6th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 25, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 17:22-31

Psalm 66:8-20

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

 

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

 

This week we conclude our 5 week study on the letter of 1 Peter.  We began with discussing how our faith is tested through the trials of this life.  And how through those trials we are to trust God.  And God calls us to not just sit around but actually do something for the sake of his gospel – the Good News of Jesus.  But we are only called to do such a thing because God first claimed us through the waters of baptism and made us holy.  Now this week we end our study with putting all of this into action.  The theme this week is that we are “A Proclaiming People.”  We don’t just sit and listen, we get up and do something about it.  If someone told you that the toilet in your house wasn’t working properly, you wouldn’t just sit there and go, “Oh!”  No, you would do something about it!  You’d fix it yourself or you’d call someone who could.  To proclaim something means to say or declare something.  It can also mean to clearly show something.  God calls us to not be couch potatoes, but proclaiming people!  We are called to not just sit and hear God’s word, but to turn around now and proclaim that word to people in our community!

A 2008 research showed that the amount of adults in the United States that don’t claim to be part of ANY religion has been on the rise; 20 million to be exact.  In 2008 there were 20 million more adults than in 1990 that claimed they don’t identify with any religion; that is a span of only 18 years.  I would say that we have a pretty big mission field right in our front lawn.  But what are we doing about it?  Are we reaching out to the community, making our presence known and dare I say – evangelizing?  I wonder if our evangelism is like this story:

After being appointed to the church’s evangelism and outreach committee, one particular member was quite nervous at having to make visits.  His pastor comforted him by suggesting that he pray.  His pastor said, “If you spend a few minutes talking with God prior to visiting someone, it should help.”  When the committee met again, the nervous parishioner approached the pastor and said, “Thank you so much for suggesting prayer.  I tried it before I went on my visit and it really worked!”  The pastor responded, “I’m so pleased to hear that.  Why don’t you share your experience with the rest of the committee so others may know of the power of prayer?”  He replied, “Well, I prayed that the people wouldn’t be home, and they weren’t.”

I think much of our hesitation to try something new or get out of our comfort zone is the fear of being rejected.  Of course no one likes to be rejected, but if we take no risk there can be no gain.  God doesn’t want you to just sit here and listen, he wants you to listen and then go out and do what you have been called to do – proclaim.  And what are you to proclaim?  Proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.  You do this through your words and your actions.  What are we as St. Peter/Trinity/Waverly saying?  And even more so, what actions are we doing that the people in and around Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont are getting curious about this church and more specifically curious about this faith that we have in Jesus Christ?  Anything?

Remember the message last week, God claimed you through the waters of baptism to be his child, to be given a name and to be considered holy, set apart from the rest.  You already are a child of God.  No matter what happens from this day forward, you indeed are and will always be a child of God.  Even if you get rejected, insulted, misunderstood – no one can take that identity away from you.  You will ALWAYS be a child of God.

Today we have a lot of people from the Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont area who are missing today.  Many of them you probably already know.  How about instead of sitting here and wondering where all the people are at, let’s invite them and give them a reason to come and see what it’s all about to be a chosen, child of God.

The writer of 1 Peter tells his readers, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”  Let it be known that you have hope for the future because you are one of God’s children.  Let it be shown to the people in this town that there is something wonderful about our faith in Jesus…we have peace, support and love.  Always be ready to share this news with others.  There’s nothing to fear for you already have the words to tell – just tell your story.  Tell someone why church is important to you, why it gives you such joy to believe in Jesus.  Tell someone!

Remember, it truly is the Holy Spirit doing all of the work.  The Holy Spirit is just working through you.  And if you do get rejected for sharing your own story, don’t worry, don’t fear, for you will be in good company with many other saints who have been rejected.  And of course, Jesus himself was rejected because of the message that he delivered.  You are one of God’s own people, claimed and chosen, and you will never be rejected by God.  Amen!

