Clothed with Christ

Readings for the day (Lectionary 12 – Sunday, June 19, 2016):

Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 8:26-39

 

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

 

In the time period of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the Gentile Christians are confused by the Jewish Christians that have come in to Galatia.  The Jewish Christians are telling them that there is a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, even though they are all Christians.  Really this isn’t any different than today.  We too, like to name the differences between people.  We make distinctions between “us” and “them”.  Who is on the inside and who is on the outside?  The Galena people and the Waverly people.  Maybe you don’t refer to each other in this way.  But when Stephanie and I moved to Trimont we did hear people refer to each other as the Triumph people and the Monterey people.  We like making distinctions between each other.  Most of the time it isn’t done in a mean way, but rather just simply noting our differences.  But regardless, we are still drawing lines between each other.

And this is all quite common isn’t it.  We get put into categories based on where we live, what our occupation is, how old we are, how much money we have, and what color tractor we drive.  We name the differences that we have with each other, because how else will we be able to tell each other apart?  We need some sort of parameters.

Except, these Jewish Christians that have come in are telling the Galatians that they aren’t really Christian unless they also fall under God’s covenant with Abraham.  And according to God’s Law, you are not a descendant of Abraham unless you are circumcised and follow all of God’s Laws that were given to Israel.  They are telling the Galatians, “You need to be just like us if you want to be Christian.”  But Paul, a Jew, doesn’t see it that way.  So he explains a little earlier in chapter 3:

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.”

His point is that God’s Law is not the promise, the Law is still good in that is sets up boundaries for us on how we should live.  But Paul’s point is very clear, the Law is the Law, and not the promise that was given to Abraham because God’s Law came after the promise and covenant that God made with Abraham.  And the coming of the Law did not undo or nullify the promise that God made to Abraham.  The promise still stands.

And what is that promise.  All the way back in Genesis 12, God tells Abram (Abraham before his name was changed), that He will make of Abram a great nation, and to his offspring God will give this land that he sees.  Paul’s argument here is that the word offspring does not mean “the Jews” or “the house of Israel” because the word offspring (or seed) is singular, meaning one offspring or seed – who is Jesus.  So they don’t have to worry about doing the right things, praying the right way, or looking a particular way; because Jesus is the offspring of Abraham.  And so if you are united with Jesus in faith, then you certainly should also be considered heirs of Abraham and heirs of the covenantal promise from God.

And Paul could have just left his argument with that – “don’t listen to the Jews who are trying to tell you that you aren’t Christian because you aren’t Jewish.  You are Christian not because of God’s Law, but because of God’s grace that is found in Jesus.  That would have been sufficient, but Paul takes it a step further.  He says that if you were baptized into Christ, then you have been clothed with Christ.  (That’s actually the reason why the baptismal gown is always white.  That’s also why the pastors’ albs and acolyte albs are white, and when a funeral pall is used – the white cloth that is draped over the casket at a funeral); all of this is because in our baptisms we are clothed with Christ.  And if in your baptism you have been clothed with Christ, Paul says, then “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So for Paul, with the coming of Jesus, there is no longer any distinction among us, baptized Christians.  Since we were clothed with Christ in our baptisms, which is what God sees in us – Jesus.  He doesn’t see a difference between which side of the blacktop you live on, or what your occupation is, how old you are, or how much money you have.  All what truly matters for God, is where you put your faith.  Is your faith in what your occupation is or how much money you have?  Or is your faith in the one that claimed you in baptism, clothed you with His Son, and made you righteous by freeing you from sin and making you part of the promise that was made to Abraham and his offspring?

We like to make distinctions between each other.  Sometimes naming those differences can be helpful; and in this world the distinctions are at times necessary.  But when it comes to how we treat each other, talk about each other, and work with each other; remember that we all are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus – including those of other Christian denominations as well as those in our own congregation and in our two sister congregations.  We all belong to Christ.  Rather than beginning with naming our differences as humans, let’s beginning with names what we all have in common as children of God.  We all are one in Christ Jesus.  And if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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Lured to the Right Side

Readings for the day (Lectionary 11 – Sunday, June 12, 2016):

2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15

Psalm 32

Galatians 2:15-21

Luke 7:36–8:3

 

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

 

Do you ever have that argument with your spouse or your children or your co-workers about who is right?  Many are convinced that what they know is right; which makes everyone else wrong.  Take politics for example, some people think that Donald Trump is right.  Some people think that Hilary Clinton is right.  Most people think they’re both wrong!  Ok, so maybe not a good example.

