5th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 13) – Sunday, June 28, 2015

Readings for the day:

Lamentations 3:22-23

Psalm 30

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Mark 5:21-43

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

The last week or so has been full of a variety of media news – from the horrific massacre at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, to three separate terrorist attacks throughout the world on Friday, to the various Supreme Court rulings including the decision regarding gay marriage in our country.  And I’m certain that there will be many sermons today about these recent events, except none of these stories will give us hope or save us.  So instead of talking about these issues I’m going to talk about Jesus.  The one who actually can give us hope and indeed does save us.

Now many people today think that if they come to church they should receive some sort of instant gratification – they’re looking for that physical healing.  They are looking for miracles and when they don’t see it, they find excuses to not come any more, like, “The church is irrelevant” “I don’t like the music” “I can worship God on my own wherever I’m at”, and the list goes on and on.  And now, they feel like they are outcasts or rejected, like the woman who was bleeding for 12 years.  They feel this way because the longer people are away from the church, they think the harder it is for them to make their way back.

So now as the church, we are looking for a way to fix this problem of more and more people not coming to church.  Except we like to look for the quick fix, the easy way out, the fix to the physical problem.  But all this is, is a band aid.  We have this issue of Millennials (that’s those who were born between 1982 and 2004), not coming to church.  We blame this issue on the single parents or the two income households, or too many sporting activities on the weekend; especially Sundays.  We say that these people need to just come to church so that our pews will be filled again and then the budget will look better.  But, we too, are only focusing on the physicalness of our faith; the instant gratification.

In the Gospel story this morning, Jesus has crossed back over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (last week’s story was Jesus calming the storm on the sea).  When he arrives on land, he is immediately greeted by Jarius, a leader of the synagogue.  His daughter is very ill and he believes that Jesus can save her.  While Jesus is on his way to Jarius’ house, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years comes up and touches Jesus’ clothes.  And after finding out who touched him, Jesus says to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  Your faith has made you well.  That translation implies that she was physically healed of her disease; which is true, we are told that her bleeding stopped after she touched Jesus’ clothes.  But the word here is sodzo which means to save.  Yes Jesus saved her from her disease, but that was just a bonus.  Jesus saved her from her sin, her eternal death, and the power of the devil.  The text should really read, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Sure, Jesus gives us bonuses from time to time, those little surprises that we weren’t expecting, but that’s just what they are bonuses.  This women, when she was trying to get to Jesus, says, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be saved.” (again the word here is sodzo)  She didn’t care about here physical healing, she wasn’t looking for that instant gratification, she wanted to be saved from her sin.  She wanted forgiveness.  She wanted her relationship with God to be restored.  (In that culture, those who were considered unclean – the lepers, people with discharges of bodily fluids, and the dead – where forbidden from the rest of society and also the temple and therefore forbidden from God.)  This woman did not want her physical appearance to hinder her relationship with God any longer.  She didn’t want healing, she wanted to be saved!

I wonder if we, the church (that’s us), are using the wrong translation.  Do we focus more on coming to church because we are looking to be made well?  Or do we come to be saved?  If we look at these two stories and say that our take away from them is that Jesus healed this woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, and he also raised this 12 year old girl from the dead, then what does that say to us today?  We don’t have Jesus walking around Ceylon/Welcome healing people’s illnesses and raising them from the dead.  We still have miracles, but they look different than they did then.  If we are only focused on the physical healing that Jesus was doing, that instant gratification, then we miss the point and we end up losing hope in the world, in each other, and in the church.  For where can we possibly have hope if Jesus isn’t doing today what we read about in scripture?

And it’s true.  We say that there is no hope for the future because just look at the world – racism is still present in our society, terrorist attacks keep happening all around the world, and strong voices in our culture are now saying that your opinion only matters if you are of the majority.  It does seem to be a terrible place to grow up in doesn’t it.  But look at what Jesus does with the woman who was bleeding or the girl who died.  He not only heals them, but with both of them being considered outcasts and unclean by society’s standard, Jesus takes them and restores them to their rightful state in the community.  That’s what Jesus is still doing today.  That’s what Jesus did for these two outcasts.  And that’s what Jesus does for you and for those who aren’t even here.  Jesus uses us and those around us to bring restoration; not necessarily restoration in this world, but certainly restoration with God.  Through our sin, God deems us unrighteous and unworthy of having a relationship with him.  But because of Jesus, our righteousness with God is restored, our relationship with God is restored to its rightful state.

