12th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 22) – Sunday, August 31, 2014

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm 26:1-8

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 16:21-28

 

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

 

            Remember in last week’s gospel lesson, Peter made this wonderful confession saying to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[1]  And at the end of that reading last week, Jesus sternly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah.  On its own, that command doesn’t make much sense.  Why would Jesus not want his disciples to make it known that he indeed is the Messiah, the one that Israel has been waiting for, for centuries?  The answer to that question can be found in the beginning of this week’s gospel text (which picks up right where we left off last week).  The whole thing reads, “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.  From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[2]  Jesus didn’t want a lot of people to know his true identity; that he was the Messiah because if enough people knew that he was the Messiah, the one Israel had been waiting so long for, then the cross, the crucifixion may have never happened.  Jesus needed people to hate him and desire to kill him.  Otherwise his whole purpose, his whole mission would not have happened.  The only way that God could forgive all of our sins was for God’s only Son to die on the cross and be raised three days later.  The disciples’ silence was the only way to keep the mission on track.

            After Jesus tells his disciples all that is going to happen when they get to Jerusalem, Peter again needs to speak his mind.  Last week if you recall, Peter actually got it right in declaring that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  Five verses later and the tables have turned on Peter.  He hears the prediction of what is about to happen to Jesus and Peter says, “No, this must never happen to you!”[3]  Now Peter is not actually listening to Jesus.  Jesus is trying to tell Peter that the only way for him to actually save Israel is by being crucified and raised from the dead.  All Peter is thinking is that Jesus is giving up and deciding not to start a revolution to regain control of Jerusalem from the Romans.

            Peter was focused on the short-term gain.  Jesus was more concerned about the long-term gain.  I’ve been told that if you’re going to invest in the stock market, invest for the long-term; very rarely will a short-term investment work.  Peter was focused on the current time period that he was in.  Jesus was thinking about the entire span of time from beginning to end.  Or another way to put it, Peter was concerned about making this little 10×10 tent look like a million bucks.  Whereas Jesus was thinking about the mansion that will be waiting for Peter after his time on earth is done.

            We do this too don’t we?  We want things to look like a million bucks now.  Sometimes we’ll think that we’ll probably never get a mansion anyway, so we might as well have the best possible things now.  Or we look for the get rich quick schemes (that never work).  We focus on the here and now instead of the better things that are to come.  That’s what Jesus is talking about when he said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”[4]  If you only focus on the here and now, not looking to the future, then you are trying to save your life and you will lose it.  But if you lose your life for Jesus sake and the sake of the gospel, then you will find life, find purpose.

            I have found that this is hard to do most of the time.  It is really hard when it comes to money.  Money is a big thing in this world and it’s necessary in order to live in this world.  But I think that it’s easier to look beyond the here and now when you don’t have to worry about money; you know that you will be able to live.  Because of our student loans, it is challenging for us to save a lot right now.  It’s hard to hear “plan for the future” when you don’t have a lot of extra at the end of each month.

            I think of people who don’t have enough to live on or who struggle making it from paycheck to paycheck or even those whose paychecks have stopped coming.  How are you able to see beyond the here and now; looking to the future?  Or what about you farmers who lived through the farm crisis in the 80s.  Were you able to see beyond the here and now; looking to the future?

            For Jesus, here and now is not just the next month, or this next year, or even this next decade.  No, he is talking about something much bigger than our short little lives that we live here on this earth.  The here and now that he is talking about is our entire life span.  The future that he talks about is the paradise that is waiting for us after our span of life is done.  In order to get to that paradise, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves (meaning our sin will cause us to disown ourselves).  And we are to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.  For if you think that this life is wonderful, wait till you see what is in your future.  Your investment into your spiritual life and your relationship with God will pay out huge dividends.  The little tent that you live in now will turn into a glorious mansion when you meet Jesus face-to-face.  This life is only a moment in time as compared to the rest of eternity that we get to spend with God.

            Peter was focused on the present time and situation.  Jesus is focused on the entire world for all of eternity.  Which sounds better, a small investment that turns into a short-term gain or a large payout for all of eternity?  Or which sounds better, a top of the line, fancy 10×10 tent for a weekend or a large, glorious mansion for all of eternity?  Jesus promises to those who follow him by denying themselves and taking up their cross that they will receive those large payouts and live in a glorious mansion for all of eternity.  That place is called heaven.  And none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the disciples keeping their mouths shut about Jesus’ true identity until after he rose from the dead.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God!  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Matthew 16:16, NRSV

[2] Matthew 16:20-21, NRSV

[3] Matthew 16:22, NRSV

[4] Matthew 16:25, NRSV

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11th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 21) – Sunday, August 24, 2014

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 51:1-6

Psalm 138

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew 16:13-20

 

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

 

            Have you ever wondered what people are saying about you when you aren’t around?  When you wonder this, you probably find a really good friend that you trust and go off to a private area to talk (don’t want anyone overhearing).  This is what Jesus is doing at the beginning of the Gospel reading for today.  Now the disciples have been spending quite a bit of time with Jesus and their relationship is probably at a point where Jesus feels comfortable enough to ask them the question, “What are people saying about me?”

