Palm/Passion Sunday – Sunday, March 29, 2015

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 14:1–15:47

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

We are nearing the end of the 40 days of Lent and today is the beginning of the holiest of weeks for us.  We start this week off with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Here Jesus is praised for the people’s king has finally arrived in the great city of Jerusalem.  They are proud to be one of His followers and are waiting with anticipation to see what He is now going to do that He has entered the city.  The crowds bow before their king as they wave palm branches with excitement.  They believe their king, Jesus, will finally overthrow the Roman control and make the land of Israel free once again.  But we all know that is not what happened.  Instead of overthrowing, He submits to the Roman control.  Instead of leading an uprising in the city, He is led up to the cross on a hill outside the city.  Instead of a crowd full of supporters, He is deserted and left alone.

Now we do this too, don’t we?  We turn on God when things don’t go our way.  When our prayers don’t get answered the way we want them to, then we turn on God.  When worship is not at just the right time that we want, then we turn on God and His church.  We are just fine with coming to worship as long as God is doing what I want, and when He doesn’t do what I want, then we turn on God – just like how the crowds turned on Him when His message was not what they expected.  So they followed Him out of the city (just as they did when He entered), except when He entered they were waving palm branches and praising Him, and when He left they were shouting crucify Him!

We do the exact same thing with God in the church and in our own relationship with Him.  When the message is what WE want, then we grab those palm branches and wave them with joy.  But when the message that we NEED to hear doesn’t line up with what we WANT to hear, then we turn on God and begin shouting crucify Him!

As you go throughout this holiest of weeks, notice when in your relationship with God, that your palm branches and shouts of praise turn into shouts of slander and demands for crucifixion.  We too, turn on God, but thankfully God is bigger than our inability to always see the bigger picture.  Thankfully Jesus was still willing to go to the cross even though the crowds and His own disciples turned on Him.  Liam, you are just like the rest of us (we turn our backs on God).  But today God has promised to you that He will never, ever turn His back on you no matter how many times you turn your back on Him.  And this is true for all of us as well.  No matter how many times we turn our backs on God, He has promised us that He will never, ever turn His back on us no matter how many times we reject or turn away from Him.  Amen.

© 2014 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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Mid-week Lenten Eve – Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Theme: Lord’s Prayer, Sixth Petition “Lead us not into temptation.”

Readings for the day:

Psalm 23

Matthew 11:28-29

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

“Lead us not into temptation” – the sixth petition of our Lord’s Prayer.  It has become a common understanding in today’s culture and even within the church, that God tests us, God allows bad things to happen to good people.  When people are told they have cancer, usually they immediately blame God for giving them cancer.  Or when there’s a car accident or a child abduction, the blame always goes to God saying, “God caused this to happen.”

About 4 years ago, I took some youth group kids to Bible camp for a week and during one of the Bible studies, one of the kids started opening up about how he struggles with the reality that his mom has cancer.  We could have had a good conversation about what God can do in the midst of trouble and chaos.  We could have also talked about walking by faith and trusting in God – giving the problems that we can’t handle for God to take care of.  But no, instead one of the counselors had to jump in and tell this kid that God gave his mom cancer so that his faith in God would be strengthened.  What a bunch of crap!

God doesn’t desire the death of sinners!  God doesn’t enjoy seeing his own children suffering or in pain.  God doesn’t find pleasure in seeing you take all of those medications each day, or having to constantly drive to Fairmont, Mankato, or Rochester for doctors’ appointments.  God doesn’t find enjoyment in seeing people injured or even killed by car or farm accidents.  This is not the type of life that God desires for us to live.  Our God is not a messed up, sick and twisted kind of God, like those in the Capitol in the Hunger Games series.  Our God doesn’t sit down with some popcorn and watch with a smile as his own children hurt, cry, suffer, and die.

So if God is not the one who gave you cancer, and God isn’t the one who caused your loved one to die in that accident and God isn’t the one who broke up your marriage; then who is to blame?  SIN!  The sin in this world tries very hard to turn us away from God.  Martin Luther says that sin works through three ways. 1) The devil, 2) the world, 3) our sinful self.  When we have actions or even thoughts of greed, laziness, deception or lust we are injuring our relationship with God.  When we listen to the world when it tells us to be arrogant or prideful, that we should seek vengeance, even if that means the use of violence, then we are injuring our relationship with God.  And when we listen to the devil and actually believe him when he says that God is the one who has caused our pain and suffering, then we are injuring our relationship with God.

