Sunday, June 17, 2018
Saturday, June 16, 2018
Last week, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot checking my calendar to see where I was headed next when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little bird playing in a puddle. He would wade into the puddle, splash about in the water, and then fly the short distance back to the curb. He repeated this exercise over and over again. Fortunately, I had a few minutes to spare and so I sat there mesmerized as this little bird enjoyed some pool time. Watching him or her [I'm not a bird expert] play brought so much joy to me.
I enjoyed another wonderful moment yesterday. I stopped by the church between visits to retrieve something from my office when two children who attend our Sunday School stopped by to talk with me. Before they left, each one, in turn, gave me a hug and told me that they loved me. I hugged them back and told them that I love them - and I do. Again, I was filled with so much joy.
I suspect that you have similar moments in your daily life. Are you able to stop and savor them - and see the hand of God blessing you through them? I am not always able to do this, but I want to grow in this regard. I want to have my perspective shifted to where I see more of the good in the world around me and less of the ugly. That does not mean that I am buying a pair of rose-colored clip-ons [I already wear glasses] and pretend that everything in this world is lovely. What it does mean is that I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me to notice all of the little wonderful things in my life and stop obsessing over that which is depressing.
When St. Paul was writing to the Christians in Philippi, he said to them, "Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8). Paul does not deny the prevalence of things impure, ugly, despicable, etc. - but he encourages them to seek out what is good and focus on them. I am convinced that whatever holds your attention will multiply in your life. If we obsess about the disappointing, we will have more disappointment. If we focus all of our attention on what is awful, we will see an increasing number of awful things. Perhaps if we think more often about what is good in the world, we will notice more of the good, thus seeing more glimpses of God at work in our fallen world.
I want to leave you with a few more words from Paul's letter to the Philippians. Please note that Paul was in prison when he wrote: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4).
In Christ Jesus,
Saturday, June 9, 2018
Following Bible Class last night, Dawn and I reflected on how wonderful it is to have so many people attend our Wednesday evening Bible study. It is exciting to a pastor to see a desire among his people to grow in their learning of God's Word. I cherish your commitment to our Lord and to His Church. The Bible is unlike any other book or writing - in that through the continual work of the Holy Spirit upon the reader it remains a living Word through which God speaks to us. For this reason, my goals for our Bible class are two-fold. In the first place, I want to take us on a journey through the whole Bible so that we have a good sense of the complete narrative of Scripture. Secondly, I want to provide instruction, as we go along, in how to read the Bible. There are a lot of tips for careful reading that can be gleaned best by example, and so where possible I want to highlight them. While I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study Greek and Hebrew, I am deeply concerned that the Church's emphasis upon having a well-educated clergy can inadvertently mislead Christians into thinking that they are ill-equipped to study the Bible for themselves. This mindset discourages people from studying the Scriptures at home and worse yet - confining oneself to reading books about the Bible instead of the Bible itself. My commitment to you is that if you attend Bible class regularly, you will have the skills and confidence to study the Bible on your own. Even if you have seldom ever read the Bible previously, this precious gift will be yours.
This is the first time that I have used a lecture format for Bible class. While an open discussion format has been the norm for Bible study for at least the last 40 years, I have become convinced that many people stay away because they are afraid that they do not know enough about the Scriptures in order to participate in the discussion and so they will be embarrassed. Many people are not comfortable reading aloud in a group and so they do not attend Bible studies because they do not want to endure the discomfort of either reading aloud or making excuses for passing. I have been sensitive to these concerns for years and have made some adjustments like only asking for volunteers to read and reassuring church members that we all have a lot to learn. It hasn't worked. When what you are doing is not working it is time to try something else. Each week, I prepare a lesson that I deliver from the front of the room. Those who attend are not asked to read or respond to questions. Members are invited to listen to the lecture and join me in saying the Lord's Prayer at the end. I hope that you will feel comfortable to join us for a weekly study of God's Word and that you will feel encouraged to invite a friend or relative to attend with you. We meet every Wednesday at 5:30 pm.
