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Discovering the faith of our ancestors

June 28, 2017

Sermon preached as part of the celebrations for the “Heimattag” of the Transylvania Club in Kitchener

2nd Sunday of Holy Trinity

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

 

Matthew 22:1-14

With this comparison, or more exactly, parable, Jesus tells us about a royal wedding that is an occasion for great joy. A king is inviting people! And given the context of the parable, we might even say: It is the king of kings who is inviting us, the almighty Lord of heaven and earth! Think for a moment, what would happen if one day you found an invitation to a royal wedding in your mailbox? It would be printed with golden reliefs, have the royal family crest and your name would appear there: You are being invited to a royal wedding! Or better yet: a royal limousine is parked in front of your house; a royal servant, wearing royal robes and white gloves, passes the envelope to you.
Jesus said: “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come” How great! Those who preach the word of God are like those messengers, and in this sense, so is everyone who proclaims the Gospel by means of sermons or testimonies of Jesus Christ at the request of God.

There is no doubt that you will accept this invitation and circle the date in your agenda. It may even happen that someone hesitates and says: But I cannot accept that invitation! In this case, the king will be patient and generous: he will send another magnificent servant later, also with the limousine (perhaps they may even come several times) and he will want to know if you have changed your mind and if you are willing to go and honor him with your presence. Jesus told them, “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready”. I can smell the rich aroma of the roasted meat of the royal wedding party; I imagine there will be salads of all kinds and sauces of all kinds and garnishes and soups and appetizers and desserts and cakes. And He said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:51)

But there remains a worrying question. What attracts me to attending a royal wedding and wedding party? And in relation to the parable, this question becomes even more distressing because there are people from the street who are invited; even the homeless and socially marginal are invited. Where are we going to get the right clothes for a wedding like that? And the good news tells us: If you do not have anything appropriate in your wardrobe, do not worry! The king will even give you something appropriate. He does not want to see anyone dirty or poorly dressed at his wedding; everyday clothes will not do. That is why, at the entrance of the wedding, he will give out appropriate clothing: dresses, tuxedos, neckties, silk handkerchiefs, ornaments and other related things. And God has already given you all this in his kingdom when you received him and you were baptized: “The blood of Jesus Christ and his righteousness are my clothes and my adornment,” are the lyrics of a song. In baptism, God gave us his garments of salvation. We could never get such clothes on our own.
Through this parable, Jesus wants to tell us about the great joy that comes with being a child of God and belonging to his kingdom. That’s as beautiful as taking part in a royal wedding. And the best thing about this invitation is that it is valid for all people without exception, both for the good and the bad. Jesus said, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Thus, “many are called,” which includes all people of the world.

But not everyone will reach eternal salvation. God knows that only a few will accept his invitation, and they will attend and they will stay; they are the “chosen ones.” Jesus chooses these people. That is why it is said: “Many are called but few are chosen.” But the parable also has a dark side. Not only does Jesus tell us about the great joy of the kingdom of God, but he also tells us about the great gravity of it. From the same nuptial joy, suddenly there arises hostility, and at the reception a cruel expulsion takes place.

And so it happens: some guests despised the great honor that the king was granting them, despite his repeated invitation. Jesus said: “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them”. The king is so beside himself that he even declares an inclement war on the guests who despised his invitation. Jesus says that: “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Whoever prefers their day-to-day affairs than to God, whoever turns his back and despises his invitation, whoever makes fun of Him or persecutes his servants, has earned his anger. You will not have to be astonished if God punishes inclemently.

But there are still some problems with some guests who have wanted to participate in the party. Jesus says:
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?”
The king asked him kindly; maybe even expected an apology. Instead, the guest fell silent. The guest did not address his host. He did not give him the slightest answer. We believe that he also despised the king, as well as those who at first did not want to attend. And he also got the anger of the king:
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
Apparently this guest either rejected the wedding clothing or took it off later, perhaps because they were uncomfortable for him or because he did not like them.
Not everyone who is baptized remains forever in baptismal grace; not all who are baptized maintain the faith of salvation wrought by the forgiveness of Christ. Our ancestors were able to cope with the hardships, shortages and sufferings of the past, for they had accepted this invitation from the king, that is, they were already part of the kingdom of God, they were among the guests who enjoyed the favor and protection of God. We call all this the blessing of God. When we withdraw ourselves from God, from his fellowship, from His word, from the church, we also gradually drift away from the blessing of God.

Our ancestors were able to cope with many difficult situations, not only because of their ability to work and their good Germanic virtues and traditions, but first and foremost because they remained in a real relationship with God and did not merely carry out religious traditions.
I’ve had the privilege of working in Argentina for almost two decades with congregations of Volga German origin –in fact, I even have a daughter in law of Volga German heritage– and I can bear witness through the countless conversations with hundreds of German Volga elders who have told me of their and their parents’ hardships and sufferings in Russia since the beginning of the twentieth century. And they have all told me one thing: ‘we could face it all; we have always been able to overcome everything because we had God on our side’. In addition to the familiar Bible that was read every day in the house, and of course personal prayer, there would also be a song of praise from their “Gemeinschaftsliederbuch”. –Until today, I have kept a personal copy for myself as a treat from one neighbour, one of the old ladies of my former congregation—

