Confusing GETTING with GIVING

Readings for the day (Lectionary 25, Sunday, September 16, 2018):

Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

 

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

 

In the Gospel reading today, we have skipped over the transfiguration; that is, the trip that Jesus took with three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain to reveal His true purpose, revealing His true identity.  While the four of them are away, the nine remaining disciples are trying to heal a boy who is being tormented by an evil spirit.  They are unable to heal the boy, but when Jesus returns, with the littlest of effort, He heals the boy, completely casting out the evil spirit.

After this, Jesus leaves that area with His disciples.  On their journey, Jesus tells the disciples that He will be betrayed, crucified, and die, but three days later He will rise again.  Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for what is about to happen.  In fact, this is the second of three predictions of His passion.  Despite speaking plainly to His disciples; they don’t get it.  They don’t understand it.  All it does is confuse them.  Instead they argue about who is the greatest among themselves.  Jesus is trying to have a serious conversation with His closest friends and all they end up doing is arguing with each other.  Their friend just told them that He was going to die a horrible death and all they can think about is arguing over who is the greatest.  It’s like telling your children that you are going to die and all they care about is who is going to get your car when you’re gone.

They don’t get.  All they are doing is thinking about themselves.  All they care about is what they are going to get out of this.  They want the recognition and the praise.  They want to be considered greater than their peers.  They don’t care about what Jesus said earlier about His death and resurrection.  They only care about themselves.

When we go on a family vacation, no matter where we are at, we always seek out a church to worship in.  This summer we had two different camping trips and for each Sunday we went to a local church.  Two churches.  Two completely different experiences.  The first church, we entered late.  We under estimated how long it would take to drive to the church from our campsite.  So we walked in during the first hymn.  We snuck in the back and joined the other 30 some people in worship.  After the worship service, even though we were late and our children were not quite, almost every single member introduced themselves to us and welcomed us into their church.  They asked who we were; wanting to get to know us.  We weren’t going to stay for coffee, but they were so welcoming and so friendly and they invited us, so we stayed.  We left that church feeling like we had met more of the body of Christ.

The second church we attended this summer was a much different experience.  We arrived early enough this time to find a seat before worship began.  There were about 40-50 people in worship, and after the service was done, not a single person came up to us to even say, “Hi”.  Not a single person introduced themselves or welcomed us into their church.  We even had to find our own bulletins on a table when we first entered the church.  So we did not stay for coffee.

Now which church do you think was like the disciples, selfishly thinking about themselves?  Which church was welcoming like Jesus did by welcoming the little children?  Where are you at?  Which church are you more like?  The first church, which went out of their way to introduce themselves to people who entered their church that they didn’t even know?  Or are you more like the standoffish church that doesn’t say anything to people they don’t know?  Which church do you think Jesus would be proud of?

Jesus knew what the disciples were doing on the road.  He knew that they were arguing and He knew what they were arguing about.  But when Jesus called them out on it and asked them what they were arguing about, they couldn’t even own up to it.  They couldn’t be honest and tell Jesus what they were arguing about.  Instead they were silent; sheepishly saying nothing.  Since the disciples weren’t saying anything and Jesus already knew what they were arguing about, He takes a little child, placing the child in His arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”[1]

The disciples were so concerned about figuring out who was the greatest that they missed the entire Gospel message.  If you are so concerned about yourself and determining how well you rank among your friends and neighbors, then you have missed the entire point.  When you are focused on yourself, you will ignore those who are most in need.  You like to think you’re great, amazing, and wonderful.  But the reality is…you’re not.  I’m not.  But Jesus is!  Jesus is great, amazing, and wonderful.  He is the one who should get all of the glory, all of the fame, all of the praise.  So when we stop paying attention to ourselves.  When we stop focusing so much on our own needs, we open ourselves up to be able to see our neighbor and all of our neighbor’s needs.

Which church do you want to be?  Do you want to be the self-centered church that ignores visitors and newcomers?  Or do want to be the welcoming church that pays more attention to their neighbor’s needs than their own needs?

The disciples wanted greatness and all Jesus was trying to give them was grace.  All the disciples wanted to do was argue about how they could GET something.  All Jesus wanted to do was GIVE them something.  When we confuse GETTING with GIVING, and focus more on how much we can GET instead of how much we can GIVE, we have missed the point.  Then we are only in it for ourselves and not for the sake of our neighbor.  We give as we have received.

And we have been given something pretty amazing.  We have been given a wonderful gift, God’s grace.  We have been given God’s grace, that even though we are broken, self-centered sinners, He has sent His Son to die and rise.  He is sending His church to preach about this death and resurrection.  He is sending His Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin and hear Christ’s righteousness for you.  Our God does all of this so that when a little child comes into your midst, you’re not caught up in who you think you should be, but instead your eyes are opened to see the needs of the weakest in your midst.  God’s grace is for you.  It is.  It is for you.  And God’s grace is for your neighbor, too.  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Mark 9:37, NRSV

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Sacrificing Everything

Readings for the day (Lectionary 23, Sunday, September 9, 2018):

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

James 2:1-17

Mark 7:24-37

 

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

 

When I was in high school, I really wanted a job at the local grocery store.  I already had grocery experience, so it just seemed like a no brainer.  So one day after school, I went and personally handed by application to the owner and manager of the store.  He took my application but told me that he didn’t have any openings check back in another week.  So I did.  I returned a week later…he gave me the same answer.  I returned again a week later and again got the same answer.  I returned again about a month after originally turning in my job application and he told me that he was selling the store and that the new owner and manager would be handling all of the new hires.  Within a week after the ownership was changed, I received a phone call to start the next day.  Persistence pays off.

