Pastor's Update

Pastor's Update 

Easter 7  Sunday May 24th
Gospel: John 17:1-11 and 2nd Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
 
As we grow in our relationship, - connecting with the Holy - prayer is essential.
 
When we share a difficulty, heartache, with another person and he/she says to us, “I will keep you in my prayers” or “I am praying for you.” How do we feel? Dismissive – “That’s what he/she always says … I don’t know that it really means anything.” Or appreciative – “Thank you, that means a lot to know you are sharing my name with God.”
 
Do we pray for our friends? Jesus did. And you know what? In the same way that Jesus prayed for the apostles, he prays for us. In times of confusion, when we are unsure of what to do next, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus has prayed for us. 

How did he pray? What did he ask for? JESUS PRAYED THAT GOD WOULD PROTECT HIS FRIENDS and that they would be one – united.
 
Vs. 11 “now I am no longer in the world...Holy Father, protect them in your name….” Notice that Jesus doesn't pray for the disciples to be released from their problems. Instead, he prayed that God would care for them, watch over them, strengthen them – yes, protect – a Good Shepherd. He prayed, "but they are in the world…. Holy Father, protect them." Several verses after today’s Gospel reading in vs. 15 Jesus says: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”  And “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…." Wow! Jesus prays that we would be with him forever – “where I am.”   And he prays again and again that we would be one … relationship with God and one another.
 
Tony Campolo tells an intriguing story about being at a worship service where a man prayed a very pointed prayer for a friend. 

"Dear Lord," the man prayed, "you know Charlie Stoltzfus. He lives in that silver trailer down the road a mile. He's leaving his wife and kids. Please do something to bring the family together." 

Amazingly, as the man prayed, he repeated the location "the silver trailer down the road a mile." Tony wanted to say, "KNOCK IT OFF, FELLA. Do you think God's asking, ‘What's that address again?'" 

After the prayer, Tony preached, and then left to drive home. On the turnpike he noticed a hitchhiker and decided to give him a lift. "My name's Tony," Campolo said, "What's your name?"

"Charlie Stoltzfus," the hitchhiker said.  Campolo was dumbfounded. It was the young man for whom the prayer had been offered. Campolo got off at the next exit.  "Hey, where are you taking me?" asked the hitchhiker.  "Home," Campolo said. 

The hitchhiker stared in amazement as Tony drove right to the young fellow's silver trailer. That afternoon the young man and his wife started praying together. 
 
Sometimes there are more coincidences when there is more prayer.

We sometimes forget how powerful a simple prayer can be. 
 
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
 
Relationships - being one - matter. This Memorial weekend we give thanks for those who served our nation; those who died serving; and their families. We pray in these difficult days as Jesus – give us strength and watch over us for the journey during this time of much sickness. In these anxious times it is important to remember Peter’s advice – share your anxiety with God because God cares for you. Prayer is a significant part of our relationship with God. We pray for each other - for our families, the community, national and international leaders. During this time of separation, we recognize that our relationship as a community of faith is important – pray for one another always.
 
Music on YouTube you may enjoy: 
You’ll Never Walk Alone (virtual choir): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gpoJNv5dlQ 

Easter 6   5/17/20
Gospel: John 14:15-21
 
In the novel, The Whisper of the River, Porter is leaving for his first year of college. With the eyes brimming mother prepared to let her son go. "Oh, my son," she said, "I am going to miss you! Walk with God and grow in grace." What happens next is a double-exposure: Porter gives his mother a hug and sincere kiss and offers a casual "goodbye." The reader, hears the thoughts, the quiet speaking, in Porter's heart: "what moved him of a sudden was a feeling of remorse that he could have ever been ashamed of this lovely person who had done him nothing but good all his life. But he could not dare to let anyone see how very precious this woman was to him. Big boys had to outgrow their mothers."  
 