It was not their will, their tenacity, their steadiness or their abilities that helped our ancestors to continue, to migrate, and to thrive in an unknown and even discriminating country. It was the foundation of their faith in God and His blessing. The title of my sermon is ‘Discovering the Faith of Our Ancestors.’ For those who didn’t know this, it may be a discovery. For those who know it but have stopped practicing the faith, have stopped having a relationship and fellowship with God where they put God in the first place in their lives, it will be a re-discovery. I know that among the Transylvania Germans it has also been like this. I also know of the Volga Germans and many other ethnic groups. I know of those who have accepted God’s invitation to believe, to trust and to have the Word of God as the authority for their lives, to have the church as the main meeting place and, of course, to have a daily relationship with Jesus. They have been able to endure, to get ahead and to thrive thanks to the blessing of God. And that is the best legacy of our ancestors that we can re-discover: their faith in the living God. Their devotion to God enabled them to succeed despite trials and miseries. When a people loses sight of all this it begins to fall and to lose the help and support that comes from God. When a people put God first, God begins to bless those people and even their related ones and to heal that land. This applies not only to a particular ethnic group but to entire countries. And we can confirm this from the Bible when we are told: “Remember the Lord your God, because it is He who gives you the power to produce that wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:8)
Many forget that all that our ancestors achieved did not come firstly via their will, hard work, and persistence, but because they put God first. As we read in psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain”.
If we live in a very prosperous country and we are very positive and hard working people, but we forget God and we reject his invitation, everything begins, unfortunately, to gradually decay and to be corrupted in the absence of God’s favor.
And thus, Jesus, through this parable, tells us about the great joy of being invited to the kingdom of God, but also of the great seriousness that it implies. Jesus did not threaten his listeners, nor force them. God doesn’t force anyone to believe in Him; it is always an invitation, like the parable of wedding. He simply tells a story. And the same parable applies to us today. It tells us about the joy of being invited by God and of the serious consequences of despising that invitation. The invitation is still standing, even today, in the same way as it used to be. There are still enthusiastic messengers of God who continue to invite both good and bad to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what does this mean for us? Let’s find out for ourselves. What Jesus did is simply to tell this parable in the same way that I did. It is in us to experience what happens when we accept Christ and we begin to see Him again and walk in His paths. Our ancestors knew it very well and they experienced it also.
Amen

E. Pellini

The Resurrection of Our Lord

April 18, 2017

Easter Sunday


After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

Matthew 28:1-10

The Resurrection is the great miracle upon which the whole of Christian faith is founded. Remove the Resurrection and you remove the heart of Christianity.

Despite the all of the years that this message has been proclaimed, we are not tired of its newness or of its radical nature. In fact, if we tired of it, “our faith would be in vain,” since it is the core of the Christian faith. I also cannot help but admire the fact that Jesus chose women to be the first witnesses of his resurrection. This should not be surprising, since reading the Gospels we find numerous clues of their presence and their importance in the communities of the first centuries. Neither the gospels nor the earliest letters have been able to erase the women as faithful disciples and first witnesses of the message.

The Gospels point out the fear that arises in the witnesses of this event; In Mark it is such that women say nothing of what they have seen; In Matthew fear almost kills the guardians and is also recognized in the two Marys while they go to share with the rest of disciples what they witnessed; In Luke it makes them lower their faces in respect as the messenger asks them why they are looking for the one who is alive among the dead; In John it is not so obvious, because what seems to blind Mary Magdalene is not fear but pain (she confuses Jesus with the gardener and asks about the body). I think it is an important fact as a very human sign of embarrassment and emotional breakdown to events that go beyond what we can understand, that do not happen daily and that shows an out of control and divine power. But it is not a fear that produces despair or immobility, but joy and movement. So the Church begins to spread.
Finally, note the fact that there are no witnesses to the resurrection itself, not even when Jesus was coming out from the tomb. There was simply an empty tomb.

Like Jonah in the belly of the great fish, the “three days” of waiting, which come to an end on Saturday night, are a time of darkness and uncertainty. But even there God is not absent from those who believe and hope in his faithful love.
Like Jonah being returned to the fresh air of the shore after those three days in the dark, Jesus is ready to meet his brothers and sisters. In the Gospel, it will not be in the capital of the kingdom, but in Galilee of the Gentiles, the land that had housed the carpenter, his family and his disciples, the land despised by the religious system of his time. There, Jesus announces to the women in his first manifestation after his resurrection that he will find them.
Here it is announced: the empty tomb; the military power (the guards) immobilized (the guards perhaps even faint with fear); extraordinary events like an earthquake and a heavenly messenger sitting on a large stone; And of a Jesus who lives and looks forward to meeting his people.

And we want to recall once more some of the evidence of the resurrection for those who may need it today:

First of all, Jesus’ absence from the tomb: the place of the tomb is well-known. Many theories have been put forward to explain the fact that Jesus’ body was absent from the tomb the first Easter Day, but none of them are very convincing. First, it’s been suggested that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and he recovered in some way in the cool of the tomb. But, if any of you have seen Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion’, e.g. you know what it means to undergo a Roman flogging and crucifixion. People didn’t survive that. A stone weighing one and a half tons was put in front of the tomb. In addition, there’s a fascinating piece of evidence.
John, chapter 19, verse 33 ‘But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead. So they did not break his legs’. (breaking legs was to speed up death by crucifixion). Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water’ (Jn 19:33).

It appears that there had been a separation of the clot and the serum, which we now know is good medical evidence that he was dead. But they didn’t have that medical knowledge at the time; they were simply writing it because that’s what happened.
Then people have said, `well, maybe the disciples stole the body, and then they began a rumour that Jesus had been resurrected.’ But leaving aside the fact that the tomb was guarded, it’s psychologically improbable. Here is a depressed, discouraged group of people — look at what they had to go through for their beliefs.
A friend of mine, who’s a scientist, became a Christian because he said he could not believe that the disciples would have been willing to be tortured and die for something that they would have known, if they had taken the body, was not true.