            So in order to do this, Jesus takes his disciples to the far off region of Caesarea Philippi, a non-Jewish region.  This would be a nice, private area for Jesus and his disciples to talk as they are away from any Israelites.  And when he has them alone, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”[1]  The disciples give Jesus a few okay answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the other prophets.  None of those answers though were what Jesus was looking for.  So he asks them another question, “Who do YOU say that I am?”[2]  The question is no longer what are other people saying about him, but what do YOU say about me?  What do YOU think of me?

            Since this question is directed to the disciples, this question is also directed at you.  Who do YOU say that Jesus is?  Is he a prophet, God, the savior of the world, just another guy?  Hopefully your answer will be similar to answer Peter gives.  Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question is exactly what he was looking for, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[3]  Very good Peter, you got that one right.  Two weeks ago Peter was trying to walk on water and failed miserably because of his lack of faith.  This time he gets it right, but wait till next week’s text to see what Peter does next.

            So now Jesus is impressed by Peter’s answer and Jesus declares, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”[4]  Now a couple things you should know about this verse.  First of all, the name Peter means rock, a solid foundation, someone who is very reliable (reliable enough to trust as a leader of Christ’s church).  But when Jesus says the phrase ‘this rock’, he is not referring to Peter the person.  Many people think that when Jesus says “on this rock I will build my church…” that he is referring to Peter.  But Peter is not the rock that Jesus built his church on.  Notice the phrase says, ‘this’ rock, not ‘you are’ the rock.  The rock that Jesus is referring to is not Peter the person; it is what is said by Peter.  It is the confession that Peter makes… “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This is the rock that Christ’s church has been built on: the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  Peter is a sinner after all, someone whose lack of faith caused him to start sinking in the sea.  No, the church was not built on Peter.  The church was built on Christ.  So what was our little church built on?  What is our main focus here?  Does our church keep this rock, this confession, as our foundation?  Or do we substitute other things in the church for what is really important?  The church would not be here, we would not be here if it weren’t for Jesus!  The Messiah, the Son of the living God is the reason for the church’s very existence.  Let’s not forget about that!

            So how important is this confession of faith to you?  Does it matter a lot, somewhat, or not much at all?  There are 3 promises that Jesus makes to those who confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  The first is, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”  Jesus promises that the church will always be there for you because the church is built on Jesus, the firmest foundation you can have.  The second promise is, “Hades’ gates will not win the victory over the church.”  The forces of evil will not win over any church that is founded on the confession that is made by Peter.  The third promise is, “I will give to you the keys of the reign of heaven.”  When you hear that your sins are declared forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ, you can rest assured knowing that they indeed are forgiven on earth as they are already forgiven in heaven.[5]

            We don’t always remember to keep the confession that Peter made as the main focus in our lives or in the life of this church.  We forget from time to time that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  We forget that we are who we are because of Jesus and the unconditional love that he shown on the cross.  Instead, we let sin enter in and it tries to control us, causing us to forget to put Jesus first and realize that none of us would be here right now if it wasn’t for Christ and the cross.  Luckily for us, Jesus’ true identity is not dependent on us.  Luckily those three promises from Jesus that come with this confession of faith will always be there for you.  With faith in Jesus, there are three things that are certain:  Jesus will always be the leader of this church and every church, the devil is real but will never win the day, and when you repent of your sins, they will always be forgiven.  Jesus is the rock that the church has been built on.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Matthew 16:13, NRSV

[2] Matthew 16:15, NRSV

[3] Matthew 16:16, NRSV

[4] Matthew 16:18, NRSV

[5] The idea for these three promises came from Jeffrey A. Gibbs’ commentary Matthew 11:2 – 20:34 Concordia Commentary.