As you have heard on Sunday mornings throughout this Lenten season, our confession says that God does not desire the death of sinners, but rather that we turn from our wickedness and live.  God desires that we faithfully walk with him and do his will.  This is also why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  The devil, the world, and our sinful self are constantly trying to tempt us into ways that lead us away from God.  So we pray in this prayer that God would help lead us away from temptations and guard us from those things that may cause us to question God’s faithfulness and lead us into despair over the tragedies of this life.

Notice however, that we do not pray, “Remove those things that which tempt us.”  Sin and temptations are part of this world even though we would prefer to have it all removed.  So we are stuck with these temptations in our lives, but we don’t have to go through these temptations alone; and actually we can’t go through these trials alone.  We need others around us.  We need this faith community to help us and each other through the bumps in the road of life.  That is why we pray, “Lead US not into temptation.”  We don’t pray, “Lead ME not into temptation.”

Plus Jesus tells us that we can come to Him, even though we are weary and carrying heavy burdens and He will give us rest.  For His expectations are easy and His burden is light.  Jesus carried all of our sins and burdens to the cross, leaving us with only the expectation to trust in God and not to rely on what this world tells us about who caused cancer or accidents or premature death to our loved ones.  Rather Jesus is our shepherd and since we are dumb sheep that just go wherever we are led, Jesus promises that He will lead us to green pastures, not the dark, terrifying forests that this world tries to lead us to.  Jesus promises to lead us beside still waters, not into the storms that our sinful selves try to create.  Jesus promises to lead us on the right path, not down the wrong, sinful, self-destructive paths that the devil strives so hard to lead us towards.  God desires that we trust his promise that our life in Christ will be fruitful and overflowing and at the end we shall dwell in the house of the Lord!  Amen!

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

5th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 22, 2015

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-12

Hebrews 5:5-10

John 12:20-43

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

Watch the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6TGxKvSqH8 “How to Explain What You Do, When You’re a Pastor

 

Now that was funny, right?  After all, he is a comedian and I find this video to be funny.  But isn’t it also sad?  Isn’t it sad that we can list off all of the things that the church does and outside people have no clue that any of it is from the church?  This video is also true!  So what has happened to the church that there are so many people that are now clueless when it comes to the church?  The quick answer…us!  You and me!  We did this.  We have made it so that people don’t want to associate with “the church.”

It says in John’s reading today that even the authorities believed in Jesus, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.  Today we have just the opposite happening.  In Jesus’ time, people were afraid of associating with Jesus because they would be subject to being kicked out of the synagogue (or church).  Now today people are afraid of associating with Jesus and the church because they think they would be subject to public humiliation.  Today people are afraid that if they associate with the church then they will lose their friends, lose customers at their business, or even worse, they will have to stop having fun!  What have we done to make people hate or even reject the church?  I think many times it is because of our nosiness, our gossiping, our complaining, our fighting and our arguing over the littlest things.

We complain, grumble, and focus on the darkest corners of the church because let’s face it, we love the darkness.  It is so easy to find something that is worth complaining about.  It honestly isn’t hard!  And quite frankly, it’s fun to complain.  But all of our complaining, all of our arguing, comes from the darkness of the pit that which is our sin.  You may love to complain, but complaining comes from sin which darkens your life and darkens the life of this church.

Now Jesus says in his parable, that he is this single grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies.  If this single grain of wheat never died, then there would be only Jesus on this earth – everything else and everyONE else would die.  But Jesus went to the cross and died so that the church would be born and would be able to bear much fruit.  However, Jesus did not die for you to complain and grumble.  Rather he died for you, so that you would have eternal life with God.

Jesus wants you focusing on the light that he brings to this world, not the darkness that so easily corrupts this world.  If we walk in darkness, we aren’t able to know where we are going.

At our church council meeting this month, I led a devotion about campfires.  We are quickly approaching campfire season and Friday night we got to sit by a nice, warm campfire at the family retreat we were attending.  Except we did stay by the fire too long because it was pretty cold for our boys.  But anyway, I’m looking forward to having many campfires this summer.  And there is something really nice about a good campfire.  It smells and sounds nice and peaceful.  Plus it gives off just the right amount of light for the area.  But if you neglect the fire long enough it turns to red coals and eventually smolders.  And when your campfire is smoldering, you can’t just add a new log, it won’t ignite.  It needs oxygen!  Now if you fan that smoldering campfire a little bit, flames begin to start up again and before long you can add that new log to the fire and you once again have a warm, bright campfire.

