shadow for my abiding place.”

Readings for the day:

Colossians 1:15-20

Mark 8:31-9:1

 

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

 

We have come to the end of Lent, the end of our Wednesday evening suppers and worship services, the end of looking at the hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus.  Each week we have focused on a different line from this hymn from “Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand” to “The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land” to “A home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way” to “From my contrite heart, with tears” and finally “I take, O cross, your shadow for my abiding place.”  This is the first line of the last verse.

So as I was thinking about this line, “I take, O Cross, your shadow for my abiding place,” I wondered, what does it mean for us today to abide in the shadow of the cross?  First of all abide means to stay, remain, live, rest.  So what does it mean to remain or rest in the shadow of the cross?

The first thought that I had in thinking about the shadow of the cross is a painting that is hanging in my parent’s kitchen.  The painting is of a carpenter working with a hammer at a workbench and a small child is playing on the ground with some nails at the foot of this carpenter.  The child’s shadow coming from the window is in the shape of a cross.  This painting is depicting Jesus as a young boy playing in Joseph’s shop and Jesus is already casting a shadow of the cross.  And then in this hymn we will sing that we take the shadow of the cross for our resting place.

That sounds all well and good, but do you know how to rest?  Do you know how to take a break?  By a show of hands, how many of you would consider your life to be busy?  You feel that you don’t have enough time in a day or in a week to do everything that you want or need to do.  We’re busy aren’t we?  When I was growing up I was able to be involved in school activities, community activities (such as 4-H), church activities, have a job, and still do things with my family.  Now adults and kids alike are being forced to only pick one of these 5 to be involved with.  We are told by our culture that we cannot be involved in all 5.  We are told we have to pick: your job or your family, be involved in school activities, community activities or church activities.  You can’t be involved in all of them.  How many of you can relate to that?

Now with all of your busyness, when do you rest?  When do you take a break from the chaos that is our lives?  My guess is that we are not very good at this.  So I’m going to give you an opportunity to rest, right here, right now, in the middle of my sermon (and no this is not the pastor telling you to take a nap during the sermon).  For three minutes I want you to just sit and rest.  Don’t talk to anyone, don’t fiddle with your phone, and try not to even think about anything.  If you insist on thinking about something, focus on the cross.  Just rest.

Now imagine doing that for thirty minutes instead of three minutes.  Resting is different than sleeping.  And this abiding/resting that Elizabeth (the writer of this hymn) is talking about.  This resting in the shadow of the cross would be similar to on a hot summer day, sitting on the ground, leaning against a big shade tree with an ice cold lemonade or beer in hand, not thinking about anything or worrying about what needs to be done or what the next task is, but resting in the shadow of the tree.

Our lives need rest, not just sleep, but rest.  The church is not just another activity that we have to do, or another task that needs to be checked off our list.  No, the church is a place to rest in the shadow of a tree; specifically the shadow of a cross.  Our lives are busier today than they probably were in the mid-1800s when Elizabeth wrote this hymn.  And so the message is even more important for us today – we need rest, and when we rest in the shadow of the cross we are resting in the shadow of our Savior’s cross.

We rest/abide/remain at the foot of the cross, the shadow is not something to be feared, but rather welcomed.  Resting in the shadow of the cross is to rest knowing that all what really matters in our busy lives is the saving work that happened through that cross; that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior has given us life and the promise of eternal life.

I wonder if this is the message that our church should be sending, “come, rest, get a break from the world.”  Because the reality is that this resting with Jesus is not something that we do once in a while, it is something that we should be doing daily as Jesus talks about in the gospel reading – daily we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.  Daily we rest or abide in the shadow of the cross because it is preciously God’s love that was shown through the cross that gives us life.  Without the cross, we are nothing.  Without Jesus, we are nothing.  I take, O cross, your shadow for my resting – for my abiding place.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

5th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, April 6, 2014

Readings for the day:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

 

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

 

            So today we have another long reading from John’s Gospel.  And in this story, we have two sisters and a brother.  The brother has just died, but we don’t know from what (and as the story goes it really doesn’t matter what he died from).  Now Martha, one of the sisters, thinks that she has things all figured out.  She knows that Jesus is from God as she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”[1]  During this encounter with Jesus, she confesses that she believes in the resurrection.  She believes and says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming in the world.”[2]  Martha claims that she believes that her brother will rise in the resurrection on the last day.  But it doesn’t take long for her to forget that claim.  When Jesus, Martha, Mary and the crowd are by Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus asks for the stone to be removed.  But Martha tries to put a stop to that by saying, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”[3]  She still doesn’t get it!  Jesus just told her that He is the Resurrection and the Life!  And she still doesn’t get it.  If she actually believes Jesus, then she would not have questioned his request to remove the stone from the tomb.