Others have said, `well, maybe the authorities took the body.’ That’s not probable at all, because if they had the body, all they had to do when people were saying, `Jesus is risen from the dead` was to say, `No, he’s not. Here’s the body.’ Look how quickly we were shown the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons when they were killed—because they wanted us to know they were dead.
Other people say, `well, maybe robbers stole the body.’ That’s the least likely of all, because — we don’t talk about the `empty’ tomb, because the tomb was not empty. Jesus’ body was absent. When the disciples got to the tomb they found the grave-clothes, which were the only valuable thing, the only thing for robbers to take — they had collapsed like a caterpillar’s cocoon when the butterfly has emerged; and the headpiece that had been around Jesus’ head had been folded up and put in a separate place. And when they saw that, they believed.

The second piece of evidence: First, the absence of Jesus’ body from the tomb. Secondly, his presence with the disciples — he was seen. Sometimes people say, `well, hallucination.’ Well, people do hallucinate, but it is highly unlikely that even two people would have the same hallucination. Jesus appeared on eleven separate occasions, on one occasion to more than 500 people at one time. 500 people could not have the same hallucination. And then look at the nature of the appearances. Hallucinations are subjective; they have no objective reality. It’s kind of like seeing a ghost. But look at these appearances:
‘While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking that they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and he ate it in their presence’ (Luke 24:36-43).
I knew of a person who became a Christian because of this. He said he could not believe that a ghost would eat broiled fish!

And then the third piece of evidence is the immediate impact. Here were a group of disciples who were discouraged, depressed, fearful, hiding — and something occurred that totally changed them so that they went around telling everybody, `We’ve seen Jesus! Jesus is alive!’ And then you get this historical phenomenon we know about, which is the birth and growth of the Christian church. And it’s an extraordinary, observable fact, because beginning with a group of basically fishermen and tax collectors there is this explosion in 300 years right across the whole known world. It’s a story of a peaceful revolution with no parallel, really, in the history of the world.

The fourth piece of evidence is Christian experience down the ages. Countless millions of people down the ages have experienced the risen Jesus Christ. And it’s people of every civilization, continent, nationality, every economic, social, intellectual background, from all
walks of life: they join in this common experience of the risen Jesus — millions of Christians all around the world today are experiencing this relationship.

From my experience, through reading the New Testament, I came to the conclusion that it’s true. But for years I didn’t decide to really believe — Sometimes people think, `If I become a Christian, my life will be miserable from now on!’ And people try to put it off, many people try to find ways to not become a Christian, or be committed to Christ’s church. But when they say, `Yes,’ at that moment they experience what they were unconsciously searching for all their life. They experience something that gives ultimate meaning and purpose to life — a relationship with Jesus. And for many this is the last place in the world they expect to find it. It is at that moment they really believe with head and heart.
We Christians, we are far from perfect. We mess up, we have many failings; but when we start to experience the love of Jesus Christ and his power, a relationship forms with him that convinces us that he really is alive and we don’t need more scientific evidence.

And this is the most important. If you can believe, you will not need our human standards to confirm that something is true; just as Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). That evidence is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ; the moment you decide to accept Christ, to believe in Him as God and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your life and gives you certainty of faith. Then you begin to read the Bible (God’s word) daily and pray and you can experience the living and real presence of the risen Christ. You must do this for yourself.

Today we invite you to believe in that Christ, if you still need more proof and more evidence. Today you are invited to accept Christ so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in your person and in your life. God wants to be alive in you, in your family and in your church. But for that you have to bow to God and decide to believe in Him and surrender to Him. Amen

Spiritual Bread

March 26, 2017

 Sunday Laetare

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?  Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

 

 

John 6:55-65

Do you want to live? We all want to live. And everyone wants to become something in life. Even those who are tired of life want to, at least, live if only in better conditions. Those who are satisfied with their life wants to live without the sufferings and afflictions that come with the years.
Everyone wants to live. And they all strive to get the best possible conditions for life and uphold them. This may not be as clear in Western society, since we have all of the things necessary for life readily available. As a result, we may focus more on how to live, on living well, and that we can have fun. It is different in other countries: there people must still fight to obtain the basic things and necessities for survival. The essentials correspond to food and drink; they are rightly called “supplies”. If you want to survive, food is always needed. You cannot live without food, at least not for long.
It is remarkable that foodstuffs come to represent life itself. These are logically plant or animal products. Take, for example, bread: At the beginning it is only a seed of wheat or rye. It is sown in the earth and it develops all the power contained in its interior and it becomes a stem of cereal. The fruit then grows on the stem. Then the plant is cut, ‘it is killed’; its fruits are threshed, ground and mixed with other ingredients and finally baked. From a living stalk of cereal there arises the edible bread that we use to live. The same happens with other edibles: they come from plants and animals and often plants and animals must die so that we can live through their products.