Many of us though do think that we are right.  So what’s the big deal: do we like being right or do we hate being wrong?  I like to be right and I especially dislike being told I’m wrong when I know that I’m right.  But I also don’t like getting things wrong.  When I am wrong, I use it as a learning opportunity, but I still don’t like being wrong.

King David in our first reading and the Pharisees in our Gospel reading today, all think that they are right.  They believe that they have this all figured out and that God is on their side.  Except they’re wrong; really wrong.  King David listens to the story that Nathan tells him of these two men (one rich, the other poor).  As the story goes on, King David gets very upset that with all of his riches and resources available to him, when the rich man has a guest come by, he steals the one and only lamb from the poor man, and serves that lamb for the rich man’s guest.  King David is so angry that he demands that this rich man be killed.

Likewise, as Jesus is dining with some Pharisees, they become agitated that this sinful woman has been washing and anointing Jesus’ feet in their presence.  The Pharisees are scandalized by the sheer reality that Jesus is allowing this woman to do such a thing.  So Jesus tells them a story about a creditor who has two debtors.  One person owed the creditor 500 denarii (or 500 days’ worth of wages, well over a year’s worth of work).  The other person owed the creditor 50 denarii (or 50 days’ worth of wages, almost 2 months’ worth of work).  Now the Pharisees are probably thinking that if this story even pertains to them, and that’s a big if, then they are probably the creditor or maybe the debtor who own only 50 denarii.

And that is exactly what these parables do.  They lure you in, just like when you’re fishing, you’re trying to entice the fish to come and check out this shiny, colorful thing in the water.  We get lured into these stories, thinking that we are the ones on the right side.  Just like King David thought it was awful for the rich man to steal from the poor man.  And likewise, the Pharisees don’t see how they fit into the creditor/debtor story.  We like being right.  We like to always be on the good side of things.  But so often we aren’t.  Often times we do get it wrong, we do fail.  We make mistakes that in fact do effect other people.  Hopefully the mistakes we make aren’t as hurtful as killing someone’s spouse in order to marry them, like what King David did.  But we still do make errors that cause other people to suffer the consequences for our failures.  You may think that you are the creditor or maybe, just maybe the debtor that owes 50 denarii.  Meaning you’ve done some bad things, but you know that what you’ve done isn’t nearly as bad as your neighbor.

It is so easy to think that, because we so desperately want to be on the right side of things.  We believe that we are in the right and it’s always the other who is in the wrong.  Like when you come up to a four way stop.  Every once in a while you probably encounter a driver who thinks that they are in the right of way (even when they clearly aren’t), and so they go anyway.  Anyone else experience that?  Or maybe that’s just me.

Being wrong means that we have failed.  And since no one likes being a failure, we strive to prove that we are right.  Except, then the story turns on us.  We took the lure because we thought we were on the right side of the story, and then just as Nathan tells King David, YOU are the rich man; we too hear those words, YOU are the rich man.  You aren’t on the right side, you are on the wrong side.  You messed up.  You displeased God.  You have failed.  You aren’t the creditor nor are you the debtor who owes 50 denarii; you’re the debtor who owes 500 denarii, possibly even 5,000 because of your sins.

So Jesus tells the Pharisees, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for [not one, but] BOTH of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”  A Pharisee responds, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”  And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”  Your sins have created a large debt for you.  A debt so large that you can’t pay it back.  But just as the creditor in the story canceled the debt of both of the debtors, Jesus has canceled your debt.  The cross has made you free.  The cross has made you debt free.  Your sins have been forgiven.

In this world, you are bound to make mistakes, you’re bound to fail.  You’re bound to be wrong at times.  Admit when you are wrong.  This is the way of life; none of us are perfect.  And yet, because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven and so God looks at you not as a child that has failed, but as a child that is learning from their mistakes.  You are on the right side, with God; not because of anything that you have done, but solely because of what Jesus has done for you.  The cross of Christ has taken you from the wrong side and brought you to the right side.  Forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Confer with God?

Readings for the day (Lectionary 10 – Wednesday, June 8, 2016):

Psalm 30

Galatians 1:11-24

 

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

 

Do you ever get confused?  I get confused.  I get confused by people in our country, by what they say, by what they do.  I’m confused as to how some of these people can possibly be in their right mind when they say or do certain things, and most of the time this leaves me just scratching my head.  And then there’s what people think is acceptable to post onto social media, but this is a sermon and not a soap box, so I won’t go down that road.

