Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do not be afraid . . .


Annunciation (detail) by Jacob Pontormo (1495-1556)
Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence, Italy

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.  (Luke 1:26-38)

This reading from the first chapter of Luke is the appointed gospel reading for Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It is an account of the encounter between the messenger Gabriel and young Mary.

In our recent Advent retreat, Sister Thelma alluded to the tendency to depict Mary, in our day and age, as a wimp. Ever so meek, mild, and stripped of personality and power, Mary is frequently characterized as the obedient marionette of God. Just look at images of her in art. Mary the weakling.

Now, for a moment, imagine you have never heard this story before. For a moment, consider the incredible strength Mary mustered to meet this messenger's greeting with willingness and obedience.

Ponder these things in your heart.

Do not be afraid, says Gabriel.

The Annunciation by John Maler Collier, (1850-1934)

How can it be that God chooses to bring life, salvation, and hope to a landscape that is undeveloped or past its prime? Do you ever feel that it's too late, too much, or too frightening to release yourself into God's will for your life? Are you at least willing to be willing?

In these final Advent days, there is still time to prepare a room in our hearts for the life and light of the world, Jesus Christ. We too are favored in God's sight. Let it be with us accordingly.


The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse, 1914

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FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 21, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. 
With your abundant grace and might, 
free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, 
that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, 
for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever. Amen

Readings
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38




 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Starry Starry Night


Yesterday during our mid-week Evening Prayer we sang the hymn, Creator of the Stars at Night. It isn't quite as familiar as some others. And it never is a requested hymn -- at least in my experience. Yet it remains a treasure. It is a hymn that has been dated to the 9th century. So, for well over half of the Church's existence, this song has been sung. 

Perhaps even more profound than it's plainsong setting are the words. They have been variously translated from the original Latin and arranged accordingly, yet they get to the heart of the matter.

Take a moment to meditate on the following text of this hymn as included in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light, 
Oh Christ, Redeemer of us all, 
We pray you hear us when we call. 

When this old world drew on toward night 
You came, but not in splendor bright 
Not as a monarch but the child 
Of Mary, blameless, mother mild.

At your great name, oh Jesus, now 
All knees must bend all hearts must bow 
All things on Earth with one accord 
Like those in Heaven, shall call you Lord. 


Come in your holy might, we pray,
redeem us for eternal day;
defend us while we dwell below
from all assaults of our dread foe.


To God the Father, God the Son, 
And God the Spirit, Three in One, 
Praise, honor, might, and glory be 
From age to age eternally.

Amen

The Trinity with Chalice (1914) Eric Gill

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. If you have not yet taken the opportunity to intentionally enter into this season of preparation and spiritual house-cleaning, there is still time. John the Baptizer appears on the horizon at the beginning of the gospel of Mark. His presence is a always a reminder of repentance and being prepared. He calls out to us: 
"The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."   (Mark 1:7-8) 
Are we prepared? Are we ready to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? Are we willing to be fully immersed, covered over, and transformed by the Holy Spirit? What would such surrender and acceptance mean for you and for me? How might it empower and reconfigure our priorities and ability to live into the will of God? How might our cares, anxieties, and fears be relieved by such an encounter?

The next time we have a clear night sky at our disposal, take a walk. Or, at least go out on the porch and look up. Consider, along with the psalmist, the heavens, the work of God's fingers, the moon and the stars that have been set in their courses.  (cf. Psalm 8).

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  (Psalm 8:9)

The Ghent Altarpiece - St. John the Baptist (detail)
between 1425 and 1429
Jan van Eyck

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christus Rex


This week I invite you to consider the pictures here and see what sort of connections you can discover. These are images of recognizable people (at least I'm assuming).  How many different relationships and connections can you recognize? What are their names, titles and roles? Does any of this matter?


Christ the King on cross detail.JPG

In our day and age, when we hear a claim that Christ is King, what are we hearing? In the day and age of the first century, what sort of impact do you think the assertion that  Christ is Lord had?

