Completely Dependent on God

Readings for the day (Maundy Thursday – Thursday, March 24, 2016):

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

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

 

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus has one last meal with His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion.  During this meal, Jesus not only institutes (or begins) what we know as the Last Supper, but He also washes His disciples’ feet.  I feel that we probably would react in a very similar way to Peter.  We are a lot like Peter in that we are very prideful, especially in the rural areas.  We are prideful of who we are and what we have; our stuff.  We don’t want to receive handouts.  We don’t want to ask for help.  For when we do ask for help we are admitting that we are in need of someone else.  We like being independent, not having to depend on others.  It is our culture to be independent.  We’ve been raised to be independent.

And when we admit that we need help it feels like we are a failure; that we have failed at something.  Too many times I have seen people who really are in need of help whether it is for mental illness, depression, bipolar, or addiction to drugs or alcohol, but are too prideful to get the help they need.  Many times we don’t want to admit we need help because when we do seek help, it comes across as a failure; that we have failed.  I wonder if that is what Peter is thinking when Jesus kneels down at his feet.

Jesus stands up from the table after they have been eating, wraps a towel around his waist, and kneels down like a servant.  This was a job of a low-class citizen; not someone of Jesus’ status.  And yet Jesus kneels down before the disciples and washes their feet.  Peter rejects this; he rejects Jesus washing his feet.  Even though his feet do need cleaning he doesn’t want Jesus doing it.  He can do it himself or there is someone else of a lower status to do that.  But Jesus kneels down anyway, showing Peter just how he truly needs our Lord’s help.

The same thing is true for us.  I think that the reason why we are so prideful and not wanting to seek out or accept help is because when we receive help for something, it shows our sin.  It acknowledges that we can’t do everything.  When I was nearing the age to drive, I was so excited.  Oh, the freedom, the independence that I was going to get.  When I got my license I could just drive.  I was no longer completely dependent on my parents or other people to bring me where I needed to go.  I could just go.  I think that I take that independence a bit for granted now.  If I want to go somewhere I can just grab the car keys and go.  Sunday afternoon we decided to go out for pizza in preparation for the Holy Week ahead.  We had the night free so we decided to just go.  It was a spur the moment thing and we just went.  Granted it takes us awhile with two kids and making sure that we have the sippy cups and the diaper bag, but we can just go.  We are independent.

Think of a parent or grandparent or yourself.  An individual who has to give up that independence and has to once again be reliant on someone else.  They can’t just get in the car and drive.  Their reaction time or their vision isn’t well enough for them to drive anymore.  So their car keys are taken away, their independence is taken away.  They have to acknowledge that they are dependent on someone else again.  I wonder if the reason why we don’t like this is because when we acknowledge our dependence on someone else that goes completely counter cultural to who we are raised to be in America.  Plus being dependent also acknowledges our sin.  Because it is our sin that makes us dependent on someone else.  We can’t do everything because we aren’t God.  There are limits to what we can be and do as human beings.

So Peter, wanting that independence and fighting against his own sin, says, “No Lord, you will not wash my feet because I can do it myself.”  And yet it doesn’t take long for Peter to acknowledge that he is truly dependent on God.  Likewise we too are truly dependent on God because there is one thing that we cannot do on our own, and that is save ourselves from sin.  Our sin will kill us; whether it is a mistake on our part or a mistake on someone else’s part.  An accident or an unhealthy choice – we cannot save ourselves.  Our sin will kill us.  We all will die someday.  And the only one that can truly save us is Jesus.

And we see Peter getting it.  Jesus says that the only way to truly clean him is to wash his feet. That is the only way to save him.  That is the only way to save us – through Jesus.  So Jesus does wash us.  He washes us with his blood that is poured out on the cross.  He washes us clean of our sins, making us right with God once again.  And this is the hope that we grab onto in a world full of hopelessness.  In a country that is focused on independence and a mentality of “I can do it myself.”  Where is room for God?  Where is room for God in a very independent world?  Where all God asks of us is to be dependent on Him.

