2nd Sunday after Pentecost – Sunday, June 22, 2014

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Psalm 65:7-18

Romans 6:1b-11

Matthew 10:24-39

 

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

 

For years I have always thought and told people that I have a fear of heights.  But when I got to 30,000 feet in my first ride in an airplane, I realized that I’m not actually afraid of heights at all.  I actually enjoy being in high places.  It is exciting to see the landscape below and seeing the sun above the clouds is quite an experience to have.  Heights don’t bother me, but I still do have a fear…the fear of falling.  If my perception of a situation is that there is a zero percent chance of falling, then I don’t have a problem with it.  If the change of falling is any greater than that…I’ll stay on the ground.

What are your fears?  We all have at least something that we are afraid of.  In our Gospel text, Jesus realizes that we all have fears and he knows that our fear can and does get in the way of us being the best disciples that Jesus could have.  Fear is a natural thing and when we act out of fear we are not always thinking clearly and it can sometimes get the best of us.  How many of you were fearful last week during the storms?  What was it that you feared?  It probably wasn’t the storm itself that you feared, but rather what the storm could do…specifically to you and your loved ones.  As soon as the storms came rolling in, I called Stephanie to find out if she was okay.  I wasn’t too worried about myself, but I was worried about her and the baby that will be coming any day now.  I worried about our safety.  I’m going to guess you have similar fears.

What else do you fear?  Some of you probably fear if you will still have a job or if your crops will produce enough of a harvest for you to live on next year.  The farm crisis in the 80s is always in the back of our minds.  Our kids get worried and fear their first day of school.  Are people going to like me?  Will I like my teachers?  Am I going to fit in?

We have all of these questions that produce fear, and what is at the center, causing all of this fear?  The uncertainty of our future!  Most of our fears come from having a fear of the unknown.  During a storm are my loved one’s okay?  Will I still have a job?  Will my crops produce enough yield?  Will my teacher like me?  Will I fit in?  We have these fears because the answer to these questions is unknown.  We don’t know the answer and so we are fearful of what the answer could be.

But Jesus says, “have no fear; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”[1]  Have no fear for there are no secrets with your Heavenly Father.  God cares about you so much that the number of hairs on your head are counted.  For those of you who don’t have many hairs to be counted, God knows how many hairs you had on your head.  I don’t know what it is with babies, but so many people will comment on how much or how little hair babies have when they are born.  People are interested in how much hair babies are born with, but no one takes the time to count how many strands of hair they have.  No one that is, except God.  God knows.  God cares.  You are important enough to God that he would care how many hairs you have on your head, and how many hairs you have lost.  God cares.

There is no reason to fear anything in this world, because if God cares enough about us to count how many hairs we have on our head, he will certainly care about our well-being and more importantly that someday we meet him face-to-face in heaven.  Of course, in order to get to heaven and meet God face-to-face, we have to overcome a fear that many of us have…death.  Death is a very common fear in most people, but fear comes from the unknown and Paul tells us in Romans that we don’t have to fear death because what happens after we die is not unknown but known!  “All who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”[2]  “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.”[3]  Paul argues that we know we will have a bodily death like Jesus, because we have seen loved ones die.  So we know that as humans, we will certainly die.  But since we have been baptized into Christ Jesus, we are then promised that we will most certainly have a resurrection like Jesus as well.

There are many things in this world that can and does cause us fear, but there is nothing in this world that can take God and our baptism away from us.  Therefore, there is nothing that we need to fear in this world, not even death itself because we hold the promise of eternal life with God.  No matter what unknown we are faced with in our coming days, weeks, and years, one thing is absolutely certain…you will be with God in paradise one day.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] Matthew 10:26, NRSV

[2] Romans 6:3, NRSV

[3] Romans 6:5, NRSV

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Day of Pentecost – Sunday, June 8, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:24-34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

 

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

 

Do you like campfires?  I do.  I like to feel the warmth of the fire on a cool summer evening.  I enjoy the smell as the various types of wood burn.  And of course there is the crackling of the fire and the interesting color and shapes the fire takes as it burns up the wood.  I really like campfires.  We have a campfire pit in our backyard and we are out there a lot.

