An Unchanged Identity

Readings for the day (Christ the King – Sunday, November 20, 2016):

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Psalm 46

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

 

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

 

Often at funerals, I’ll list off many of the various titles that our brother or sister in Christ was known for.  I’ll say that they were a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend.  Throughout our lives we hold any number of titles that describe our various vocations.  Our line of work, our hobbies, our interests all contribute to describing who we are and form our identity.  Some aspects of our identity are created without our say or input; such as being an aunt, uncle, sibling, or grandparent.  Other parts of our identity come about by the choices that we make.  We choose to be a farmer, a nurse, a teacher, a pastor, a business owner.  And then there are parts of our identity that are self-inflicted such as being a Minnesota sports fan.

All of these aspects of our identity can and do change over the years.  Careers change, people retire, family members die, and hopes of championships for our beloved Vikings continue to slip away.  Our identities are always changing – life changes inevitably effect and change our identity.  Now what happens when your identity is completely centered in something that changes?  If the whole reason you are who you are is because you are a parent raising your kids, what happens when all the kids graduate and move out of the house?  Or if your entire identity is centered around being a wife or a husband.  What happens when your spouse is longer with us?  When our identity is centered in things that change it becomes very difficult to continue when change occurs.

People believed that Jesus was going to be their new king that would save them from the Roman oppression.  They centered their identity on this miracle worker who they followed around the countryside who they believed would save them.  They even welcomed Him into Jerusalem with some pretty high praise, waving palm branches and laying coats down in front of Him.  But when He didn’t form an uprising to overthrow the Romans, and instead landed himself nailed to a tree for all to see, there was huge disappointment for all.

As a congregation, we also have an identity.  If I asked you to describe our congregation would you be able to describe who we are in a sentence or two?  It might not be as easy as you think because the identity of our congregation has been changing over the years.  Who we are today is not who we were 10 years ago.  We’ve had members leave and new members join.  We’ve had beloved members die and we’ve welcomed new members into God’s family.  Anytime we have someone leave or come, our congregation changes, our identity changes.

All of the identities that we have whether it is family, career, hobby, interest, or political identity, are all temporary identities that can and do change over time.  There is another identity however, one that never changes over time.  In fact it is the most important identity that we have – child of God.  Your identity is formed by being a child of God; one of the shepherd’s sheep, someone in the King’s court.  All other identities are subject to change; except this one.  Your identity as a child of God will never change.  No matter what happens in this world.  No matter who lives or who dies.  No matter what happens with your family or your career.  No matter who is or is not elected president, this very important identity as ‘Child of God’ does not change.  No matter what happens in this world, no matter what changes, you will always be first and foremost a child of God, claimed through the waters of baptism.

Likewise, even though our congregation changes – pastors come and go, members come and go, beloved members die and babies are baptized – as Paul says, Jesus is the head of the church.  No matter how big or small this congregation.  No matter how much money we have.  No matter how many children we have in our congregation.  No matter what, Jesus has always been and will always be the head of the whole church, and specifically He will be the head of this church.  As a congregation, our first and foremost identity is that we are the body of Christ called to go and tell all of those in our community who are not involved in a congregation and who probably don’t believe in God that there is an identity out there for them that will never change.  Even in a world that is full of unpredictable changes, there is one thing that will never change; something that they can have hope in.

And not only will this identity never change, but it will also save you.  On the Day of Judgment, God isn’t going to ask what your career was or who your family members were or how much money you had.  Instead He’s going to ask for you to make a defense for all of the sins you are on trial for.  None of our earthly identities will hold up in God’s court.

But with your first and primary identity as a child of God, that will hold up.  None of the things in this world will be able to save you, no matter what people try to tell you.  Donald Trump will not be able to save you.  Hillary Clinton will not be able to save you.  The only one who has the power to save you from sin, death and devil is the one who is your King, the one who told the criminal hanging next to Him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  This is your King, the Messiah of God.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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The Resurrection – Truth or Fiction

Readings for the day (Lectionary 32 – Sunday, November 6, 2016):

Job 19:23-27a

Psalm 17:1-9

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Luke 20:27-38

 

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

 

Well they did it.  After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have finally won the World Series.  But there is one thing that is missing, Jesus hasn’t come back yet.  I guess we now have to hold out for the Vikings to win a Super Bowl.  Maybe Jesus is more of a Vikings fan than a Cubs fan.