For people in Jesus’ time, this was common in their daily lives. They also wanted to live. And since most of them were poor, they really had to work hard to get their daily bread. They had to ‘go after’ bread everyday like many people in modern day poor countries. Jesus’ contemporaries were very aware of their own history and that God is the origin of all things necessary for life and that ultimately everything depends on him, even if they have enough or not. Their daily bread was considered to be a gift from God. With amazement, we still hear the old story of how the Lord led the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and fed them: with manna, with bread from heaven.
A couple of thousand of Jesus’ contemporaries wanted to see a similar miracle. They had followed Jesus into the wilderness to listen to him. Many perhaps just waited to see a miracle. Jesus had preached for many hours and the people were hungry. But there was no food in that lonely place, especially for such a large number of people. There Jesus performed a famous miracle that revealed him as the Son of the Heavenly Father. Just as his father had once fed the children of Israel with manna, now Jesus, with a few loaves and fish, also fed the multitude. The people were so impressed that they wanted to make him king, but Jesus suddenly disappeared. They searched for him and found him elsewhere. And there he began to preach, and a part of this sermon is what we have heard in our text.
In this preaching Jesus addressed the general human need, their desire to live and that all have the necessary bread. This fundamental situation was used by Jesus as a parable for something more important. What was important was clearly expressed by the introduction: “Amen, amen, therefore I tell you”; in other translations: “certainly”. And then the words that impacted people followed (and also touch many people today). Jesus said: ‘If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man nor drink his blood, you will not really have life.’ Do you want to live? Then we must eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. Jesus also compared himself with manna, the bread of heaven in the desert: “Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

These words are not about survival, nor of the prolongation of life until a certain age. Daily bread fulfills this purpose, for that is our food. Here we are concerned about much more; we are talking about eternal life, which is the life received when we are in relationship with the Heavenly Father. For only in fellowship with the Creator will we find the meaning of our life and live a life to the fullest, as our Creator set it. Only in communion with the Creator does our life lose its temporal limit; death can no longer kill.

Do you want to live with God, to live forever? That can be done when you have the right food. That is, the bread of heaven; this is the true food and the true drink of which Jesus speaks. He said, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is a true drink.” Only he who eats the flesh of Jesus and drinks his blood will have eternal life. Only those who do so will be found not guilty on the day of the final judgment and will rise, the others will go to condemnation. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood – if you think about it, it does sound shocking, doesn’t it? It seems to be a kind of cannibalism. Many of those who listened to Jesus found these words weird, were disappointed in him and turned away. Eat your flesh and drink your blood – But why? Jesus explained why this should be so. He said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
The Heavenly Father is the source of all life; without him or separated from him there can be no life. The only-begotten Son is of the same essence as his father and comes from the Father, which is why he also brings fullness of life with him. Only those who are related to the Son will have a part in that true life, in the life of the Son and also in the life of the Father. That is to say whoever lives in Jesus. Or the other way round: where Jesus lives. That is only possible when that person receives Jesus inside of him, in a certain way, he “eats” and “drinks” him. Let us listen again to the words of Jesus: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” Here we can discover another point of comparison with our provisions: from the biological point of view we live by means of food, which comes from this world. From the spiritual point of view, we live from the food that comes from the true fullness of life, that is, from heaven, from the Father, in the figure of his son, in the form of his flesh and blood. And just as the grain must first be cut down and killed, to become bread, and just as the cattle must first be slaughtered, to become BBQ, so also the Son of man must first die, that his flesh and blood may come to become true food that allows us to live for eternity. This took place on the cross, where the Lamb of God was sacrificed for us. This sacrifice comes from Jesus himself and has been foretold with many words and images. Among them is also our verse of the week:
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”(Jn 12:24).
But how can this happen? How can we eat flesh and drink the blood of Christ? We can do this through the sacrament. Here Jesus said something that even goes far beyond Holy Communion. He said, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man or drink his blood, you do not really have life.” If that had been said only in reference to the sacrament, we would have to assume that young children do not have spiritual life, since they do not take part in the sacrament. This statement would contradict everything the Bible says about baptism. We need to understand the words of Jesus in a broader sense: here “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” means:
…to believe in him! His flesh and blood come to us through grace, through the preached Word of God and the administration of the sacraments. Right now, in this moment where we hear the word of God, we are eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, if we truly believe in his word. This also happens during the forgiveness of sins. Through confession, we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ.
When a person is baptized, they eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ. During the sacrament it is also very clear since, through the miracle of this sacrament, the body and blood of Christ are truly represented by the bread and wine. Anyone who partakes of the sacrament while accepting it with faith “eats” his flesh and “drinks” his blood in the biblical sense. Then it is a spiritual food for salvation, for eternal life, which differs from eating with the mouth. Do we want to then live? Then let us eat his daily bread, let us strengthen ourselves with this food! Do we want to live forever? Then let us eat the bread of life of Jesus Christ: Let us believe in him and strengthen ourselves with the means of his grace. Amen.