10th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 20) – Sunday, August 17, 2014

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Psalm 67

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Matthew 15:10-28

 

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

 

            For the last few weeks, the Gospel of Matthew has been taking us through Jesus’ ministry.  Two weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Last week we heard the story of Jesus walking on water.  Now this week we have the story of the Canaanite woman.  We did skip of a short healing story and a run in that Jesus had with the Pharisees.  That run in was a disagreement about eating clean versus unclean food.  Jesus sets them straight and then the text says that he leaves that place for the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Now it’s interesting that Jesus would go to this place especially for what he says in this story.  The place where he went is on the outlining area of Israel and the Jewish culture.  There probably were little, if any, Jews in this region.  Knowing what we know about Jesus, this doesn’t seem to be a problem.  We aren’t of Jewish decent and so we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus seeks out the non-Jewish people, the Gentile people.  But when this Canaanite woman, a foreigner, an outsider comes and pleads with Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon.”[1]  We would expect Jesus’ response to be positive and quick to heal.  But it’s not.  He says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  So he says that he only came for people who are descendants of Abraham.  So not you, you foreigner, you outsider.  The term “lost sheep” certainly means what is says, but in English the term is weak.  The Canaanite woman would have heard Jesus say, “I was sent only to the completely and utterly destroyed house of Israel.”  Basically, Jesus tells her that he can only help so many people and the house of Israel is in need of so much help that I can’t help you. 

When have you felt like this Canaanite woman?  When have you felt like you were an outsider, a foreigner, someone who didn’t matter?  Maybe you weren’t part of the “in” crowd in high school.  Or maybe you moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone.  Regardless of your situation, I’m sure you all have felt like an outsider at one point in time or another.

Now this woman is persistent and continues to plead with Jesus, even coming up to him, kneeling before him and saying, “Lord, help me.”  This is what we do during the Kyrie of our worship service.  We sing, “Have mercy on us Lord, Have mercy on us Christ, Have mercy on us Lord.”  Lord have mercy and Lord, help me has the same meaning.  The only thing that is different between us and the Canaanite woman is that she said this while kneeling.  We come into God’s house as an outsider, pleading for his help.

But are we really outsiders anymore?  Nearly 2,000 years later, can we really still call ourselves outsiders?  I don’t think so.  I think we would be considered insiders now.  We are the “in” crowd.  We are Jesus’ disciples, called to proclaim his Good News through word and action.  So what are the disciples, the insiders, doing in this story?  After they notice this outsider coming near Jesus and pleading for mercy, the text says that “his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.””[2]  The disciples are trying to push her away.  The insiders are trying to push this outsider away.  Now we are never like that are we?  We never ignore people who are different from us or ignore people who are the outsiders in our community.

I think there are situations where we find ourselves as outsiders in a situation or place.  But as a church, I think we have become this insider, exclusive group, where outsiders aren’t welcome.  At one of the cottage meetings last year, someone shared that they had gone with a friend to their friend’s church and on their church sign it didn’t say, “Visitors Welcome.”  It said, “Visitors Expected.”  Their congregation would always expect outsiders to come into their building.  The culture in their church was that they were not this exclusive group of people, but rather they would always welcome and expect an outsider to come through their doors.

What kind of people are we?  What kind of church is St. Peter?  Are we an insider, exclusive church?  Or are we a church that welcomes the outsider?  Which kind of church do you want St. Peter to be?

So at this point in Jesus’ ministry, he gives us kind of a strange answer to this outsider’s plea.  We would expect him to tell her that she has been heard and her daughter is healed.  But that’s not what happens here.  He tells her that “It is not fair to take the children’s food (meaning Israel’s food) and throw it to the dogs (he refers to her as a dog, a canine).”  And the woman continues to plead with Jesus, saying, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”[3]  She is asking to even have a small crumb of the food that he is giving to the house of Israel.  Lord, I don’t need a lot.  Just give me a small table scrap.  Then Jesus responses to her and says, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.

Would you be satisfied with a small crumb, or do you need a whole slice of bread?  This woman’s faith was so great that she knew she didn’t need much.  All she needed was a little crumb of mercy from Jesus and she would be satisfied.  Are you satisfied with the crumbs in life or are you left desiring more.  If life leaves you desiring more, there’s good news for you, on the cross is where Jesus gave his all.  Because of the cross, outsiders and insiders alike no longer have to plead for a table scrap.  Jesus showed mercy to all, no matter if they were male or female, Jew or Gentile.  The cross reminds us that we don’t have to sit around like dogs begging for a table scrap because the bread of heaven, our source of life, Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again so that we may have abundant life in his name.  Praise God you are no longer a crumb or a leftover…you are God’s precious child.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Matthew 15:22, NRSV