Actually, life is a long series of leave-takings. Quickly, we learn not to cling to mommy's knees when the babysitter comes. We learn to cut out wailing by October of our first year in school. Homesickness may be dealt with a few times, but eventually conquered. Always absence hurts. Whether as a child watching mom leave or as an adult facing the loss of a loved one it is frightening, painful - to be left alone. Healthcare staffs have tried to be with those dying of the coronavirus so the patients are not alone. The words we use at leave-taking, have been secularized and emptied of religious significance. Originally, departure was so painful and threatening that we needed God to help us do it. GoodbyeGod be with "ye" (you).  Life is a string of farewells.
 
Look at how Jesus spends the last hours he has with his disciples. After washing the disciples’ feet, predicting his betrayal and Peter’s denial, He comforts their fears. Chapters 14, 15, 16, 17 record an after-dinner conversation which is intended to strengthen their souls. For four long chapters, Jesus bids his disciples farewell. The Gospel of John began with the declaration that "the Word became flesh and lived among us." The one who called us taught us, the one who turned water into wine and raised the dead, is leaving us. Next week (5/21) we celebrate Ascension Day. Jesus goes home. 
 
Yes, Jesus acknowledges, I am leaving but don't let your hearts be troubled. I am sending the Holy Spirit to help you remember what I have taught you. Don't have troubled hearts… because I leave my peace with you… because I am the vine and you are the branches. You will bear fruit as long as you remain in me. Make me the source. Then Jesus says, I love you. Listen! God loves you! Jesus is also frank with them, sharing that the world is going to hate you, but don't have troubled hearts about it, you don't belong to the world. Remember they persecuted Jesus first. He tells them they will grieve when he leaves. But one day... Oh, one day, he tells them, your grief will turn to joy! And finally, he prays. He prays for himself. He prays for his disciples. And then he prays for you and me.
 
This is a remarkable after-dinner conversation. The gospel of John has 21 chapters and five of them record the events of Thursday night around the dinner table the day before his death. Jesus wants his disciples – and we who believe and follow today - to be ready, to be calm, to be free of a troubled heart. --- No wonder – after a long evening of conversation - the disciples fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane!
 
Easter 5 – May 10, 2020
Gospel: John 14:1-14
 
Our Gospel text today follows the Maundy Thursday meal. It is near the beginning of Jesus' longest discourse, one lasting from John 13:31 – 17: 26. It has been a disturbing meal with Jesus, the teacher and Lord washing the disciples’ feet and later telling them one will betray him. Further, Jesus tells them he will only be with them a little longer and Peter asks, (vs. 13:36) “Lord, where are you going?” In today’s lesson Jesus says, “you know the way to the place where I am going.” And Thomas immediately responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” During this evening meal these men have become confused, desperate, frightened. What do you mean Jesus, that you’re leaving us? 
 
M. Scott Peck began his book The Road Less Traveled stating: “Life is difficult.” Whether a first century disciple or a 21st century follower life is not easy. Right now, it is the Coronavirus that makes it impossible for us to “get back to normal”. For those who are older or with pre-existing health conditions Covid19 is frightening. For others who are unemployed there is also fear and desperation for paying bills and a most basic need - providing food. It is also a confusing time for those who think the virus is “no big deal” and every business should be open. Indeed, we have never experienced anything like these days and months. Mother’s Day stirs an array of feelings too – those wishing to be a mother, those unable to celebrate their first Mother’s Day with family because of the virus, those wishing mom was still alive, those with long standing emotional issues with mother, etc.  Confused, desperate, frightened may describe many of our feelings along with those of the disciples.
 
We begin chapter 14 with Jesus telling his followers, “do not let your hearts be troubled….” Jesus’ words in these chapters of John’s gospel include some of his most memorable, beloved sayings - powerful, comforting, challenging, reassuring words: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (13:34). The beginning of chapter 14 is often read at funerals, "in my Father's house there are many dwelling places….I will come again and take you to myself…” "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (14:6) "I will not leave you orphaned." (14:18) “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, … will teach you. Peace I leave with you…." “I am the vine, you are the branches." (15:5) "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (15:13). These chapters include wonderful words of hope, comfort, assurance and grace. These are words of relationship“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”  Let our attitude be one of gratitude for God who loves us. 
 