Maybe you enjoy campfires for similar reasons.  But regardless of your feeling of campfires, have you noticed how the coals glow and burn?  The fire starts off being really strong and powerful.  It is really exciting to sit around the fire pit and enjoy watching the strong flames flicker in the night.  Eventually the fire maintains at a nice, comfortable level…putting off just the right amount of heat and smoke.  But if more logs aren’t added to the fire, all that will soon remain are the bright orange colored coals.  These coals serve a very important part of keeping the fire going.  Adding a dry log to these coals will start the fire up again.

But have you ever noticed what happens when if you take one of the coals away from the rest?  That bright orange glow begins to fade to black.  The fire in that coal slowly loses strength and the coal starts to cool off.

This is exactly what happens with us.  When we first start going to church, it’s exciting, the flames are high and church is something we want to be part of.  Just like with any new thing, our excitement begins to fade and then we stick to maintaining at a “just right” kind of level.  But if more logs aren’t added to the fire, eventually all what will remain are the coals.  Those bright orange coals.

Have you ever noticed that if you haven’t been to church in a while, or haven’t received communion in a while, that your spiritual life begins to weaken?  Maybe it starts with forgetting to read your daily devotional book, then forgetting to pray before meals, or just simply pray.  What’s happening when your spiritual life begins to weaken is that you are one of those bright orange coals in the fire, but as you drift away from the church and your relationship with God, your coal stops glowing and begins to cool off.  The further away from the fire the coal gets, the faster it cools.  The further away we get from the church, the faster our spiritual life and relationship with God diminishes.

Now this happens to everyone from time to time.  We all have drifted away from the fire at some point in our lives (some further than others).  But how did you get back?  Did you just wake up one morning and think, oh I should probably go back to church?  For most of us, the answer is no.  What does bring us to faith and back into a closer relationship with God, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.  It is the birthday of the church; the day we celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples that the Advocate, their helper, their guide would be given to them.  On that first day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) rested upon the disciples, giving them the strength and guidance they needed to continue doing the work that Jesus called them to do.

The color today is red because red symbolizes joy in the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The color also symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Understanding the work of the Holy Spirit was challenging for our confirmation students this year, but it’s equally as challenging for adults to understand the Holy Spirit.  One explanation that may help in wrapping our heads around seeing the work of the Holy Spirit is fire, since fire of the Holy Spirit is used in the Bible to explain the Holy Spirit.

When you do drift away from the church, or your spiritual life weakens, how is it that you find yourself back in this place or that you remember to pray again?  How is it that your cool, dark, coal begins to glow bright orange again as it nears the rest of the coals?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  You surely can’t do this work on your own, but the Holy Spirit is working through you and those around you (your family, your friends, your co-workers).  We aren’t able to even believe in God or believe in the Resurrection without the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so we can’t bring ourselves back to a healthy relationship with God either.  All of this is done through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who gives you the drive and motivation to maintain your relationship with God and keep your coal burning bright orange.  This is all possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was given to you when you were baptized.

So remember that whenever you begin to wonder, maybe like what your mind is doing right now, the Holy Spirit will guide you back.  God seeks out the one sheep that wondered off to bring it back and this seeking is done through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit will bring you back to the fire, back to the church, back to a healthy relationship with God where you will have peace, joy and warmth.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

7th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, June 1, 2014

Readings for the day:

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

 

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

 

Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter, which means that this is the final week of the Easter Season.  This past Thursday, was a very special and important day.  Many of you probably didn’t even realize it, but Thursday was the 40th day after Easter Sunday.  Now the number 40 of course has significance in the Bible, so 40 days after Easter must be important right?  You would be correct.  On Thursday the church celebrated Ascension Day.  The day when Jesus ascended back to heaven.  And then 10 days later (next Sunday), will be 50 days after Easter and another important day for the church, Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the church).