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Advertisements

5th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 18, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

 

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

 

This week’s theme in our Bible studies as we work through the letter of 1 Peter is that we are “A Holy People.”  Would you consider yourself to be “holy?”  You may not think that you are holy, but a closer look at 1 Peter should show you just how holy you really are.

I’m not entirely sure what the writer of 1 Peter was thinking though when he wrote this letter because the people he was writing to were Gentile Christians – meaning that they come from a non-Jewish background.  Non-Jewish, meaning not familiar with the Torah, the Hebrew Bible or as we call it The Old Testament.  But in the nine verses that we read today, five of them are basically direct quotations from the Old Testament.  I had to even look some of them up because I didn’t even know what the writer was referencing.  If I can’t figure it out, and you can’t figure it out, how is someone whose never read the Old Testament going to make the connection that when the writer says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner” is actually a direct quotation from Psalm 118?  Maybe he was hoping that his letter would fall into Jewish hands and they would see that all of scripture points to Jesus, the savior of the world, and then they would convert to Christianity.

Regardless though, the writer is trying to make a very clear point, whether you understand the references to the Old Testament or not.  He is trying to say that regardless of what you have done, or what has been done to you, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.  These new Christians that 1 Peter was originally written to were faced with lots of bullying and persecution because of their faith in Jesus and their identity as a Christian.  It wasn’t easy for them to remain faithful to God.  So the writer sends this correspondence (in the form of a letter).  We actually do the same thing today but in the form of a phone call, text message, or email.

Think of when people go off to college.  They’re in a new place, surrounded by people that they don’t know.  The school workload is probably more challenging than what they are used to.  But as a parent, grandparent, or friend you give your student a call or send a letter, text message or email encouraging them to continue in school, continuing in doing the work, even when it is challenging and all you want to do is give up.  This is the type of correspondence in which the letter of 1 Peter is written.

It can be challenging at times to be a faithful follower of Jesus.  We are called to regularly go to church to worship God, to pray and read the Bible (God’s Word) daily, and to act as a selfless servant, helping those around us without expecting or wanting anything in return.  It’s hard to be a Christian.  It’s hard to wake up every Sunday morning to come to worship.  It’s hard to remember to read the Bible every day.  I’m currently trying to read through the entire Bible in a year.  The reading plan that I’m on says I should be done by the end of December, but I’m two weeks behind because I keep forgetting to read.  It’s hard to maintain a devotional life where we are reading our Bibles every day and praying/talk to God.  It’s also hard to give of our money or our time when it feels like we have so little of both.  The little money that we have we think that we need to keep that for ourselves.  And our time is already stretched so thin, how can we possibly do anything more?

It says in 1 Peter though, you are a holy people.  Because of Jesus, God has specifically chosen you, made you royalty, made you holy, and claimed you as his own.  The writer says that God didn’t do this just for the heck of it; he did it for a reason, for a purpose.  That purpose was so that you may proclaim what God has done for you.  And so now you may be wondering, “What HAS God done for me?”  Well the writer continues into verse ten to tell you exactly what God has done for you and what God wants you to tell others about.  The letter says, “Once you were not a people, once you had not received mercy.”  Once you were not a people, you were a nobody, a person with no name, a person that nobody cared about, you did not matter to anyone.  But this is what God did for you!  The writer says, “…but now you are God’s people…but now you have received mercy!”  This is what God did for you: he took a nobody and made you somebody, he took a person who didn’t matter and made you important, he took a person without a name and gave you a name.  When did he do this?  At the font!