That’s true for many things.  If you want a particular job, you need to be persistent in showing just how much you want to work.  If you want good grades, you need to be persistent in your studies.  If you want a good harvest, you need to be persistent in caring for your crops and plants.  If you go to the doctor and the diagnosis that is giving is unsettling for you, do you A. Go home, accepting the diagnosis for what it is assuming that this doctor has made the correct diagnosis.  Or B. Go line up another appointment with another doctor to get someone else’s opinion.  Maybe you’ve already been in a situation like this where you seek out another doctor’s opinion.  Persistence pays off.

In our story today, Jesus has just finished feeding 5,000 men plus women and children.  So let’s just say 12,000 people.  And then he terrified his disciples by walking on water in the night.  Then as they came ashore Jesus healed many in the marketplace, got into an argument with the Pharisees about what is and is not considered “clean.”  Finally Jesus flees Galilee to get a break.  He heads north towards Tyre and Sidon; a Gentile region.  The Jewish people have seen the healings that Jesus has done.  Plus they just got free food from Him.  And the Pharisees keep complaining and arguing with Jesus about what He is doing.  All Jesus wants is a break.  So he flees to a non-Jewish area, hoping that maybe, just maybe, people there won’t know who He is and what He is capable of doing.

Even though Jesus enters a house trying to escape being noticed, He is spotted by a woman.  A Gentile woman.  She immediately comes over to Jesus, bows down and begs Him to heal her daughter.  Remember Jesus is trying to be on a little vacation here.  He has turned the phone off and put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door.  He doesn’t want to be bothered.  So Jesus tried to dismiss her saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”[1]  Meaning, Jesus came to feed the Israelites, God’s chosen people.  This woman was a Gentile, someone who was not part of God’s covenant with Abraham.  All Jesus wants is a little rest, so He basically says, “My mission is for the Jews, and you’re not a Jew, so leave me alone.”

And like any parent would do, she does not accept that answer.  Her daughter is suffering from an unclean spirit and she has heard that Jesus can help.  So she fights back and being persistent she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”[2]  Meaning, even though you may have come only for the House of Israel, couldn’t you spare just a little bit to heal my daughter?  Jesus, amazed by this mother’s faith, tells her that the demon has left her daughter.

This mother believed in something.  She believed that her daughter could be healed by Jesus.  She believed in something, even though it meant sacrificing everything.  That is, unlike Colin Kaepernick in the new Nike commercial this week.  A multi-million dollar quarterback has not sacrificed anywhere near everything.  He might believe in something, like making a few million dollars on a two minute ad, but he has not sacrificed everything.  This mother though, for the sake of her daughter’s health, was willing to approach a male, Jewish, religious leader and beg for His help.  Culturally this was wrong on so many levels, but she’s a parent and as a parent she would do anything, even sacrificing everything she had to get her daughter well again.

Persistence does pay off.  Whether it is for a job or grades or a harvest or an answer from a doctor, or even getting your child well again.  Being persistent pays off in the end.  The same is true in our faith.  We must be persistent in our faith.  We must be persistent because the devil is also persistent in tempting us each and every day; trying to turn us away from our trust in God.  Hold tight to what you believe in.  Be persistent in your prayer requests.  Be diligent in your study of God’s Word.  Be insistent in doing what God has called you to be and do.  Don’t be complacent.  Complacency creates problems.

As James says in his letter, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[3]  Of course as Lutherans we know that our salvation is not dependent on our works.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”[4]  We are saved and given the promise of eternal life as not just any gift from God, but THE gift of God.  As in the greatest gift we could be given.  And this gift is not dependent on our works.  It is not dependent on what we do or don’t do.  But we have been created in God’s image for the purpose of doing good works.

Martin Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”  God doesn’t need our good works of kindness.  He desires our persistence in confessing our sins, talking to Him through prayer, and studying His Holy Word.  But He doesn’t need our good works.  Our neighbors on the other hand DO need our good works of kindness.  Our neighbors need us to be persistent in living out our Christian calling to be disciples of Jesus.

So how persistent are you?  Are you willing to believe in Jesus, following His command to make disciples of every nation, even if it means sacrificing everything?  Are you willing to try something even if it means you might fail?  This ministry that Jesus calls us to is one that calls us out of complacency and into a life actively living out the Gospel for the sake of our neighbors and for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  We believe in Jesus because He is the one who truly knows what it means to sacrifice everything.  Sacrificing everything for you!  Amen.

 

 

© 2018 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] Mark 7:27, NRSV

[2] Mark 7:28, NRSV

[3] James 2:17, NRSV

[4] Ephesians 2:8-10a, NRSV