A Real Offering

March 19, 2017

Sunday Oculi

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44
The topic for today according to the Lent’s time reflection is: “ready to surrender”. We want to see if we truly value the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross to save us. We want to value everything God does for us and because He offers us the forgiveness of our sins without us deserving it.
Perhaps with this preaching text you may think: ‘the pastor is going to preach today about money! It is perhaps a good opportunity today to preach that the members give more for the church since it always needs it!’ If that is your thinking today I have to say that you are wrong. The preaching text for today I did not choose it. This corresponds to the preaching text for this Sunday Oculi and if you have the Losungen you can check it in the German evangelical lectionary that we follow every Sunday. On the other hand today’s topic about the widow’s offering goes far beyond than simply giving money. The central message for today is not just about money, it goes much further. Jesus wants you to give him your life, your whole being to him. Jesus wants our church to stand up and say: ‘we want to follow Jesus not only with the money we have and with all the material gifts with which God has blessed us abundantly, but also with our whole being. We want to put Christ and His commands in the first place in our lives’. That is the main message for today.
But nevertheless let us see the wonder that an insignificant money offering given with surrender, love and faith can make:
‘One Sunday morning, the pastor of a church went outside to meet a group of children who could not enter Bible School because the building was very crowded. One of those children was a little girl named Jenny, she was six years old. When the minister saw her, he took her in his arms, put her on his shoulders, and took her to the church looking for a place so he could participate in Bible School.
The next morning, as he walked toward the church, the Pastor saw Jenny again and stopped to talk to her. He told her that he hoped that one day the church could build a new, large building in which there would be enough rooms so that all the children who wished to attend could be accommodated.
Two years later, little Jenny passed away suddenly and the Pastor was asked to preach at hers funeral service. After the service, Jenny’s mother gave the minister Jenny’s small purse, with fifty-seven cents. She told him that Jenny had been saving her cents to help the church build a new Bible School building. The Pastor took the fifty-seven cents and took them to his church and told the congregation about the little girl he had been saving money to help build the new Christian Education building. The people were so inspired and moved by Jenny’s gift that they began to give faithfully and generously until they built a wonderful building with enough rooms so that all the children they wanted could attend’.
I’m sure Jesus would say that Jenny gave more than anyone else to build that great church. She gave everything she had.
The Gospel of the widow’s offering is well known to many. And we can even find different explanations and applications for different moments in our lives and communities.
In verse 44 there is a brief description from Jesus that says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” .
If the widow put everything she had, what she would live from? Was it that the widow was about to die or did she have some other help? Where would her help come from? From whom does all proceed? Shouldn’t she have to say rather to herself and to God: ‘I need this money to live and that is why I cannot give it today!’
Verse 42 shows how the widow gave. So, what were two very small copper coins actually worth back then? So a small copper coin called a lepton was worth 1/128th of a denarius. A denarius was a day’s pay for an unskilled manual worker, so in modern money, assuming $100 a day is an equivalent salary level, then the two leptons were equivalent to about two dollars.
What can you do with two bucks these days? Not much, perhaps, but you can do something – and a poor person can probably make $2 go quite a long way. It was just the same in those days – a lepton could have bought you a loaf or two of low-grade barley bread, or enough raw barley for you to make a dozen or so loaves of bread – enough to last you for a couple of days.

Maybe next to the widow dollar would be the $ 10 of the merchant, the $ 100 of the owner of a factory, or the five of a worker, maybe 100 times more than what the widow gave. One may think she gave nothing. But she didn’t have a fixed salary. She did not receive a pension, although the Law of Moses ordered to take care of the widows. (Ex 22: 21-33). If she gave something, it really was a contribution, but something that cost her and that is a true offering.
The question is how we could transfer it to our days. Today there are pensions, social assistance, insurance, etc. Poverty today in our country is an exception, although today there are many who speak of a “new style of poverty” that has to do with a standard of living that was beyond compare in ancient times or even with other less developed countries in our today’s world. Not affording to have a television set, because one cannot buy it today is considered a sign of poverty. If we compare the situation of the widow with ours, we should give at least a ten percent of our income each Sunday. But can we compare this way? Is it not more important to rescue the widow’s attitude and to inspire every one of us today?
“The widow did not know what tomorrow will bring. Even if she had had a little money, she wouldn’t know if she would have money the next day to buy food. She lived in constant insecurity. In this insecurity she gave himself completely to God. She trusted God; she threw himself into his arms. She gave God what she could give. She did not keep with anything, because she simply trusted that God would reward her for her trust.
We must also make it clear that sometimes we might be in danger of thinking of God on ‘tit for tat’: that is, God helps me, because I give him something. That way the thing does not work. God doesn’t allow himself to be pushed. God rewards us according to our faith in him and our surrender in the first place. God doesn’t act like a money market desk. God helps but those who first believe in Him and have already surrendered their lives to Him. It is understood that the widow brings her offering in the first place because she knows that everything (100%) comes from God and comes with a grateful heart and with confidence. Whether she gives that offering or not is not the most important thing for her. For the same gratitude and for her deep trust is that she can give everything she has. Now we could ask the question:
Do we have reason to be grateful, as well as the widow? Can a worker be grateful? The widow had lost her husband-but why should she thank God? The unemployed lost his job-why should he thank God? In each case we must see that life is longer than the actual situation. What happens to us at the moment is not everything. On the contrary: the fact that we have life is already a huge gift. The fact that we can live relatively safe, that is to say that we don’t have to be living in the street (literally speaking) is a reason to give thanks to God. God is working in our lives, even if it is not always visible. How can we express our gratitude to God today?

 

The widow’s offering is not only about money, but also, especially, with offering a gift for a sacrifice of love that costs us. What can we as Pilgrim Church be giving God that goes beyond our comfort zone and convenience for the growth and spreading of the gospel from our church? What do you think would be for us members of the Pilgrim Church the widow’s offering that God is asking us to test our faith and for him to begin to truly bless us?
However, we don’t have to stop thinking that God too can be drawing our attention to every one of us so that we begin to take care of our Pilgrim church with more love to him as we trust the material things that God gave us and gives us for His work. He is waiting not only for us to sustain our church even more abundantly with money but also with our time, our prayer, our commitment, our positive thoughts and faith, with the words of faith we declare about the church, with the content of our conversations!
God can begin to bless this church very richly, and even to make it grow wonderfully, but it is up to us to begin to do the wiser things for this church according to what God asks and those things who please God, not only that please people.
I as a pastor and a member I am interested in our church growing and multiplying, and for this I want to serve God with my money, my talents and above all things with what God is asking me to undertake as a priority in this church. I know that some people may don’t like the way I could approach my ministry. But I want to please God more than men as we read in the Scriptures (Gal 1:10) And I want the best for this church, I want God to bless this church but for that I have to be obedient first to him. And I hope that the majority of the faithful believers of this church can accompany me if they really want to see the Spirit of God working in this church.
God is asking surrender to him if we want to go forward, God asks us to put him and his church first, God asks us not to look so much at our wishes and preferences and personal comforts, but to think how many more families can get to hear the gospel from our  church every Sunday, if indeed what we do, we do it for him and not only to satisfy our desires that sometimes might not match the will of God. We need more people, more members like the widow in our  church, not only with money but especially with their total devotion and love for Jesus and His church.
Are you ready today to surrender to God through this congregation that God gave you, as the widow did? Do you want to give God today something that costs you?; According to our answer God is going to bless this church.
May God give us wisdom and courage from above and not from the world, so that we can continue see a church alive and wanting to grow. Amen.