In Christ Jesus,
Friday, June 1, 2018
This morning, the altar, pulpit, and lectern are all fronted with green fabric; and the stole over my neck is also green. These beautiful green paraments have been in drawers and the vestment closet since before Lent began. They adorn our chancel now, as we resume "ordinary time" in the Church.
I have noticed over the years that Church publications increasingly shy away from speaking about "ordinary time." Perhaps this is because "ordinary" has taken on a negative connotation in our common speech. To be "ordinary" is less than good in contemporary parlance. And yet, "ordinary" is intended merely to describe the way things typically are. Whether we realize it or not, popular marketing affects more than our purchasing habits. It also changes our attitudes and usage of language. Commercials and print ads seduce us into believing that every day and everything we possess must be extraordinary. The truth is that if everything is extraordinary - nothing is extraordinary. If everything is special - then nothing is special.
If our Lord's Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection are to be accentuated by the flow of the Church Year, then there must be a baseline from which certain observances spring to life. Our forebears who contributed to the development of the Church Year had a real sense of this. When we examine closely the seasons of our year, we see the two pinnacles of Christmastide and Eastertide as distinguished from the other seasons. Advent is a preparatory season readying us for a robust celebration of our Lord taking on our flesh at Christmas, and Lent prepares our hearts and minds to receive Holy Week and Easter as the supreme gifts of God's love which they are. The other two seasons - Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost - unapologetically present themselves as what the life of the Church typically looks like. These seasons are marked with the green paraments - a powerful symbol of growth and renewal. Just as our faith which seizes upon the joy of what God in Christ has done for us produces the good fruit of service to our neighbors - the celebrations of Christmas and Easter inspire seasons of continual growth in our knowledge of God and His love for us.
I love ordinary time because it is what allows the festival seasons (Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter) and their accompanying preparatory seasons (Advent and Lent) to be special. May this rather lengthy season of green (extending through November) be a time of continual growth and renewal for you as a disciple of Christ Jesus. May this season of nurture and consistency prepare your heart to receive Advent and Christmas with longing and wonder. "Ordinary" in the Church's worship isn't suboptimal or uninteresting, it is the regular state of celebrating the extravagant love which God always delights in lavishing upon us.
In Christ Jesus,
Monday, April 30, 2018
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Friday, March 23, 2018
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Friday, March 2, 2018
Palm Sunday—Sunday, March 25th: 9:00 am—Divine Service in English and 6:00 pm Divine Service in Spanish. These services will include the distribution of palms, as we remember our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Maundy Thursday—Thursday, March 29th, 6:30 pm— Divine Service. On this holy night, we will recall our Lord’s final meal with His disciples in which He instituted the Holy Communion in which you and I share His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. This service has “fallen on hard times” in our churches in recent years, but it is one of the most sacred and meaningful gatherings of worshipers during the Church Year. Please consider gathering with your Church family for this special service.
Good Friday—Friday, March 30th, 12 Noon through 3:00 pm—Tre Ore Service. This annual service observed together with our LCMS sisters and brothers throughout the Stateline area will be held at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Rockton (511 W Rockton Rd, Rockton, IL ). As the Church keeps vigil at the foot of the Cross during the hours of darkness in our Lord’s Passion, we will hear sermons from the pastors of our churches and experience wonderful anthems presented by our choirs.
Easter Sunday—Sunday, April 1st
7:45 am: Easter Breakfast Potluck—members whose last names begin with “M” through “Z” are asked to bring a breakfast main course item to share, while members whose last names begin with “A” through “L” are asked to bring a breakfast dessert or fruit dish.
9:00 am: Divine Service for Easter
10:30 am: Easter Egg Hunt in the Gym. All children (including high school students) are invited to participate. In the coming weeks, members are invited to bring in wrapped candies which will be placed in the plastic eggs that we have retained from previous years. We are grateful for everyone’s generosity!