Nearly ninety years ago the festival of that we observe and celebrate this coming Sunday had its official beginning. Pope Pius XI established this feast in an encyclical Quas Primas Here is a paragraph from Quas Primas to consider.  (Keep in mind that gender-inclusive language was not much of a concern in 1925).
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. 
He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God” (Romans 6:13).   
Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, 33  -  December 11, 1925
The festival of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the Church Year.  The following Sunday we begin again with the first Sunday of the new church year, or the First Sunday of Advent. So, this Sunday is in a real sense pivotal. In a deeper way it points us to a core claim of our life as children of God in Christ. We are summoned to clarify our allegiances.  Yikes!  This sounds like such a task and hard work.

Maybe one of the most straightforward ways of doing this hard work is simply to get to it. Postponing, in this case, is just another form of procrastinating.

Let me share an example. My son Gabriel will likely never win an award for the tidiest bedroom. Periodically, however, a thorough housecleaning is in order. At first glance the task seems overwhelming if not entirely futile. And the longer it is postponed . . . well, let's not go there! 
Last evening, we made a start. Gabriel and I worked together to clean his room (mostly he talked to me while I cleaned his room!). We didn't finish the task yet, but we did make good headway. 

The point is, not everything in the room can claim Gabriel's allegiance. One need only take the time to look around and it is obvious that some things are more important than others. And so, the tedious and difficult work of picking through everything has to commence. Taking inventory like this is the only way to do it. Some things need to be thrown away as the trash that they are, while other things are rediscovered as the valued and meaningful possessions that they are. But it takes work and being intentional.

How can we apply this to our spiritual lives?  Is our room a mess? Are we do for a thorough housecleaning?  

Christ the King Sunday and the anticipation of a new year is a great time to get down on our knees and take stock of the people, plans, and possessions with which we surround ourselves. What can be said of our ultimate allegiance? Is Christ King in our hearts? Are we in need of another revolution?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Where there is despair,

The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893
In [Christ] we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his gory, we who first hoped in Christ.  Ephesians 1:11-12
These verses from Ephesians were part of my morning devotions today. Paul seems so confident and assured -- as if it should be self-evident that God is large and in-charge. However, sometimes God feels distant, uninterested, and at best oblivious to the daily trials and burdens with which we so valiantly contend.

We confess that, in Christ, God has come near. The faith of the church is that God has taken on our nature and our lot and has made us a new creation in Christ. While that is the official "company" line, for many it seems to be simply too many words. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or when we find ourselves bombarded with so many trials and perplexities, it would be nice for a clearer -- more obvious -- way that leads to life.

When we lack the clarity and confidence that we believe must materialize following our hard work and fidelity to expectations, than it is so easy to despair.

So what do we say to one another when we are in such a situation?  How do we assist one another to weather such periods of confusion and indifference?

These are some of the questions I ponder as your pastor.

My current conclusion is that we (and when I say we, I am referring to "us" as a congregation) have both an opportunity and an obligation to be a community in which it is okay to question, doubt, and be open and honest about our struggles. In other words, we ought not feel obligated to "put on a happy face" when inside, in our gut, we are struggling and suffering. If the church, the community of faith, isn't a place in which we can be honest and authentic, then what are we to do?

What do you think?  What can we do for and with one another when we are faced with difficulties that test our faith beyond our individual ability to contend? How do you keep things in perspective? What experiences have you had that seemed to threaten your spiritual vitality? How could you share your faith and strength with others who are need of your witness?

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

Trouble and perplexity drive me to prayer and prayer drives away perplexity and trouble.                                          - Philipp Melanchthon

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Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014

Prayer of the Day
O God of justice and love, 
you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. 
Give us the light we need, 
and awaken us to the needs of others, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Readings
Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reformation and Creed

So far in the history of the Church, it seems that every 500 years or so, there is some sort of course correction or major shift and change:
  • The period from 325 to 787 witnessed the Seven Ecumenical Councils
  • The East-West Schism (or so-called "Great Schism") of 1054
  • The Reformation, 1517 - 1529
Are we currently in the midst of another such period of transformation? 

