A Hymn of Comfort

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 29, 2017):

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

 

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

 

This Tuesday will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  For Luther, he never intended on separating from the Catholic Church.  He saw abuses within the church and he wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of these abuses, so that something would be done about it.  Have you ever seen something that needed to be changed or done differently?  Did you say something?  Or did you just complain about it to yourself?  By nailing his 95 theses (or issues/abuses) that he saw within the church, Luther was publicly saying something.  He chose to do this specifically on October 31st, not because it is Halloween (something that we celebrate in this century), but because of November 1st; All-Saints day.  As the priest, Luther knew that people would be coming for mass on November 1st to commemorate All-Saints day.  So posting this publicly on the bulletin board the day before worship made sense.

What Luther did with a pen and some paper, along with a hammer and a nail, was he started a movement.  A movement that is still happening today.  Reformation is not something that just happened on one day and then everyone went home.  Through his preaching and more so his writings, Luther reformed or changed the way the church preached, taught, read, and sang.  He translated the New Testament into the language of the people.  So that they could actually read the Word of God.  He also created resources for parents to teach the faith to their children at home.  That resource is called the Small Catechism.  And he wrote numerous hymns.

Now Luther was a troubled man.  He certainly did not have everything all put together.  He struggled with finding God as one who is forgiving and merciful.  All he felt was wrath and anger.  He didn’t feel grace and peace.  And it wasn’t until he started studying the Word of God that he was able to find God not as angry and wrathful, but rather full of grace.

The hymn that we opened with, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, is also known as the “Hymn of Comfort.”  Luther wrote this hymn and the tune.  And he based the text of this hymn on Psalm 46.  For Luther, our God is great and powerful, like a mighty fortress who wins victoriously with a sword and shield.  With all of this might and power, we can feel as though God is out to get us.  The Psalmist says, “the mountains shake…the water roar and foam…the nations are in an uproar.”  Utter chaos is what that means.  The world is in chaos.  Our lives are in chaos.  Maybe for you, most days you seem to have a handle on things.  While others long to take hold of something, even if it is but for a moment.

Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see that second group of people (those who don’t have it all together).  Because for some reason they believe that they have to have a really good handle of everything in their lives in order to walk through our doors.  And to top it all off, those whose lives are in chaos believe, as Luther did, that God is a vengeful God.  Someone who is out to get us.  Someone who finds joy in making us suffer.  Which leads people to believe that God is the cause of all this chaos.  So people believe that cancer, shootings, disasters, injuries are all because God wanted that to happen.  My friends, that God is a jerk!  And certainly not who I believe and put my trust in.

Luther realized that as well; especially as he studied the Word of God.  He realized things like verse 5 from Psalm 46, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; He will help it when the morning dawns.”  Which influenced Luther to write things like verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress, “Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat’ning to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us.”  “…for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.”  Our God is not a vengeful, angry, jerk who is out to get us and cause us harm.  Rather, He is love, He is grace, He is peace and comfort.

The Psalmist ends with, “Be still, and know that I am God!”  Be still.  That’s actually really hard for us to do.  Be still.  Meaning to let go of those things that we really don’t have control over but still strive with all of our might to control them.  Be still and be silent, so that you may witness God’s powerful ability to not only reform or change something, but to save.  And specifically to save us from the world, the devil, and our sinful selves.

Luther was trying to tell the church that salvation, the way in which we are saved, is not by any doing of our own, but only through the cross of Christ.  We cannot work for our salvation.  We cannot pay for our salvation.  We cannot earn our salvation.  We can’t do anything to get into heaven because that gift has already been given to us through the waters of baptism.  And our faith in this gift is sustained through the meal of bread and wine that Jesus provides for us.

So the Psalmist concludes with, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  In Hebrew, the phrase “to know” doesn’t mean simply to acknowledge something.  Such as, I know that God exists.  Or I know that there is pizza in that box.  Rather, “to know” means to internalize or to embody the truth fully.  So to know that there is pizza in that box means to actually eat the pizza, not just look at it.  “Be still, and know that I am God,” then means to be silent, witnessing God’s almighty power and to not only acknowledge God’s presence among us, but to actually live our lives like He actually is here.  Therefore everything that we say, think, and do would reflect this reality that our God is real, He is alive, and He is active in the world.  So God’s presence isn’t just some cute idea that is supposed to bring us comfort, but in fact I believe that God truly is present in our lives, working and moving through the chaos of our lives in order to bring us joy and peace, comfort and grace.  And this is why Luther wrote this “Hymn of Comfort.”  Because it embodies this knowledge that even in the midst of chaos, our God is here with us now.  Be still, and know that He is God!  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

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A Good Reason to Party

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 15, 2017:

Isaiah 25:1-9

Psalm 23

Philippians 4:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

 

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

 

Well that went quick.  Nearly five years of partnered ministry together has already past.  We’ve tried different things, some have succeeded while others have failed.  We’ve had to make compromises, just like any good relationship has to.  And yet, there is still so much more that we can do, all for the sake of the Gospel.