So just as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, He also gives them a meal.  A meal that He says will sustain them in this life because they are dependent on Him, we are dependent on Him.  There is nothing greater that can physically and spiritually sustain us in this life than this simple meal that we will share tonight; where we come to the table eating and drinking with fellow sinners.  We come up kneeling at the altar showing God our dependence on Him.  And we eat this meal.  We eat this bread and drink this wine, His body and blood to remember what He did for us, to receive His forgiveness, to show our need for a savior, to remind us of our need for a savior.  Jesus says to do this in remembrance of Him.  Yes we do it to remember what Jesus did for us, but we also do it to remind ourselves that we need God in our lives.  We can’t go through life living day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, without God present in our lives.  God gives us hope, God gives us a future.  God gives us something to look forward to.  I don’t know about you but this world can be really messed up at times, and the recent terror attacks in Belgium certainly remind us of just how troubled this world truly is.  And so I look forward to the day when this meal that we have tonight will no longer be just a foretaste of the great feast to come.  That we no longer get a little portion of bread and a little half an ounce of wine, but we get a full spread with a big glass of wine.  Because heaven is a feast and we will be dining with God and all of those saints.  This is what our understanding of this meal truly is; that we will come to the table that our Lord has set before us and we will eat and drink, giving us communion with all of those saints.  I believe I have said this before.  Traditionally in old country churches, the communion rail is in the shape of a half circle.  It is this way because the other half of the circle is on the other side of the wall where the cemetery is, where all of the faithfully departed saints are.  So when people come to the half circle communion rail, they are communing with the whole communion of saints in a full circle.  That is what we do when we come to this meal.  We get just a little glimpse into what our future holds for us.  Our future is with Jesus.  Our future is sitting at that table with our savior.  That’s our future.  That’s what we get to look forward to.  That’s our hope.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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God’s Love Shown through the Cross

Readings for the day (Palm-Passion Sunday – Sunday, March 20, 2016):

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 22:14–23:56

 

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

 

Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem quickly turns the other direction.  At one moment people are praising God with shouts of Hosanna in the highest.  But those shouts rapidly change to shouts for our Lord to be crucified.  The disciples faithfully walk by Jesus during this parade as He enters Jerusalem on a donkey, but they are nowhere to be found when Jesus stands trial.  Faithfulness becomes weak in faith and dependable becomes unreliable.  When we aren’t solid in our convictions and beliefs it becomes very easy to be swayed in another direction.  Corn stalks that are weak, easily move and even break in the wind.  But those that are strong with a solid root base are not so easily swayed.

Just as we are reminded how quickly the crowds and even the disciples (especially Peter) turned against our Lord, we too, can easily be swayed without a strong, solid foundation of faith.  Without our faith in God, we are lost and helpless individuals.

At His crucifixion, according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was left alone as He hung on the cross.  The Roman centurion was near and had something to say.  The crowd that cried out for His crucifixion was also near and had something to say.  But all of Jesus’ acquaintances stood at a distance away, quietly watching everything take place.  Today we will hear the entire account of our Lord’s Passion as told by the Apostle Luke.   The story really speaks for itself.  So there will be no message afterwards.  We are simply going to watch from a distance and listen.

This story of our Lord’s crucifixion:

is sad because Jesus died.

is graphic because of how He died.

is remorseful because of the sins that we have committed.

is humbling because His death was for you.

is grace because even though you certainly don’t deserve this kind of gift, God still willingly gave up His Son…for you!

This story of our Lord’s crucifixion is a very real, physical sign of God’s love for you.  Sit back, listen, and hear the story told of just how great God’s love is for you.  You can try to be like Peter and deny Him or avoid Him.  You can try to be like the two-faced crowd who praises Him one moment and cries out for His death the next.  But no matter how hard you try, Jesus still went to the cross and died for your sins.  Jesus hanging on the cross is not seen as a failure, but rather victory.  The cross, a sign and symbol of love.  Listen as the story of our Lord’s Passion is told showing us just how much God truly loves us.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Our Clouded Future Because of Our Past

Readings for the day (5th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 13, 2016):

Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm 126

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

 

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

 

From time to time I get the opportunity to meet with young couples who have just had a baby.  And when we meet we talk about the reasons why they want their newly born child to be baptized into the faith.  I always start these meetings off by telling these young, excited, love filled new parents that when we baptize their child we are going to kill their child – putting him or her to death.  Shock and awe is the normal response that I have come to expect after breaking the ice with this statement.  At one of those meetings I even heard, “You’re going to do WHAT?”

