Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reflections on...

Reflections on...I don't know, could be reflecting upon just about anything. Reflections on Lent - the wonder of the Savior who suffers and dies for each of us, even though He knows that we are going to be just like the ones who crucified Him. We will mock Him (in how we live, act, and talk). We will turn our backs upon Him (in order to "enjoy" the pleasures of the flesh and the lusts of this sinful world). He does this for us. Talk about "Amazing Grace." How quickly we become upset when someone says or does something we don't like, how we turn our backs upon them, and yet, He never turned His back upon us. He suffers for you and me, lost and condemned sinners that we are. He gives forgiveness to us sinners, again and again. Thanks be to God that He sent His only-begotten Son to be our Savior.

Reflections on Spring: It is here! At least the calendar says it is here. The weather people tell us that we are still going to have up and down temperatures over the next week or so. It has been a long winter. I don't know about you, but I am ready for spring. Let the flowers bloom, the trees burst forth with leaves and warm temps engulf us. I am ready to sit on my porch and enjoy the spring which will lead us into summer very quickly. Bring it on!

Reflections on life and death: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. How true that statement by Paul is for our lives. Living in Christ - each day, reflecting His love and His mercy. One day we shall all die. I am reminded of that as we prepare to go to a funeral at Pickneyville. We long to live eternally, yet we have the thought that we won't have to die. Sin tells us that we will. God's message is one of life - living in Christ each day and then, when this body fails and physical life is over, we will live eternally with Christ - in the new heaven and earth. Reflections of life eternal, overwhelmingly wonderful to think about, yet not something that we want to even consider because we are enjoying this life too much.

Reflections on health: shingles are a pain, literally. They take forever to heal. When they do, you rejoice and thank God for the relief He has given during the spell of 2 months that they decided to come and visit. Thanking him that they are receding and perhaps even disappearing, never to come back, please! Enough is enough and as Penny said, "They can even make you grumpy." Sorry for the grumpiness Penny. I didn't mean to let them get to me. Lord, thank You for giving her patience with me over these last weeks.

Reflections on: nothing else at the moment. Just reflecting the love of Christ that is poured out on me over and over again, without any merit or worthiness on my part. Thank You Lord for that love. May I reflect it today and every day.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

One Generation to the Next

Lutheran Schools Week is a great time at a Lutheran School. It is an opportunity to celebrate the blessings that a Lutheran School truly is for the lives of the children that are being taught the wonder of God's creation. Yes, we can say that it is God's creation. We don't have to teach the lies of evolution or any of the other false teachings about the origins of the universe. We can say, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." We can teach the truth that all humanity began with one man and one women, Adam and Eve. 

We can teach that the reason there are such problems in this world stem from the time when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. All mankind fell into sin when they sinned. Every human born of a man and a woman is sinful from conception (and yes, life begins at conception and all life is valuable to God and should be valuable to us). Death came into the world through the sin of those first people. All have sinned, you and me, the children we teach and the parents of the children, have sinned. No one can save themselves from eternal damnation. All are lost! Yes, we can say that. All are going to hell.

But God (we can talk about God day after day) loved the world so much that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law - to redeem the children, to redeem you, to redeem me. He came to do what we cannot do for ourselves. He suffered and died in our stead. Jesus Christ died on the cross for us and for our salvation. Not only did He die, He also rose again on the 3rd day. He came back to life. He physically rose from the dead. That which was dead, was alive. Jesus lives! He lives even today! And we can celebrate the wonder that life gives to us. We are saved by grace through faith - faith in Jesus Christ alone. 

All of that is what we can talk about day after day. That is something to celebrate. That is the wonder of a Lutheran School. I love being a pastor of a congregation that not only supports Lutheran education but makes it a priority. 

Yesterday was Grands Day. It was a day when grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, special people, all came into the school, gathered with their special student and then went to chapel to celebrate the gift of life in Christ.  We sang, heard the Word, recalled the gift of prayer that we have been given, celebrated the love of Christ with one another. 

We also saw how important it is to pass the message of love on from one generation to the next. We look upon the stories of life that we share and realized that it is just as important, perhaps even more so, that we pass on the stories of our faith. We need to support the ministry that continues to teach our children about Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If we don't, who will? The world around us won't teach them of the love of Christ. You and me, knowing Christ as our Savior, are to pass that on to the next generation - no matter what it takes.

Celebrate Lutheran Schools Week with us. It is a wonder to be a part of this special ministry. Thank God for the opportunity we have to pass on the gospel to the next generation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

And so it begins...

"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13 ESV) Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday. This day begins the 40 days of reflection upon what Christ Jesus has accomplished with His Passion. He carries the sins of all mankind as He walks through this life as the sinless Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior, the Promised One to Adam and Eve in the Garden. Lent is about what He has accomplished for us and for our salvation.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of a reality that we don't like to face. The Lord says to Adam on the day he ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19 ESV) Death became a reality on this day. Each person, born of a sinful man and woman, is born with sin. This original sin brings us to physical death and eternal damnation. As we read, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 ESV) We are all going to face death. We shall all be placed into a grave and will return to the very dust we came from. Try as we like, and we do try everything in our power, we will not live forever. Our bodies will fail. We will die. That is the stark reality that Ash Wednesday brings forward.

