November 20, 2019- The Conditions in Which We Are Called, Joy in Our Vocations- 1 Corinthians 7:17-27

Jesus on the water

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.  1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (ESV)

There is a popular misconception in some Christian traditions that we are only serving God if we have a call to formal ministry or to service in the church.  Yet our vocations (note the plural here) have a far deeper reach than simply dropping a check in the collection plate, serving as an usher, or donating to the food drive.  Our service in and for the local church is important- yes, people and resources are always needed, wanted and appreciated in the life and ministry of the church- but our service to the church is only one of our vocations.

Vocation is not about glorifying ourselves or climbing the corporate ladder. Vocations are ways in which we serve others for the glory of God.   How do we serve others and glorify God in and through our vocations?

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Thankfully it is not a requirement for Christians to inflict outward signs on their person to verify or establish their faith.  The circumcision argument- are Gentile men who become Christian obligated to be circumcised like Jewish men? – is the motivation behind the entire book of Galatians.  The Galatians were engaging in a false teaching that in order to be Christian you need to first become a Jew.  Paul teaches us that Jesus is the New Covenant, the fulfillment of everything that the Mosaic Covenant (the Laws given to Moses) foreshadowed.

Time and time again, Paul instructs the churches that our faith, our hope, our life itself, is found in Christ alone, not in outward signs, not in rituals, not in man-made rules.  Our foundation is Christ. Therefore we aren’t concerned with sacrifices and rituals and what things look like on the outside, but we are concerned with being the people that Jesus made us to be.

Moms serve God by loving their children and doing the mundane and thankless things that are part of being a mother. Even changing dirty diapers, wiping snotty noses, retrieving the cat from the bathtub, and scraping used mac and cheese off the kitchen table (yet again) are acts that Moms do for their children and household, to the glory of God.

Employees who are conscientious, ethical and are good workers for their employers bring glory to God.  Employers who are fair and reward employees for work well done bring glory to God through that vocation.

Husbands and wives bring glory to God in those vocations by loving and serving each other.

So what do we do when our vocations get difficult?  What do we do when we live with a terminally ill spouse, and caring for them and serving them becomes thankless and a burden?  What do we do when our circumstances at work are unfair, or we are compelled to do things in the course of our employment that are unethical or even unsafe?

We trust God.  We acknowledge that He is our strength. Jesus walks with us in every challenge and brings us through our trials. When we fail, when we fall, when we are at the end of ourselves, Jesus is there. He will not forsake us.

The apostle Paul does not give us easy answers about our vocations, but he does teach us that our focus in our vocations should not be on our own status or benefits, but for the benefit of those we serve through our vocations.  God can and does work in and through every situation.

Looking at who we are and what we do gives us a bit of a renewed perspective as we consider our identity- who we ARE in Christ- and how it corresponds with our vocations.

Jesus has bought us with the price of His precious blood.  Our value is in Him- not because we are such “special snowflakes”- but because He has given us value.  Any time one is tempted to think that what they do lacks value or that his or her life is worthless, one must remember that we have been bought with the blood of Christ and in that we have worth and value. Even the most lowly and mundane and difficult vocation has worth as we live and breathe and have our being rooted in the foundation of Christ.

In light of our value and as a response to the one who has bought us, how can we think about our vocations in a different way?

Lord, be our strength when our vocations become burdens.  Help us remember that you have bought us with the price of your precious blood, and that in you we have our value. Give us what we need not only to lead the life you have assigned us, in the places where you have landed us, but to find peace and strength and joy with you along the way.

 

April 9, 2018 Forgive and Be Forgiven- John 20:19-23, Luke 23:33-34, Matthew 11:25-30

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On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 (ESV)

So what could Jesus say to us today about forgiveness?

Most Protestant Christians, including Lutherans, don’t practice regular confession and absolution. Since every human alive is also a sinner, it might be a good practice for us to revisit. While Lutherans don’t view confession as a sacrament like Roman Catholics do, we are called to confess our sins and to hear the words of absolution proclaimed to us. When Pastor proclaims the forgiveness of our sins during corporate confession in worship, or in private confession, he is simply passing along the forgiveness and absolution that Jesus has already won for us.

It is not possible to go through life without being offended in some way or another. It is also not possible for us to go through life without offending others. We sin without thinking about it, all day long. We make comments, we forget to do things we should do, and we break the Law all day long whether we know it or not.  Other people do the same things to us that we do to them, because they are lawbreakers too.  We are iustus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time) indeed.