6:00 pm: Divine Service for Easter in Spanish.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Our Old Testament lesson for this week is drawn from the book of Jonah. This very short book – only four chapters – is one of the most powerful writings of the whole Old Testament. The common theme running through the book is God’s unrelenting pursuit of sinners. God is not chasing them in order to punish, but in order to save them. The book opens with God calling Jonah to preach a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh – the capitol city of a ruthless enemy of Israel and practically everyone else in their region. While the reader is inclined to conjure up images of doom and gloom (and indeed the message was just that), Jonah knew that this message would bring Israel’s enemies to repentance and save them from the looming destruction which God was planning to carry out. Thus, Jonah defies God and heads off in another direction. God pursues Jonah in his attempt to cut himself off from God. It is rarely a good plotline to kill off your main character in the first act, but to the reader it appears to be the case when Jonah volunteers to have the sailors throw him overboard. However, God is at the center of this book – not Jonah – and God rescues Jonah in a miraculous way by sending a great fish to swallow him up from the waves which would have otherwise drowned him. Incidentally, when the terror-stricken sailors reach land they worship Jonah’s God. After being unceremoniously deposited on the land by the great fish, Jonah is now ready to follow God’s leading and goes to Nineveh with the Word he is to proclaim. Just as he feared, Nineveh repents – from the King down to the people occupying the lowest rungs of the social ladder. Our contemporary phrase “triggered” is a marvelous description for Jonah’s response to all of this. It is unbearable to him to look on as God relents from the disaster which He would have carried out. The book ends with God, Who pursued Nineveh with an intent to forgive, pursuing Jonah again. Jonah’s soul is ensnared by a self-righteous indignation which threatens to rob him of the forgiveness and restoration of a forgiving and reconciling God. The book of Jonah foreshadows the saving work of Christ Jesus upon the Cross through which there is forgiveness and reconciliation with God for all who believe that by His death Jesus has answered for all of their sins. At the Cross, we see the ultimate pursuit of sinners by a forgiving and reconciling God.
In Christ Jesus,
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Friday, December 29, 2017
Friday, December 22, 2017
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Our Advent wreaths lack the symmetry which typically accompanies our worship appointments. For example, there is a candle on each side of the altar and a candelabra on each side of the chancel. We also have a credence table on each side of the chancel and a torch on either side of the pulpit. The Church loves symmetry. Consequently, the Advent Wreath - with its three blue candles and one which is rose-colored - will undoubtedly perplex those who are unfamiliar with our Advent customs. While there is something inside of me which says “they ought all to be blue!”, I love this pink candle that messes up the symmetric beauty which our wreath would otherwise possess. I love it because it announces that our Advent waiting is almost over and the celebration of our Lord’s birth draws ever near. This rose-colored candle is appointed to bear witness to today’s appointed theme – “Rejoice!”
It is for this reason that the third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called “Gaudete Sunday.” The word “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice” and is the first word in the traditional introit (introductory psalmody establishing the tone for the day’s service). This psalmody is drawn from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. . . .” (Philippians 4:4-5).
Gaudete Sunday carries with it a much-needed reminder for us during what has become a very hectic and stressful time. In our culture, Christmas has become a spectacle of unrealistic expectations which can drain us of our anticipation, our hope, and our joy. The unrealistic expectations show up in the form of too many events to attend, excessive busyness, and a felt-need to purchase things which we may not be able to afford. I am not so naïve as to believe that it is an easy thing for us to simply say “enough is enough” and immediately cease our participation in all of this chaos. However, I am optimistic enough to think that within the rigors of our holiday schedules we might take a few moments to read through the first two chapters of Luke and reflect on the miracle of a God Who took up our flesh in order to redeem us from our sins that we might live with Him for eternity. It truly is a most wonderful time of year and so I pray that we don’t miss its wonder by allowing ourselves to be swept up in the urgency of less important things. Gaudete!