The tradition of wearing ashes on this day began in the pietistic actions of well meaning Christians. It is to remind them of the fact that they are ashes and to ashes they shall return. Some of our Lutheran churches have revived this action in the recent years. There is nothing wrong with the action as it is meant to remind each person that they are sinful and because of that sin, they are going to die.

I do not follow those who have been reviving this tradition. Why? Partly because I grew up in the Lutheran Church in the time when that was seen as Roman Catholic. And partly because I also grew up in the time when the Lutheran Church saw that as drawing attention to yourself rather than to the work of Christ. Following the Ash Wednesday Gospel it was not an action that was done. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 6:1 ESV) "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret." (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

Lent is a time for us to focus upon Christ. I believe that the use of ashes can be beneficial in the worship service to help the individual see the impact of sin upon his life but then it should end. When the person walks out of the church that day, they should wipe their forehead of the ashes and go forth forgiven in Christ. Those of the world don't need to see the ashes for it then focuses the attention on the ashes or the individual rather than Christ. That, and we are told not to be doing our actions for others to see. As Joel said in the verse that we started with, "Rend your heart and not your garments." Ashes on the forehead do not change the heart. The Gospel changes the heart. The Holy Spirit changes the heart.

Is that change seen by others? Yes. As our Lord says, "Let your light so shine before others , so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16 ESV) Your heart and life is changed, not by ashes, but by the Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. Your life is to reflect Christ in how you live, talk and treat others.

Enter into this holy season of Lent, focused upon Christ's work not yours. As you walk through Lent, let your heart be changes from one filled with sin to one filled with the love of Christ. We are not pietists. Nor are we Catholic. We are Lutheran. We can use ashes or we can not use ashes. They are a non-thing for us. On this Ash Wednesday, may the focus not be on you but on Christ. As you reflect on your death, reflect on His life. For there, you are given life.

And, so it begins. 40 days of Lent. Let's walk together and look not to ourselves but to Christ alone.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sausage Supper 2014

As you may have heard by now (I hope you have) the 2014 Sausage Supper at St.Paul's, Troy has been cancelled because of weather. This was not an easy decision. There are people who fall on both sides. Do you cancel? Do you not cancel? Will the weather be as bad as they say? Will it be worse? Will the forecast keep people (customers and workers) away? Will someone fall as the Supper? Will someone get hurt driving to the Supper? What is our responsibility?

The decision was not an easy one. I know that Ken Sipes talked with quite a few people who all had their opinions. I know I talked with quite a few people who had their opinions. Yet in the end, there was only two people that ended up making the decision, Ken and myself. I guess it lands on our shoulders. We held off as long as we could, hoping the forecast would get better but it didn't. So in order to cut expenses (we were already responsible for the sausage no matter what happened), we made the call. Right or wrong, it was made.

Now we wait to see what tomorrow brings. Will it be as bad as they say? Will there be 4-6 inches of snow on top of 1/10th of an inch of ice? Will there really be 2 inches of sleet mixed in with it? I am hoping the weather is bad. I would hate to have cancelled the Sausage Supper for no reason. But I still stand on the decision for the sake of safety, trying to be proactive rather than reactive.

Then the second part of the decision: Do you reschedule? Once again, there are a variety of opinions. It sounds so simple. Just pick a date, set it and go for it. And when you walk in, work for a 3 hour shift and go home, it is easy. When you come in and enjoy the wonder of a sausage dinner, the best in the area if I say so myself, it sounds easy. What isn't easy, is getting everything arranged again. It takes several months of planning to get enough workers for the supper (and we already had trouble getting some of the positions filled, especially in the kitchen for the 2nd shift. Mark Ponce was short on workers even after we had been asking for workers to come forward.) Jennifer Kesterson and Erica Sipes were working to get enough workers for the dinner room.

Folks that signed up to work had set aside time to be there on March 2nd. Many took off from work for the day and asking them to take off another day is challenging. Other events are taking place. There are a host of other reasons. In the end, the call is once again made to not reschedule, to return the canned goods, to freeze the sausage and have a Sausage Sale Day, to store the paper products for next year, and to move on.

Right decision? Wrong decision? Like all things, it will be debated. You might have a strong opinion. I am sure that you will make that known. Like the discussion the next morning after a big ball game, everyone will know what was the right thing to do at the moment. But making that call at that moment it needs to be made is not so easy.

Please be kind when you speak about the decisions that were made. Be forgiving if you think that they were the wrong decisions. Let the love of Christ be the focus of your words and you actions. Remember that all that you say and do will reflect upon St. Paul's Church and upon the message of the Gospel that is proclaimed. And it is, after all, still just a Sausage Supper and the work of the Church goes on. What is that work? To proclaim that there is only Lord and Savior and that is Jesus Christ. Salvation is found in no other name in heaven, on earth or under the earth. We praise God for this wonderful message of life and hope.

And yes, Lord willing, there will be a Sausage Supper in 2015.