This Sunday the church observes the Festival of the Reformation. We'll remember the Reformation of the 16th Century. And we'll also discuss the Reformation of the 21st Century. And, believe it or not, this all fits in well with our ongoing consideration of Martin Luther's Small Catechism.

Below is an image of what is known as Luther's Rose or the Luther Seal. Following it is Martin Luther's own explanation of its meaning. If you were to compose an image that would represent your faith or the Faith of the Church, what would it look like?


Explanation of Luther's Rose
Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. 
The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Rom. 10:10). 
Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. 
Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). 
Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. 
And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal. 
This is my compendium theologiae [summary of theology]. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. 
May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen. 
Martin Luther   
Letter to Lazarus Spengler, July 8, 1530.

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Reformation Sunday
October 26, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, gracious Lord, 
we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. 
Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. 
Keep them steadfast in your word, 
protect and comfort them in times of trial, 
defend them against all enemies of the gospel, 
and bestow on the church your saving peace, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever. Amen

Readings
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Thursday, October 16, 2014

. . . and our neighbors . . .

Early Sunday Morning
Edward Hopper, 1930

It should come as no surprise to you that at the rate we are going, there is no way that we are going to "get through" Luther's Small Catechism in the two weeks remaining in our current study. The time allotted has been sufficient for a mere introduction. But to both be comprehensive and thorough requires more than four consecutive 50-minute sessions. This is not a lament. It's just an observation. It is fine to move deeper rather than spread ourselves too thinly.

The good news is that by now everyone should have access to a copy of the Small Catechism, whether you obtained your own or are using the one included in the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship). The important thing is to read it.


In a general way, we will look at the remaining commandments in the top ten list this Sunday. As I suggested at the end of last week's class, these remaining commandments address the horizontal dimension of our faith. While the first several deal primarily with our relationship with and understanding of God, the rest are concerned with our relationship with and understanding of one another.  Again, notice how in his explanations to each of the commandments Luther describes not only what the commandments forbid, but also what is prescribed and encouraged.

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In worship on Sunday (October 19, 2014) we will be observing the Festival of St. Luke. Actually, Saturday, October 18th is the commemoration of St. Luke. But since we are the congregation of St. Luke, we are transferring the celebration and observance to Sunday. The festival of St. Luke is an opportune time for the church to emphasize its calling to engage in healing ministry. Therefore, there will be an opportunity for the laying on of hands and anointing with oil and healing prayer during worship on Sunday. Please share an invitation with friends, neighbors, and family about this ministry. All are welcome and guests are expected.



PRAYER OF THE DAY

Almighty God, you inspired your servant Luke 
to reveal in his gospel the love and healing power of your Son. 
Give your church the same love and power to heal, 
and to proclaim your salvation among the nations 
to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our healer, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen


READINGS

Isaiah 43:8-13
Psalm 124
2 Timothy 4:5-11
Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Big Ten

Moses with the Ten Commandments 
byRembrandt (1659)

We continue our exploration of Martin Luther's Small Catechism this Sunday. Written in 1529, Luther's explanations to the chief parts of the Christian faith are still timely and can serve to provide us with a framework and reference for our discussion. We'll dwell in Luther's treatment of the Ten Commandments.

As I was preparing for class this week, I referenced a book by Timothy J. Wengert entitled Martin Luther's Catechisms: Forming the Faith. Certainly faith formation is essential to our continued growth in grace and the maturing of our discipleship. Wengert notes that already in 1522 Martin Luther produced his Betbüchlein (Personal Prayer Book).  Here is an excerpt from Luther's forward:
Three things people must know in order to be saved. First, they must  know what to do and what to leave undone. Second, when they realize that they cannot measure us to what they should do or leave undone, they need to know where to go to find the strength they require. Third, they must know how to seek and obtain their strength. It is just like a sick person who first has to determine the nature of that sickness, then find out what to do or to leave undone, After that he has to know where to get the medicine which will help him do or leave undine what is right for a healthy person. Third, he has to desire to search for this medicine and to obtain it or have it brought to him. Thus, the commandments teach human beings to recognize their sickness.  . . . The Creed will teach and show them where to find the medicine--grace--which will help them become devout and keep the commandments. The Creed points them to God and his mercy, given and made plain in to them in Christ. Finally, the Lord's Prayer teaches all this namely, through the fulfillment of God's commandments [by faith] everything will be given them. (LW 43:13-14, with slight changes)
In the days ahead, take some time to read the both Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. What do you see there?  What is similar? What is different? What don't you see there?