I used this analogy to describe the state of our church right now.  We are a smoldering campfire that needs to be fanned.  We are living and moving around in the darkness of our sin, with Christ’s light dimly presence.  Don’t get me wrong, Christ’s light is present here and it has been present for nearly 2,000 years (over 140 years here at Trinity alone).  But right now we are letting the dark corners of this church overtake the light that is trying so hard to shine forth from these four walls.

Beware, the Holy Spirit is blowing throughout the whole church.  The Holy Spirit is also blowing in this place and that fire that is Trinity Lutheran Church is getting fanned.  Before you know it, Christ’s light will be shining brighter than before.

Now remember that YouTube video that I started with.  I have found that people don’t want to be associated with churches that complain and argue, but they also don’t want to be associated with the church or be involved with the church in any way because that sets them apart from the rest of the world.  Yeah, in the 60s you were considered a rebel if you didn’t go to church.  But today, you are considered a rebel if you DO go to church.  People are afraid of being set apart from the rest of the world, but this is exactly what happens to you when you become a child of the light.  When you were baptized and the cross was marked on your forehead, you were set apart from the world!

Jesus went to the cross to give you freedom not to run your mouth and complain, but to save you from all of your sins.  Jesus willingly went to the cross, taking with him all of your sinful arguments, complaints and grumblings and these were all nailed to the tree with him.  Beginning next Sunday, we recount and remember our Savior’s road to the cross with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, followed by his institution of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, his crucifixion and death on Good Friday, his resurrection from death to life at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and finally praising God for all of the work that he did through his son Jesus by his sacrificial death and resurrection for the forgiveness of all of your sin on Easter Sunday.  This is what Holy Week is all about.  This is the light that the darkness of our sin tries to cover up.  This is the Good News that God calls us to proclaim from the roof tops!  God loves you so much that he was willing to take your place and die for you!  Our God overcame death to give you life!  Amen!

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

4th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 15, 2015

Readings for the day:

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

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

Where do we even begin today?  The Ephesians reading has one of the most favorite verses for Lutherans, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”[1]  And then we have the Gospel reading containing the most widely, well known verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”[2]  And how could we possibly skip over the Numbers reading on the “snake on a stick” text?  Well let’s start there.

In this text, the Israelites are in the process of fleeing Egypt – setting out for the 40 years of wandering in the desert (except they don’t know that they are going to wander for 40 years).  They just barely get out of Egypt and the people begin complaining about the lack of food and water.  They also start questioning God’s saving actions.  “Did God lead us out of Egypt to let us die?” they ask.  And then poisonous serpents come and bite the Israelites, killing many of them.  The people then plead to Moses saying, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.”[3]  Moses then makes a bronze serpent and puts it on a pole and whoever looked at the serpent after being bit would live.

In the Garden of Eden there was no need for a bronze serpent to look at in order to be healed, because there was no sin which means no poisonous serpents that would bite and kill people.  But after the crafty serpent allured Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, we have been in need of help and healing ever since.  And notice what Moses makes after the people are bit by the poisonous serpents – he makes a bronze poisonous serpent on a stick.  All of those who looked at this serpent on a stick were healed, saved from the deadly bite of the serpents.  Moses took the very thing that was killing them and made them look at it.  The only way they would be able to live was to stare at the very thing that was killing them.

Throughout scripture, the serpent can be synonymous with our sin.  Just like the Israelites, we have to look at our own sin in order to be saved.  It is called repentance – a disciple of Lent.  We can’t live without acknowledging our sin that pulls us away from God.  We must admit our sin, admit we are wrong, admit that we have made a mistake; none of us are perfect.  We also acknowledge our sin by confessing to God all of those things that we have done that displeases God – trusting in ourselves rather than God, following our own will and desires rather than God’s will, and believing what this world says through books like Heaven is For Real rather than on what God says through His Word.

