Worthy of Little, Worth A Lot

Readings for the day (Lectionary 9 – Sunday, May 29, 2016):

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

Psalm 96:1-9

Galatians 1:1-12

Luke 7:1-10

 

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

 

So how much are you worth?  Are you worth a lot, worth a little, worth just the right amount?  But how do you determine how much you are worth?  Because there are different ways of determining how much you are worth.  Some of you might be thinking of how much you are worth to your employer or to what you contribute to society as a whole, such as the crops you grow, the pigs you raise, the money you donate, the time you volunteer in the community.  We could label this type of worth as how much of value you are to someone else.

My financial management software tells me of another way in how much I’m worth.  The software adds up all of my assets and subtracts my liabilities, the debts that I owe, and it will tell me what my net worth is – financially how much of value I am.  We all have a financial net worth.  How much is your net worth?  Is it a positive one; meaning if you added up the value of everything that you have and minus everything that you owe someone else, do you still come out ahead with a positive balance?  Or are you like me and have a negative net worth?  By adding in my student loans, my financial software reminds me every month that I have a negative net worth; meaning I owe more than I have.  So according to this world’s standards, I’m not worth very much.

Do you feel like you have a negative net worth or maybe that you are not worth much?  If so, you’re not alone.  There are a lot of people in our world today that feel this way.  They feel like they aren’t worth much – that they aren’t worthy.  In Luke’s Gospel today we hear of this centurion (who is a Roman officer).  One of his slaves has become deathly ill.  The centurion considered this slave of high value, the slave was worth a lot to him.  So he seeks out the one person that he has heard who has the ability to save his worthy slave.  And yet, he sends Jewish elders to go talk to Jesus because he himself doesn’t feel like he is worthy enough to stand in the presence of Jesus.

Are you worthy enough to stand in the presence of Jesus?  We may tally up how many times we have come to church (especially on a holiday weekend) and say, “I’m worthy.”  Or count up all of the good things that we have done from helping others, to donating our money, to how involved we have been in the church and we say, “Yes, I’m worthy; and especially more worthy than my neighbor.”  Mentally this becomes a numbers game.  As if to say that the ones who say the most prayers, the ones who help the most people, and the ones who give the most money to the church, are worthier than all the others, at least before the eyes of God.

We like to keep score.  We like to know where we are and how we compare to each other.  Maybe it is a numbers game and the score is being kept; that our total net worth does matter.  If that is the case, then I’m not the only one here that has a negative net worth (and now I’m not talking about my student loans).  I’m talking about your sins.  The gossiping that you do.  The rumors that you start (or spread).  The manipulation that you cause.  The selfish decisions that you make.  The spiritual score that you try to keep amongst each other.  God is keeping score, and he is adding up all of your sins.  The game’s not over yet, and currently your spiritual net worth is so far in the red that you will never be able to get yourself in the black.  It will be impossible.

We don’t know exactly why the centurion felt unworthy of standing in the presence of Jesus, but maybe he felt that since he wasn’t a Jew, part of the house of Israel, that he must have a negative net worth – that he is unworthy of being near Jesus because he was an outsider, a foreigner.  Sometimes I think that this centurion is more faithful than I am.  He knew who he was and figured that he wasn’t worthy.  I know who I am and figure that I must be worthy of something.  But the truth is, is that we all are in the red, sitting here with a negative net worth.  Because of our sins, we aren’t worthy of anything.  And yet, the blood of Christ has turned your red to black, your negative balance to a positive one.

In God’s eyes, you are seen as worthy.  Worthy of saving.  Worthy of forgiveness.  Worthy of love.  When the centurion sends some Jewish elders to plead with Jesus to come and heal the centurion’s servant, he does so because he feels unworthy.  Unworthy of saving.  Unworthy of forgiveness.  Unworthy of love.  And yet, it is this unworthy, Roman, foreign, outsider that Jesus marvels at, who he is amazed by the faith that this man has.  This is the only time in all of the Gospels that Jesus is astonished by something a human being does.  All other times that this word appears is in reference to humans being amazed.  But here, God is the one who is amazed.  Amazed by the faith of this centurion.  Amazed that he didn’t believe that he was worthy of anything.  And yet through the work that Jesus did on the cross, this centurion’s unworthiness is now worth something.  His spiritual net worth was in the red, but through the blood of Christ, the red has turned to black.  Our sins have been washed away.  Our unworthiness has been forgotten.  You are worthy of something.  You are worthy of being saved, of being forgiven, of being loved.  Certainly not because of anything that you have done, but solely because of what Jesus has done for you.