You know, we joke about Jesus coming back as if Jesus will return when some big miracle happens, like the Vikings winning the Super Bowl.  I’m guilty of that as well.  But how seriously do we take these jokes?  Do we take them seriously enough that Jesus’ return sounds good, but we’re awfully skeptical that it will actually happen some day?  Or do we actually live our lives as though Jesus will come back again?

When things happen in life that we can’t control we’ll wish that we would have done it differently.  We’ll pray, but when the prayer isn’t answered we blame God for it, and that’s when the world tells us, “I told you so.  God isn’t real.”  So we start down a wild goose chase to prove the world wrong; to prove that God actually is real, that He actually does answer prayers, and He does care for His children.  And to get that proof we look to things in this temporal world.  And this is exactly how books like Heaven is for Real gain so much popularity among Christians; because we are looking for any sort of proof in this life that God actually does exist.  Except the only proof we have, and the only proof that we need is found in God’s Word and through the seed of faith that the Holy Spirit has planted in us at our baptisms.  A book that has sold over 12 million copies and a movie that has made a net profit of over $140 million dollars is not your proof that God exists.

Jesus alludes to this very thing in the Gospel reading today.  Jesus has already made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, and He spends most of His time teaching in the temple.  Of course this is where the Sadducees and the Pharisees spend most of their time as well because even though the two groups don’t like each other, they do have something in common: they don’t like Jesus and they want Him silenced.  So they quiz Him, hoping to catch Him saying something that would be grounds for dismissal.  And in today’s reading, the Sadducees are up next to take a swing at Jesus.  They ask him about marriage.  The Sadducees follow a very strict understanding of God’s Law found in the first five books of the Bible.  They don’t believe in the resurrection and God’s Law states that if you are a male and your brother dies without any children, then in order to carry on the family name, you are to marry your brother’s wife so that she may bear children and carry on the family name.  We don’t do that today, but that was common practice then.  So the Sadducees ask Jesus if there were seven brothers and they all died, who would the woman be married to in the resurrection?  And Jesus tells them that marriage is an important thing that we do in this life, but just as this life is temporary, so too is marriage; because the resurrection will be different.

Do you believe in the resurrection?  Do you believe that the resurrection will actually happen some day?  I pretty certain that many in our world today do not believe in the resurrection because if they did believe they would not be choosing deer hunting or football or sleeping in over coming to church.  So many have become so focused on living this life that they have completely neglected to prepare themselves for the resurrected life to come.  If people actually believed the Jesus will return, that the resurrection will happen, then people would be taking faith practices all more seriously.  Rather, people put all of their energy into living this life to the fullest as there is no hope of a life to come.  That’s why people are so afraid of death and take extreme measures to keep their loved ones alive even after the quality of life is beyond repair.  When there is no hope in anything beyond this life, the fear of death becomes impossible to bear.

It would be so much easier if we could have an eye-witness of what the resurrection will look like.  But we don’t.  So instead of believing what contemporary books and movies tell us what heaven will look like (because no one truly knows), we put our faith and trust in Jesus’ words which are true.  He says that we will not be able to die anymore because we will be like angels and as children of God we will be children of the resurrection.  We don’t know what our clothes will look like, or what the landscape will look like; but we do know that we will be with God, seeing Him face-to-face.  And that’s all we really need to know about the resurrection to come.

Now there’s certainly a time to mourn the loss of loved ones, but as Paul says, we don’t mourn as those who have no hope.  For Job, even though he lost everything that he had; his wife, his children, his animals, everything that he had was gone, he still has the ability to say, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”  This is where we put our hope; in that Jesus will indeed come back again, not for a sports time finally win a championship.  And we wait in hopeful anticipation of His return, for then we all will be reunited with all of those faithful saints who have died, including all of those who we have lit candles today in remembrance of them.  One day we, and all the dead, will be alive again.  Death will be no more.  Mourning, crying and pain will be no more.  Time will cease, and we will be with the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, for all of eternity.  For our redeemer does indeed live.  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.