The second part of the All Souls Deuteronomy, containing the Decalogue

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples 
and poured out your life with abundance. 
Call us again to your banquet. 
Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, 
and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Readings
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Basics


On Sunday at our weekly Faith Formation Forum we will begin an exploration of Martin Luther's Small Catechism. When I went through confirmation classes, Luther's Small Catechism served as our textbook for our instruction. Along with the Bible, the Small Catechism outlined the basics in the Christian faith and served as a guide in our preparation for Affirmation of Baptism. . . at least, that was the intention.

What has been your experience with the Small Catechism in the past? (If you have none, don't worry. That doesn't disqualify you. In fact, it's all the more reason why you will benefit from this series!)

In preparation for the class, I invite you to read and meditate on two passages from the New Testament.  The first is the passage we often refer to as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Here it is:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:16-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The second passage, a bit shorter, is from Paul's letter to the church at Galatia:
Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
Galatians 6:6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

I'm looking forward to this series of classes. You are invited to gather with us at 8:45 AM on Sunday as we make a start. Everyone is welcome: prospective members, experienced members, church council members, curious inquirers, friends, guests, neighbors . . . etc.  Take a moment to invite someone to come along with you.  If we run out of room in the fellowship hall, we an always move to the nave of the church!


To believe that Christ was crucified for us, that He died and was damned for us, requires the power of God. Thus St. Paul says to the Corinthians: "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). And yet this proclamation penetrates the heart; for "it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith"
Martin Luther, Sermon on John 3:14
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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 5, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. 
Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit 
to know those things that are right, 
and by your merciful guidance, help is to do them, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen

Readings
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46 


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Surrender


This Sunday's second lesson is Philippians 2:1-13. In it, Paul inserts verses taken from what can be described as a Christological hymn from the early decades of the church's liturgical tradition. In it, we hear an exhortation to live into singleness of purpose. This involves the spiritual discipline of surrender.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,being born in human likeness.And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.
My morning devotions today included a meditation written by Catherine of Siena. It has helped me more fully appreciate the act of surrender. Here is an excerpt:
Our heart should burst right out of our body at the realization of the status and dignity to which infinite Goodness has appointed us--first by creating us in his own image, and then by joining his divine nature with our humanity to ransom us and create us anew! More than this he could not give: to give himself to those who by sin had become his enemies.
. . . So let your heart hold back no longer. Let the city of your soul surrender. If it does not surrender to anything else, it will have to surrender to fire--for Christ has set fire everywhere, and there is nowhere you can turn, physically or spiritually, without encountering the fire of love.
Saint Catherine of Siena (+1380), Doctor of the Church, was a Dominican, stigmatist, and papal counselor.


Surrendering is not the same as giving up. It is more like giving ourselves over and into the will of God for the whole of our lives. For most, this is a discipline that calls for daily participation.

When we remember our baptism, we re-call that we have been made a new creation in and through Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. Yet, because of our hard-headedness, we continue to want to run the show. How is that working out?

How have you experienced the peace of God that surpasses all understanding?  In what ways could each one of us individually and all of us collectively move deeper in our participation in the discipline of surrender, to scripture reading, to prayer? How can we help one another to invigorate our discipleship? In what ways is God calling us here and now to encounter the fire of love?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Moderation?


I had a friend who regularly said, "moderation is for the unmotivated." It's not that he was over the top and grandiose (well, maybe a little). He simply had several niche passions. If something was worth doing, it was worth, perhaps, overdoing.

