Welcoming the Outcast

Readings for the day (22nd Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 30 – Sunday, October 25, 2015):

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

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

Today’s Gospel reading brings us to the end of the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel.  For the last 6 weeks, we have been hearing about Jesus’ teachings as he makes his way to Jerusalem to complete his ultimate purpose on the cross.  Since the beginning of chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples have been making their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.  Ever since Jesus descended from the mountain after his transfiguration, his focus has been to get to Jerusalem.  In today’s text, Jesus has made it to Jericho, which is a town just outside of Jerusalem.  So Jesus is close, really close to entering Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week unfolding.

Now as Jesus is leaving Jericho, a blind man, named Bartimaeus, continues to call out his name.   During Jesus’ time, if there was something wrong with you, you were considered an outcast and banned from the community.  Since Bartimaeus was blind, the community basically kicked him to the curb.  We, too act like the crowd who was trying to quiet Bartimaeus down, don’t we?  We give funny looks and avoid people who don’t dress like us, talk like us, or think like us.  We work very hard at quieting children down to the point that they can’t just be kids in church.  And we have driven people away from the church who really need the church.

I’ve noticed recently that this has become a popular viewpoint of the church – if I am going through a rough time in my life, then I am not going to go to church.  For some reason, people think that in order for them to come to church, they have to have all of their crap together.  If at any point in their life they feel like blind Bartimaeus, then they better stay home from church.  Doesn’t that sound completely backwards?  If you’re at a rough point in your life, wouldn’t it make sense to go to church to bring your cares and worries before God and be supported by your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?  And yet, this isn’t what happens at all.  Rather than coming at the darkest points of their lives, people avoid the church at these points.  We as the church have done an excellent job of quieting the Bartimaeuses in our community.  We have fostered an environment where people do not feel safe to come and worship their creator for fear that they will be judged and bombarded with questions when they arrive.

Whether it is a death in the family, going through a divorce, recently losing their job, or being at any other dark point in life, I have been seeing the people who need God the most are exactly the ones who don’t come to church out of fear of judgments.

Now Jesus’ followers and the crowd that surrounded him, certainly did not want Jesus to stop or be bothered by Bartimaeus.  He was an outcast after all.  Why would Jesus want to waste his time with this begger?  Remember, Jesus’ followers believe that he is heading to Jerusalem to save them from the Roman oppression.  So they definitely didn’t want Jesus to waste any time with someone who couldn’t see anyway.

But even though Bartimaeus was blind, he is the first one in Mark’s Gospel to call Jesus for who he really is, the son of David.  His closest and most faithful disciples are still confused as to who he really is and it is this begging, blind, outcast sitting on the roadside that knows exactly who Jesus really is and what his ultimate purpose is.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus is constantly bringing people who the community considers the loser, the outcast, the sinner back into the fold, back into the community, restoring their place in society.

Jesus is still doing that.  This is the reason why we call the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The Good News is that in Christ, none of us are outcast.  People are mean.  People are cruel.  People can be jerks and make this life hard to get through.  But no matter what your situation.  If you’ve ever gotten picked on in school or work, this Good News is for you.  If you’ve ever felt left out, unnoticed, or alone, this Good News is for you.  If you’ve ever felt like Bartimaeus by feeling unwelcome in the church or in the community, this Good News is for you.  No matter what is causing the darkness in your life, Jesus gives light to the hopeless, strength to the weak, and rest for the weary.

So instead of avoiding people who don’t dress like us, talk like us, or think like us; let’s go out of our way to greet them.  Instead of trying to quiet our children; let’s show them that they are welcome here.  Instead of judging people and giving them the impression that they can’t come to church, let’s support them, pray for them, and encourage them as they journey through those dark parts of life.  We’ve all been there at some point in our own lives.  Let’s actually be the body of Christ, and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Remember, Jesus did not die on the cross for you, but also your neighbor.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is for anyone and everyone, no matter their past or current situation that life brings them.  Jesus’ forgiveness that we receive not only restores us to our rightful state in the community, but also restores our relationship with God.  Our sin and selfish desires hinder our relationship with God, but through Christ our status with God is restored.

