God’s Gopher

Reading for the day (Sunday, August 13, 2017):

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

 

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

 

In today’s text, we hear of God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet.  During this time the descendants of Abraham have been growing in numbers, but not necessarily growing and deepening their relationship with God.  Instead they have turned away from God.  They have neglected God’s Word.  They are no longer walking by faith.  Instead they believed that the temple in Jerusalem that King Solomon built was their safety net.  As long as God was in the temple, nothing bad would ever happen to them.  For my hometown of Chandler, it was believed that the valley that the town is in would never get hit by a tornado because if a storm would appear, it would simply jump over the valley.  Well 25 years ago that was proven wrong.  For the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time, they believed that the temple (like the valley in Chandler) was their safety net.  As long as God continued to be in the temple, they figured they were safe from harm.  They were walking by luck, not by faith.  And so since they were only walking by luck they had forgotten what true faith and worship was.  To them, God in the temple became their good luck charm, instead of a divine power who gives life and cares for them, like a parent cares for their children.

Sound anything like today?  People ignoring faith and trust in God; abandoning the church to follow after their own interests.  Figuring that God can’t help them anyway.  Yeah, sounds a lot like today.  So God calls on Jeremiah to bring these people back to the faith, especially in preparation for their time in exile and the destruction of the temple.  If people thought that God in the temple was their safety net, what do you think they would do when the temple was destroyed?  41 years after Jeremiah was called to be a prophet that is exactly what happened.  Just under 600 years before Jesus was born, a group of people known as the Babylonians came and took over Jerusalem, exiled many by hauling them off to their own country, and destroying the temple where God was.  So much for their safety net.

Now before all of this takes place, God calls Jeremiah to minister to these people.  God wants Jeremiah to get these people to repent and turn back to Him.  This is quite the undertaking as there were many that had turned away.  So Jeremiah feels that he is incapable of completing the job that God has called him to do.  And do you blame him.  Don’t you feel incapable of reaching out to the unchurched or the ones who have fallen away from the church?  And besides, that’s the job of a missionary or pastor, right?  Except God calls all of us to a life of service to Him for the sake of His kingdom.  So it actually isn’t solely the responsibly of a few, it is the responsibility of all.

And we need not fear our lack of skills, because just as God reminds Jeremiah that no matter what troubles he faces, He would be with Jeremiah; this same promise is for us and all of God’s servants.  No matter what troubles assail you, your faithful God stands with you, always.  So no matter if you are lonely, or stressed, or scared, or nervous, or afraid; our God stands with you in whatever life throws your way.

Just as with Moses, Jeremiah didn’t want to go and serve the Lord.  He told God, “I don’t know how to speak…I’m just a boy, just a child.”[1]  Jeremiah basically wants God to choose someone else.  Oh if only it was that simple right.  God, send someone else to do the work that we don’t want to do.  It’s like a gopher on a construction site; the one who runs around doing all of the grunt work that no else wants to do.  God, just call in the gopher.  That’s what Jeremiah wanted, and he got exactly what he wanted.  God did call in the gopher, He just made Jeremiah the gopher.  Jeremiah said he didn’t know how to speak.  So God reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth…today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms…”[2]  God calls us to be the gopher, to do the work that no one else wants to do: helping those in need, ministering to the sick and dying, befriending the “troubled kids,” reaching out to those who society pushes aside.  Jeremiah wasn’t called to judge but to speak, and the words that he spoke were words from God because He promised to be with Jeremiah every step of the way.  We don’t know what the future holds for us or our congregation or even this parish.  Many of you are probably like me and feel incapable of fulfilling God’s mission that we are called to do.  But I know, because I’ve felt it and experienced it, that by the grace of God we are giving the ability to carry out God’s mission in the world.  We are giving those gifts.  We can do this.  We can be God’s gopher.  And no matter what we are faced with, God faithfully stands with us.

Even though he didn’t believe it, because God was with him, Jeremiah does go and delivers God’s Word to His people.  All because God was with him and gave him the ability to fulfill what God was calling him to do.

Much of the book of Jeremiah is a word of judgment; naming all of the things that the people had been doing wrong.  But four chapters in the middle of the book are all about hope for the future.  Jeremiah proclaims:

“The days are surely coming…when [the Lord] will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…for [the Lord] will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”[3]

Jeremiah is telling the people that they need to turn back to God because something better is coming.  Something so great that even all of their sins will be forgiven forever.  For God Himself was planning on coming to save and redeem the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross.  Because of Jesus we need not fear being God’s gophers, the storm may very well meet us in the valley, but no matter what trouble arises in our lives, or whatever mission God calls us to do; we are not alone.  God has always been there, and promises to continue to always be with us, until we are all called home to our heavenly home where our gopher holes will be turned into mansions and we will finally be able to rest from our labors.  And we will finally get to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Jeremiah 1:6, NRSV

[2] Jeremiah 1:9, NRSV

[3] Jeremiah 31:31-34, NRSV

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“Goodness in Action”

Reading for the day (Wednesday, August 2, 2017):

Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8

 

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

 

Throughout the summer, we have been working through stories from the Old Testament.  We heard how Jacob and his whole family ended up in Egypt.  And how Joseph was able to keep everyone fed through the seven years of famine.  And then how new leadership came to power and forgot all about the Israelites living in Egypt.  So they were turned into slaves, but God calls on Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land through the Red Sea.  And through great kings like David and Solomon, a great nation of God’s people was created.  Which leads us to our text for today, the story of Micah.