We live in a different world, though, than we did when you were growing up; even when I was growing up.  Spirituality was different.  Religion was different.  Politics was different.  Parenting was different.  We live, work, play, and do ministry in a different world than what we grew up with.  And many times when everything else around us is changing so rapidly, we long to hang on to someone that remains constant, stable, and unchanging.

For us Christians, God is that rock, that stability, that constant for us.  But often we struggle with allowing the approach of our ministry to change.  Our message of Christ crucified for the sins of all, doesn’t change.  But we can’t do ministry like we used to because the world that we live in now is not what it used to be like.  We live in a completely new world.  A world that questions everything.  A world that longs for proof of anything.  A world that is so fed up with the church’s extreme social justice left and the Bible thumping right that instead just gives up on the church all together.  Like I said, a whole new world.  You can’t assume that someone you meet is Christian or that they even know the story of Jesus.  You can’t even assume that they believe in God.

So what are we to do about all of this?  Talk to Pastor Eric, maybe he has the answer.  And when that doesn’t work, we turn to Scripture.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been having a busy week with these Pharisees.  After His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus has been speaking in parables and the Pharisees just adore these parables.  No, just kidding.  They actually hate them.  And with each parable Jesus tells, they get increasingly angry.  They haven’t arrested Him yet, but they are getting close.  And with each parable that He tells, they get closer and closer to saying enough is enough.  And today’s text is no different; Jesus shares with them his third and final parable before the Pharisees will go off and plot to arrest Him.

In this parable, the king’s wedding banquet for his son is all ready to go.  The decorations are hung.  The tables are set.  The food is prepared.  The bridegroom is ready.  Now all that needs to be done is to fill the banquet hall with guests.  The king sends out the invitation, but all those who are invited ignore the kings invitation because they are “too busy” with other things.  Doesn’t that feel like doing ministry today?  People are “too busy” for church.  If only all those “busy” people knew what Jesus was actually talking about here.  Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven and the great never ending wedding banquet that we are looking forward to.  He’s talking about the celebration of the marriage between Himself, God’s Son and His bride, the church.  The bride and the bridegroom, coming together at last.  And at the joining of these two for all eternity, God is throwing a really big party.  The Prophet Isaiah describes this party as “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, a feast of the greatest’s, richest foods.”  And this is never ending; for all of eternity.  So amazing!  What a wonderful thing to look forward to!

And this isn’t just good news, its great news!  This is what has kept our churches doing ministry for 118, 122, and 143 years, not to mention 5 years of partnered ministry together.  This is why (I hope) that you keep coming back week after week, to be reminded of who and what we have hope in.  This is why Marilyn found that organ bench 50 years ago and has never left.  Because this is great news!  When the party is ready, we get to be included in the festivities.

So when we go through those dark valleys of life of seeing our world shaken by tragedies like the shooting massacre in Las Vegas, or the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  Or when those dark valleys hit home and we have to say farewell to dearly beloved friends and family members.  Or we watch as loved ones battle depression, addiction, and mental illness.  Or we hear of a friend falling off of a grain bin with multiple traumatic injuries; all we can do is look towards the hope of the wedding banquet to come.  Because everything else just leads to despair.

With all of the unbelief out there, coupled with all of the tragedies of life around the world and directly effecting our lives, it can be hard to find the energy to continue doing ministry, doing the work that God has called us to do.  Because what’s the point in trying if people are “too busy” for church, or who have given up on the church?  In the parable Jesus says, “Then [the king] said to his slaves (that’s you and me!), ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’”  There’s your purpose.  There’s your mission.  It’s not going to be easy.  It’s a different world out there than what it used to be, but we keep trying different things.  We keep trying to reach those who desperately need to hear these words about Jesus and that there is a wedding banquet to come, and God desires their presence in the banquet hall with the rest of us.  Many of our attempts to reach the unchurched and those who have fallen away will fail, but hopefully by the grace of God, some of our attempts will succeed.  And we will certainly have to continue making compromises as a parish as we work on the next 5 years of our partnered ministry together.  And Marilyn is just gonna have to keep playing for another 50 years.