How to Increase Our Little Faith?

February 1, 2017

jesus-peter
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone,  and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s story calls us to have more faith. Jesus’ exhortation to Peter was: “You of little faith.” Jesus was not speaking to the rest of the disciples. The other disciples did not show faith at all. They did not decide to go out of the boat. The only one who took action was Peter. The only one to decide to do something bravely was Peter. He also became scared and doubts arouse in him and he then lost his faith.
Jesus’ exhortation is also addressed to anyone of us who has sometimes exercised faith. We can never have little faith if we have never exercised our faith. If you’ve never exercised your faith, you will not have any faith. It is a good thing to have ‘little faith.’ It is a sign that you’ve tried to at least believe, to do things. When we try to do things, especially for the Lord, we are showing faith.
The sad thing is never trying. It is a sad thing to be discouraged. Discouragement makes people inactive and passive; they do not undertake anything anymore. When we don’t undertake anything, our faith starts to die. When faith is dead, it is very difficult to believe the word of God, the Bible, and especially to believe the stories of Jesus’ miracles, wonders and signs. A good parameter for today’s message could be: how do you feel, spiritually, when you hear these out-and-out wondrous stories about Jesus? Do you feel excited? Do you feel comfortable every time you listen to stories about miracles? Or do you feel uncomfortable and resistant to believing that it could be true nowadays? Do you feel uncomfortable when you are addressed with supernatural things every time you are at church? Do you think that you have to scientifically explain every supernatural thing you hearing from the Bible in order to accept it?
If it is so, it may be sad; maybe we are falling in Peter’s category, and our faith is starting to be weakened. It is sad, but we don’t have to be ashamed. We have to take action to fix this. We have to try to solve this spiritual problem. And the only way to start solving this spiritual situation is to use the spiritual aides that will help us to improve our spiritual life before it is too late.
One of the first things we have to undertake is praying. How often do you pray? Normally, we have to pray to our Lord on a daily basis. If you are asking me, “Why daily?”, I can answer you with another question. What would you answer if I asked you how often you had to eat? You would surely answer, every day! Why? You won’t answer: because the human being has to be fed. You will answer: because I’m hungry! The same happens with prayer. We the people that pray will answer: ‘because I’m hungry spiritually and I need God’s Spirit in my life.’ But if you’ve never experienced what it is to be fed or nourished spiritually, you will never experience what it is to be hungry spiritually. Maybe you have heard about people that are suffering from bulimia and anorexia. It is a modern day ailment that pushes people to not eat, consciously or subconsciously, in order to avoid ingesting food. Doctors have discovered that these people don’t feel hunger anymore. They experience the lost of hunger for food or physical hunger pangs. And that is the reason they start to lose weight in a considerable and fast way, even without noticing it.
Do you know that the same thing is happening on a daily basis with many people, but spiritually?
But what are the consequences of it? When people begin to starve spiritually, it is firstly reflected mentally, their mood, their vision of life, their enthusiasm for life, and the way they speak; they always speak pessimistically and negatively. And with time this spiritual weaknesses will also be showed in their body; from weak mental health comes weak physical health. We Christians know that a person’s spirit has dominant control over all the other aspects of the human being.
Prayer is related with our connection with the spiritual realm, that is, with God. Reading the Bible is part of our spiritual connection with God. Many people think that reading the Bible has something to do with learning, studies or the intellectual part of the human being. It is of course natural to think so, books are related to these. But in this case, this very particular book it is just a way to be connected with God’s Word. Every time we go to this book with reverence and trust, we receive God’s word in a spiritual way, not intellectually.
And the third thing we have to take care especially is one of the most fundamental; it is to be connected to God through the community of faith. It is so sad, I can see it especially in many young people, young marriages, that they don’t pay special attention to this part. Many think that community life, that is the church life, is something that has to do with religion, costumes, family, obligation, or even an old fashioned way of life. They may even compare going to church to belonging to certain associations or clubs. That’s a pity. And there are two valid reasons for this; the first one is a spiritual one: the influence of the devil. And this is a real spiritual presence that constantly takes us away from God. And the second one is that we ourselves fail to teach our children and grandchildren, and we ourselves fail to fully understand what it means to be part of a Christian community because even for us it is not quite clear.
Let us remember that going to church is a direct commandment from God, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” It is a commandment with promise of assistance from God, and even comes with the peril of losing God’s blessing for not being part of His gathering. And at the same time it is a way to be connected with God and to receive the very best and most powerful of God’s strength for our spiritual being, through the special presence of Christ in the church, and through the sacrament of Holy Communion and the preaching of the gospel. And for this there is a direct communication of Christ: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt 18:20)
Dear brothers and sisters, maybe you are thinking now, ‘Oh the minister is telling us this again and again, the same old thing. Things we already knew.’ Yes, indeed. You already know all this. But the new or every time renewed truth of this is, that we have to be aware, that we have to constantly take care of our faith, and the only way to take care our faith, and to increase our faith and to search for God’s strength for our lives is to come over and over to the same old and very well known teaching from Jesus: take care of you prayer life, take care of your Bible reading, take care of your community life, your fellowship at church and God will increase your own faith in a way that may even surpass Peter’s faith.
Maybe you are thinking that the minister is right in all these observations, but still it sounds to you a little bit like at “to do” list in order to achieve closeness with God and the kind of faith that I could be needing for changes in my life. Sometimes sermons can sound a little bit old fashioned or even demanding.
If it’s so, I’m sorry, but it is not my intent. And neither is it God’s intention for us to feel bad because we don’t have the kind of faith we should have. The very same apostle Peter’s was exhorted by Jesus: ‘You of little faith’ But one thing is true, and we have to be honest with Jesus if we want change in our lives, in our own church and as a consequence in our families, we have to take action. The same kind of action Peter took. The other disciples stayed passive in the boat, we don’t know why. But Peter acted and he was able to show faith, to walk with Jesus, to be part of Jesus’ miracles and even to increase his faith.
How many times have we been in the boat with the waves and the wind swirling around us, fearful of what is going to happen next? We cry out in fear, but more often than not, we fail to heed the words of Jesus, ““Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”.” We turn to God when we are in need, but do we do as Martin Luther says, “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” We are quick to go to God when we need help, but it tends to be a rarity when we go to God and give Him thanks for the many blessings He has showered upon us.
What kind of actions, are we going to do for Jesus and for our own sake? We are invited to take action by praying, reading the word of God and taking care of our fellowship life through the church. Amen.