At your baptism is when God made you somebody, made you important to him, and called you by name.  God saw that you were a nobody and claimed you as his own child.  Now you proudly walk around knowing that you indeed are one of God’s children.  He knows the name of each one of you.  And remember, that God claimed you through baptism so that you would then proclaim this good news that those who are baptized are part of God’s family and God promises to all of his family members that heaven is big enough for all of us.  Jesus already went to prepare a place for each one of us.  This is what you proclaim.  This is what God has done for you.  He claimed you!  He called you!  He saved you!  He promises to care for you always; on earth and in heaven!  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

4th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 11, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

 

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

 

Have you ever gone hiking?  Are you one who will always follow the trail?  Or do you push the limits of the trail even though there are warning signs all over that say “STAY ON THE TRAIL.”  The groomed trail is there for a reason.  The trail keeps you from the extremely dangerous conditions and since it is groomed, you are able to see at least a little bit in front of you.  When you deviate from the groomed trail, then you run into problems with not knowing what lies beneath that tall grass.  We are called to follow God’s path.

In your baptism, your path began with God claiming you as his own child.  So whether you like it or not, your identity is that you are a Christian.  And you can choose to accept this reality or you can deny it; you can follow the trail or you can go a different direction.  But regardless, you are a child of God and God says that you will indeed suffer in this world because of this identity.  Many people throughout the church’s history have certainly physically suffered even to the point of death because of their identity as a Christian.  Today this suffering is still going on around the world.  And now I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of these persecutions, but we really aren’t faced with this type of suffering here.  Although we do still suffer because of our Christian identity.  Thankfully it isn’t to the point of someone putting nails through our hands or a spear in our side.

As a Christian we do suffer and we are called.  We get calls to do many things.  The world calls and God also calls us.  What does the world call you to do?  It calls you to work, work some more, and if you weren’t already sick of work…you better work even more.  Our culture tells us that we need to be profitable and successful in order to get more wealth and buy more things for ourselves.  The world says that we are called to think only about ourselves.

God calls us to something different.  God calls us to do what is right.  He tells us to care for one another, love one another, support one another in every way possible.  Where the world says choose a different path, God says follow my path.  Where the world says take, God says give.  Where the world says you, God says them.  God calls us to think about others.

Now this is where we suffer because of our Christian identity.  I’d guess that most of you at one point in time has donated at least one item to a food pantry in your lifetime.  The world says that kind of generosity is foolish and stupid.  You worked hard to earn that money, to buy that food, so that you can be fed, nourished, and happy.  You should keep that food for yourself.  It’s yours after all.  But God calls us to something different.  God calls us to do what is right, to love one another deeply, from the heart.  We are called to care for one another, serve one another, support one another, and love one another.

We suffer for the sake of the gospel because even though we really want to keep all of that food to eat ourselves, we know what is right, we know what God calls us to.  So we donate some of that food to the food pantry.  We worked hard to earn the money to buy that food, but we are willing to suffer to bring glory to God.  Because Jesus suffered for our salvation, we suffer for God’s glory and we help the less fortunate – for that is what God calls us to do as Christians.  Our possessions won’t save us.  Only Jesus can save us.  And we are already saved through our baptism.  So all we do is share our blessings with others.

Now sometimes though, we wonder off of the trail that God has set before us.  Sometimes we forget and don’t even realize that we wondered off.  Other times, we know fully well that we are ignoring the trail and taking a different path.  We saw the sign “Stay on the trail” but we chose to ignore it.  We rebel and try to deny our identity as a Christian and avoid the path to which we are called, to serve, care and love each other.  We become selfish and only care about ourselves.  So we keep that food buried in our own food pantry instead of taking some of our abundance to give to those who have little.

But Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after his lost sheep that have gone astray.  Whether we purposely avoid God, avoid the church, avoid God’s call or we didn’t even realize we were doing it, no matter what, the Good Shepherd seeks out his sheep that have gone astray and leads them back, leads you back to the green pastures and the still waters that are found in the presence of God.  Jesus will not rest until all of his sheep are back on the right path of fulfilling their calling, their Christian identity – to care for others just as much as they care for themselves, to not only love God, but to love their neighbor.  You are one of God’s sheep, called through the waters of baptism to serve God and your neighbor.  Jesus, our shepherd will not rest until we are with him forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