This world may indeed remind you over and over again that you are worth very little.  But no matter how we are keeping score, God is keeping score in another way – by counting your sins.  Except the tallies go on Jesus rather than you.  You are saved.  You are forgiven.  You are loved, by God.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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A Peaceful Future

Readings for the day (Holy Trinity Sunday – Sunday, May 22, 2016):

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Psalm 8

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

 

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

 

Oh my, our political world sure is anything but perfect, isn’t it?  This presidential race has been a wild one already and it appears that everyone is bracing themselves for it to get even crazier as the months go on.  Politics and perfection.  Two words that no one said, ever.

We have a billionaire who is rude, arrogant, and thinks that he holds the golden ticket to making America great again (as if to say that America was great at some time).  And we have an old guy who wants the government to just do everything for us.  He wants to take more of our money and redistribute it, but apparently he and the government are better at distributing the wealth in this country in a fair way.  And we have a lady who spends most of her time having to defend her family and her past questionable actions, and yet has time to run for president.  Perfection, yep, just the word that I would use to describe our presidential candidates this year.  None of the above keeps sounding like a better option every day.

When we look at the world that we live in, and not just the political world, it is terrifying, isn’t it?  Especially for our children and grandchildren.  With so many uncertainties in this world, it’s never comforting to see a stage of life come to an end, such as graduating from high school.  There is peace in knowing what is expected of you and what to expect with each new day.  But after graduation, you enter into a new stage of life, an unknown, uncertain stage – which is exciting and terrifying.

This new stage of life will probably be uncertain at times, maybe it is right now, but one thing is certain – it won’t be perfect.  We long for perfection, but we never quite reach it.

We long for children to cooperate for a “nice” family picture – as though the picture will be able to show that our family is perfect, that our life is perfect; which is a lie.

We try to protect our children and grandchildren from the sufferings of this world.  As a parent, I try to do the same thing.  For his birthday, our son got a bicycle.  And it didn’t take him long figure out how to operate the bike.  Before we knew it, he was make circles on the driveway.  Life was good.  He had his bike.  He knew how to ride it.  And the training wheels are all the way down so the risk of falling off is really low.  Perfect…that is until he discovered that the handicap ramp at the church makes for an excellent bike ramp.  He has fallen a few times, and when he does, he picks himself up, gets back on the bike, and rides down the ramp again.  It’s not perfect, but life isn’t perfect.  You will fall.  You will get hurt.  You need to pick yourself back up and try again.

Society has gotten so obsessed with perfection that we have to give out participation ribbons to everyone – that way no one gets their feelings hurt and feel like they aren’t mommy or daddy’s perfect little angel.

When I’m counseling couples before they get married, one of the questions that gets asked of them is to agree or disagree with this statement: “Nothing could cause me to question my love for my partner.”  Most couples say that this statement is true.  That it will never be possible for me to question my love for my partner.  Implying that their relationship is perfect and that their marriage and love for each other will always be perfect.

Well, reality is that our lives are not perfect.  This world is not perfect.  People are not perfect.  We live in a broken world that has both winners and losers, relationships that fail, mistakes that are made, promises that are broken, and countries that are anything but great.

So we suffer, we endure the pains, the disappointments, the political nightmare that we all see coming to us this fall.  Not because we want to, but because we have no other choice – this is how live is.  There is suffering in the world.  We can’t get away from it.  On our own, our lives are not perfect – they never have been, and they never will be – on our own.

And God knew of the imperfection of His creation.  Think about what God must have been thinking when He was being nailed to the cross, by His own creation – His own creation turning against Him.  Like getting stabbed in the back by a friend.  And yet, through Christ’s perfection, we can and do have hope for the future.  Hope that one day relationships won’t fail anymore, mistakes won’t be made anymore, we won’t have to question our love for our spouse or children or parents or friends, promises are always kept and honored, and we will not only be great but made perfect through Christ.

Paul says that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  Without faith in Jesus our future is grim – just suffering with no hope, no hope in the future, no hope in each other, no hope in God; just suffering.  But since we have been justified by faith in Jesus, and we have not be justified by the imperfect works that we do, we have peace with God.  That’s our future.  That’s what our hope for the future will be – peace with God.  And this hope for a peaceful future with God will not disappoint us.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Coincidence or the Holy Spirit?

Readings for the day (Day of Pentecost – Sunday, May 15, 2016):

Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:24-35

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17

 

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

 

Today is Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, the day in which the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church.  We celebrate with red because the coming of the Holy Spirit is described as wind and fire.