And a demand mentioned several times throughout these chapters is Jesus’ words … “love one another.”
 
Frederick Buechner has observed: "In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of will."
 
Jesus isn’t giving us a suggestion that we love one another. This is a command. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to love: love families, friends, and even love our enemies. We don’t need to hug them, even hang out with them. We can disagree with them. But to pray for each other. To be kind whenever possible. A positive attitude toward one another. 
 
Listen to the testimony of the gospel. "I am leaving you. But I will not leave you desolate. I'm sending you a Helper. I'm giving you the Holy Spirit. My Father and I will make a home with you." RELATIONSHIP!  We are always loved by the creator. Never alone regardless of what we must face/endure.
 
Rock guitarist Eric Clapton, wrote a heart wrenching song after the death of his four year old son. The final verse says:
 
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please.
Beyond the door there's peace I'm sure,
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven.


Devotion – Easter 4 – May 3, 2020
If you memorized Psalm 23, “the Lord is My Shepherd”; do you remember where/when? I memorized the Books of the Bible in Sunday School (NOT SEMINARY), but I memorized this Psalm after reading it so often at funerals. This Psalm speaks to us in our grief, but it is for all times. 
 
Psalm 23 begins with a powerful declaration of faith – no wavering – The Lord is my Shepherd. Outside roaming the hillsides the good shepherd is a Protector – from predators, storms; Provider – find good grassland & quiet water; Comforter – treacherous times; RescuerCare Giver – nurse, lamb deliverer. The images of a good, faithful shepherd affirm for us Jesus’ declaration that he is the Good Shepherd. The One who is always with us. Journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. – abides with us forever … a very good parent and more – Savior.
 
In the verses that follow today’s reading, we hear Jesus say: 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:11,14,15,16) 
Jesus tells us he is the good Shepherd who lays his life down for us.
“The Lord is my shepherd” is a personal declaration that the Shepherd cares for us, indeed, for me. The Shepherd comforts, guides, protects. A Shepherd who provides eternal hope. A Shepherd who loves us. Essential to all the Shepherd provides for us, we cannot ignore that the Shepherd calls us to serve as he came to serve others.  And yes, our Good Shepherd dies (lays down his life) for us. 
A mother living in a tenement house went shopping for groceries. While she was in the store, a fire engine raced by. She wondered, "Is the fire engine going to my home?" She had left her baby asleep at home. Forgetting about the groceries, she ran toward home. Her building had fire hoses aimed at it. It was burning like a matchbox. Rushing to the chief, she cried out, "My baby is up there." He shouted back to her, "It would be suicide for anyone to go up there now; it's too late." 

A young fireman standing by volunteered, "Chief, I have a little baby at home, and if my house were on fire, I'd want someone to go up to save my baby. I'll go." The young fireman climbed the stairs; he got the baby, threw her into the rescue net, and just as he did, the house collapsed and he was burned to death. 

The scene is 20 years later at a graveside. A 20-year-old woman is sobbing softly. Before her, at the head of this grave, is the statue of a fireman. A man stopping by asks respectfully, "Was that your father?" She replies, "No." "Was that your brother?" "No," she says. "That's the man who died for me." 
Hear again, 1 Peter 2:24 - "he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds, you have been healed."
YOUTUBE will provide many beautiful music selections based on The Lord Is My Shepherd. Following are two videos to get you started! Enjoy some quiet listening time.
John Rutter, Requiem, The Lord is my Shepherd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Tjx2q57zDU
David Haas, You Are My Shepherd:


April 29, 2020 - A prayer for these times. Found in the Morning Prayer (Matins) Service of LBW. 
Lord God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Reprinted under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #22649.