3rd Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 4, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

 

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

 

Last week we talked about testing – how our faith in God is tested.  This week we go from a faith that is tested to a faith that is rooted in trust.  How trusting are you of other people?  Do you usually trust people when they say something to you?  Or are you quick to put into question their trustworthiness?  Trust is not something that just happens.  You can’t just wake up one morning and say, “Yesterday I wasn’t trustworthy, but today I’m going to be trustworthy.”  Trust must be earned through experience.  If you have a friend who has a history of telling you the truth and upholding their promises, then you more than likely trust that friend.  But if you have a friend who has a history of lying to you, or making a bunch of promises that they don’t follow through with, then you probably question this person’s trustworthiness.

How trusting are you of God?  Do you usually trust what God has to say?  Or are you quick to put into question God’s trustworthiness?  Again, just like with our friends, family, co-workers, children – our trust in God must be earned through experience.  Just as our friends have had to prove that they are trustworthy, God also has to prove that he is indeed trustworthy.  So has he proven that for you?

It is easy to trust God when things are going right.  When our health is good, when we are living comfortably, when our relationship with our spouse, our children, our parents and siblings is good, then it is very easy for us to trust in God.  It is in the situations where we don’t have much to complain about, that the idea of trusting in God seems like a good idea.  But when things are going good, it is also easy to forget about God’s trustworthiness.  Instead of attributing these good things in our lives to God’s trustworthiness, we attribute them to our own efforts.  So instead of saying that our health is good because God is indeed watching over us and caring for us and therefore is trustworthy, we rather say that our health is good because we are eating right, we are exercising, we are taking care of ourselves.  When things are going good, it is easy for us to take the credit for what God is actually doing.

And when things aren’t going right, it is easy for us to blame God for not being trustworthy.  Then we will say, “God why have you abandoned us?  Why have you forgotten about us and left us alone to go through these trials in life?”  But when we examine God’s history, when has he ever not upheld his promises?  When has God ever broken that trust with you?  When has God ever made you think that he has abandoned and forgot about you?

God’s trustworthiness is proven through our own life history, through the history of all the saints that have gone before us, through the words that we have in scripture, and most importantly – through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  God has proven himself to be trustworthy because he did indeed do what he said he would do with Jesus, he raised Jesus from the dead.  Because of Easter, we don’t have to doubt God’s trustworthiness.  God is indeed worthy of our complete trust because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

God always keeps his promises and is therefore someone we can always trust.  There will be times as we go throughout our faith journey that it will seem hard to fully trust God because it will appear that he has abandoned us, but we can overcome that lack of trust in God by remembering who we are – God’s own people.  God claimed you in your baptism as his own child and he promises that he will always be with you – during the good times and the bad.  Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are able to trust in God to always love us and ultimately to raise us from death in a resurrection like Jesus’.

Last year when Stephanie and I were in our last year of seminary, we had a few moments where we were really worried if we would actually get ordained.  We felt this way because in order to fully complete seminary, there are two very important interviews that we had to go through.  Leading up to these interviews was very stressful knowing that your future was in someone else’s hands.  But through this we trusted in God that if this was what we were called to do, then we would make it through the interviews.  We trusted in God that we would not have gone through all of that schooling and have all of the debt that goes with that, just to be told “No, you shouldn’t be a pastor.”  Then when we were interviewing at churches, I was interviewing with Circle of Faith and Stephanie was interviewing with a congregation 120 miles away.  Again we had to trust that God had a plan for us to serve in the same area so that our family was not split apart.

The people who 1 Peter is written to are new Christians, being persecuted for their faith, and unsure if God is really someone they can trust because of what they are going through.  The writer of the letter though reminds these people that throughout history God has proven himself to be trustworthy (especially through Christ’s death and resurrection)!  Even when it seems that there is no one else that you can trust, trust God.  When it seems that there is no one that you can rely on, rely on God.  Praise be to God for always being trustworthy.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.