So Jesus took you, a poor, helpless sinner, an outcast with no hope for the future, and says, “Daughter, son, your faith has saved you; go into peace!”  Through Christ’s death and resurrection, you, who were an outcast because of your sin, have been welcomed into God’s family, forever.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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4th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 12) – Sunday, June 21, 2015

Readings for the day:

Job 38:1-11

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

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

In church architecture, the area where the pews are located, so where you all are sitting, is referred to in Latin as the “Nave”.  You are sitting in the nave of the sanctuary.  And “nave” in English means boat.  So when you come into the sanctuary, you all are in one boat.  That’s a nice image for the Body of Christ.  We are all in one boat, together.  And now in our Gospel reading, the disciples are with Jesus in the boat (that’s when the whole church was actually able to fit in literally one boat), but did you notice where Jesus is at in this boat?  The text says that he is in the stern, which is the back of the boat.  See, scripture even proves that Jesus was Lutheran.

In all seriousness though, here are the disciples in a boat taking Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Galilee so that he may continue his ministry on the other side.  And while they were making their way to the other side, a great windstorm arises.  Now the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountains and the sea itself is 700 feet below sea level.  So it’s not like being on the prairie where you can see storm clouds coming from miles away.  This storm arises without notice and without warning.

Think of a time in your life when a storm came up without notice or warning.  Maybe it was a job layoff, or a troubling diagnosis from the doctor, or a sudden drop in grain prices, or the unexpected death of a loved one.  You see, storms appear in our lives when we least expect them and most of the time when they appear we feel like the disciples did.  We feel like we are in a sinking boat and where is the one person that says he can save us?  Asleep in the back of the boat on a cushion.  So much for the savior of the world.  I think many times we feel like crying out to God, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  We feel like God has abandoned us.  It doesn’t surprise us anymore when our co-workers, our friends, even our family abandons us, but sometimes it feels like even God has abandoned us.

And what did Jesus do for his disciples when they woke him up?  He immediately calmed the storm and then asked them if they still have no faith or trust in him.  Jesus doesn’t make our faith in him conditional – that he will save us, if we have faith in him.  No, he saves us and then asks, “Have you still no faith?”

Now you are not the only one that has storms arise in life.  The church also has storms arise, because remember you all are sitting in the nave or the boat together.  So when have you felt like the church was in a sinking boat with no hope for the future?  I’m going to guess that this church probably felt that way after the difficult conversations and departures of faithful members after the 2009 decision.  You also probably felt it when the finances and giving wasn’t the strongest.  Or how about even today, where nationally we are seeing fewer and fewer people coming to church or even believing in God.  Is the church in a sinking boat?  Are we, as the few faithful disciples, throwing pails of water overboard trying to stay afloat?  I think sometimes we do feel this way about the life of the church.  And where is Jesus?  It appears that he is in the back asleep on a cushion.  Jesus I thought that you cared about your church?  I thought you cared about us?  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Many times, I get frustrated too.  I get frustrated when I see so many of my Facebook friends posting about how great it was to sleep in on Sunday mornings or when I see people out mowing their lawns on Sunday mornings.  It is frustrating to think that the church is a sinking boat and the water is pouring in faster than we can bail it out.  But this is not the first time the church has felt like this.  Many of us are here, in the United States today because of religious warfare that took place in Europe.  Many of our ancestors immigrated to the United States because the church was sinking.

The church has been here before, we have been here before.  But we can’t solve the problem ourselves.  Just like we can’t get through the storms of life on our own.  And the church cannot get through storms on her own either.  We need help.  We need faith.  First and foremost, we need faith in God.  And then we also need faith in each other.  It may be hard to believe, but even though it feels as though the church is a sinking lifeboat with Jesus nowhere to be found; the reality is that Jesus is in the nave with us.  He has never left us.  He has never left the church.  The real question is, do we trust that Jesus will not forget about his church?  Do we have the faith to go where Jesus leads?  Do we have the willingness to do whatever is needed for the sake of Christ’s church and the gospel message that needs to be proclaimed to the people in our communities and townships?  Or would we rather continue straining our backs as we tirelessly try to save the church on our own by bailing water left and right out of a sinking boat?

You all have been called to keep the boat (or rather the church) afloat.  But if you are listening to yourself, you will get nowhere.  What can the church possibly do with the very troubling events in Charleston this week?  We can try to continue bailing the water out of our sinking lifeboat by making more social statements and adding more programs to try and prevent these types of terrible events again.  Or, since the buckets that we are using to bail water out has holes in it, how about we put our faith and trust in the One who can actually do something about all of the evil that is taking place in the world?  Let’s listen to Jesus who is the leader of the church, and who can actually save the church because he already proved that, when he saved you.  Since Jesus saved you by dying and rising to forgive your sins, don’t you think that Jesus has done the same thing for the church?

