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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2021

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2021

In this Season of Christmas (yes, season! Christmas is 12 days from Christmas Day to Jan 6th Ephiphany), I hope you find the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of Christ. This has been a challenging year because of COVID. It has been a rollercoaster of emotion. It also has been challenging in a multitude of ways. I am truly grateful for all the people in my life that have helped me get through all of it.

At Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. It truly is a mystery that God would want to be among us considering how sinful and awful we are (just look at this year). And Yet,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16-18

Christmas is about remembering the event of God coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, which happened over 2000 years ago. We also look back at what has happened as we begin a new calendar year. This year has been filled with many newsworthy moments, unprecedented things, and rare events. From the pandemic, scandals, an election, and the stars and planets aligning. Despite all these things, we will most likely forget some of them or move on to the next thing to grab our attention. However, the mystery of Christ’s birth, his life, his death, and Resurrection remains Good News some 2000 years later. That Christ came to a sinful and awful world. So good in fact we celebrate it every year, throughout the year. We celebrate the foretelling of the Good News of Jesus during Advent. We celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We celebrate his life, his baptism, and his ministry during Epiphany and Lent. We remember his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. We celebrate God’s continued presence and life in Christ’s Church during Pentecost. As Christians, we celebrate the Mystery of Christ each and every day because Jesus is Good News! Let us respond with Joy this Christmas, and let us respond each and every day with the Good News that we find in Jesus. God is with us! Go Tell It on the Mountain. Amen.

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving comes this year I am reminded that Martin Luther often wrote that the Christian life should be a gracious response to the life and salvation we receive in Christ Jesus. In expounding upon the first article of the Apostles Creed in the large catechism. He wrote

 I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that God has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding, and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants, house and farm, etc. Besides, God makes all creation help provide the benefits and necessities of life—sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; day and night; air, fire, water, the earth and all that it yields and brings forth; birds, fish, animals, grain, and all sorts of produce. Moreover, God gives all physical and temporal blessings—good government, peace, security.

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, “Explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed” 

In many ways, this reminds me of Psalm 107:1,

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always know how to or want to give thanks to God. But if we read further in Psalm 107, we find a God who redeems his people despite failing and turning away. As this section from verses 4-9 Illustrates.

4 Some wandered in desert wastelands,     finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty,     and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,     and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way     to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love     and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty     and fills the hungry with good things.

Take some time to read through the rest of Psalm 107. Maybe you’ll find something that resonates with you. 

We can trust that God’s love and mercy for us endures forever at our best and, at our worst. God continues to find ways to bless and redeem us. Let us trust the Lord and respond in gratitude. I know that when I lack gratitude, I tend to be self-centered and pessimistic about life. Which also happens to sound a lot like how we define sin. Sin is described as a turning in on yourself and a self-focused attitude that draws us away from God and our Neighbor. However, when we have gratitude, we can’t help but look up and see how God and our community provides and cares for us every day.

Let us Pray,

Lord Creator of the universe,
You sustain and give us all good things. Help us to respond in gratitude toward your gracious gifts. The Gifts of life and love. The gifts of food, shelter, and clothing that others labored so that we could have them. Nothing we have, we earned on our own. We are dependent upon you and the gift of community. Help us to live in gratitude so that all our gifts, especially your gift of love, may be shared. In Jesus Name. Amen. 

Have and wonderful Thanksgiving Celebration. Stay Safe.

Pastor Mark

A Pentecost Moment: How do we respond? And Where is God in all this

A Pentecost Moment: How do we respond? And Where is God in all this

As we celebrate the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in the church calendar. This year it is marked with disruption of all sorts. From Protests and Covid-19 to Violence. It may seem like the world is falling apart. I have been overwhelmed with much of what is going on and I found it difficult to offer any meaningful reflection that wasn’t steeped in anger or frustration. Some of you may feel the same way. I have been focusing on listening and observing so that I can respond with grace and wisdom.

The most difficult thing to witness these past few weeks has been seeing the lack of compassion and understanding from our fellow citizens. From people getting violent or angry about wearing masks, the stay at home order, the continued violence against minorities from Asian folks being blamed for the COVID-19, and then the incidents of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. This is not the country I want to live in or thought we lived in. It is certainly not the Kingdom of God.

As Lutherans in our Baptismal Liturgy asks us to profess our faith, reject sin, and confess the faith fo the church.

One part in particular states: 

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? We renounce them

Do you renounce the parts of the world that rebel against God? We renounce them.

Do you renounce the way so sin that draws you from God? We renounce them.

ELW Affirmation of Baptism Liturgy

Given all the racism, violence, and other sins we see around us TODAY. We cannot remain silent. We must Renounce Sin when we see it. We must take an active role in renouncing racism, violence, and greed. 

