Spiritually Poor or Rich?

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 17, 2016):

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Luke 4:14-21

 

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

 

Prior to our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just been baptized in the river Jordan and to begin his ministry he goes to no other place than the place where he is from, the place where he grew up – Nazareth.  And while Jesus is there, like any good Jew, on the Sabbath he goes to worship in the synagogue.  And as a traveling teacher, Jesus’ visit to any town would be focused on his reading and explanation of scripture in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  And so his visit to Nazareth is no different – when it is the Sabbath day, Jesus enters the synagogue.  And when he enters, Jesus is handed the scroll with the words from the prophet Isaiah on them.  Jesus was handed the scroll and it was up to him to decide what portions of Isaiah he wanted to read to the congregation and interpret.  He chose to focus on a couple of different locations where Isaiah points to who Jesus is and what his purpose was for even coming into the world.  As Isaiah states, Jesus’ mission is to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus’ mission was to bring the good news, God’s good news to the poor.  But today’s understanding of “the poor” is people who don’t have a lot of money, who maybe don’t always have enough food, those who don’t have adequate housing.  And as a church we strive to continue carrying on Jesus’ mission to “the poor” by donating food to the food shelfs, making quilts for those who are in need of some warmth, donating money to help those in need.  All of which are significant missions of the church that we do, and all of these practices are extremely important, but I’m challenged by the phrase “to bring good news to the poor.”  Is bringing the good news of God only for those who are in a financial hardship?  Is the good news only for those who are down on their luck?  Certainly those in financial hardships need some good news, I don’t think “the poor” is only referring to a lack of money, food or shelter.  What if “the poor” that Jesus is referring to is not a homeless person, but a person without a church home?  What if “the poor” is not a malnourished person, but a person starving for the Word of God, the body and blood of Christ?  What if “the poor” is not a person without money, but a person without an awareness or relationship with God?  Jesus came to bring good news to these people – to give them spiritual shelter in the church, to nourish them through God’s Word, and encourage growth in a relationship with God.

Jesus proclaims that he was sent to release the captives.  Certainly “the poor” that Jesus refers to are captives, but we too are captives – captives to sin that is.  We say in our confession, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”  Sin has a firm grip on us and no matter how much or how little we try, those chains of sin don’t go away.  They might loosen a little at times to give us some hope, but we are bound to our sin, unable to free ourselves.

This is why Jesus not only came to proclaim or speak a word of release to the captives, but to restore our sight so that we might see God clearly at work in our lives and to free us from the bondage of sin and evil.  That’s what Jesus did for you on the cross.  He willingly became a captive to my sin and your sin in order to loosen those chains of bondage to once and for all free us from that sin that clung so closely.

And Jesus did not just do this for you, he also did it for “the poor”.  He did this for the homeless person living life without a church to call home.  He did this for the malnourished person who finds themselves starving for something to fill that void in their life but they don’t know what that void is.  He did this for the person who is unaware of God’s presence, his love, his mercy, his grace.  Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s only Son died on the cross and rose again all so that those who are captive to their sin, may be freed to live their life to God.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left the mission that he started with his disciples, THE CHURCH!  This is Christ’s mission.  Therefore this is our mission as well – to proclaim the Good News of God to “the poor.”  Those who are spiritually homeless.  Those who are spiritually hungry.  Those who are spiritually unaware.  They all are in need of the Good News and they all exist in our community.  The spiritually homeless, the spiritually hungry, the spiritually unaware.  Christ is calling his church to continue his mission in proclaiming this good news that through Jesus the captives of sin are freed and the spiritually blind are given sight.

And Jesus did all of this to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Jesus could very well be referring to the Jubilee Year that is talked about in the Old Testament.  The Jubilee Year occurred every fifty years in Israel.  During this year, the land would be given a year of rest (so no crops would be planted), all of the debts that you owed or that was owed to you was to be forgiven, and all of the slaves were to be freed.  That certainly was the year of the Lord’s favor, for Jesus had come into the world to forgive all of your sins or your debts and to free you from the slavery in which you were bound to Satan because of your sin.

Now just as all of the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus after he read those words from Isaiah, we not only look at Jesus with the eyes of our bodies, but the eyes of our souls.  Fix your eyes on Christ and Christ alone.  For it is in Christ and only in Christ that you are freed and forgiven.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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The Wedding Feast with No End!