Easter 3 – April 26, 2020
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
 
On Easter Sunday two disciples were walking to Emmaus. The “Road to Emmaus” is a familiar story only shared by the Gospel of Luke. Along the way Jesus joins them – our writer tells us these followers did not recognize him (actually, they may never have met him “up close” – a message from Luke to all of us, living generations later that we would meet him in the breaking of bread). Jesus asks what they are discussing and Cleopas, astounded that he doesn’t know –“are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know?”- shares that Jesus had been crucified and adds (vs. 21) “but we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” Good Friday abruptly and harshly changed everything for the followers of Jesus. That first Easter was confusion and mystery. Cleopas shared that several women reported the tomb empty and a “vision of angels said he was alive.” Radical change was occurring for these first century followers. 
 
Because of the coronavirus our future will not, in crucial ways, be anything like the past, even the very recent past of a month or two ago. Our economy, our priorities, our perceptions will not be what they were at the beginning of this year. These few months have intensified our awareness of mortality which makes us wake up to our own lives and the preciousness of life. (In two months 50,000+ Americans have died.)  Someone has observed, “the first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected.” Community matters  - we depend on many that we often take for granted. We have come to quickly appreciate those who provide help while exposing themselves to a potentially deadly virus. Heroes range from health care staff in hospitals and nursing homes to grocery workers to food bank distributors to police and EMTs and …. Community involves various levels of interaction, but our reliance and need for one another have been heightened.
 
Like the disciples, we find in this incredibly disruptive pandemic that hope matters for us. “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” wrote Martin Luther. The Rev. Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Frederick Beuchner (Wishful Thinking) observes: “A six-pointed star, a crescent moon, a lotus – the symbols of other religions suggest beauty and light. The symbol of Christianity is an instrument of death. It suggests, at the very least, hope.”
 
Neither for the disciples nor for us will hope return us to the way ordinary life was before the crucifixion or before the pandemic. With trust in our God we have hope for new opportunities, new directions – new roads to travel - and indeed, hope in our God for all eternity. 


Earth Day -  50th Anniversary
 
Springtime is a beautiful season, but this year the Coronavirus is our focus. Indeed, mixed with the beauty and food provided by the earth, there are bacteria and viruses that can kill. As we deal with Covid-19 it is imperative we support one another and like with Mother Nature, understand our interdependence.
 
Stewardship means managing well whether we talk about our money, time, talents or creation. Earth’s climate is changing and much of the responsibility for rising seas, melting glaciers, rising temperatures, increasing CO2 levels (The concentration of carbon dioxide ?????in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in 3 million years.), huge areas in our oceans covered with plastic products, etc., etc. is do to humankind. 
 
Chief Seattle is often credited with the following thoughts. His words (or that of others) are critical while reminding us of our interdependence. We need each other … cooperation of other nations as well as connection with all life on this planet. 
 
 “We know that the White Man does not understand our way of life. To him, one piece of land is much like the other… The earth is not his brother but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He cares nothing for the land. He treats his mother the Earth and his Brother the Sky like merchandise. His hunger will eat the earth bare and leave only a desert…. All things are bound together. All things connect. What happens to the Earth happens to the children of the Earth. Man has not woven the web of life. He is but one thread. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.”
 
Those working today to avoid “leaving only a desert” note that as we care we can reduce asthma attacks suffered by children, we can save our families and friends from respiratory diseases, extend life expectancy, cut energy bills, and generally improve the quality of life. Working with renewable energy and recycling and …the quality of life can be improved for humans as well as nature.
 
As Christians we have a responsibility to be good managers  - stewards - of the earth God has given us for our sake, our children, grandchildren and all plant and animal life. 


Easter 2: April 19, 2020
Gospel Lesson: John 20:19-31
 
One of the fastest-growing, most profitable investment ventures in today’s economy is . . .  anything having to do with security. Home security, financial security, Internet security and more. It’s a dangerous world – even more dangerous right now with an unseen and yet deadly coronavirus lurking everywhere. We desperately are trying to feel safe in an insecure, somewhat hostile world.
 