We must also confess that we have been a part of it. That maybe we have done a poor job of living up to our promise to renounce the Devil and all the things that defy and draw us away from God. I know I certainly have. There are subtle ways in which I discriminate or judge my neighbor based on appearance or prejudice. I get stuck in the trap of greed and hoping more money will solve all my problems or thinking violence and anger is the only way forward.

But despite our failures as Lutherans, we are also reminded of God’s grace. Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article fo the Creed. In the Small Catechism states:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

Luther’s Small Catechism

We are continually called to Grace and given the Gift of Grace. The church is the place we are daily called, gathered, forgiven, sanctified, and sent out. And it is the stirring up of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible. One of my Franciscan brothers gave the wonderful image of a glass of milk with chocolate sauce sitting at the bottom. We have been given the wonderful gift of grace and it needs to be stirred up. Just like that syrup needs to be stirred up to make Chocolate milk. It seems that the Holy Spirit is stirring things up in us and in the world around us. We are asking ourselves some difficult and challenging questions. What things are stirring up in you? Discomfort, pain, new ways of looking at things, excitement, or more questions than answers.

I will share with you just a few questions I have been pondering lately:
Given all that is happening? Do I have a vision for what God’s Kingdom might look like? What do I do with my anger and frustration so that I can love my neighbor instead of being suspicious? Am I part of the problem? Am I racist?  If people can worship online, why come to church? How do we respond to racism in way that is grace-filled? How do we as a mostly white congregation listen to the experiences of minorities? How might this shape our worship or understanding of scripture? What does meaningful worship look like? How can we use the technology we are using to be better connected? How have we let money get in the way of loving others? Personally and in the church. Where are you, God?

Experiencing Communion when Apart

Experiencing Communion when Apart

As Lutherans, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (sometimes called the Means of grace) are an important part of how we experience God’s grace and presence in our lives.

During this time of pandemic and social distancing, we have not been able to experience the presence of Christ in Holy Communion as we did weekly during our normal Sunday Worship.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to read through this section from Martin Luther’s Small catechism that reminds us of just what Holy Communion means to us.

What is the sacrament of Holy Communion?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul, write this:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.

After supper, in the same manner, He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Take, drink, all of you. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you and all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this, often, in remembrance of Me.

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Which words are, besides the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and anyone that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

But any that does not believe these words or doubts is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.

In light of this as Lutherans, we believe that Christ is really and fully present in Holy Communion, that we receive grace and forgiveness when we partake, and we receive all this through faith.

In the spirit of receiving Holy Communion and receiving all its benefits through Faith. I would like to share with you the practice of Spiritual Communion. It is essentially a prayer asking for Christ’s presence. It is a Roman Catholic practice that I think fits our Lutheran understanding of the sacraments. It is not meant to replace Holy Communion but strengthen our desire for Christ and sustain us until we can receive the sacrament again. Spiritual Communion is a prayer that acknowledges Christ’s real and full presence in Holy Communion and reminds us that we can receive that same grace and forgiveness we receive in the Bread and the Wine during worship. Some of you may find this particular practice hard to wrap your mind around. In that case, it may not be for you and that is ok.

The means of grace are concrete ways for us to know God’s grace and forgiveness. Spiritual Communion is one way to receive this free gift of grace in the absence of our ability to assemble and receive Holy Communion in worship.

The purpose of Holy Communion is for Christ to show and reveal his presence in our lives. Christ promises to be with us in the Sacraments and also when pray for his presence.

So how do you practice Spiritual Communion?

Find a quiet place. Think about what it means for Christ to be present in your life. Think about what it means to receive Christ in Holy Communion. Think about Christ being present with you.

Then use this pray

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Communion.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

 It can be prayed in the midst of your daily work, lifting up your thoughts to God.

The ultimate goal of our lives should be communion with God and an act of spiritual communion can help a person draw closer to that goal.

Grace and Peace.

How Long oh Lord?

How Long oh Lord?

Psalm 13

Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
To the leader. A Psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

As the weeks go on with COVID-19 and the many ways it has halted and altered the world around us. I wonder myself, “How long, O Lord? Have you forgotten me?” I wonder how long it will be before we have in person worship again. Or how long it will be before we can all receive communion together.

I also wonder as I look out at the world. We have seen extraordinary kindness but as things continue, I am starting to notice and dwell on the bad. The bullying, the name calling, the injustice, the poor, the hungry. It is overwhelming.

This Psalm has only 6 verses. The first 4 verses linger in the sense of little hope and comfort. It is ok to voice and be in that space. It is never good to avoid pain, loneliness and sorrow. Maybe need to to just sit with those things for awhile. 

However, we cling to hope we find in God. We don’t have dwell in the land of sorrow or defeat. We can cling to the promises we find in Jesus. That He is the way, the truth and the life.