Someone might cut us off while driving, or take the last donut that we really wanted. Those are fairly easy offenses to forgive.  Other offenses are not so easily forgiven.  Those of us who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, or have otherwise endured serious harm from another have a lot harder time forgiving.  If the petition of the Lord’s Prayer that affirms “Thy will be done” is the most difficult of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is the second most difficult petition.  It’s not easy to let go of a grudge, even though it’s hard to see how hanging on to our angst against someone might somehow punish them in some way.  It’s like taking poison in the hopes of making one’s enemy ill.

Even though on examination we find holding a grudge doesn’t make rational sense, the pain of suffering from serious offenses is nothing to trivialize. Everyone who has spent much time on this planet in the company of other sinners is a member of the “walking wounded” to some degree.  Some of us suffer from unspeakable wounds both deep and profound.  How are we supposed to forgive the most evil of offenses?  Just ignoring things and failing to acknowledge our pain is not a valid answer. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or not feeling, rather it is a choice to let the offense go and to leave our pain and anger to God.  Sometimes we also have to seek other believers who can pray for and with us, and offer us spiritual and emotional care, as God ministers to us through the Body of Christ (as in other Jesus followers!)  We who have the same hope and the same Lord need to encourage each other and give each other strength. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11)

We follow Jesus’ example when we forgive, Jesus who forgave His tormentors (as they were rolling the dice to divvy up His clothes,) even while He was enduring the unfathomable and unimaginable suffering of the Cross.

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:33-34 (ESV)

When we forgive as Jesus forgives us, not only are we forgiven, but He gives us His peace. Because He has taken the punishment that brings us peace, and bears the wounds that bring our healing (Isaiah 53:5) we can endure.  We can surrender the burden of our pain to Him.  We look to the Cross for our healing.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)

It may sound simplistic and silly to simply trust Jesus and surrender our sins, our burdens and our pain to Him. But it is only in Him- and in entrusting those who offend or “trespass against us” to Jesus. We look to the Author of our salvation to find forgiveness, healing and rest.

October 18, 2017- Double Standards- Matthew 23:1-4

Double Standard

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:1-4 (NRSV)

We all remember double standards as we were growing up. Kids had to be in bed by 8:30, but Mom and Dad could stay up as late as they wanted. (Now we know that Mom and Dad would have rather been in bed by 8:30 themselves, but there’s too much work to be done to go to bed that early!)  Kids had to sit at the kids’ table with all the other screaming rugrats to eat holiday meals, and kids had to wait to be excused to get up from the table no matter how annoying, obnoxious and loud the other kids were.  Adults got to sit at the civilized adult table, and got to get up from the table when they were done eating.

More than once I heard, “Do what I say, not what I do,” from my parents and grandparents. We know what we should do, but actually doing it is quite another thing. Nobody likes being on the short end of a double standard.  Double standards offend our sense of justice.

I am sure that the people listening to Jesus that day as He was telling them to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach them to do probably were rolling their eyes. There were probably people who were thinking in the back of their heads, “Why should I listen to so-and-so about this or that rule when so-and-so doesn’t follow it himself?”

Jesus had some of his most harsh critique for the religious authorities- the scribes and Pharisees. In many instances he spoke more highly and with more compassion toward tax collectors and prostitutes than he did of those who should be living by the rules.  It’s easy to tell other people what to do and what standards are expected of them.  It’s not so easy to apply those standards to ourselves first.

God put His rules in place for us for our own protection, to set boundaries around our behavior so that we don’t cause harm to ourselves or others. Rules were not meant to be oppressive or punitive, but protective.

Every human being alive today is a sinner and a hypocrite, including those in leadership in the church, and in secular government. However, it is important that those who are in leadership pay special attention to the standards they wish to impose upon others.  Leaders are called to be good examples and should strive to live by the standards they teach and expect of others first.

One of the important concepts of the Reformation was the realization that everyone who follows Jesus should be held to the same standards- not one set of rules for the ruling class, and another set of rules for everyone else.

If we are to look at Jesus’ example and if we are to follow Him, shouldn’t we as His followers make it easier for each other to live in ways that honor Him, rather than piling on the burdens and doing nothing to help each other?