            I think we often act like Martha – saying that we believe and trust that God’s glory will shine in this place, but when it actually comes to doing something, we turn like Martha, back to our own doubts.  The concept sounds good, but when it comes to actually following through with it, we begin putting on the brakes.  We will say, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a wonderful idea.”  But when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, then our support for this ‘wonderful idea’ ceases to exist.

            One example of this could be the kids going to camp for the first time.  Parents, Sunday School teachers and pastors will all get a kid excited about going to Bible Camp.  They are told many wonderful stories about camp – how much fun they are going to have, the new friends that they will meet, all of the swimming, canoeing, and hiking they will be doing.  The kid will finally agree to going to camp.  So the parents register their child to go to Bible Camp.  The parents are excited.  The child is actually excited.  But then comes the time to pack the suitcase for camp!  The concept of going to camp was good, but oh no, we can’t pack that suitcase because I’m not really going!  You were actually serious about me going to camp?!?!  The concept sounded good, but the practical aspect of actually going is another story.  Concepts are simple and easy.  Following through on those concepts can be hard to accept and actually commit to.

            I saw another example of this at a congregation that I used to work at.  The youth team and I were working on making a change to the Sunday School, but this was not only a curriculum change, it was a format change (a style of teaching that this congregation had never seen before).  We got the pastors and the other Sunday School teachers on board.  We got the parents and the church council on board.  We felt pretty confident in this change and figured we had enough people on board to launch this new format.  We were wrong.  Many people who said that they believed in this format turned around and no longer believed in this change.

            So many times, I think that we like the idea of a change in our congregation until it is time to actually make the change.  We tend to be like a kid who is packing their bag to go to camp for the first time.  Or even being like Martha who confesses that she believes that her brother will be resurrected, but when that means the stone that stands between us and a four-day dead corpse, has to be moved; then we aren’t sure if we really want it anymore.

            Our stubbornness, our resistance to change, and our limited ability as humans to see God’s overall plan hinders our ability to believe and see God at work in our midst.  But there is something quite wonderful about this story of Lazarus being raised from the dead – Jesus doesn’t listen to Martha.  She doesn’t want Him to open the tomb of her dead brother because it is going to smell and I’m sure it wouldn’t be easy seeing the inside of your dead brother’s tomb.  But Martha’s unbelief did not stop Jesus from raising Lazarus from the dead and showing God’s glory.  And I’m sure she was grateful for that.

            God’s glory shines in this place and all around us no matter how stubborn we are or how resistant to change we are.  Thankfully God doesn’t give up on us too quickly.  Because of our limited ability as humans, we are not always able to see or understand God’s plan.  But just because we can’t see it or understand it right now, doesn’t mean that God isn’t still working.

            In the Old Testament reading, Ezekiel just saw some dried up old bones with no life in them.  Although, God didn’t see them as dry old bones, but rather as bones that needed new life.  Martha saw her brother’s tomb as the place for a dead corpse.  But God saw it as a place for new life to shine.  We don’t always know how it is that God will work through a situation, but He has a plan.  I’m sure five years ago you wouldn’t have believed that within those five years you would have two pastors, more ministry opportunities, and still have your congregation’s doors open.  I’m sure five days before Lazarus was raised from the dead, Mary and Martha wouldn’t have believed that their brother would die and be alive again.  And the disciples didn’t believe that within three days, Jesus would be crucified, die, and be raised from the dead.  But all of this did indeed happen because God had a plan and His will was done.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he is giving you and our congregations life.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] John 11:21, NRSV

[2] John 11:27, NRSV

[3] John 11:39, NRSV