Thanks be to God, for you have been forgiven and restored to new life with Christ.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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What True Servant-hood Looks Like

Readings for the day (21st Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 29 – Sunday, October 18, 2015):

Isaiah 53:4-12

Psalm 91:9-16

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45

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

Today we continue on in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus has descended from the mountain on which he was transfigured (remember that is when he took his disciples Peter, James, and John up a mountain and his clothes became dazzling white and God spoke to these three disciples telling them to listen to Jesus).  From this point on, Jesus begins making his way to Jerusalem from Galilee.  And on the way he tells his disciples exactly (and in detail) what is going to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem.  He tells them this not once, not twice, but three times.  Three times Jesus tells his disciples why they are going to Jerusalem and what is going to happen to him when they get there.

Now the disciples don’t understand this at all.  They believe that Jesus, the Messiah, is heading to Jerusalem to take back the city from the Romans.  They believe that Jesus is their new king, their new warrior, who will relieve them from the Roman oppression.  And history would tell them that God does indeed give Israel kings periodically to fight off their oppressors.  So their assumption of Jesus is not completely out of line.

And now James and John, two of the disciples invited to join Jesus on the mountain, seized the opportunity on their journey to Jerusalem to make a request to Jesus to be first among the other disciples.  They wanted to have the highest seats of honor next to Jesus after he restored Jerusalem and took his seat at the throne as king.  They wanted the reward and the honor of being Jesus’ closest followers.  They requested to both sit by Jesus, one on his left, the other on his right.  Their focus was on the prize at the end; with all of the fame that goes with that.

We make similar requests don’t we?  We want the fame, the glory, and the honor for doing something.  We desire the respect of others for the positions that we hold in our families, in our community, and in our church.  We also desire the recognition of our accomplishments don’t we?  We want to be seen as a somebody.  And so we will use the authority that has been given to us for our own benefit.

James and John were using their perceived authority to get what they wanted.  They probably thought that they were two of Jesus’ favorite disciples because he only took with him Peter, James and John up the mountain went he was transfigured and God spoke to these three disciples.  So they must have been thinking that Jesus ranked them higher than the rest because he invited them to come with him up the mountain.

Isn’t it true, that we think that because we give x amount of money to this church or because we have given x amount of time to this church, that we are entitled to getting what we want.  We’ll use our authority to benefit ourselves.  We see politicians doing this all of the time anyway.  They have the authority to make decisions that can benefit others, but instead they will focus solely on getting their agenda passed, the thing that will provide greater benefit to themselves, rather than using their ability to benefit others.

The same is true for us in the church.  We focus more on what we want and what will benefit our congregation, rather than on making decisions that will benefit others.  If the Gospel is not at the center of everything that we do, nor if spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ is not the guiding force of our mission as this congregation, then I ask you, what is the point?

Jesus who has the ultimate authority over everything in this world; not even the top leaders of this world, or the leaders of this church have greater authority than Jesus.  And Jesus demonstrates to us what the proper use of our authority is – service to others.  It is not about what you can get from the authority you have been given, it is about what you can do for others with that authority.

Jesus takes the authority that has been given to him and instead of being served by those whom he rules over, he serves them, he serves us.  Christ uses his authority to take his servants’ sin into himself and then buries that sin with him on the cross.  Instead of treating you as a servant and demanding that you do many things for Jesus, he became your servant, taking away your sins, and giving you a future, giving you life, a life that has no limits and knows no end – eternal life with God, the only thing that we have in this temporary life that is actually permanent.  Everything that we have in this life will one day be gone – our loved ones, our wealth, our homes, our cars, our jobs, even our church.  And the only thing that is permanent is eternal life with God, granted to us because of Jesus’ servanthood.

The message that we learn from the cross of Jesus is that authority is not given for the governor, but for the sake of the governed.  The authority that you have was not given to you by God for you to abuse it and get what you want, but it was given to you by God for the sake of those whom you are responsible for.  If you’re a parent, you have been given authority over your children for their sake, not for your own benefit.  If you serve as a leader of this congregation in some capacity, you have been given authority over your respected area (whether it be worship, music, Sunday School, quilting, Farm 4 Waverly, church council or a committee).  You were given this authority for the sake of spreading the Gospel with others, not just to benefit this congregation.  If you are a child of God, you have been given the authority and the ability to minister, care for, and support one another for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ, not for your own benefit.

As for the request that James and John made to Jesus, they were focused on their own benefit.  Except they didn’t know what they were asking for.  They wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and on his left in his glory.  But Jesus’ throne is not made out of gold, but out of wood.  And his crown is not made out of brass, but out of thorns.  The reason why James and John could not sit on Jesus’ right and on his left in his glory was because Jesus was in the fullness of his glory and was on his throne as he hung on the cross, wearing his crown, and giving his life as a ransom for many, for the forgiveness of your sins.  And those who were at his right and at his left were two criminals.