Now God gives us a bronze serpent on a stick to look at our sin, just like He did with Moses and the Israelites.  And looking at this bronze serpent on a stick will indeed save you from the very thing that is killing you – your sin.  Except rather than a poisonous serpent, God gives you His only Son who bears all of your sins – all of the sins which are killing you.  And He puts His Son on a stick that is in the shape of a cross.  Jesus hanging on the cross is our bronze serpent.  “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”[4]  Looking at Jesus hanging on the cross reminds us of all of our sins and just how great of a sacrifice God made for us.  But looking at Jesus hanging on the cross isn’t what saves us.  Simply looking at our sin just reminds us of how much we have fallen short of God’s will and desire for us.  Plus this would fall into a work for salvation, something that the Apostle Paul tells us won’t work – we can’t do anything to save ourselves.  Rather he says that we are saved by grace through faith, not by the result of works or any doing of our own, but it is a free gift from God.

Jesus is our bronze serpent on a stick, and we should acknowledge our sin that has pulled us from God.  But, Jesus just hanging on the cross is not what saves you from your sin.  Christ rising from the dead, overcoming death and the grave once and for all, which put to death all of your sins so that all that remains for you is life with God.  That is what saves you from the destructive nature of your sin.

Almost every Christian throughout the world knows John 3:16 because it is the Gospel in a nutshell.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”[5]  But many forget or don’t even know John 3:17, which is equally as important as the verse that precedes it.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[6]  Jesus has come and died on the cross and rose from the grave not to condemn you for the sins that you have done, but in order to save you and give you life.  Look to your bronze serpent for He has fully and completely healed you from your sins.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9, NRSV

[2] John 3:16, NRSV

[3] Numbers 21:7, NRSV

[4] John 3:14, NRSV

[5] John 3:16, NRSV

[6] John 3:17, NRSV

Mid-week Lenten Eve – Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Theme: Lord’s Prayer, Second Petition “Give us today our daily bread.”

Readings for the day:

Psalm 104:10-15

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

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

“Give us today our daily bread.”  The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer and what appears to be the simplest petition to understand.  It seems as though all we do in this petition is pray that God would give us bread every day.  Well that was an easy sermon.  Now to move on to our evening hymn.  Wait, you wanted a longer sermon than that?  Well, let’s try this then; when you ask for “daily bread,” you are asking for everything that is necessary for you to have and enjoy your daily bread, and you are also asking that God would keep everything away that would interfere with you enjoying your daily bread.

So your daily bread is everything that you need for this life, such as food, clothing, a home, work and an income, family, friends, and neighbors, an orderly community with good government, favorable weather, peace and health.  You are praying for all of this when you ask God to give you “daily bread.”

And about now, you’re probably wondering why even pray for all of these things.  You have all of this already, right?  I saw most of you eating downstairs, so you’ve been fed.  You all have clothes on, which is a good thing.  You have work or school or something to keep you busy.  You have a combination of family, friends and neighbors around to spend time with and enjoy each other’s company.  Our communities appear to be rather orderly and we have a government (I don’t know if we can go as far to say a “good” government, but it does exist).  Right now we are receiving favorable weather, and most of the people in our parish are rather healthy.  We do have those who are on our prayer list who aren’t as healthy, but we pray that they will be soon.  So why even bother praying for all of these things?  You already have most, if not all of them!

We pray for all of these things because even though God does care for all of our needs and faithfully provides for our daily nourishment; He still wishes us to ask for them so that we may realize that we have received them from His hand and recognize that He is a good and gracious God.  This is why we continue to pray for all of these things that God has promised us and has already given us.  God is going to faithfully provide for us what we need, but He still wishes for us to ask Him because when we ask God for these needs, then we begin to recognize that everything that we have has come from God alone.

Aren’t there times where we take things for granted?  Back in January, we lost power in Trimont on 2 separate occasions.  One was on a very cold Sunday evening with wind chill values in the -20s.  The power went out around 9 pm and came back on 5 hours later.  I remember how helpless we felt without electricity and without heat.  We hurried to grab candles to give the dining room some light that wasn’t the flashlight app on our phones (we were trying to conserve the batteries on our phones because we didn’t know how long the power was going to be out).  We were really worried about what we were going to do as we watched the temperature in the house slow drop one degree at a time.  Without a generator or portable heater, we felt very vulnerable and helpless.  We had taken electricity and heat in the winter for granted.

There are times when we need to stop and recognize that even the little things that get taken for granted come from God.  Soon we will be working our gardens and our fields, preparing them for spring planting.  It would be good for all of us to stop and recognize that the seeds that are going to produce our food and the nourishment that is given to those seeds all comes from God.  Plus with Jesus telling us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” probably means that we need to be giving some recognition and thanks to God every day for the things that He has given us.