Death is all around us.  Turn on the news or open the newspaper and it doesn’t take long to hear or read about the ongoing death in our world.  The more often we hear of death, the more we can almost become de-sensitized to our own mortality.  Mary and Martha, good friends of Jesus, had just recently went through the pain and sorrow of watching their brother get ill, die, and then bury him.  Lazarus was also more than likely their social and financial supporter.  In their grief of the present reality and their concern for what the future holds, Jesus comes four days after Lazarus died and tells them to open his tomb.  Martha tells Jesus that the smell of death is still present even after four days.  If they open the tomb, that smell of grief and despair will just come back.  How can they possibly move forward if they keep having to relive the past?

Days later when Jesus is in Mary and Martha’s house, eating with His disciples and Lazarus, Mary takes out the anointing oil that she was probably going to use on Lazarus.  Now as they are eating, Mary opens the anointing oil and pours it not on Lazarus, but on Jesus.  The smell permeates throughout the entire house.  Our translation calls it a perfume, but this was an anointing oil that was used in the burial rituals.  So even if it had a nice smell, it still was the smell of death.  Reminding Mary and Martha of the past, when Lazarus was dead in a tomb.  It would be similar to the feeling that you get when you walk in the house and you smell fresh cookies baking in the oven.  Except in the case of Mary and Martha, the release of this smell doesn’t necessarily remind them of a good feeling.

Now this oil that is poured over dead corpses is not poured over the dead-now living Lazarus, but the soon to be crucified Jesus – the Messiah, God’s anointed One.  God’s Anointed was anointed prior to His death.  And of all the people to truly get it and understand who Jesus really is not a king or a highly educated individual, it’s not someone who has a lot of money or a very successful career.  It isn’t even one of the 12 faithful disciples of Jesus.  Rather, it is Mary, a woman who gets it.  She got it earlier too when Jesus visited them and she chose the better part of sitting at the feet of Jesus rather than working in the kitchen.  The disciples were probably all thinking it and Judas just happens to be the one to speak up and call Mary out for being wasteful.

This is the last Sunday in Lent before we begin Holy Week, and the text doesn’t focus on what Jesus did with raising Lazarus from the dead, but rather what Jesus will do when He gets to Jerusalem.  It doesn’t focus on the past, but rather on the future.  Paul tells the Philippians that there is one thing that he strives to do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.  It is hard for us to let some things go.  We like holding on to the past because the future is so uncertain.  At least with the past we know what happened.  The past – whether it is a memory or a grudge, a fault or a celebration.  No matter what the past is, we tend to hang on to those past moments.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with the past, unless it is clouding your future.  Judas wasn’t looking to the future, expect maybe to the future of his money purse which would soon have 30 pieces of silver in it.  When we dwell too much in the past, we become unable to see clearly the future that God has in store for us.  When the sky is overcast or cloudy, isn’t it harder to see if a storm is coming or not?  It is much easier to see what the future holds when it isn’t a cloudy day.

The same is true in our lives.  When we are so focused on the past, our vision becomes cloudy making it difficult to see and hear the Holy Spirit at work in our lives as we move into the future.

We don’t know what exactly the future holds for us, but two things are certain: the smell of death will come and paradise (as Paul calls it: the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus).  Jesus’ future is clear, He is headed to the cross to complete His mission of taking all of your sins unto Himself.  Jesus knows this; Mary knows this (or at least enough to anoint God’s Anointed One with the ritual anointing oil preparing a living, breathing human being for His upcoming burial).  Just as we see death all around, we too will smell and taste death one day (Lazarus even died twice).  We too, die twice – the first at our baptism when our old sinful self is drowned in the waters of baptism all for God to pull us out of those waters into new life with Him.

As you prepare yourself for Holy Week next week, what’s in your past that is clouding your future?  What is holding you back from being able to walk closer with God?  Hindsight is always 20/20, but God knows our future and it is eternal life with Him in the Resurrection on the Last Day.  Your sins have been forgiven.  Your past has been forgiven.  Look ahead and see the barren cross for our God is not dead, but alive all for your redemption.  What matters most in the future is not the past, but rather the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

The Prodigal (reckless) Son and Father

Readings for the day (4th Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 6, 2016):

Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

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

 

Today we have the parable of the prodigal son.  The parable that Jesus tells about a father who had two sons.  Now the younger son demands to have his share of the inheritance (which wouldn’t be all that much because the majority of the inheritance at this time would go to the heir of the house, the oldest son anyway).  But this punk kid demands that his father give me his inheritance, which essentially is saying that his father is dead to him.  Because after all the only way to collect an inheritance is for someone to die, but this kid’s father is still alive.  And yet he wants his father dead so that he can take the money and run.