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 10, 2016):

Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36:5-10

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

John 2:1-11

 

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

 

Weddings are a big deal in our country today.  They take a great deal of planning, financing, and stress.  There are cultural expectations that young couples and their families feel that have to be met.  Weddings of Jesus’ time certainly didn’t look like the weddings that we see today, but even 2,000 years ago there were cultural expectations that young couples and their families had to satisfy.  One being the party, or the reception.  This party would go on for seven days.  Can you even imagine, planning the food, the drinks, and the entertainment for all of your guests for seven days?  We stress about planning a wedding reception that lasts one evening.  Plus if the food or the drinks ran out before the party was over, it was embarrassing for the family and it didn’t look good for the newly married couple.

We don’t know when this happened, but sometime during the party the wine runs out.  “They have no wine,” Mary exclaims.  And Jesus out of great respect for his mother says, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”  Jesus’ address to his mother is out of great respect which we hear in this text at the wedding in Cana and also when Mary appears again in John’s Gospel at the end when he is hanging on the cross and says to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  “My hour has not yet come,” Jesus says.  It appears as though Mary is confused by what Jesus’ purpose is.  Was his purpose as the Son of God to be a wine maker or to save people from their sins?  Nevertheless, as her son, Jesus honors his mother’s request and he does turn all six of those stone jars into 120 to 150 gallons of delicious wine.  He saved the family from embarrassment and made the party even better with superior wine towards the end of the party.

Many use this miracle as a reason to drink alcohol, saying, “Jesus’ first miracle was making wine, so it’s okay.”  But if that is all we take away from this story, we have missed the point.  It is not what Jesus has made, but what Jesus has shown.  And Jesus has shown what that heavenly banquet is going to be like.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus describes heaven as a wedding banquet – a never ending wedding reception.  Heaven is basically going to be one big party that never ends.  And with any good party, you have a host and a reason for partying (whether it be a birthday or a wedding or a anniversary or a retirement).  In this case, Jesus is the host of the party and in heaven we will be celebrating a marriage – a marriage of Christ (who is the groom) and us, the church (who is often referred to as the bride).

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus becomes the host and serves the best wine.  He shows us that in life our wine is constantly running out and when it does, it can be embarrassing.  When the wine gives out, the party turns into a real bummer of a party doesn’t it?  When you lose your job, get diagnosed with cancer, bury a loved one, watch the season come to a crashing end as the football misses the uprights.  Life is like a party too, but it’s like a party that has okay wine that never seems to be enough.  We enjoy it for a while, but sooner or later the wine will run out and we will try to fill that void with something – we look for a new job, we find a new hobby, some turn to drugs or alcohol.  Whatever we fill that void with, never seems to be perfect – it works, but it certainly isn’t the best.

But the best is coming – the never ending wedding banquet is coming.  Soon we won’t have to worry about the embarrassment of running out of something.  Soon we won’t have worry about the aches and pains of this life, and the voids that we strive to fill.  For at that great heavenly banquet, the wine will never run out, we will not be laid off from being one of God’s own children, and cancer and death of loved ones will be a thing of the past.

As we wait to be greeted at the wedding banquet, Jesus has given us a foretaste of that heavenly feast that is to come.  It was no mistake that Jesus used those six stone jars that were used for the Jewish purification rite.  Jesus takes this old purification rite for cleansing the body and soul and points us to the new purification rite for cleansing our soul – which is found only in the blood that he shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  When Moses was in Egypt, the first miracle that he did was to turn the water of the Nile into blood.  Moses is a symbol of God’s Law.  Now, Jesus, the bearer of God’s love and forgiveness, has fulfilled God’s Law with his first miracle in Cana as he turned water into wine.  And this wine is the best wine because this wine is Jesus’ blood that is shed on the cross for the redemption and forgiveness of your sins.

Many people this week looked to the Powerball to save them from their wine running out.  Others look to a new face in the oval office come next year.  No matter where we look or who we turn to, unless it is Christ himself, our satisfaction will always be temporary.

Jesus is preparing for his wedding banquet and when all is ready, we all will be called to join him where we can relax and peacefully enjoy dining at the table with our Savior – where the food will be excellent, the wine superior, and the company enjoyable.  For we will be reunited with all of those faithful saints and we will join them at the table of our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Are you a remnant?