Sometimes storms arise in our lives and in the life of the church, and we know that all too well this week with the shooting in Charleston, but no matter what happens, Jesus is always in the boat with us.  We can trust that we are never alone.  And when you have the savior of the world in your boat, you need not fear for even the wind and the sea will and do obey him!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 10) – Sunday, June 7, 2015

Readings for the day:

Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1

Mark 3:20-35

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

So our Old Testament reading today brings us all the way back to Genesis, to the beginning of the Bible.  In chapters 1 and 2, we learn about how and why God created the world, but it doesn’t take long for humanity, God’s newly created creatures, to mess everything up.  In chapter 3 is when everything falls apart.  The text says that God was walking in the Garden of Eden with the evening breeze looking for his creatures, but he couldn’t find them.  He couldn’t find them because they were hiding, for they knew that they did something wrong by eating from the tree that they were strictly forbidden from eating.  And Adam quickly passes the blame to Eve, who quickly passes the blame to the serpent or to Satan; which is true, Satan is the one to blame for the evil thoughts and actions in the world.

But now jumping ahead to the Gospel reading for today, Jesus gives this parable about entering a strong man’s house in order to plunder his property.  Well you know, the strong man is Satan and do you know what his property is?  YOU!  You are in the strong man’s house because of your sin.  The reason why God couldn’t find Adam and Eve in the Garden was because they were in the strong man’s house, enjoying the amenities their sin gives them.  Our sin is what separates us from God.  We can’t have sin and be with God; and some days we are just fine with that.  We like the strong man’s house.  And why wouldn’t you like the strong man’s house?  In there is a 60 inch flat screen TV with all of the TV channels you could ever want including all of the premium sports and movie channels.  There is surround sound speakers all over to make you feel like you are right in the middle of all the action.  You’re sitting on a very comfortable leather recliner with a mini fridge within reach that’s full of beer and all your favorite beverages.  There’s a pool table and all of the video games you would want.

You see, we like the strong man’s house, it has everything in there that we could ever want.  We like our sin.  It is enjoyable and comfortable.  It gives us satisfaction and makes us feel good.  But eventually the strong man’s house will have a power outage and without any power, you really can’t do anything.  No TV, no video games, the beer and pop won’t be cold, the basement where you’re at will be pretty dark.  The strong man has nice amenities in his house to convince us to stay, but it’s not the greatest place to stay.  And our sin does and will fail us.  We may get some satisfaction and a good feeling about ourselves from time to time, but the reality, is that you sin cannot save you.  It make look enticing, Satan certainly tries really had to make sinning look fun and easy, but it’s not.  It actually is quite harmful for you.  Sin is what separates you from God and each other.  Sin is what causes problems in your relationships, and the brokenness in our lives and throughout the world.  We are stuck in a constant state of brokenness in our lives because of our sin.  The amenities of our sin are so enticing that it is very difficult to leave the strong man’s house.  Actually it is quite impossible for us to leave.  Jesus even says that no one can enter and plunder the strong man’s property (that’s you) without first tying up the strong man.

Well it is very difficult for us to go against the strong man of the house.  We try from time to time with trying to read the Bible more.  We may go for a week where we actually remember to pray on a daily basis, but we stop before the habit can be established.  The strong man thinks that he has won.  And he also thought that he won when the savior of the world was hanging on a tree, dead.  But when the tomb was empty that Easter morning, that’s when Jesus tied up the strong man and took you out of the strong man’s house forever.  Jesus has freed you from the bondage of your sin, the bondage of the strong man.  You have been freed.  You have been forgiven completely of your sins.

Jesus says that all of your sins have been forgiven except for one.  Anyone who blasphemies against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven.  This is known as the unforgiveable sin.  It is unforgiveable because the Holy Spirit gives you the faith to belief that when you hear that all of your sins have been forgiven, that you can actually believe what you hear.  You can’t reject your forgiveness and still be forgiven.  This is why rejecting your forgiveness, rejecting the faith that the Holy Spirit has given you is unforgiveable.

Through this forgiveness that you have been given through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has promised that the Garden of Eden will one day be restored.  All of creation will be forgiven and restored.  This is what we wait for in hope of Jesus’ return.  Until that day, God never stops looking for us because he created us after all and therefore he doesn’t want to see us in the strong man’s house, he wants to see us in his garden enjoying the works of his creation.