So let me end with a word of encouragement.  Notice in this parable, the wedding banquet was ready, but the guests were not.  So the king invites everyone to come; both good and bad.  So no matter how messed up you think your life is.  No matter how unfit you feel you are in carrying out the ministry of Christ’s Church.  Remember this…God loves you.  God cares for you.  God is obsessed with you and He wants you at His wedding banquet.  You will not be thrown out of the wedding hall, as mentioned in the second part of this parable.  For unlike the man who attended without a wedding robe on, you already have your wedding robe on.  You got it when you were baptized.  Being clothed with Christ through the waters of baptism is your wedding robe for the banquet.  You’re ready to feast.  You’re ready to drink.  You’re ready to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

God’s Vineyard

Readings for the day (Sunday, October 8, 2017:

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:7-15

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

 

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

 

Have you ever been to a vineyard before?  They are always so classy looking with their elaborate landscaping, their abundance of flowers, and their incredibly green grass.  Even the bad wineries look nice.  And why is that?  Probably because they want you to schedule a wedding or a reunion or some sort of party at their winery.  But they also just want you to come sample their different types of wine, buy a bottle or two, and spend some time relaxing and enjoying the music, the atmosphere, and the people.

Ever since entering Jerusalem on a donkey while having people lay tree branches and coats on the road, Jesus has been having issues with the religious leaders.  They have been questioning his authority.  They are wondering who he thinks he is, barging into their city, and not only over turning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, but he also welcomed those awful sinners into the temple and then healed them.  And since last week’s parable about the 2 sons went over so well with the religious leaders, Jesus says, “Listen to another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard.”  Most of the time, in the parables God is the landowner or master and the location or scene of the parable is the kingdom of heaven.  Often parables start off by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Even though Jesus doesn’t preface this parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  I think it is safe to assume that the landowner is God and He has planted a vineyard.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard.  Think about that.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard.  A vineyard that produces fruit; specifically grapes.  Grapes for making wine.  The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard that makes wine.

If you’ve ever been to a winery, can you think of a time when you noticed someone not having a good time?  Traditionally, wine is for celebrations: consuming at special occasions like a wedding, an anniversary, a retirement party.  For God, the vineyard is a sign of the joy and celebration the kingdom of heaven will be like when Jesus the bridegroom is finally united with His bride, the church.

Until that day comes for the eternal celebration, there is work to be done.  Now the text says that the landowner planted the vineyard, put a fence around the vineyard, dug a wine press, and built a watchtower.  Then after all of the prep work was done, he leased the vineyard out to tenants who were called to care for the vineyard and share in the harvest with the landowner when the harvest is ready.  And that’s where we find ourselves at today. We are tenants in God’s vineyard.  This world is not ours.  You might have a deed to your home or a title to your car, but really nothing in all of creation belongs to us.  Everything belongs to God.  We didn’t start with any of this; it was here before us.  For example, look at our church.  Our congregation has been around for 122/143 years.  No one here is that old.  Now what if we looked at this parable with the church as the vineyard.  The vineyard belongs to the landowner, not the tenants.  The landowner is God.  Therefore, the church belongs to God.  It isn’t ours.  It never has been.  It is God’s.  We simply are tenants, called through the waters of baptism to faithfully care for God’s vineyard, God’s church.

And the church, is much more than just this building and the contents inside.  Over the years, how much time has been spent on arguing over things regarding this building?  Probably more than anyone would care to admit.  No, the church is actually the body of Christ.  We are called to care for the body of Christ, all of God’s children.  Again, we are just tenants, called to care for and nurture the growth of those in the vineyard.  God has taken care of the hard part.  He is the one who planted the vineyard, put a fence around the vineyard to protect what is important to Him.  Then He dug a wine press and built a watchtower.  But even with all of the hard work done, we end up acting like those wicked tenants.  It was common practice in the 1st century that a landowner and his tenants would split the produce that was collected at harvest.  These tenants decided that they didn’t want to follow what was agreed upon in their lease and keep everything for themselves, rather than giving back what wasn’t even rightfully theirs in the first place.  We do act like these wicked tenants, don’t we?  We don’t always want to share God’s blessings with others.  We wonder why we need to help others who aren’t even willing to help themselves.  And when we do help, when we do share, we don’t always do it with a smile on our face.

And this is where we have to remember who we are and what our purpose is.  We are tenants; not the landowner.  None of this belongs us.  And we have been recruited to work in God’s vineyard.  We don’t always know why.  We don’t always know if the work that we are doing is even producing any fruit.  But we do know this, one day the harvest will come, and God will come to collect His harvest for it will be time for the marriage feast that has no end.  And there we will share in the joy of the celebration of Christ and His Church for all eternity in the vineyard.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.