3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 24, 2015

Readings for the day:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm 62:5-12

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Mark 1:14-20

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

So you may have noticed that there is a common theme throughout the scripture readings this morning.  In the first reading, God is calling Jonah to deliver the challenging message that they need to repent or God will destroy them.  In the second reading, Paul is calling the Corinthians to put their focus on God rather than focusing on trivial matters that aren’t that important.  And in the Gospel reading, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples; to proclaim the good news of God to all people.

And God calls all of us to various tasks, but I don’t think that any of you have spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish because you said “No” to God.  I’m also going to guess that you willing don’t say “Yes” to God without even knowing how the answer is going to affect you, your family, your career, or your friends.  Which by the way seems to be exactly what these four disciples did – left everything behind to follow Jesus without taking a moment to even think about what they were leaving behind.  So we aren’t as bad as Jonah, nor are we as willing as Simon, Andrew, James, or John; we’re somewhere in the middle.  What does God want with average, somewhat willing, fairly normal, down-to-earth kinds of individuals?  Well, probably more than what we give Him, right?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to say “No” a lot.  Granted I have a 2 year old at home, so I do often say “No”.  “No, you can’t have popcorn for supper.”  “No, you can’t watch another movie today because you’ve already watch 2 other movies.”  “No, you can’t have chocolate or cookies for breakfast.”  “No, get off the table.”  “No, don’t touch that.”  And I could go on, but you get the idea.  I say “No” a lot to our toddler.

What or who do you say “No” to?  Don’t we often say “No” to God?  “No God, I really don’t want to help that person out.”  “No God, I really don’t want to serve on that committee or board.”  “No God, I really don’t want to pray before each meal or read the Bible.”  We all say “No” a lot.  We say “No” to God and “No” to each other quite often.

But in order to say yes to something, we usually have to say no to something else.  There is only 168 hours in a week and we can only use about 112 of those hours because we also need to sleep.  And there is only so much that we can cram into those 112 hours each week.  At some point in time something has to give.  In order to say “Yes” to God, or the church, or our family, or a non-profit organization – we have to say “No” to someone else.  Jonah had to say “No” to his own selfish desires and ideals of fairness in order to say “Yes” to God’s redeeming plans for the city of Nineveh.  The Corinthians had to say “No” to their petty little matters of this world in order to say “Yes” to the hope of eternal life that if found only in Jesus Christ.  And Simon, Andrew, James, and John had to say “No” to their jobs (the boats and nets), to their families and practically life as they knew it in order to say “Yes” to the Savior who was standing in their midst and calling them to a different mission and purpose.

Today God is calling all of us to evaluate our 168 hours in the week.  Who or what are you saying “No” to a lot?  Is what you are currently doing more important than what you are saying “No” to?  God is calling you to follow Him who gives you a different mission and purpose than what the world gives.  Jesus calls you to repent of your sins and believe that He indeed is the Savior of the world – the only One who can give you hope that goes above and beyond this life.

On the cross, Jesus said “Yes” to forgiving your sins, but in order to say “Yes” He had to also say “No” to something.  And that something was the petty little things that we rank as more important in this world.  Will your work, your children, your smartphone, sleeping in, staying out late with friends, Facebook, or any other thing that we think is important save you from your sin?  NO!  It won’t!  Only Jesus can say save you!  That is why Jesus chose to say “Yes” to YOU and forgiving YOUR sins and said “No” to the things of this world which will pass away, but Jesus and the promises that you were giving in your baptism will last forever.

Kollyns, Jesus went to the cross, dying and rising from the grave so that you could live with God forever.  In a few minutes, Kollyns will be baptized, claimed by God, forgiven of her sins, and be given the promise of eternal life with God.  Kollyns, Jesus is saying “Yes” to you!