Jesus has demonstrated to us that the use of his authority that was given to him was used not to benefit himself, but to benefit you, to take away your sins, to forgive you, to serve you, to give you eternal life.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

No Inheritance Until Someone Dies!

Readings for the day (20th Sunday after Pentecost – Lectionary 28 – Sunday, October 11, 2015):

Amos 5:6-15

Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

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

Would you consider yourself to be rich?  On Wednesday evening I shared this story at youth group.  Every September there is a yacht show, like a sportsman show or a car show, where manufacturers show off their newest products.  To enter this yacht show and look around you have to be a billionaire; millionaires are not invited.  Plus is costs $225 per person to enter.

I don’t think any of us fit the criteria for that yacht show, but some of those professional athletes might fit.  You may recall, back in 2011 the Twins signed Joe Mauer and agreed to pay him $184 million over 8 years.  That is $63,000 every day of the year.  Or $2,600 every hour of every day for 8 years.

There are many rich people in the world and maybe we aren’t rich like these people or Donald Trump.  But we are rich.  It might not seem like we are rich, but we are.

Five years ago, Stephanie and I took a trip to Egypt and when we got there we found an ATM and withdrew 1,000 Egyptian pounds equating to $200.  Now that doesn’t sound like much money, except most Egyptians (especially the Christians living there) live on $2 a day.  So we were walking around Cairo with enough money for someone to live on for 100 days (over 3 months)!  We even went to a restaurant that cost us 50 Egyptians pounds ($10 a person) – which for many is 5 days of food that we spent on one meal.

We are rich!  And the rich man in the Gospel reading today thinks that he’s got it all figured out.  He has done everything right; he has followed all of the commandments that deal with relating to his neighbor.  Jesus tells him that he must do one more thing, sell everything he has and then come and follow him.  But the man leaves grieving that he can’t inherit eternal life because he loves his things and possessions too much.

We are kind of like this rich man.  We all have many possessions. We try to keep the commandments, but you haven’t kept all of these commandments have you?  Don’t murder.  Don’t commit adultery.  Don’t steal.  Don’t gossip and spread rumors about others in the community, especially if you don’t know if the statement is true or not.  Don’t defraud others.  Honor your father and your mother.  We can’t even keep all of these commandments, can we?  And yet, what does Jesus do for this man?  Loved him!  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”[1]  Jesus saw him in his need and loved him.

Jesus sees you in your need and loves you.  You don’t need all of these possessions or all of these riches.  What you need is a savior and that is exactly what Jesus was going to give this rich man, but he went away grieving because his possessions were more important to him than receiving Jesus’ gift of eternal life.  Jesus says that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  God knows that you can’t sell everything that you own and give the money to the poor.  If you did so, you wouldn’t be able to continue on living in this world.  And more importantly, you would not be able to continue serving God and spreading God’s Word without money.

But are you doing that?  Are you keeping your wealth for yourself?  Or are you using it to spread God’s Word to others?  Are we as a church keeping our wealth for ourselves?  Or are we using it to spread God’s Word to others?  Jesus gave us an impossible command to prove the point that we cannot save ourselves.  There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves look perfect in God’s eyes and inherit eternal life.

Now if you are going to inherit something, how does one go about getting an inheritance?  Someone first needs to die, right?  The only way for you to receive an inheritance is for a loved one to die and gift part of their estate to you.  And the person’s will lays out the specifics on who gets what parts of the inheritance.

The rich man asks Jesus at the beginning of the lesson today, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”[2]  Well, in order for this man or for any of us to inherit eternal life, someone has to die.  And continuing on from our reading today, Jesus tells us who is going to die, “Jesus took the twelve aside again (this is the third time he is telling them this) and began to tell them what was going to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.”[3]

Jesus died for you so that you may inherit eternal life.  He even wrote it in his will, that in the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after giving thanks, broke it, gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Again after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it for all to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

His blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  You can’t earn your way to eternal life.  You can’t buy your way to eternal life.  You can’t save and protect your money and possessions to get to eternal life.  There is absolutely nothing that you can do to inherit eternal life, except for Jesus to die and to write your name in his will on the night he was betrayed.  Which is exactly what he did.