And on top of all the blessings of abundance that God has given us, the greatest gift that He has given us is the grace that He has so freely given to us through Jesus Christ.  The “daily bread” that we pray for is asking for God to provide for all of our earthly needs, and Jesus has provided for our eternal needs – giving us life when this world can only promise death.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift of grace given to all of us.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

3rd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 8, 2015

Readings for the day:

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

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

Even though we are in the year of Mark, Mark’s Gospel is extremely short in relation to the other gospels.  So from now until Palm Sunday, the lectionary takes us from Mark’s Gospel to John’s Gospel, but don’t worry we will get back to Mark.  Now the text that we have in front of us this morning is Jesus cleansing the temple, but if you noticed John places this story in the second chapter; whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke place the story of Jesus cleansing the temple after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls his first disciples.  Then he heads to the wedding at Cana to turn the water into wine (His first miracle), and then He heads to Jerusalem for the Passover and gets upset when He sees what the temple has turned into.  We don’t know if this is the chronological order of how things happened, but John isn’t concerned about telling the story of Jesus in a chronological order.  John wants to set the tone of his gospel account from the very beginning that God is found only is Jesus Christ, not in a building, temple, or church.  Jesus is more important than any physical building.

I’m sure you have heard this before, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again; the church is not the building but rather the people who are part of the congregation.  We, are the church, the body of Christ!  Jesus wanted the Jews to be more focused on the ministry of loving God and their neighbors, but they were focused more on their building (the temple) and making the necessary sacrifices to satisfy the law.  So Jesus drives out, cleanses the temple because the Jews were focused more on temporal things of this world rather than on the eternal things that God promises.

What does this church focus more on?  What is more important to you – ensuring that change doesn’t happen or ensuring the Gospel is spread and shared?  The story of Jesus cleansing the temple shows us that Jesus will drive out anything that hinders the spreading of the Gospel.  In this story, those who are selling the oxen, sheep and doves are those who seek their own interests in the church rather than keeping Jesus Christ as the main focus.  When you are focused on your own interests, such as insisting on certain traditions or arguing about ridiculous little issues in the church, or what time your worship service is; these things become a stumbling block for the gospel when we are not flexible to make changes for the sake of the Gospel, then you aren’t keeping your focus on Jesus and the Good News that He brings.  Rather, you are putting your interest ahead of Christ’s.  What makes you more important than your savior?  Nothing!  You can’t compare to your savior because of your sin!  Your sin makes it impossible for you to amount to anything.  So because of your sin, you try to gain some control of certain areas of the church.  But the reality is that without Jesus, you have no control.  This is one reason why I created an organizational chart for the leadership within each church and the parish.  The name listed at the top of the organizational chart is not your church council president, nor the parish council president, and it even isn’t your Lead Pastor.  It is JESUS!  Jesus is the leader and controller of this church!  He is the one who makes the decisions, not us.  We just do what Jesus wants us to do – putting Christ’s interests ahead of our own.

But how can we possibly put Christ’s interest ahead of our own?  Our sin tries to rule our lives and honestly we can’t help it half the time.  Plus when Jesus was cleansing the temple, one of the animals that He drove out was the dove that people were selling.  The dove is significant throughout the Bible as it showed Noah that the flood waters were receding and there was hope for the future.  The dove is also the one that descends onto Jesus when He was baptized in the Jordan River.  The dove is representative of the Holy Spirit.  So Jesus drove out people in the temple who were trying to sell the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not for sale, He is given to you as a gift.  It’s called grace people.  A free gift from God; a gift that has been given to all of you.

Grace is how we are able to put Christ’s interest ahead of our own.  With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can keep the focus of this church on Christ’s mission for the world, rather than our own sinful interests.  The end of our Psalm this morning gives us a good prayer to remind us to keep our focus on Christ.  The psalmist writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”[1]

In the Old Testament reading we heard the story of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, commands from God that we still strive to live by today.  And God tells us when He gave the Ten Commandments that He is a jealous God, and that is most certainly true.  God is a jealous God because you belong to Him.  At your baptism, you became a temple of the Lord.  The Holy Spirit dwells in each one of you, so therefore you are God’s temple.  And if you are preoccupied with your own interests, then you are no better than the people Jesus chased out of the temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus wants us all to be of one voice, singing His praises, and spreading His Good News.  Rest assured, Jesus is in control of the church and gives us His guidance through the Holy Spirit.  Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Psalm 19:14, NRSV