[2] Matthew 15:23, NRSV

[3] Matthew 15:27, NRSV

9th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 19) – Sunday, August 10, 2014

Readings for the day:

1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm 85:8-13

Romans 10:5-15

Matthew 14:22-33

 

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

 

            Do you know the show MythBusters?  The show that takes a myth and tries to determine if it is true or not.  Well on one of their episodes, they wanted to see if walking on water was true, or if it was just a myth.  So they got this Olympic runner to help them test this myth.  The Olympic runner would get a running start and attempt to sprint across the water.  The first attempt resulted in this trained athlete sinking into the water.  Every attempt after, ended with the same result, the athlete in the water, not standing on top of it.  Of course, maybe they were doing it wrong because the myth was walking on water, not running on water.

            Well, the MythBusters claimed that they busted this myth.  They said that no one could actually walk on water.  Apparently they have never met Pastor Eric.  In Pastor Eric’s office, there is a picture of him doing exactly what the Mythbusters were trying to do, walk on water.  The picture shows Pastor Eric out in the middle of a lake next to a canoe, standing on the water.  So I asked him one day about the picture.  I asked if he was photoshopped into this picture and he said, “No.”  So then I asked him how it was that he was walking on water and he said, “Easy, this picture shows my credentials.  Where are your credentials?”  I was left speechless.

When Jesus fed the over 5,000 people, he showed his credentials to the people.  When Jesus walks on the water out to his disciples, he shows them his credentials.  Right after he feeds over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, Jesus sends his disciples into a boat as he dismisses the crowd.  Our translation makes it sound like Jesus nicely asks his disciples to go on ahead of him as he dismisses the crowd.  The text actually isn’t that nice.  It says, “Immediately he MADE the disciples get into the boat…”  He made them.  He forced them to get into the boat.  They doubted Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000 and He wanted them to go on ahead of Him.  We don’t always do or believe what God wants us to do either.  All Jesus wanted the disciples to do was to find food for the crowd and all they could find was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  They didn’t think that would be enough.  They doubted God’s ability.  And so Jesus, forces them into a boat and says, “Just get in the boat and go to the other side.  I’ll meet you over there.”  It sounds to me like Jesus just needed a break from His disciples for a minute.

I wonder if we ever act like these disciples and make God want to have a break from us once in a while.

“Will you go serve in my church?”  “Oh, I don’t know God.”

        “Will you go to seminary to be a pastor?”  “Oh, I don’t know God.”

“Will you go to a small 3-point parish?”  “Oh, I don’t know God.”

“Ok, fine.  Just get into this boat and I’ll deal with you on the other side.”

We’re not always willing to follow God’s will are we?  We resist.  We question.  And when we do finally agree to follow, we complain, grumble and doubt along the way.  We question if God will actually follow through.  We question if Gospel (the Good News of Jesus Christ) will actually be heard.  Why can’t we just get over this and be ok with God’s plan?  It’s because we are sinners and our vision is clouded from seeing the big picture.  We are like the disciples.  How could they have known that 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish would have turned into 12 baskets of leftovers?  How could they have known that even though storms arise on the sea, Jesus is always watching out for them and protecting them?  They couldn’t.  We can’t either.  But God can.

Jesus is always present in our lives and He has the ability to see beyond our current situation.  During the good times of our lives, Jesus can see where 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish can turn into feeding a multitude of people with 12 baskets of food leftover.  He can see that the little bit that we have can and will be turned into something great.  During the bad times of our lives, Jesus can find us in the middle of a storm, helpless and abandoned, and He can protect us and calm the storm that rages around us.

We may not always to able to recognize Jesus right away.  In the middle of the storm on the sea, the disciples saw some kind of figure approaching them on the sea.  They mistake Jesus for a ghost.  But even though they don’t recognize Him right away, Jesus is still there with them and calms the storm.  It is only after He calms the storm do the disciples really realize that this ghost was actually Jesus.

Jesus promises to always be present in our lives: during the good times and the bad.  But how can we know this to be true and not a myth?  Because of His credentials.  Unlike Pastor Eric, Jesus actually did walk on water, showing His credentials as the Son of God.  The disciples were not able to see Jesus as the Son of God with the feeding of the 5,000, but they did see Him as the Son of God when He walked on water and calmed the storm.

Jesus promises to always be with you, appearing where you least expect it.  So where has Jesus shown you His credentials as the Son of God?  When has Jesus calmed a storm in your life or turned a little gift into a great, wonderful blessing?  We may not always see Him, but Jesus is always present in our situations, appearing when we least expect it because Jesus’ credentials are the “Son of God”.  Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.