Now on this last Sunday of Easter, the Gospel reading is a small portion of Jesus’ final prayer for and to his disciples before the events of Holy Week begin.  The part of the prayer that we just heard is the first half of the prayer.  This prayer is spoken by Jesus, to the Father, for his followers (so YOU!).  Jesus knows that he will be leaving his followers behind, but he loves them, he loves you!  And he wants to make sure that his followers are taken care of, that they will be okay.

You know, it is like when a child leaves home to be on their own.  You care about them so much and so your prayer is that when they do leave that God will still be watching over them, caring and protecting them – even when you as a parent can’t do that anymore.  This is what my parents hoped and prayed for with me.  This is what Jesus is doing with and for his disciples through this prayer.  He has spent the last 3 years with them and he cares about them too much to just forget about them.  Jesus cares about you too much to just forget about you.

But now is this something that you really want?  What Jesus is doing in this prayer is that he is lifting up his followers saying, “These are the ones you gave me, protect them.”  He is setting his followers apart from the world – making them holy, recognizing that they are special, you are special.  Do you want to be special?  Do you want to stand out?  Do you want to be recognized?  Of course not you’re Lutheran after all!  And I know this because you’re all sitting in the back, away from the camera so that the only person that can be seen by our online viewers is me!

This isn’t something that we want because if we are to stand out that means that we will be noticed, judged and added responsibilities will be expected of us.  Our successes will certainly be recognized, but so will our failures.  And that’s what we don’t want; we don’t want to be seen as failures.  We want to fly under the radar.  I wanted to fly under the radar, but I do recall preaching in front of a rather important person in our church a few months ago.  Flying under the radar doesn’t work.  We don’t want to be recognized because then if we fail, no one will notice and the little reputation that we have won’t get ruined.

But Jesus has faith in his followers even though they will more than likely fail from time to time– remember that this prayer is said prior to Jesus’ arrest in the garden.  And he says, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they kept your word.”[1]  Now that’s interesting!  They kept your word?  The disciples remained faithful to you and kept your word?  Really?  Judas is about to betray Jesus.  Peter will soon deny ever knowing Jesus 3 times.  And all of his disciples will scatter out of fear as Jesus is nailed to the cross.  But they kept your word?  No!  We don’t always keep God’s word either.  We forget about it at times.  We want to ignore the hard parts and fly under the radar, not being noticed.

But then Jesus goes on to say, “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you.”[2]  We probably do this better than some, but we still forget to thank God for the blessings that he has given us from time to time.  But here’s the wonderful part of this whole prayer from Jesus, he prays this prayer BEFORE any of this happens!  Before Judas is able to betray Jesus, before Peter is able to deny Jesus, before we can even forget to thank God for the blessings he has given us.  Before all of this, he asks for God to protect his followers in this world.  He says, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”[3]

Jesus is no longer in this world in a physical, bodily form.  But we are still not alone.  The Holy Spirit (whose coming we will celebrate next Sunday), is with us to guide us, to protect us, to strengthen us, to give us faith in Jesus.  We make mistakes like Peter did, but before Peter could even deny Jesus, he prayed for Peter’s protection.  And after Peter messed up, Jesus forgave him.  We try to fly under the radar, but regardless of how secretive we try to be, God finds a way to exult us and make our presence known to the world.  But none of this is done alone.  So now you have the freedom, the encouragement and the protection to actually go out and take a chance.  Be willing to try something new.

On Thursday the church as a whole celebrated the Christ’s return to heaven.  And yes I did say celebrate not mourn, because we were not left alone. The Holy Spirit is with us; he’s with you. And Jesus prayed for you and your protection when he ascended back into heaven.  A few chapters before this particular prayer, Jesus tells his disciples that he is (and now has gone) to prepare a place for each one of us.  This place of ours could not have been made ready for us unless Jesus left, but he didn’t leave you orphaned.  The Holy Spirit is indeed with you – protecting and guiding you each and every day.  Praise be to God!  Amen!

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

 

[1] John 17:6, NRSV

[2] John 17:7, NRSV

[3] John 17:11, NRSV