He Is Waiting For Your Love

December 25, 2016

chrsitmas-treeBy Rev. Enzo Pellini

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:16-21
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If you came to the Church today because you usually do it every Sunday, or if you came to church today because someone insisted you come to church or invited you cordially, because today is Christmas’ Eve and you have to come to church at Christmas!, or you do not know why you are here today in the Church, because you don’t usually come to Church throughout the year, I want to declare to you that the fact that you are here today, no matter what the reason, it is not a coincidence, it is not just by your own decision that you are today here. Someone blessed your life this evening and is giving you the opportunity to be among the community of believers who gather in the name of Jesus Christ. You’ve come with everything you have, with problems, with unresolved situations that you would like to finish so you can start a new kind life; so you came to the right place. If you are willing to accept a wonderful invitation on this night, I assure you that you will find the answer to what you have been bitterly looking for until today. But now everything will depend on you. Let me tell you about it.

There is an old German Christmas song that says ‘Alle Jahre wieder’ or every year again. Every year again we read the same reading of the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2 about the history of Jesus’ birth. We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, because no date appears anywhere in the Bible. But centuries ago we decided to remember the birth of Jesus especially on this date and tomorrow too.

Everything else, the ornaments, Christmas shopping, Christmas meals and family get togethers, are only accessories, the icing on the cake, during the festivity we call ‘Christmas’ or the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ birth. By the way, Christmas means ‘a mass for Christ’ or we could say today a “service day for Christ.”

Every year, again and again, we want to repeat precisely this message: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Surely many of us that had the blessing of a good upbringing in the faith already know this verse by heart. I know it by heart in my mother tongue; I also learned it in several other languages because I needed to. Yet whenever I read these words from the Gospel of John, I discover something new. Why? Because every time you read these words from the Bible, the Holy Spirit of God, which is related to the reading of the Bible, —when we do so with faith and reverence— reveals other things to me. That is why I’m maturing, I’m growing in faith or I’m strengthening in my faith. That’s the reason why Christians read the Bible and get together with other believers. The Holy Spirit is God himself; the invisible God who rules the universe. Anyone who wants to nourishment and formidable power from that Spirit will only have to approach him with faith and reverence.

A well-known TV presenter, when she repeated subjects on her television program, used to say: ‘don’t worry that we are talking about the same topic today, because the public is always being renewed.’ The same happens in the Church; the public that we have every year is always a little different. But the same is not true for the church; we do not say ‘don’t worry that the reading is from Luke 2 again.’ That is because the message is always new and refreshing because of the Spirit. Every Sunday the message is always new and challenging despite the same thing being told to us again and again:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That’s refreshing, isn’t it? Why is that? If you still haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that is, as the authority in your life and as the one who will give you paradise beyond your life, you haven’t truly believed in him yet. Remember that the devil, who is for now the Prince of this world, also believes in the existence of God and Jesus Christ, but he doesn’t obey God or have respect for his word. There are many others who say they believe in God, but like the devil, they don’t obey God or Jesus Christ through his word, the Bible. And if that surprises you today, then this reading will be really something new for you; something fresh and non-repetitive. Maybe it feels a little routine for you if you’ve accepted it already. For those who have already accepted to believe in Christ it is perhaps routine, like the German song that states: ‘every year again’? No, because every time we go to the Bible we learn something new, and the Spirit speaks to us in other aspects of our lives.

The meaning of Christmas is to be able to find out precisely this: If you have already accepted to believe in Christ as the son of God, the Savior of the world, who is full of amazing love and grace and who wants to grant you abundant life in this life and eternal life beyond this world? God is love, and he sees everything good and loving as part of His creation and He wants us to live in His love. But above all things, he wants us to love Him firstly and then also our neighbor. If we decide to love our neighbor, but we forget to love God, then there is something that we’re doing wrong.