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday of Christmas – Sunday, January 3, 2016):

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.

 

The people of Israel were exiled, taken away from their homes to live in a foreign land, with foreign customs, and foreign traditions.  The remnant that Jeremiah speaks to is the remaining faithful who still do what they can to praise God and follow His commands.  With fewer and fewer people coming to church or even placing their faith in God, it can feel as though we are the remnant of Christianity here in this place – remnant meaning a small remaining quantity.  We may not be in exile, but it can sure feel like we are the last remaining few faithful followers of Jesus that are here.  Friends and family have moved away to bigger cities.  There is no longer a grocery store in town.  Our school has been taken away.  And we are one of only two churches left in town.  This isn’t exile, but whatever it is, it doesn’t feel good, does it.  It’s hopeless.  It’s depressing.  It’s disheartening.

The Israelites felt this too when they were in exile for 70 years.  They lost their jobs, their homes, their way of life.  And when there is loss in your life, it becomes very easy to feel hopeless, to feel depressed, to feel abandoned.  It’s like being a little congregation in a small rural community.  When you’re living in a community of 25,000 people and a grocery store or any business for that matter closes, it’s no big deal because there’s bound to be others just like it in the area.  But when you live in a small town like ours and the grocery store or any other business closes, you feel it.  There is great loss.  Feelings of hopelessness and depression creep in as we look at the outlook of our community and think about the future of our church.  All we can remember and talk about is the glory days and what life used to be like.  That remnant of Israel in exile longed for what life used to be like.  They longed for restoration and for God to just hit the undo button.  But it doesn’t work that way, does it?  We can’t undo the parts of our lives that we don’t like.  Even God tried to undo the biggest problem of all, sin, by having Noah build the ark and flooding the world.

But sin remains and so does God.  That’s why Jeremiah delivers this message from God to the remnant of Israel, “Sing aloud and give praise for the remnant of Israel will be gathered together and shall return to their homeland.”  God wanted the remaining faithful Israelites to know that He had not forgotten about them.  That He was going to end their suffering.  That He was going to lead them out of exile and bring them back to their homeland once again.  Their lives would be restored, but different.  God’s restoration is not a rewind button.  God doesn’t undo things that have happened.  Instead He continually works in and through our problems to give us hope, to give us light.

That’s actually what the Gospel of the Incarnation, the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel, is all about.  It is all about how God has always been in existence from the beginning.  And from the beginning, God has been working on bringing light to all people in the midst of their lives that are darkened by their sin.  And so the only way to truly and completely save us from our sin is for God to become flesh, live among us, and take all of our sins unto Himself.  By doing so, Jesus gives us His light and this light cannot be overcome by darkness.

This is hope that you can rely on.  Jeremiah tells the Israelites that all will be merry with rejoicing and dancing for God will turn their mourning into joy.  He will comfort them and give them gladness.  Through Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, you can have hope that God is present with you now.  He is working in and through the darkest places of your life – whether it is health problems, financial concerns, spiritual doubts, or uncertain of the future – no matter the issue, God is here.  God is present with you.  God will turn your mourning into joy.  He will comfort you.  He will give you gladness because all who believe in his name have been given the authority to become His children.  You are a baptized child of God and because of that you can have hope in your future.  You can have hope in the future of your community.  And you can have hope in the future of your church, Christ’s church, for God was in the beginning way before any of us or this congregation was in existence.

It is because of this child’s birth that we not only celebrate Christmas, but celebrate our God becoming flesh and giving us hope.  Hope that even the remnant of Ceylon/Welcome will be restored and given new life.  Hope that Christ’s light will shine and not be overcome by the darkness of our lives.  Hope that this sometimes glorious, sometimes painful and unpleasant life will one day be filled with the goodness and promises that we have been told – that our lives will be like watered gardens, never languishing or suffering again.

This God that you worship and claim to believe in took on flesh like you and me all with you in mind.  We all have been exiled from the Garden of Eden because of our sin, but God took on flesh and became human in order to take you out of the exile caused by your sin, and restore you to your homeland, in the garden.  Until that day, continue living your life as the remnant, but not as a remnant without hope.  For you all do have hope, you all do have a future with God because of Jesus.  Merry Christmas!  Amen!

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.