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit).  The one most often overlooked, or ignored usually because He is so challenge to understand.  God the Father, and Jesus the Son is a lot easier to understand.  And yet, the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives is so important.

For their faith statements, we ask the confirmands each year to tell of a story in their life where the Holy Spirit has been present.  Many struggle with answering this question because many struggle with understanding God’s presence with us through the Spirit.  So, often we hear people talk about coincidences.  You know, those moments in our lives that just happen to work out.  We can’t really explain how or why, so we just call it a coincidence.

I used to believe in coincidences; things that just happened.  “I must have just been lucky,” I’d say.  And that is exactly what I said when ended up with appendicitis and requiring emergency surgery within 3 days of returning from traveling abroad for a month.  I called myself lucky; lucky I came back home when I did.  Because of course God had no part of ensuring my safety when I traveled, nor did He play any role in ensuring I had good medical care available when I needed it.  Yeah, I was just lucky.  Like this was all on me.  I chose when to get appendicitis.  Or I could have known when I was going to get sick and so I arranged my travel dates accordingly.

Of course that’s not how it works.  God was a work through all of that.  He didn’t make me sick, but He sure worked through that situation.  And how can we possibly understand God at work in our lives?  No other way except by and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  You know, the Spirit that was given to you at the font when you were baptized.  Faith and Payton when you were baptized in the name of the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) you were given a promise from God, that He would be with you always; not sometimes, not whenever He felt like it, not only when it is convenient for Him, but always and forever!  And God is with you always through the Holy Spirit.  When you need Him and when you don’t think you need Him.  When you need Him the most and when you don’t want Him at all.  Always means never ended.

Now when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on that first Pentecost Day, the apostle Peter stood before the crowd and proclaimed God’s Word about the Holy Spirit.  He said that when the Holy Spirit is poured out on His Sons and Daughters that the young shall see visions and the old shall dream dreams and all shall prophesy.  That means that since your baptism, you have been called to prophesy.  This doesn’t mean predicting the future, but rather being a truth-teller.  Tell the truth of what God has done for you in your life.  Tell how the Holy Spirit has been present in your day to day lives.  This role of prophesy isn’t just for the prophets or other people of the Bible; it’s not just for pastors and Bible camp counselors – it’s the role of God’s children.  If you’re one of God’s children, you have a role to play in declaring God’s presence in your lives through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

The more I see these “coincidences,” the more I realize just how actively present the Holy Spirit is in my life and in the lives of the people around me.  From people getting laid off and that turning out to be one of the best things to happen, to making an inquirery about something that sheds light on a much bigger issue that can get resolved before larger problems result.  The Holy Spirit is certainly at work in our lives and we don’t have to look to hard to find Him.

God promises to always be right there with us and for us.  He promises us that when we pray, He’ll hear us.  When we read and listen to His Word, He’ll answer us.  When we make mistakes and not faithfully follow Him, He’ll forgive us.  When we put our faith and trust in Him, He’ll nourish us, helping us to grow in our relationship with Him.

Faith and Payton, you might think that today is the end; that you have finally made it to the end of confirmation – you’ve done all of the classes and sermon notes, faith statements and faith conversations and it’s time to celebrate your accomplishments.  Except now that the foundation for your faith has been laid, the hard work is now just beginning for you – it’s called prophesying.  And it is hard work that we all are trying to do.

Yes we known that Jesus died on the cross and rose from grave to save the world from sin and death.  But the fact that we are still talking about it and that the church is still in existence nearly 2,000 years later, tells me that God isn’t done yet.  If He was, Jesus rising on that first Easter morning would have been the end.  But it wasn’t, the church is still here, we are still here (God’s children), and the message about God’s love, forgiveness, trustworthiness, and guidance still needs to be prophesied in a world and especially in our community that is becoming increasingly less believers of God and what He has done for us.  If you’ve been baptized, you’re a child of God.  If you’re a child of God, you’re called to prophesy and tell of where the Holy Spirit is present in your life.  We do this all so that those who don’t believe may come to believe in the one true God, who is merciful and full of unconditional love for His children.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Ascending Among the Dead

Readings for the day (7th Sunday of Easter (Ascension Day Texts) – Sunday, May 8, 2016):

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

 

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 our Easter celebration and another season of Easter.  Next Sunday is Pentecost where we will celebrate and give thanks to God for His gift of the Holy Spirit to us.  Now you may not have even realized it, but this past Thursday was a special day for the church.  It was Ascension Day; the day that the church acknowledges and observes Jesus’ ascent back into heaven to be once again seated at the right hand of the Father.  At the beginning of Acts, we are told that after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days.  This past Thursday was the 40th day of Easter.