Now the older son, the responsible son, continues to work with and for his father, doing what he is told and doesn’t complain.  Are you like that?  Trying to keep your head down – just doing what you are supposed to do and everything will turn out alright.  There is an order in how things are done and those who work will be rewarded justly.  Sounds like the American way doesn’t it.  The more you work, the more you get rewarded.  And if you screw up there are consequences for those mistakes that must be paid.

I like to believe that I’m a lot like that older son.  The responsible one.  The one that works before playing and understands that I have to work in order to earn something.  I strive to do the right thing and I get frustrated when things aren’t fair, when they aren’t just.  It’s not fair when people are treated differently based on who their family is or how much money they have.

But don’t we, as the insiders of the church, believe that we are the older son?  We like to believe that we are that older son.  The responsible one.  The chosen one.  The one that does the right thing.  We come to church.  We pray.  We receive communion.  We act as though we are holier than those unchurched people.  And it’s not fair when God welcomes the outsider.  As humans we are always looking to make sure that life is fair.  No one should be getting better treatment than another.  If you’re cutting a piece of cake for your kids or grandkids, you have to make sure that the pieces are all equal sizes, right?  Otherwise, you could have a riot on your hands.

The Pharisees are outraged that Jesus is spending more and more time with the sinners and the tax collectors and the prostitutes.  They’re thinking that if He is indeed the Messiah, He should be spending more time with them (the holy and righteous ones of Jerusalem), not these irresponsible, punk kids who don’t follow the rules, who don’t do what is asked of them.  These Pharisees can’t see why Jesus wants to be spending time with these sinners, rather than the holy and righteous religious leaders.

So He tells them this parable about the two sons.  The elder son was like these Pharisees – doing everything right and just as they have been told.  And the younger son was like these sinners and tax collectors – sinfully breaking God laws and not following the written and verbal rules of the religious leaders.  They were wild, irresponsible, and reckless (which is another word for prodigal).  They were a group of prodigal people, like the prodigal son – reckless and irresponsible with what had been given to them.

And I’m sure that you can think of some people right now who fit that description of reckless and irresponsible.  But now aren’t we too, reckless and irresponsible?  Don’t we follow the selfish ambitions of this world?  We hear that our life won’t be complete until we have the newest technology or the nicest car.  We are being forced to choose between coming to church or going to the many various activities that are happening on Sundays (even in the morning).  Plus this week I saw on Facebook people making statements that depending on who you vote for in the presidential election this November will determine if you are a Christian or not.  Oh, how we are reckless with not only our actions, but also our words.  We make statements without thinking.  We do things without thinking.  We often act like this prodigal son, wanting what is due to us immediately with no care for other people.  We act as though we are entitled to certain things based on who we know, how much money we have, or by the things that we have done.  We are prodigal.  We are reckless.  We are irresponsible.

And you know what, so is the father in this parable.  His son wanted him dead after all.  He could have easily told his son, “No I don’t know you, get away from me.”  He could have also disciplined his son, making him work off every penny that he had given him.  But instead, this father was also prodigal or reckless not with his money but with his love, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  He welcomes his son with open arms; even running (which during this time period it was culturally wrong for men to run), but he runs anyway out to greet his son.

When we come repenting of our sins and shortfalls, our Heavenly Father does the same thing.  He runs to us with open arms.  Prodigal and full of recklessness, God gives us his love, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  Something that we certainly don’t deserve, for we forget about him at times and run away at other times.  But no matter how much we try to ignore God or strive to run away from Him, He promises to always welcome us repentant sinners with open arms.

In our lives we seek out justice and fairness, but with God, He chooses to show us mercy and forgiveness rather than justice and fairness for our sins.  And He can do so because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for you on the cross.  It is at the cross where we see God’s mercy and forgiveness.  The cross itself is a symbol of justice and fairness – criminals receiving their just punishment for the mistakes they have made.  And God uses this symbol of justice and fairness to get justice for your sins and offer fairness for all of His children.  Which by the way is where your Christian identity is found, through the cross, not by who you vote for in November.  Remember that!  No matter who you vote for, you are a Christian, a child of God, because of Jesus.

We are prodigal sons and daughters because of our sin.  Our God is prodigal because of His love.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.