And actually, even though at times you say “No” to Jesus, Jesus has said “Yes” to you!  Jesus calls you, an average, somewhat willing, fairly normal, down-to-earth person to bring the good news of God.  This good news is that God is here among us.  Jesus has come to save us all from our sin and death.  Through your baptism God claimed all of you as his sons and daughters, and on the last day God will raise you to new life with Him.  That is what was promised to you at your baptism and that is what will be promised to Kollyns here shortly.  Jesus is our hope and salvation for the future.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 18, 2015

Readings for the day:

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Psalm 139:1-18

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

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

When I left the small, little town of Chandler to go to college in Fargo, I realized just how unknown my hometown really was.  When I first got to college, people would ask where I was from and I could never just say, “Chandler Minnesota.”  An explanation always had to follow.  After having to explain to people where Chandler was for the 50th time or so, I decided to just say, “60 miles northeast of Sioux Falls.”  And that seemed to satisfy people’s curiosity about where I was from.

I know that this is similar with any small town; including our three little communities.  No one really knows where Ceylon, Welcome and Trimont are at.  We have to explain where we are from.

Now Jesus was from Nazareth and Nazareth was a small town.  But Nazareth wasn’t an unknown town that no one knew where it was located.  No, many people knew where Nazareth was at, but not because Jesus was from there or because it had a good school there.  Nazareth wasn’t a known town for its restaurants or because it had a wonderful bakery.  No, Nazareth had a bad reputation and everyone knew it.  The Jews in the area knew of Nazareth as the town that was filled with pagans (people who worshipped other gods).  The town was a sinful place and the Jews wanted no part of it.  So you can just about imagine Nathaniel’s response when he hears Philip say, “We have found the Messiah!  He is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  And Nathaniel responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  He asks that question because he is so surprised that there is any faithful Jew living in Nazareth.  How can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Do you ever get that feeling when you are explaining to people where you are from?  Doesn’t it sometimes feel like they are wondering, “How can anything good come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont?”  And you know, for most people in our country today they would say, “No, nothing good can come out of a small town in fly over country.”  I don’t remember this, but back during the Homestead Act, living in the rural areas was seen as the best place to live.  People were racing out of the cities to come to the rural areas.  Today, living in the rural areas is considered by our society as one of the worst places to live because people think that we don’t have anything out here.  At seminary people actually thought that we didn’t have internet in the rural areas.  Living in rural, small town areas is usually seen as a form of punishment by many city people.  I enjoy it and I’m sure you do too.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth (or Ceylon or Welcome or Trimont or any small town)?”  The answer is probably not a lot.  After all, look at us: we are a group of nosy people who love to gossip.  We don’t have many celebrities or sports stars or movie starts arising in our midst.  We live in an area where the population is doing anything but growing.  Most of our grocery stores and other small businesses have closed.  Don’t you ever wonder, “Why do we even live here?  Can anything good come from us?”

The correct answer to that question is yes!  Yes, something good can come from you.  Jesus chose you before you even knew it.  For his disciples, Jesus chose mainly Galileans.  People from Galilee were not seen as the best of the best – the best lived in Jerusalem some 90 miles away.  For many people, they could really care less about what was happening in Galilee.  But even though this region was seen as a land that could bear no fruit, this is exactly where Jesus resided and where he carefully picked his disciples.  And Jesus carefully picked you, even from a place that society flies over and doesn’t care about nor believes that we can amount to anything.  Jesus has chosen you!

So as we enter into our annual meeting this morning and look to the year ahead, remember that God has called all of us (like he did to Samuel) and he called us to a certain purpose – to share this Good News with the people in our community.  The Good News is that Jesus has chosen you and has chosen them (those in our community who aren’t here).  Don’t listen to or believe what society says about the rural areas; it’s not true!  We do to matter and we do produce fruit!

What good can come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont?  YOU!  Jesus has carefully chosen you to pass on the faith to future generations in this area.  The work is not always easy, nor is it always what WE want to do.  But we have been promised that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our reward will be great in heaven.