There are many things in this life that seem to be impossible for us to do or understand, but with God all things are possible – even for you, a messed up, commandment breaking, rich sinner.  Even for you, you will receive your full inheritance from Jesus on the last day when Jesus returns.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence and boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need and hope to sustain us in this life until Jesus returns.[4]  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Mark 10:21, NRSV

[2] Mark 10:17, NRSV

[3] Mark 10:32-34, NRSV

[4] Hebrews 4:16, NRSV

19th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 27) – Sunday, October 4, 2015

Readings for the day:

Genesis 2:18-24

Psalm 8

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

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

This Gospel reading that we have appointed for today makes people who have had a divorce feel pretty terrible.  Jesus calls anyone who had a divorce and married someone else adulterers.  Now before we go any further, I think it would be wise to look Matthew’s Gospel where we also hear about Jesus’ teaching on divorce.  However, Matthew goes into more detail than Mark does.  During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[1]  It is not just those who get divorces who have committed adultery and have broken the sixth commandment, we all are adulterers.  We all have broken God’s commandment.  And I do mean all.  In Jesus’ teaching today He leveled the playing field.  The Pharisees were only concerned about a man writing a certificate of divorce to his wife.  Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; AND if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”[2]  We all are adulterers.

And we actually are more than adulterers, we are selfish, self-centered people.  We put our needs ahead of the needs of others.  Which effects our relationships – all of them.  When we are inwardly focused on ourselves that has a negative effect on our relationships with our spouse, our children, our grandchildren, our family members, our friends, our co-workers, and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Focusing solely on what you need without considering the needs of others will get you nowhere in any relationship and that even includes the church.  Self-centeredness gets us nowhere in growing in our relationships with each other or in growing our relationship with God.

Now divorce is one unfortunate product of sin and the brokenness of this world.  There are many different reasons why people get divorced, but the root of all of these reasons is sin.  We live in a broken world in which we cannot uphold the perfection that was happening in the Garden of Eden.  We cannot have a perfect relationship with God or a perfect relationship with each other.  We live in a different world than God originally intended it to be because of our sin.

And it is out of our sin that causes us to be self-centered, greedy, and long to know who is the greatest.  This is what the disciples were doing before Jesus does this teaching on divorce.  They were arguing among themselves who was the greatest of the twelve.  And then on top of that, they now were sternly telling people to not bother Jesus with these children.  That’s sin.  Let’s face it.  We all think rather highly of ourselves to some degree; whether we think we are better than people who have more problems in life, or we think we are better because we live a simpler life than others, or we think that we are better because we come to church more than others.  We all are competitive and think that we are greater than someone else in something.

And this may be true, in this life, on this earth.  But this world is not your home.  Your home is with God in the Garden of Eden.  And God sees you as His children.  He doesn’t see you as cute, little, innocent children who are just adorable.  I mean c’mon.  Let’s be real with each other.  Look around at each other.  None of us are cute, little, innocent children who are adorable.  We are broken, flawed, sinful, self-centered children of God who are messy, dirty, smelly, and stress inducing creatures.  So when Jesus says, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”[3]  He is not meaning that God welcomes all of you dirty, smelly children into His kingdom.  No, God welcomes you in spite of your messiness and your smelliness and your brokenness.  Jesus took all of your flaws, all of your sin, all of your self-centered focus and He took it to the cross.  So why does Jesus say, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”?[4]  Because children know that they need help; they can’t do everything on their own.  And when they are given the help they need, they know that what they have been given it is good.  When we get older, we become so independent that we become unwilling to take help from anyone.  We see it as charity and we are better than those who need charity.  Well my friends, GRACE IS CHARITY.  You will never be in a position in which you can save yourself from the brokenness of this world, not even divorce or glorifying yourself to the top of a pedestal.  The only way for you to be saved, is for Jesus to take you in all your brokenness, to acknowledge that you are a broken, sinful child of God who has not lived up to God’s expectations, and to love you ANYWAY!  Confess your sins to God and to one another and receive God’s grace – which is a free gift that is freely given to you, with no strings attached and there is nothing that you can bring to God in return.

You all are God’s children and are in need of constant care and assistance.  You can’t go through life alone.  And that’s just the way God wants you to be.  He wants you to be completely dependent on him.  Solely relying on God’s grace and guidance to sustain you in this life until Jesus commands you to come out of the grave and see the fullness of God and the restoration of the Garden of Eden.  Until that day, trust the guiding work of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Matthew 5:27-28, NRSV

[2] Mark 10:11-12, NRSV

[3] Mark 10:14, NRSV

[4] Ibid