The church has been observing Ascension Day as far back as the fourth or fifth century; which is all well and good, except most of us (myself including) didn’t think much of last Thursday as anything special.  We tend to forget about Ascension Day.  So as I was thinking about this, I kept asking myself the question, “Why did Jesus ascend?  What’s the big deal?”  If Jesus would not have ascended after His resurrection, then the Holy Spirit would not have come.  Jesus tells His disciples that the only way for the Holy Spirit to come is for Him to return to the Father.  So maybe only one person of the Trinity can be present at a time.  And the Holy Spirit does not come in the flesh like Jesus did, so the Holy Spirit is not limited to human abilities.  Yes Jesus was God, but we also confession Jesus to be fully human, which implies that His ministry and outreach was limited to what He could do as a human.  But the Holy Spirit, described as moving like wind or fire, has the freedom to go wherever, and is not limited by any bodily form.

Now in the Bible there are two accounts of Jesus’ ascension, one at the end of Luke’s Gospel, and the other at the beginning of the Book of Acts.  What’s interesting about this is that these two books, Luke and Acts, are written by the exact same person.  Both are written by the apostle Luke.  Luke’s Gospel is volume one of a two volume series, with Acts being that second volume.  At the end of his gospel account, Luke makes it sound like Jesus’ ascent back to heaven happened on Easter Day.  All of the events that are accounted at the end of the gospel appear to be happening on the same day, the day Jesus was raised from the dead.  Then at the beginning of Acts (remember – same author), says that Jesus ascended to the Father 40 days after His resurrection.

This is all well and good, and next Sunday we will celebrate and give thanks to God for His gift of the Holy Spirit to us, but the two men in white robes who spoke with the apostles after Jesus ascended talked about Jesus’ descent from heaven in the future.  Some days though, isn’t that future seem so far off?  So far off that it appears unattainable?  Talking about our future, just look at what our future holds – Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will probably be our next president.  Talk about an uncertain future.  We’re unsure of what the markets and the crop prices are going to do.  And we certainly don’t know how the Vikings will do this coming season, but I sure hope it is better than the season the Twins are having this year.

With uncertainty in our near future, it becomes easy to say our future with God is uncertain, too.  We struggle at times from just getting from one day to the next.  We can’t remember our Lord’s ascension (myself included).  And when our loved ones die, it’s easy to think that they’re gone forever; we’re never going to see them again.  Except that isn’t true.  The hope that we have in our future with God is that we will be with our loved ones again in the resurrection to come.  And our Lord’s Ascension shows us a glimpse into that future.

When Jesus ascended back into heaven to be with the Father, Luke tells us in his second volume (Acts), that where Jesus was at with His apostles when He ascended was at the Mount of Olives.  Now that’s a familiar place, we’ve heard of that before.  Jesus would often gather there with His disciples to pray, rest, or teach.  I didn’t know this before, but since King David’s time, the Mount of Olives has been a chosen burial place for many; including prophets and kings.  Today the Mount of Olives has around 150,000 people buried there.

With this information, our understanding of Jesus’ ascension from a cemetery changes how I think about His ascension.  Luke says in Acts, regarding Jesus’ ascension, “While Jesus was going and the disciples were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  Jesus ascended back into heaven not just among the living, but also among the dead.  And we are promised that when Jesus comes back again that he will come back in the same way, specifically among the living and the dead.  Even in death we can be certain of our future.  Our future, even in death, will be one with God.  And when Jesus does come back He has promised to raise us and all of the dead, with new restored bodies and we will live with God and be his people.

Ascension Day, may certainly be a day that we overlook during our busy weeks, but for our future with God it is definitely an important day for us.  Jesus ascended from a cemetery to return to our heavenly Father so that God could be with all of us through the Holy Spirit until the day when Jesus returns to open all of the graves in order to raise us all to new life with God in paradise.  Yea, Ascension Day isn’t just another day; it’s a glimpse into our future, our future with God.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Companionship

Readings for the day (6th Sunday of Easter – Sunday, May 1, 2016):

Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

 

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

 

I want to talk to you this morning about being alone and companionship.  Do you like being alone?  Getting some quiet time alone, away from everyone?  I need that from time to time.  I like being around people, but there come these times in life where I just want to be alone.  Usually this is when I haven’t got a break all day, or maybe even all week.  There’s times where I just want to be out in my woodshop, alone, working on a project that’s mine and I don’t have to worry about finding that toy for my child or getting a snack ready for my other son.  And sometimes don’t you just feel that desire to hide the phone somewhere in the house that you can’t find it (or more so, so that it can’t find you)?