Moderation is often peddled as a virtue worthy of our pursuit. Certainly self-control can be understood as a type of moderation.  Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). I find it interesting that the Greek word (egkrateia) used in Galatians 5:23 that is translated variously as self-control, temperance, etc., refers to the virtue of one who masters his or her desires and passions, especially his or her sensual appetites. In this sense, the scope of the word and this fruit of the Spirit seems to be more specific than general.

Could it be argued that to be moderate is to be in the middle? One who is moderate politically, for example, is in the relative middle of the spectrum. Could that position be interpreted as being neither hot or cold, but lukewarm? Is it wishy washy? Maybe (neither yes or no!)? We'll see.

I am grateful God doesn't operate out of an ethic of moderation. To operate out of an ethic of moderation is to function within the limits of finitude. God doesn't have to do that.

What then are the implications for us who have been created in the image of God? What then are the implications for us who have been joined to Christ's death and resurrection in our baptism? Pray and mediate about this.

Now, take a few minutes and read the gospel lesson for tomorrow (sited below).  It is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. How does this parable of Jesus help us understand and appreciate God's amazingly infinite grace, generosity, passion, excess, and abundance?

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
Rembrandt, 1637


FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 21, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and eternal God, 
you show perpetual lovingkindness to us your servants. 
Because we cannot rely on our own abilities, 
grant us your merciful judgement, 
and train us to embody the generosity of your Son, 
Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen

Readings
Jonah 3:10 - 4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Holy Cross


I don't exactly remember how many years ago it was that I went on a retreat to Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. Maybe it was five or so. I went in early December, the first days of the season of Advent. The abbey is situated on many acres of beautiful land along a meandering stretch of the Shenandoah River. I arrived there on a cold and crisp Friday evening. When I woke the next morning, I discovered that a fresh blanket of snow, several inches thick, had tucked us in for a prayerful time away.

In the midst of the busy-ness of life, I often find myself retreating to this memory of stillness, quiet, and calm. This is especially helpful when confronted with what seems to be relentless occasions for distraction. You know how easy it is to feel the need to react and respond to the latest and loudest. We tend to so quickly set aside proactivity at the expense of the moment. At least, I confess, I do.

What is called for is a measure of intentionality.

This coming Sunday the church observes Holy Cross Day. This tradition traces its origin to the year 335. Although, that may be interesting, its not the point here. What is the point, I suggest, is that Holy Cross Day provides us with a fitting and timely opportunity to be intentional. We need to be deliberate about the centrality of the cross of Christ in both our individual and corporate lives. 

Holy Cross Day is an occasion for us to consider what Luther referred to as the theology of the cross, the divinely-chosen way of humility and service, of suffering and death as the path to life and salvation.


In the meantime, consider how you could grow spiritually by being more intentional about your faith and your engagement in and support of the life and calling of the community of faith. How could you move deeper? How will we move deeper?


Holy Cross Day
September 14

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross 
so that he might draw the whole world to himself.
To those who look upon the cross, 
grant your wisdom, healing, and eternal life, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever. Amen

Readings
Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 98:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:18-24
John 3:13-17

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mental Illness


This Sunday morning at 8:45 we will continue our exploration of the ELCA'a social message on The Body of Christ and Mental Illness. Between now and then, take a few minutes to read and study the Social Message on Mental Illness. (click on this link)

The message offers the following definition of mental illness: 
"A mental illness can be defined as a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning."
I also invite you to read and study Mark 5:1-20. This is the story of the Gerasene man who lived among the tombs. Then think about the following questions:
  1. Why was the man living apart from his village?
  2. Why do you think the people asked Jesus to leave?
  3. Why does the man formerly possessed by demons want to go with Jesus?
  4. What does Jesus tell him to do instead?
  5. What might this healing story teach us about how important community is to someone who is experiencing illness?
The ELCA message concludes with the following statement:
By answering its call to enter into the companionship of suffering, the church eases the isolation and alienation experienced by those who suffer from the effects of mental illness. Answering this call is at the heart of the church's response to mental illness.

How has the multi-week series on mental illness and the discussion of bearing the burdens of one another helped you think about this section of the message?