October 13, 2017 -Surrender Our Burdens, His Yoke is Easy, Come to the Table- Matthew 11:27-29

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(Jesus said): “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29 (NRSV)

The Sacrament gives us life-giving healing, comfort and rest. Like manna given from heaven to the Israelites in the desert, Jesus gives us sustenance and life and renewal for this journey on earth when we come together as a community to share His Body and Blood.

We all carry the burden of our sins, our sorrows, our trials and the weariness of living life on this earth. When we come to the table we are given a precious gift- Jesus in the flesh- taking our burdens and carrying them along with us.  The illustration of taking on a yoke implies that it is far easier to pull a load with two or more oxen rather than by only one.  When Jesus is walking with us, and we are (figuratively) yoked to Him, our burdens may not disappear, but they will be lighter and more bearable.  He gets us through our struggles and delivers us from the ones that would destroy us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar He comes to us in the most intimate way- His Body and Blood literally become part of us, body and soul.

While we should examine our hearts and minds before we come to the table and we should acknowledge and confess our sins, we need to come to the table to be nourished- and often, precisely because we cannot live up to God’s perfect standards.

We also come to the table in faith. Even though we really don’t understand the whole mystery of how Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament, we take him at His word. When He says, “this IS My Body, given for you,” and “this IS My Blood, shed for you,” Jesus means what He says.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11, 28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…– from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case He pronounces sentence and says: If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be considered sinners. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

July 10, 2017 Rest for the Weary- Matthew 11:28-30

JesusRest(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This world is a weary world. The news is mostly depressing.  Infrastructures and buildings are continually deteriorating and we see evidence of entropy (the natural cycle of things going back to their original state, or, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return”) everywhere.  We live in a constant paradox, with one foot in each kingdom- the earthly kingdom of “right now” and the heavenly kingdom of “not yet.”

When we look around at the state of the world and we see everything that is in need of healing, when we see so much that is left undone or incomplete, or that is actively being torn down, it’s hard not to be weary.

The problem is we can’t fix everything that needs fixing. We can’t heal everything that needs healing. We can’t make every wrong right, no matter how much we want to, or how much we try.

The good news in this reality is that God didn’t intend for one person to do it all. He has a plan for each of His people, but in the end it’s all about God’s project.  He is the One Who calls the shots. He equips us for the tasks He set aside for us to do.  If God intends for us to do anything, He is the One Who provides the means for us to do it.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what God has planned for us to do. So many causes and unfinished works touch our hearts, but we are finite and limited creatures.  There are times when we simply have to come to God as we are and let Him show us His way.  There are times when we try to carry things that weren’t meant for us to carry, and in those times we have to surrender them over and let God carry them.

How often do we drag things around that we were never intended to carry? Whether it be guilt, insecurity, grief or a sense of not being/doing good enough, those are burdens we need to surrender to God.

Jesus promised us that He would be rest for our souls. In Him we have purpose, and our lives are productive and complete.

 

 

March 22, 2017- Bring the Children- Luke 18:16-17

 

jesus_w_children_600But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17 (NRSV)

Children are bold and trusting by nature, until they spend some time out in the real world where hurts and betrayals happen. Parents and caregivers constantly give cautions to trusting young children because young children haven’t learned the difference between when it’s OK to trust, and when it’s dangerous to trust.

As part of the process of living and growing up most children end up with a healthy dose of cynicism and reticence toward the world before reaching adulthood. We become too distrustful and jaded for our own good.  In many ways that distrust and cynicism is warranted, as the world isn’t always a very safe place and life can be hard at times.  Friends and family fall short of their promises.  Disappointments and hurts happen.  There are many instances in which it is downright dangerous to trust others.

As we come of age we lose that childlike innocence and we pick up all kinds of inhibitions and doubts- even if they come from legitimate efforts to stay safe- that make it harder for us to simply trust.

Jesus says that we need to come to Him with that childlike innocence and hard-wired trust that only children have. He welcomes us to Him in perfect love and safety.

That’s not easy to do. Especially for adults with jaded and cynical minds and the emotional and spiritual scars that come along with living life.

This is why the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf to help us surrender the things that would keep us away from God and bring us to Jesus- the Way, the Truth and the Life. He wants us to surrender our burdens, our fears, our pain, our sins- everything.

(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NRSV)

We can trust Jesus with everything we are- without reservations, without fear, and without limits. And we have the Holy Spirit always available to help us do that.