Being alone can be a comforting thing, in the short term.  But over time doesn’t loneliness set in and being alone gets kinda old?  When I went off to college, I was so excited for the possibilities that awaited me, a new school, a new town, new people to meet, my own place, my own rules.  I was on my own and I was ready to concur the world.  Except it didn’t take long to realize that being alone wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.  It was lonely.  It was isolating.  Why would anyone want to be alone for an extended period of time?  I mean, really, it’s not that much fun.

These disciples are worried of exactly that.  They are worried about being alone.  Their scared.  Jesus tells them that he will be leaving them.  They’re going, “Wait, it’s only been three years.  You can’t leave yet.  We’re not ready.  We’re not ready to be alone.  It’s too soon.”

We get that way too don’t we?  Whether it is a child moving away from home, or your boss being on vacation for a week, your parent or spouse being away for a couple nights, or a spouse or close friend dying.  We don’t like being alone.  We’re not ready to be alone.  It’s too soon.  Maybe for a short time it is nice to have some alone time to recharge, re-energize, but we actually were never intended to be alone.  Even when God made Adam, he made Eve so that Adam would not be alone – he would have a companion in this life.  God doesn’t intend for us to be alone.  That’s why people who live alone might have a pet, or two, or twelve.  Parents who become empty nesters tend to replace their children with a dog or a cat.  Not because they need to replace their child, but in order to replace that hole in their lives that their child had filled…companionship.  It is human nature to need companionship.  Those who do live alone usually aren’t home all that much, because they are out surrounding themselves with other people.

I didn’t have a roommate the first couple years of college, and I quickly realized how awesome that was, but also how incredibly lonely it can be.  So I ended up only being in my dorm room to sleep, otherwise I was never home.  I was always out doing something with friends – my companions.

These disciples are scared because their companion said that he will be leaving them.  But Jesus told them that they don’t have to fear because when he leaves, another companion, an advocate or helper will be with them – the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit will teach you and will remind you and will be with you giving you the peace of Christ.  So you don’t have to let your hearts be troubled.  You don’t have to be afraid – for you will never be alone.  You are never alone.  You have always had a companion with you – since the day you were baptized.

Derek, Todd, Sami, and Caelyn, on the day you were baptized, the Holy Spirit, your advocate and companion was given to you.  Today you still have this advocate and companion.  He will never, ever leave you.  Our earthly companions come and go.  Sometimes as quickly as the blowing of the wind.  And that’s life.  We live in a broken world that is full of the antonyms for companionship: divorce, hostility, separation.  This is what our broken world thinks of companionship…imperfect, flawed, damaged companionship.

Throughout your life there are people who are very good companions and then there are others who, well…aren’t stellar.  Our companionship with each other fails because of sin.  And all the more reason to keep and maintain your relationship with Jesus.  For His faithfulness and His companionship will never fail you.  You may choose to walk away and be the less than stellar companion in this relationship, but Jesus never walks away from you.  If Jesus would have walked away from you, He would have walked away from the cross and left you to pay the punishment for your sin.  But He didn’t, even though He could have, He didn’t.

And because Jesus went to go be with the Father in Heaven, He said that the Advocate, the Helper, the Companion, would be given to us, His disciples.  This companion is the Holy Spirit, and He was given to you in your baptism.  So you’re not alone.  You have a helper, a guide, an advocate (someone who speaks to God on your behalf).  God never intended for you to be alone.  You have God’s Holy Spirit.  You have your brothers and sisters in Christ who are your companions, your supports, your helpers.  The Holy Spirit works through us to care for, support, and bring peace to each other.

An African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  We need companionship.  We need each other.  If you want to go somewhere quickly, go alone, forget the companionship, ignore the people that care about you, and ignore God; you’ll probably get there faster (wherever it is that you are going).  But if you want to go far, go together – go with the people who care about you, go with your brothers and sisters in Christ, go with God; and you will indeed go far.  The church is a family, full of companions.  If you try going through life alone, you might get somewhere quickly, but you certainly won’t get far without the church and without God.

So on that Last Day, when the fulfillment of your baptismal promises come.  God will be seated on His throne.  We will see God’s face.  And His name will be on your forehead; which has actually been on your forehead since your baptism.  There will be no more sin, no more brokenness, no more pain, or grief, or tears.  There will be no more night, nor any need for any light or lamp, for Jesus will be your true light.  And as a beloved child of God, you will reign with God forever and ever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.