This is a wellness wheel that we will also discuss together on Sunday. 

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 31, 2014

Prayer of the Day
O God, we thank you for your Son,
who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.
Humble us by his example,
point us to the path of obedience,
and give us strength to follow your commands,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Readings
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Serving the Multitude

The Nave of Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia
(five-star dining for those experiencing homelessness)

Having just recently returned from a week-long mission immersion in Center City Philadelphia, many of our youth are still adjusting to life lived with abundance. Our shared experience at Broad Street Ministry served as an eye-opener to the complex set of realities that impact the lives of many of the unseen, unnoticed, and under-appreciated of our society. We walk by them most of the time, busy with our own agendas and concerns. We are a country preoccupied with self.

Jesus calls us to be mindful of the other. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Serve, forgive, give, heal, encourage, clothe, shelter, feed. No mere suggestions, these directives are meant to directly form what we do. We are meant to be instruments of God's peace.

In this Sunday's gospel reading we hear the familiar passage of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and the feeding of the thousands. Take a few minutes are read over this passage (Matthew 14:13-21). How are we like the disciples in this passage? Is there a miracle described here?  If so, what is it? 
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Addy Fry took some time upon her return from Philadelphia to produce the video below. Look, see, share:


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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 3, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, 
and you cover creation with abundance. 
Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, 
and with his food fill all the starving world, 
through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Readings
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sowing

Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, June 1888
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

There is something peaceful and optimistic about the notion of sowing seeds. Certainly, Van Gogh's rendering of the act is idyllic if not nostalgic. (Some say Van Gogh was inspired by Millet's earlier effort, see below.)

In the so-called parable of the sower, Jesus harnesses agrarian imagery to convey the truth of God's Word encountering various types and conditions of people and circumstances. Take a few minutes to read Matthew 13:1-9. There are many perspectives from which we could view this and begin to engage the text. Whether we consider the sower, the soils or the seeds, each has to be seen as instrumental. Without all three, there would be no harvest. The harvest is the point. What do you think?

What roll does anxiety play in all of this? Do we become preoccupied with conditions and quantities at the expense of actually sowing the Word of God? Are we waiting for the opportune time? Do we anticipate or require prime circumstances before we get to work?

Jean-François Millet, The Sower, 1850
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Maybe because we think our means and methods of getting the word out are so technologically sophisticated and require such little risk to our person, that the task of one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball testifying has been reclassified as obsolete, useless. If so, how is that working for us?

I have no idea who this is or where this picture was taken. 

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This Sunday I am going to begin a three-week Faith Formation Forum series. I hesitate to share the topic with you, as you may get the wrong idea. Suffice it to say that it is important, timely, and crucial to our vitality as a congregation.  Invite a friend or neighbor to come along with you. Meanwhile, below is a preview of this Sunday:

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 13, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, we thank you for planting in is the seed of your word. 
By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, 
live according to it, 
and grow in faith and hope and love, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen

Readings
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Captivated

Rittenhouse Square, November 2013

Several years ago I had the pleasure of getting involved in a band. We were home grown. Friends. Originally, it was just Andy, Barry and me. We didn't have a name, so we referred to ourselves as the ABC Band. Andy and Barry were the real talent. Both gifted musicians. Andy played bass and keyboard and sang. Barry played lead guitar and blessed us with his amazing talent and giftedness. I kept busy with percussion and background vocals. Together, we practiced and performed . . . for fun and to the glory of God. As time went on, others joined us. Early on, Mari (Barry's wife) stepped in and helped to anchor the vocal section. Other friends joined in from time to time. We renamed ourselves Zion's Hill.

The band provided us all with a sense of healing and release in the midst of struggle and pain. We discovered that we could only do together what we were incapable of doing alone. 

So, this morning as I am remembering this time and reflecting on all that has happened since, one word from a song began to echo in my mind. Captivated. 