In John’s gospel, Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples is when he comes to them behind closed, locked doors. Then, Jesus blasts through their security system and suddenly stands in their midst. Wow! He’s back! Jesus offered them the blessing of peace and shared the spirit with them. Thomas, disappointed he had not been present, needed to see the Lord as well. A social psychologist observes: “We believe our eyes before we believe what people tell us.” Of course, that makes the coronavirus difficult because we neither see the virus nor the sick (maybe the statistics get our attention?). We may find it difficult to believe it’s necessary to stay home and do what we are told by scientists. The disciples were still shuttered and shuddering — closed off from a threatening world a week later. Thomas is with the disciples when again Jesus appears before them. And Thomas has a wonderful, powerful confession of faith. Upon seeing Jesus he says, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas doesn’t call Jesus his teacher or Son of God or Messiah or … Thomas calls Jesus God. 
 
Jesus tells us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.”  The writer of Psalm 16 (assigned psalm for Sunday) declares his trust writing: “I have said to the Lord, You are my Lord, my good above all other.” In secure and insecure times we are to trust God - always.
 
Jesus – standing before his followers after suffering a horrible execution - summoned his disciples at their first encounter to follow the same directive he had been given: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Jesus gave up his life, and then he gave over his mission, to those who gave him their faith and love.
 
These nine short words “as the Father sent me, so I send you” may just be the best description in the Bible of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” Jesus’ followers are not just “called” — we are “sent.” We are given forgiveness, grace, the promise of life eternal and a responsibility to serve – to go into the world always trusting God. 

Easter Devotion – April 12, 2020 
This Easter will be different. Unlike any Easter celebration in living memory even for the oldest church member.
 
But, this Easter will not be that different from the first Easter. When you read either of the accounts appointed for this Sunday – Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18 - there are some similarities. There were no crowds gathered to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The crowds greeted Jesus as a conquering hero when he entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week. By week’s end condemned as a criminal Jesus made a lonely march to the cross. What we find described on that first Easter is a very small gathering – in Matthew two women, in John a woman and two men. Indeed, they would have had no problem practicing “social distancing” as they journeyed to the tomb. No one expects Jesus to be alive or out of the tomb. First century people knew “dead is dead.” The stone has been rolled away. Someone has observed that the Angel didn’t roll the stone away to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in. And when the disciples enter they find the linen wrappings neatly folded – no grave robbers would take time to fold the grave wrappings as they quickly made off with the body. EARLY SUNDAY morning it is discovered the tomb is empty. These were the first witnesses to the resurrection.
 
While a few ventured outside, the rest of the disciples lived in isolation and fear, cloistered, according to John, in a home where they had locked the doors out of fear for their safety. They were still reeling from the brutal heartache and loss they had experienced two days earlier, unsure of what the future held, unable to imagine their lives ever returning to normal. Sound familiar?
 
This Easter at home may remind us that God has never promised that our worship services would always be grand, that our churches would overflow, that our economy will always be growing, that our health is guaranteed, or that our lives and future would unfold as we’d hoped and planned. God – in and through the incarnated, crucified, and risen Christ – has never promised any of that. Rather, at the heart of the Gospel is the promise that God is both with us and for us at all times and through all conditions. In sorrow or joy, triumph or tragedy, gain or loss, peace or fear, scarcity or plenty, God is present. Indeed, HE IS RISEN and because he lives we too are eternal. 
 
Let us understand and appreciate how precious we are to God; how much God desires to live in relationship with us. And let us understand how precious our relationships with one another are – always and especially in stressful times. Hopefully, we can see and appreciate the importance of each other – the community. And understand that as people who care about relationships our separation from one another now is vital to protect ourselves and those in our community. 
 
Easter changed the disciples forever. May our lives be blessed with love, hope and courage by the message of Easter. He Is Risen. Amen!