Because of God’s unending faithfulness, you can rest assured that God indeed has forgiven you all of your sins through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no need to doubt this forgiveness or lament about not being in the strong man’s house because the Holy Spirit has given you the faith to believe in God and believe in the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Praise the Lord, our sins are forgiven.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Holy Trinity Sunday – Sunday, May 31, 2015

Readings for the day:

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

Romans 8:12-17

 John 3:1-17

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

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, a day once a year where we acknowledge a church doctrine.  What is church doctrine?  It is written statements of beliefs and teachings that our religious body accepts.  So today, we acknowledge that we believe in the Trinity, the triune God.  We always begin our worship service in the name of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We also acknowledge the Trinity in our creeds, our statements of faith by saying that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Three-in-One, the Trinity, but does anyone really understand the Trinity?  Do you understand this triune God that we stand and profess our belief in?  I’m going to guess not.

Many times we, the church, act like this is the place to go if you have everything figured out with what you believe and you don’t have any doubts about your faith or your belief in God.  But actually, do any of us here today fully understand God, how he is triune, his unconditional love for us or even who he is?  None of us.  None of us really can fully understand who God is or what he has done for us.

You may not want to hear this, but we all really are like Nicodemus, wandering through the darkness of this world, pondering, and questioning many things about life, about God, about faith.  In this story about Nicodemus, a Pharisee, I like to think that I’m better than he is because Jesus is telling him that he needs to be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  I’m better than this Pharisee.  I know that baptism is important.  That’s why we baptize our babies shortly after they are born.  Baptism is that important.  But Nicodemus, doesn’t understand baptism.  Nicodemus, sneaks around in the night to talk to Jesus.   Nicodemus, doesn’t want it known that he has questions, that he doesn’t have everything all figured out.  Nicodemus asks Jesus this question, “How can these things be?”  And that’s when I realize that I, too, am Nicodemus.  I’m not better than him, I am him.  I wrestle with that same question, “How can these things be?”  I even went to seminary for 4 years, studying the Bible, the church and what it is to have faith in God, and I still keep coming back to this question, “How can these things be?”

How can God possibly forgive all of my sins?

How can there be a life worth living after this?

Have I backed the wrong horse by being a leader of the church; especially with over 50% of Americans saying that they don’t go to church at all?

How can God save us and redeem us from our sins, just through some water poured over our heads?

You probably have similar questions!

You see, we all are like Nicodemus.  We don’t have all of this figured out.  We gather here every week, not as ones who have everything figured out, but as ones who have many doubts and questions.  We come here to wrestle with the hard questions, to listen for possible answers, and deepen our faith in God.

Many times the church is viewed as only for the righteous; only for those who understand all of this religious stuff, including understanding the Trinity – which by the way is the single most confusing church doctrine that we have.  This is actually the one church doctrine that caused the biggest division in the church nearly 1,000 years ago and we are still divided today – Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity.  The church is not for the righteous, the ones who have everything figured out.  Rather, the church is for the unrighteous, the sinners, the ones who aren’t always sure what they believe, the ones who think they believe, but still have their doubts from time to time.  Maybe this is the reason why 50% of Americans say that they don’t go to church – because their perception of the church is that they can only go if they have everything figured out.  If you can’t figure out what you want to do on the weekend, how can you possibly figure out all of this religious stuff?

Luckily for us, Jesus doesn’t tell Nicodemus that he needs to have everything figured out.  Jesus doesn’t say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him (and understands who he is) may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Having all of the answers is not a requirement that God has laid upon us.  He knows that we can’t fully understand everything about him – he doesn’t want us to fully understand everything about him.  That’s one of the reasons why Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

The church is a place to receive forgiveness, receive support, receive encouragement, and receive faith through the Holy Spirit.  We may get some answers, but we won’t get them all.  Instead of being a church that acts like we have all of the answers, how about we make it known that we don’t have it all figured out, but we come to wrestle with the tough questions, together.

God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world for not fully understanding him or his motives, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  We, the church, are here to grow deeper in the our relationship with God; which sometimes happens through getting answers about God, but most of the time our relationship strengthens the more time that we spend with God and more importantly our trust in God strengthens.

For at your baptism, you were born of the spirit and adopted by God.  You belong to God.  What more do you really need to know or understand.  The Trinity is a church doctrine that is both important and confusing at the same time.  If you don’t understand it, that’s fine.  But do know, that 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.  God’s love for you is unconditional, which means that no matter how many doubts or questions that you wrestle with, God’s love for you will never fade or fail.  You are a beloved child of God; chosen and called by him.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.