Instead, let’s talk about the Galatians.  Last week, we heard the opening 12 verses of Paul’s letter to the church of Galatia.  By verse 6, he has already made it very clear that he is mad; extremely mad!  He is mad because, the Galatians heard Paul, listened to the Gospel message that he was proclaiming and turned from their pagan ways and became Christians.  After the church is established, Paul continues on to another community to bring the Gospel message there as well.

The Galatians however, are now getting confused.  They are confused because they heard Paul preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them – specifically telling them that they are saved through grace alone that is only found in Jesus.  Meaning that they don’t have to do anything in order to receive their salvation.  God has saved them in spite of who they are and what they have done.  They can’t earn their salvation, it’s impossible to earn one’s salvation and to gain righteousness before God.

So that makes some sense; no salvation without Christ, and it is a gift that is given to you without having to do ANYTHING!  Except now comes the confusing part (at least for the Galatians), Jewish-Christians are telling these Galatians who are Gentile-Christians that they still need to follow the Law of Moses in order to receive salvation.  Basically that for the Gentiles, their faith is not complete and they are not worthy of being saved by God without also adhering to the laws and rules of the Jewish faith.  After all, Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jews, and Paul himself is a Jew.  So you see Galatians, you are not fully Christian unless you also follow our Jewish traditions; is what they were told.  So now the Galatians are extremely confused.  Paul told them one thing, and the Jewish-Christians are telling them another.  Who should we believe?  What’s true?  Hence the reason for Paul’s frustration with them and his letter to set them straight on what is true.

So in the reading that we have for tonight, Paul is continuing with the introduction to his letter.  He tells them that there are not 2 gospels.  There is only one true Gospel and the one true Gospel is what he preached to them, not what they are being told from the Jewish-Christians.  And this Gospel that he proclaimed to them came directly from God – he did not confer with any human being, nor did he receive it from the Jewish-Christian apostles living in Jerusalem (such as Peter or James); he received the Gospel message from God.

Notice here, that Paul talks about conferring not with humans but with God.  In order for him to decide what to do, he didn’t seek out the advice of other humans, but rather God.  And now the text doesn’t say how he conferred with God, but my guess would be through prayer; our main form of communication with God.

How much time do you spend conferring with God?  As compared to how much time you spend conferring with each other.  When Stephanie and I were entering the assignment process, we were told don’t network, don’t talk to bishops (they were the ones who were deciding what synod we would be assigned to after seminary).  We could talk to our families and friends, but we couldn’t talk to the ones who decided our fate.  With our futures out of our control, we did the only thing we could do – confer with God through prayer.  We prayed that God’s will would be done (whatever that looked like).  We had no other choice in this situation than to put our trust in God.  And then when Stephanie and I were in the call process and interviewing in churches over 100 miles apart, we again consulted with God on helping us determine where to go and what to do.

Now I tell you that story as an example of when I did consult with God on what I should do and where I should go.  But I don’t always do that.  Many times I forget.  When I have a decision that has to be made, I think about it on my own, and then I vet it with Stephanie and a few close friends, and then I usually act on it.  And many times I simply confer with Dr. Google.  So this text tonight is a good reminder for myself as well, to not forget to confer with God.

This actually is why we begin all of our meetings for the church with a devotion and prayer.  The devotion is used mainly to get us into the right frame of mind for the meeting, and the prayer is to ask God to be present with us and give us guidance in the midst of doing His ministry, something that we really don’t know what we are doing (at least not without His guidance through the Holy Spirit).

There is also something wonderful that is found in the preceding verse.  Before Paul says that he didn’t confer with humans, only God, Paul says that God had set him apart before he was born and called him through His grace.  God has chosen you!  He has chosen you to do this work of ministry, sometimes it is hard (like showing up when there is only 12 people, or serving the lunch for countless funerals).  Ministry is not always easy.  But regardless, God has chosen you and has set you apart from the rest of the world to do His work.  To be His hands and feet in the world.  He has called you not because you are awesome and always confer with Him before every little decision that you make.  Rather, he called you because He loves you.  And because He loves you, God has given you forgiveness of your sins along with the promise of eternal life made possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is grace, grace is a gift, a gift that is given.  It can’t be earned.  It can’t be bought.  It can only be given.  And God has freely given His grace to you!  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