2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 1, 2015

Readings for the day:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm 22:23-31

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

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

So this story about Peter getting yelled at by Jesus doesn’t really make sense to us today.  Why doesn’t Peter just get it?  Why doesn’t he know that Jesus is going to be crucified and die, but he will rise on the third day?  We know this, but Peter and the rest of the disciples didn’t know it.  It is very easy for us to say, “Yes, we know Jesus is going to die, but we don’t need to worry about it because Jesus rises again.”  We know the Easter story.

But what about these words from Jesus?  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”[1]  So have you denied yourself lately?  Or ever?  To deny yourself means to quit, refrain, or renounce yourself all for Christ.  We actually are going to do this in just a little bit.  During the baptisms, you will be asked to deny the devil and all of the forces that defy God.  When Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves, he means that we need to quit, avoid, and cease from doing anything that pushes against God, namely our sinful self.  Our sinful self tells us that it’s okay to skip worship from time to time, it’s okay to eat without praying first, it’s okay to lie and withhold the whole truth from your spouse, parent or child, it’s okay to avoid uncomfortable situations like visiting someone who is sick or who just recently lost a loved one.  But Jesus says that these things are not okay.  All of these actions (or the lack there of) come from our sin and we must strive to put an end to our sinful actions and thoughts.  Plus when Jesus does come back to restore his kingdom, he will finally strip away sin from every corner of the world, including you, you dirty, rotten sinner who enjoys and prefers swimming in the filth that is your sin than denying yourself.  And yet, on the day that Christ returns he will take you and fully and completely strip away everything from you, including all of your sin.  And then all you will be left with is God and God alone.  And there you will be bowing down and worshipping your creator, for what else can you do since Jesus took away all of your sins and only left you with God to worship.  Elijah and Eliana, this is what Jesus did for you, too.  You don’t know it yet, but your parents, your God parents, and the people of this church will teach and show you just how much God loves you.  He loves the two of you so much that he would claim you through the water of baptism and forgive you all of your sins.  And this is also what God did for all of us at our baptism.

Now until that day comes, Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow him.  Taking up our own cross is no easy task.  When we take up our cross, we are to bear with whatever is troublesome because of that cross.  So is it a burden to come to church every Sunday? YES!  Is it a burden to pause to give thanks to God for our food before digging in to the delicious meal that sits in front of us?  YES!  Is it a burden to always tell the whole truth to our loved ones?  OF COURSE!  Is it a burden to get out of our comfort zone in order to do as Jesus as called us to do – caring and reaching out to our neighbors?  ABSOLUTELY!  It is uncomfortable, but Jesus desires us to go and talk to those people in our community that we don’t know but gossip about all of the time.  This is exactly what Jesus meant by the cross we are to bear.  Do you think that carrying the cross that he would be nailed to was easy to do?  NO!  But he did it anyway in order to save the world from the sin that has continually corrupted all of creation; including us.

And yet, this is the cross that we are to bear – a cross that takes us out of our comfort zones, making us vulnerable to criticism, rejection, pain, and lose.  We don’t form a pity party and feel sorry for ourselves because we have to bear this cross.  Rather we proudly and joyfully bear this cross, knowing that it will bring us to death, but through our death comes life and Christ promises, that this life that we will receive by taking up our cross and following him will be an abundant life with God.  Don’t let this cross drag you down like 500 pound weights in a hot air balloon – making it impossible for you to faithfully love and serve God.  Rather you lift up that cross you are to bear and come to worship with joy, praising God’s name for the food that you are about to receive, confidently telling the truth to everyone, joyfully willing to help and care for your neighbors next door and around the world, and enthusiastically sharing with people who aren’t currently here with us that Christ died on the cross for you and them.

Jesus carried the cross that he was crucified on in order to completely strip all of creation from the sin that has infected this world.  Jesus did this for you and for your neighbors, the question is do they know it?  Do they know that Jesus came for them?  Do you know that Jesus came for not just you, but also your neighbors?  Jesus has called all of his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him.  For Jesus is coming to bring all of his followers a life full of abundance where there will be no sin, no death, and no devil, but only life through the cross of Jesus.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Mark 8:34, NRSV