2014 was a great, second year for Circle of Faith, and 2015 is looking marvelous.  God has been doing some pretty wonderful things in this church and I look forward to seeing what God will do this year; for you all have been chosen by God.  So it is true, good things can come out of Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont!  I give thanks and praise to God for he chose you!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 11, 2015

Readings for the day:

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

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

Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday – the first Sunday after Epiphany when we remember Jesus’ baptism; the event that began his ministry long ago.  The writer of Mark’s Gospel doesn’t waste any time in getting to the point.  In Mark’s Gospel, there isn’t even a story of how Jesus was born (there is no Christmas story) nor is there any account about his childhood because in Mark’s Gospel, all that matters is Christ’s ministry and his road to the cross.

So Mark’s Gospel begins with a short description and explanation about John the Baptist followed by the story of Jesus’ baptism and then he goes right into Jesus’ ministry beginning with the temptation in the wilderness.  You see, Mark wastes no time in getting to the point.  Sure the birth of Christ is important, but for Mark, the baptism of Jesus is even more important.  When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were torn in two, the Holy Spirit deceased on him like a dove, and God spoke directly to him.  Now we really don’t know if any of this was actually seen by anyone else besides John and Jesus.  And anyway, that’s not what is important.  What is important is that God ripped open the heavens, anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and told him essentially what his mission was.  Jesus’ mission was to take the sins of the world onto his shoulders and go to the cross, but no one, not even Jesus himself could have done this without the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit.

So we can see that Jesus’ baptism was important.  What happened at your baptism?  Do you remember it?  For most of you probably not.  Do you remember when it was?  Do you remember at least what month and year it was?  I was baptized on August 3, 1986.  What was your baptismal day?  Did you know that your baptism was also important (whether you remember it or not)?  It was!  In your baptism, God called you to a special mission (to serve God and serve each other).  But God knows that you can’t do this on your own because you are busy and selfish by nature.  So when you were baptized you were given God’s guidance and support that can only come through the Holy Spirit.  If only we would listen to him once in a while, right?

But we don’t, do we?  We rely on ourselves, and we usually can do pretty good on our own – we manage to get by with what we have.  But then the news breaks about an aircraft that goes missing and is later found at the bottom of the sea.  And then days later we hear of terrorist shootings in Paris.  There is bad news throughout the world and there’s bad news that pops up in our lives all the time.  Maybe not right now, but at various times throughout your life, I’m sure it hasn’t been pleasant.  When we turn to ourselves for help, help usually isn’t there.  We can’t help ourselves.

So where do you turn?  Do you call a friend?  Put a plea on Facebook?  Or just internalize it?  For many people today, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more than just ways of keeping in contact over large distances; these sites have become their support networks – places to seek out help.  These sites can be wonderful ways to communicate and connect with others.  But I can’t tell you how many times I have seen posts on Facebook that sound like a plea for help.  Some people who post these pleas for help don’t know where else to turn.

I’ve got another option for you, the church.  You see, when you were baptized, you were baptized into something important.  Not only did you receive the forgiveness of all of your sins and the promise of eternal life with God, which are both wonderful gifts and God could have stopped there.  But he didn’t stop there!  Instead, God gave you a guide and supporter as you continue to walk this life – the Holy Spirit.  But God also knows that you need even more than that.  So in your baptism you also were baptized into a community of faith!  This community of faith will be here to help you, support you, pray for you, encourage you, care for you, and give you hope.

When life has dealt you a terrible hand and you can’t see how anything good could come from it, look to God and the church.  Remember we are talking about the God who created you and created the world and everything in it.  I think God can handle whatever problems or issues we find ourselves in.  And we also look to our faith community, this church, for God has claimed each one of us as his son or daughter.  You belong first and foremost to God.  And secondly you belong to this faith community.

You might not think of your baptism on a daily basis, but God always has that day on his mind.  Because that was the day you became sons and daughters of God.  That is when we entered God’s family, received the promise of forgiveness, eternal life, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life.