When we read the verse for today’s message: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”, it says to us that when we decide to believe in Christ as God’s son and respect His will as expressed in the Bible, we are loving God. Then the fruit of this love will also be expressed in love toward our neighbours. But we shouldn’t forget to believe in Him, which is to love Him and to show that love every Sunday when we gather in the Church to worship Him and to nourish ourselves with his word in community. He promises us in the Bible: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. (Mt 18:20)

May God grant us tonight a new sign of His grace, his infinite love to invite us to live a more abundant life on this earth and the gift of eternal salvation for every one of us if we decide to believe in Him, which is nothing other than loving Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Amen. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Accepting His Gift

December 18, 2016

By Rev. Enzo Pellini

4th Sunday of AdventJoys is coming

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

 

Christmas is the time of presents. The purpose of the presents is to make others happy. This, however, does not always happen. Some are disappointed by the present they received and think silently: “What am I going to do with this gift?” It can also happen that, over time, the person may find it useful and be happy. For example, when an uncle gives his little niece a piggy bank, the girl may at first be disappointed because she would have preferred a doll or other toy. However, she later finds out the true value of the gift and becomes excited.

The most valuable things are the gifts God gives us. Actually, our whole life is a gift from God, what we are and what we have, except for everything that comes from our sinfulness or the devil himself. And God gives us all things with the intention that we may rejoice. We are often surprised at why God has given us this or that. The gifts of God sometimes don’t meet our expectations and it can happen that we feel disappointed. It is good, in any case, to learn the art of receiving from God, to accept what God gives us, which may be even better than we expected. God’s goal is to rejoice. “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:11) Let us pray and let ourselves be surprised with joy at the gifts that God has for our lives.

Mary was surprised and gifted by God in a special way. Yes, gifted, for thus says the angel Gabriel: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” He could also have said: “You were rewarded by God!” The intention of this greeting is contained in the greeting of joy, for “I greet you” also means: “Rejoice.” And the angel adds the following: “You have received the favor of God.” That means: “God is going to give something away.”
It is a rather surprising gift, yes, an awesome gift what Mary receives from God. And it is a supernatural gift: she, a virgin who has not yet met a man, will be pregnant and will have a child. That son will be nothing more and nothing less than, the Son of David, the messiah that the people of Israel had waited for centuries for.

It is indeed an awesome thing that, the same angel Gabriel brings the message from God to Mary. Receiving messages from God was something for men. And as a single girl she received less respect than a married woman. Besides all this, she was a simple girl from a family of workers. Worse still, she lived in Galilee, the region which the pious people of Jerusalem and Judea no longer wanted to regard as holy land. Just like this Maria speaks to the angel Gabriel! It contradicted all human logic and expectations about God. But this testifies precisely to God’s way of acting: God likes to identify with the dispossessed.
I like Bonheoffer’s quote that is in our current bulletin: ‘And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken’. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Nevertheless, this gift of God is not a sudden whim. God works many times in a way that is incomprehensible and surprising to the judgment of many people. However, his heavenly and eternal outlook happens in a perfectly planned way. The angel Gabriel tells Mary about God’s plans: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” And there we hear the words of the prophet Nathan; that God had given David a thousand years over his descendants. This promise was repeated by God through different prophets; now it is fulfilled in Mary. Yes, God decided to send this son of David, this redeemer, to the world when the world was still young. For Mary it was unexpected, for God it was the fulfillment of his plan of salvation, a plan of salvation that would cover the whole history of the world and that would have its climax in the second coming of Jesus Christ to the world.

The Holy Spirit will manifest this, Gabriel explains: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary also received a miraculous sign that it was indeed a work of God and there was no mistake: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” because there is nothing that is impossible for God.

One might think that Mary with this gift would be more scared than the content. Back then it was always more difficult for unmarried, pregnant women. And it may also be that all this divine news could have failed. She may not have been inwardly prepared to have a child. But Mary, however, willingly accepts this gift. Quickly, she learns the art of letting herself be given away by God. She says: ““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This story would not be included in the Bible, if it had been a personal gift from God to Mary. But it is something more. It is a gift from God to all mankind; it is a gift from God to all of us. Jesus will be called “The Savior” and this name is within God’s purpose: Everyone can access salvation through him. He will be a king over the house of Jacob, as announced by the angel. The house of Jacob makes us think of the people of Israel. But their physical descendants are not thought of as spiritual. All those who, like Abraham, trusted in God, are his children and form the true Israel, the true house of Jacob. In this way, this gift that Mary receives is a gift from God to us. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, we have received a gift through Mary, this Savior and King.

God always gives us this gift in a renewed way. Jesus comes again and again to the world, that is to say, where his word is preached and his sacraments are shared. To this day, the Holy Spirit continues to give away messages from God. The word of God and the sacraments (baptism and the Holy Communion) are the channels through which the Holy Spirit comes to us with Jesus and gives us the optimal and most precious gifts that God wants to give.

Dear brothers and sisters let us act like Mary and joyfully accept this gift! We may not always recognize its value and feel disappointed. It may be that some members of the church think during this time of the service that: ‘going to church is not worth much.’ They may even find preaching or liturgy somewhat boring. But think: Here we receive the best and most precious gift of God in a way we cannot understand according to our human standards. Here Jesus Christ Himself comes to us through the word and the sacrament. Here God wants to give to us so that we can rejoice forever, even beyond death.

Let us learn the art of accepting the gifts that God has for us. Let us appreciate the value of these heavenly gifts. If we know what has been given to us through Jesus Christ, then we will realize that: everything we receive in life is a good gift from God in the name of Jesus. Even if they surprise us or throw away the plans we had for our life or at first may disappoint us: Let us be surprised by God; It is interesting to live like this. And we cannot do anything smarter than to always say, “Here is the servant of the Lord.” Amen