In Christ Jesus,
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Welcome to the year of St. Mark! Our churches follow an order of Sunday readings called a lectionary. A large number of congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod follow the same three-year cycle of readings that we read here at St. John’s. Since the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in what they highlight from Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection it is fitting for us to read primarily from one of those gospels each year. In this way, we have the year of St. Matthew, followed by the year of St. Mark, and we finish with the year of St. Luke. While St. John’s gospel certainly shares a lot of similarities with the other three evangelists, the highlights which he shares are needed for the narration of certain events every year. Consequently, we read from John during each of the three years in our lectionary cycle. Additionally, since Mark’s gospel is only sixteen chapters in length, it makes sense to flesh out the order of readings with a significant amount of material from John.
Since Mark was a disciple of Peter and traveled with him as he taught and preached, it is not unrealistic to describe his gospel as notes from the preaching of St. Peter. However, it is also clear that Mark has borrowed from Matthew’s accounts in the “first gospel.” While Mark sometimes abbreviates events which Matthew provides in greater detail, there is a “punch” of urgency to Mark’s narration which I thoroughly enjoy. I have often recommended Mark to people who are beginning to read the Bible for the first time. To study Mark is to have one’s whole life placed squarely at the foot of Jesus’ Cross. In fact, as we shall see this year, Jesus is not really known apart from the Cross – even to His disciples.
I would be remiss if I ended this note without saying at least something in brief regarding the Old Testament and Epistle readings for each week. Typically, the Old Testament reading is selected to correspond with the appointed Gospel reading. When we read them both together, we frequently notice that the OT lesson either prophetically foreshadows what is being described in the Gospel lesson or touches upon a similar theme. The Epistle lesson is most commonly a semi-continuous reading from an epistle of the NT. What we mean by “semi-continuous” is that the lessons for a period of three to five weeks will be drawn from the same part of an epistle, but instead of giving us the whole epistle consecutively we turn our attention after a few weeks to a series of readings from another epistle. While these readings often highlight similar themes as the OT and Gospel lessons, their purpose instead is to provide a serial reading from week-to-week.
Blessed Advent to you!
In Christ Jesus,
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Saturday, December 2, 2017
During this first week of Advent, I would like to remind us of the symbolic meaning of the Advent Wreath. The lighting of these five candles (three blue, one rose, and one white) marks our journey from darkness into the brilliant light of our Incarnate Lord. Each week, we light an additional candle on our wreath until Christmas evening arrives - when the whole wreath is illumined. On a practical level, the wreath is arranged like a clock, in that we light first the candle at the nine o’clock position, and then work our way around counter-clockwise – with the Christ Candle in the center. In the Church’s observance of Advent, these candles each have a special meaning. On the first Sunday, we light the “Prophets’” candle, as we remember those messengers whom God sent in days of old to announce Christ Jesus’ coming. The following week, we add the lighting of the “Bethlehem” candle, which reminds us that according to the prophecy of Micah, Christ Jesus was born in Bethlehem. On the third Sunday in Advent, we light the rose colored candle. This candle is a different color in order to highlight the joy announced in the traditional naming of this particular day as Gaudete Sunday. This word (“Gah-dah-tay”), which is fun to say, is from the Latin meaning “rejoice.” This rose-colored candle is the “Shepherds’” candle, and we remember the good news of great joy that was announced to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. On the fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the “Angels’” candle, and recall the angelic announcements delivered to Mary, Zechariah, and Joseph – as well as their appearance to the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth. Finally, on Christmas eve, we light the “Christ Candle.” This candle – the largest on the wreath – has stood there unlit all through Advent, and on that Holy night it is illuminated for the first time. It symbolizes the coming of our Lord into our midst – who is God with us – the one whom prophets foretold, Bethlehem received, shepherds were told, and angels announced. May your Advent be filled with the hope that is known only when there is something to be anticipated, longed for, and received with great joy!
In Christ Jesus,
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Monday, October 30, 2017
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Thursday, August 31, 2017
We can help the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod support our congregations in Texas who are caring for their neighbors . . .
As LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison calls on Lutherans to give generously for Hurricane Harvey recovery, Disaster Response Director Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson talks about spiritual care and walking alongside the Texas district on the long road ahead. For regular updates check www.lcms.org.