When you go to bed tonight, make a cross on your forehead to remind you that you are baptized in Christ Jesus, and that God will be protecting you throughout the night.  Then we you rise in the morning, make a cross on your forehead again to remind you that you are baptized in Christ Jesus, and that God will guide and protect your going out and your coming in.

The cross will remind you of your baptism and of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for you – taking all of your sins away.  You indeed have been washed clean of your sins through the waters of baptism.  Glory to God for saving you and give you a faith community to support you in this journey we call life.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

2nd Sunday of Christmas – Sunday, January 4, 2015

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:[1-9]10-18

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

Today is the 11th day of Christmas, and there are only 12 days of Christmas.  That means Christmas is almost over!  Christmas is actually the shortest of all the church seasons.  Pentecost spans nearly half a year.  Easter and Lent are six weeks long, and Advent and Epiphany are each about 4 weeks in length.  But Christmas, the season where we celebrate our God becoming human, only lasts for 12 days; not even two weeks!  Now does that really make any sense?  Maybe it is because we can only celebrate for so long.  There gets to be a point where we want the celebrations to end, the guests to go home, and the decorations to be put away.  We want to get our lives back to normal.  Or when you are on vacation, don’t you get to a point where the only thing that you want to do is go home?  Vacation is fun, but getting back to our normal routines and patterns of life are always welcomed.

I imagine the days after Jesus was born, life would go back to normal for the shepherds and the wise men, for the animals and the owners of the stable.  I’m sure it was just life as usual in Bethlehem once everyone returned to the homes after the census was complete.  The animals would be alone in the stable.  The wise men would return to their homes and continue with their lives.  And the shepherds would return to their flocks.  Life would return to normal for everyone except for maybe Mary and Joseph who had a little newborn to care for.

But you know, there is nothing normal about the creator becoming part of his creation, or the divine becoming human, or the immortal becoming mortal.  God becoming flesh is not normal.  So of course we celebrate this special abnormal event with parties, presents and feasts.  But what happens when the parties end, the guests go home, the presents have been opened and the leftovers are gone?  What then?  Do we just start counting the months and days until Christmas next year?  We could, but God has a better idea.

How about instead of being sad that Christmas is over or getting ready for next Christmas already, how about we actually go to work, doing what God intended all along with the birth of Christ…feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, supporting each other, and bringing peace to one another.  The whole reason why God became human in the first place was to balance the scales and save the world from sin, death and the devil.  The world could not do this on its own; God had to do this for us.  Only God is the one who can bring true and complete peace on earth.  But now we need to do our part in helping God bring that peace by feeding those who are hungry, caring for those who are sick, and supporting each other in the needs that they have.

Christmas may be over, but the work of Christmas is never over.  This past week I ran across this poem written by Howard Thurman titled “The Work of Christmas.”  It goes like this:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.[1]

Our work as Christians is never over until we are called home to our final resting place.  Until that day, we continue bringing the spirit of Christmas to all we encounter.  We do this out of obligation?  By no means!  We do the work of Christmas because of the grace and truth that comes through Jesus Christ.  Grace is an undeserved gift given for you.  The grace that you have been given is God becoming flesh, living among us, and sacrificing himself on the cross (taking your place on that tree).  He did this out of obligation?  By no means!  He did it out of the deepest love he has for you!  Truth also comes through Jesus Christ.  The truth is simply things that aren’t lies.

So through Jesus Christ, God’s Word becoming flesh, which is an undeserved gift that is freely given to you.  And this is no lie, it is absolutely true, something that you can rely on because our God is always trustworthy and true.

Our Christmas season is coming to an end, soon all of the decorations will be put away; we have once again celebrated the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  But even though the celebrations have ended, God never stops working on those whom he loves.  Jesus will not stop until the lost are found, the broken are healed, the hungry are fed, the nations are rebuilt, and there is peace throughout his kingdom.  Merry Christmas!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Thurman, Howard. “The Work of Christmas” in The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations (1985).