A song that Zion's Hill covered was All of Creation by Mercy Me. The second verse begins with these words: 
Captivated but no longer bound by chains. 
In the brief order for confession and forgiveness from our Lutheran liturgy, our confession begins with these words: 
Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.
Sometimes our language can be complicated. Communication can be a challenge. Being captive to sin is bondage.  It is deadly. Being captivated by Christ, being captive to God's love, grace, and forgiveness is healing. Oddly, it sets us free.

I have been transformed by this amazing grace. Not all at once, but again and again. God is relentless, patient, and faithful. And I've seen this same amazing grace work in the lives of others. My friend Barry was and is under the life-saving influence of this transforming love of God. Jesus is real, alive, and active in Barry's life today. Even in the face of recent sufferings as the result of several strokes, Barry is beginning again to make music. He continues to be grateful to his Lord Jesus for the healing he has experienced. No longer enslaved, yet captivated.

Who or what captivates you? As we live with the recognition that we are indeed still captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, how are we simultaneously freed to live captivated by Christ?  To what extent does this remain a struggle?

As you think about it, take a few minutes and listen to All of Creation by Mercy Me.


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Everyone involved with Vacation Bible School throughout this week is having a blast. Our last session is this-evening (Thursday).  Rumor has it that there will be ice-cream! We are looking forward to sharing some of the music we learned throughout the week in worship on Sunday. Please plan to be there. We are in this together. 

Thank you to everyone who was involved with VBS this year.  It was a joy to welcome everyone here and also meet some new friends visiting from surrounding neighborhoods!

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Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 29, 2014

Readings
Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Prayer of the Day
O God, you direct our lives by your grace,
and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.
Mold us into people who welcome your word and serve one another, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen 





Thursday, June 12, 2014

Trinity: Holy, Blessed, & Confusing

The Holy Trinity after Andrei Rublev, 1411

The faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize, is trinitarian. You and I have been commissioned to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We teach and confess that there is one God. We teach and confess that God is three. You've heard it before, the church confesses and worships the Holy Trinity.

This coming Sunday is entitled: The Holy Trinity. It is the only Sunday that we gather to intentionally highlight a doctrine of the Faith. Most of the time, we are celebrating festivals that have to do with the life of Jesus, events in the life of the Church, or teachings and readings that represent the biblical witness.

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We rehearse this all the time. God is three persons. God is one. We have been baptized into this mystery.

In some of my reading recently, I came across the following claims that I found helpful in my own ongoing growth in the faith.  They are from, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna (originally published in 1973).

[T]he doctrine of the Trinity is not above all a theory about God's 'internal self-relatedness' but an effort to articulate the basic faith of Christians: In Jesus Christ, the ineffable and invisible God saves us from sin and death; by the power of the Holy Spirit, God continues to be altogether present to us, seeking everlasting communion with all creatures.
The Spirit of God, poured into our hearts as love (Rom. 5.5), gathers us together into the body of Christ, transforming us so that "we become by grace what God is by nature," namely, persons in full communion with God and every creature.
and finally,
The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately therefore a teaching not about the abstract nature of God, nor about God in isolation from everything other than God, but a teaching about God's life with us and our life with each other. Trinitarian theology could be described as par excellence a theology of relationship, which explores the mysteries of love, relationship, personhood and communion within the framework of God's self-revelation in the person of Christ and the activity of the Spirit.
Masaccio, The Trinity, 1425

Take a few minutes and watch this interesting video: Masaccio "The Trinity"(Magic of Illusion)

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The Holy Trinity
Sunday, June 15, 2014

PRAYER OF THE DAY (LBW)
Almighty God our Father, dwelling in majesty and mystery, renewing and fulfilling creation by your eternal Spirit, and revealing your glory through our Lord, Jesus Christ: Cleanse us from doubt and fear, and enable us to worship you, with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, living and reigning, now and forever.

PRAYER OF THE DAY (ELW)
Almighty Creator and ever-living God:
we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, 
and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. 
Keep us steadfast in this faith, 
defend us in all adversity, 
and bring us at last into your presence, 
where you live in endless joy and love, 
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.

READINGS
Genesis 1:1—2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11–13
Matthew 28:16–20