Micah is a prophet in Israel 700 some years before Jesus was born.  This great nation of Israel that King David and King Solomon built has weakened.  The nation has weakened because of infighting, which led to the nation splitting into 2 separate kingdoms (Israel in the north, and Judah in the south).  The split creates a weaker nation, one that cannot always defend itself.  No different than fighting within families, churches, communities, or countries.  Think of what civil wars do to countries.

The kingdom is split, one half of the nation is already in exile and the prophets have already predicted that the other half will also be exiled; taken away from their homeland and hauled off to another country.  So in comes the prophet Micah who brings a word of judgement to all of those who are failing in their responsibilities to God and to their community.  Micah mainly directs his judgment upon the religious and political leaders of the time; saying that they are the reason everyone is in this mess.  These leaders where abusing their power and authority.  They were serving their own interests at the expense of others.

Micah’s word of judgment is not just for the religious and political leaders of his time.  We, too can hear those words of judgment.  As a spouse, a parent, an employer, a council member, a teacher, a pastor, we all are called not to take the power and authority that we have in our homes, work, school, church, or community and abuse that power for selfish gain.  So when you are selfish and only think about yourself instead of your children’s needs.  Or when you only think about your own profit without taking into consideration the employees that work for you.  Or when you only consider your likes and interests in the church without listening and hearing the likes and interests of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Then we are abusing the power and authority we have been given for selfish gain.  And this is exactly what Micah is preaching against.  He says that the divisions and subsequent exiles came about because of the selfishness of the leaders and the community members.

But like any good prophet, Micah not only brings a word of judgment to the leaders and the people, he also brings a word of hope from God to His people.  Hope that something better is coming.  Hope that God has seen their pain and heard their cries for help.  So Micah says, “Bethlehem, you who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth from me one who is to rule in Israel.”  Bethlehem, not Jerusalem is where this new ruler will come from.  Welcome, not Minneapolis is where God has chosen to raise up a new ruler.  Bethlehem was not a big town.  In fact it was considered rather insignificant; kind of like how we can feel in rural America, rather insignificant and unimportant.  But even in the insignificant, unimportant areas of the world, God’s Word still comes to us; naming our sins and calling us to repentance.  But also giving us a word of hope.  Hope that even in a small community, there are people who need to hear God’s Word.  Hope that even in a small community, there are youth who long for meaning in their life.  Hope that even in a small congregation, God is still with us in the ministry that we do.  If God is able to raise up a savior for the world out of the little town of Bethlehem, what’s stopping Him from doing great and wonderful things in and through our little congregation?

So Micah calls on the people to turn from their old sinful ways of doing things and embrace a new way of life.  And not only a new way of life, but a new relationship with God.  A relationship that is not based on score-keeping, as in counting how many hours you spend helping others, or how many worship services you attend, or how many times you have received communion, or how much money you have put in the offering plate.  Instead, Micah says that with this new ruler that will come from Bethlehem, God’s requirements for His people have changed.  God no longer requires burnt offerings or thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil.  Instead, because of Christ, God simply asks of us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Micah says, “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.”  Do justice.  So be fair and honest with each other.  Don’t use your power and authority for selfish gain.  But also be fair and honest with yourself.  Many times I know that I am my worst critic.  I’m harder on myself than I am on other people.  So this is a good reminder for me as well, be fair and honest with yourself.

Love kindness.  So be loyal and steadfast.  Minnesota sports fans know loyalty really well.  But be loyal and steadfast to your spouse, to your children, to your employees, to your church, to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Martin Luther describes “steadfast love” as “goodness in action.”[1]  Be good, kind, and loyal to each other.  Remember that we are all in this together.  All working together for the sake of growing God’s Kingdom.

Finally, walk humbly.  So be modest and reverent or respectful, not just with each other but also with God.  Be reverent and respectful to the one who gave us life and all of the blessings that we enjoy each and every day.  Walking humbly with our God, means always being conscious of our own dependence on the Lord.

We know that we all have made mistakes.  We know that we are selfish at times.  We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[2]  Our problem is not a failure to know but a failure to do.  We know what we are to do.  We know what God has called us to do.  But where we fall short is in the action.  “God showed His steadfast love for us by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  We are ‘justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24).  The Holy Spirit leads redeemed sinners [like ourselves] to walk in justice, kindness, and humility.”[3]  May God not only help us to hear that call to walk in justice, kindness, and humility, but may He also lead us to love and serve our neighbors.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Luther, Martin (AE 14:50)

[2] Romans, 3:23

[3] The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 1495