Darkness of Despair Meets Light

Readings for the day (Lectionary 10 – Sunday, June 5, 2016):

1 Kings 17:17-24

Psalm 30

Galatians 1:11-24

Luke 7:11-17

 

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

 

Two widows.  Two sons.  Two deaths.  The Old Testament and Gospel readings have a lot in common today.  The first reading from 1 Kings is the last half of the story about the widow of Zarephath.  Elijah has just received word from God that there is going to be a drought.  He is supposed to go and find this widow in Zarephath who will feed him.  Except when Elijah finds the woman, she certainly doesn’t want to feed Elijah; she doesn’t even have enough food to feed herself and her only son.  She tells Elijah, “I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  She does end up doing what Elijah had asked of her, for God promised that her jar of meal would not be emptied and her jug of oil would not fail until the rains came.

And then the reading continues with what we read a few moments ago.  The three of them made it through the drought – neither the jar of meal nor the jug of oil ever ran out.  But then the woman’s son becomes sick and dies.  And that’s when this woman loses it with Elijah.  She wasn’t happy in the first place that he insisted on joining her and her son in eating their last meal together.  And now even after she has faithfully done what Elijah wanted her to do and she saw that God’s Word remained true throughout the drought, she is extremely upset with Elijah and even more so, she is upset with God.  “What have you against me, O man of God” she says.  “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”  She did exactly what was asked of her and God remained faithful to what He said He would do, and yet her son still dies.

It doesn’t make sense and certainly isn’t fair.  It seems as though bad things happen to good people.  So we get mad, and we get frustrated like this mother, because this life is not fair.  And it can appear that God is not fair; that God is out to get us; that God is the one who causes cancer, God is the one who kills innocent people, God is the one to blame for accidents – as if to say that God is to blame for all of the horrible misfortunes in life and that if our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to, then God must hate us.

When you’re mad, go ahead, get mad at God, He can take it.  But don’t stay mad at God.  For just as Jesus told Nicodemus, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came to save you, not to condemn you.  And we can see that in the Gospel reading where we find another widow whose only son has just died.  As Jesus is traveling, He has with Him His disciples and a large crowd that is awe struck and keeps following Him in hopes of seeing another miracle.  As Jesus is approaching the outskirts of the city, He is met by the funeral procession for the woman’s son.  Ancient Jewish burial rites say that the dead must be buried within 24 hours of death.  The crowd filled with the darkness of despair is met by the crowd filled with the light of hope that is found only in Christ Jesus.

Jesus had compassion for this boy’s mother.  He touches the mat on which the dead boy is laying on and He tells the boy to rise.  Jesus does not find joy in your suffering.  Rather he has deep compassion for you in the midst of your pain.  That word, compassion, is a weak one.  The word here literally means the complete outpouring of one’s inward parts.  Jesus’ compassion for this woman was so great that His compassion was felt deep inside His organs.  That’s the compassion He has for you as well.  Jesus came to save you, not to condemn you.

For the widow of Zarephath, God doesn’t forget about her.  He hears Elijah’s plea for the son’s life to be restored and He does exactly that.  Likewise, Jesus has compassion for the widow of Nain and raises her son to life again.

Now it is tempting to listen to these two stories and think that maybe this could happen to our loved ones; that maybe God would restore their lives.  Which it could happen, for anything is indeed possible with God.  However, I see both of these stories pointing to a third story of an only begotten son being raised from the dead.  In fact, the crowd even predicts that Jesus will one day rise from the dead; except they didn’t even know it.  The word that Jesus used to tell the boy to rise from the dead, is the same word that the crowd uses in saying that a prophet has risen among them.  Not only has a prophet arisen in their midst, but He too will rise from the dead, just as this boy did, just as the boy did in Zarephath.  By the boy rising from the dead, he social saved his widowed mother.  By Jesus rising from the dead, He eternally saved you sinners, restored your life, gave you purpose, gave you forgiveness, gave you a seat in His kingdom forever.

Our loved ones may not be raised from the dead in our midst like the boys in these two stories, but we do continue to follow Jesus like that awe struck crowd that follows in hope of seeing another miracle.  For one day we will see our loved ones again.  We will be raised to new life with them.  For that is what Jesus has promised us will indeed happen on the Last Day.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.