Harvest Time

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)

It is harvest time again! After a milder summer with a good amount of rain, I see many gardens overflowing. Nearly a ton of fresh vegetables have been harvested in All Souls’ community garden alone to feed our hungry neighbors. More is likely to be harvested throughout September. We are blessed to share in that effort as well as that of our community food pantry, MCEF.

Yet, we have neighbors who hunger for much more than food. In the upcoming months, we’ll need to feed the souls of those participating in worship, as well as others longing for the word of God through our Christian formation programs and witness. We’ll be asked to help Hanover Habitat in its mission to provide affordable, quality homes to our neighbors. We’ll seek to help the local Gideon’s comfort and enrich travelers, military members and others by providing Bibles. We’ll be feeding the intellect, heads, hearts and stomachs of our preschool and after school students. We’ll be actively preparing our house of faith to better welcome those with physical and intellectual disabilities. At times, we’ll be visiting the sick, suffering and dying. At other times, we’ll celebrate God’s creation through arts and crafts as well as our pets. At all times, we’ll continue to walk with our homeless brothers and sisters – especially those in our congregation – toward greater stability and renewal. This is just a short list of the harvest our shared ministry yields all year long. As busy as it may get, we are asked by Jesus to love one another, so we’ll plan to have some fun together too.

I once saw a sign that said, “Church is a verb.” As a past English major, I can’t strictly agree with that, but I do agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. We are the church. We were created to be living, growing beings who share a living, growing faith in active community. We are God’s hands and feet, and our faces shine upon others with the love of God.

If you have been away, distracted, or just plain unavailable, think about returning once again to the mission field with us. We invite you to worship, bible study, prayer and service, but I think you’ll find it filled with fellowship and fun. Your life will be enriched along with the lives of others. It is as scripture tells us, “Faith without works is dead.” Instead, Jesus’ desires to offer us an abundant life; one so full of love that it overflows to bless the lives of others. Even our most humble attempts to share faith, hope and love will even be used to usher in the kingdom of God.

Trust that our labor together will not be in vain, for it is God who sends us. Why not come, taste and see? Why not have your vision and sense of family and purpose renewed? Welcome back to another year at Messiah Lutheran! Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Learn about upcoming events and more at mlcas.org or our news pages. (Be sure to check out the “more news” tab for hot off the press information.) 

 

Originally submitted for Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2014).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014). 

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

 

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The truth can hurt

When the ways of people please the Lord,
    he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them. – Proverbs 16:7

Try to critique Israel and/or Hamas about the violence in Gaza and this tends to happen…

For those of us not directly in the conflict:

If we truly want peace, we need to start learning how to humbly speak with and listen to each other about the multi-layered costs and causes of war and violence. We need to love our enemy enough to listen to their hopes and fears while seeking to protect and speak for all victims of violence – not just those who reflect the more popular cause of the day.

Instead, we tend to settle for half-truths about the situation presented through emotionally manipulating, agenda driven pictures, memes and reporting. We have educated, peace proclaiming people that present themselves as fair minded but won’t even try to listen to the points made by those on the other side of an issue. It apparently proves easier to dehumanize and condemn others as “enemy.”  We see people in the West calling for peace while throwing stones (or worse).

If simplistically declaring fault only on one side in a conflict with many to blame throughout history and violations on both sides, we are at risk of unfairly choosing a side while representing ourselves as an impartial judge. We can make the opposition feel even more trapped and thus more aggressive. We can miss opportunities for outreach and peace overtures. Even if we feel violence is necessary or one party more responsible than another for the current state of affairs, making broad, one-sided assertions is a mistake. War is always more complicated than that.

Many choices we make can inhibit prayerful, productive discernment. Having only like-minded friends isn’t a sign of intellectual honesty or broad thinking. Reading only sources you tend to agree with tends to lead to warped thinking. Cutting off from those who disagree with us is to be left for the most toxic of circumstances, not our first recourse. Attacking the messengers who challenge our beliefs or seek to call us to account is wrong. It should instead lead us to introspection and honest discussion. Are they right? Could we do better? Is there another way? If they are wrong, we can perhaps point them toward a greater understanding.

In such a society, this tendency to humiliate and defeat our adversaries (often while anonymous) facilitates more fear and violence. It smothers honest discussion and important questions. It promotes closed mindedness. It limits new understandings and possibilities. It helps lead to more injury and war. This will never be a road to reconciliation, justice and peace.

These are not enlightened, loving behaviors. It is sin.

“But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…'”

Its past time for repentance. It is time to grow up and admit that loving our enemy is always hard, but it is always what we need to strive to do. It is time to listen and not just shout. It is time to honor our God by loving our neighbor, even those we disagree with.

Someone may always choose us as their enemy or resist reconciliation. We are powerless over that, but we don’t have fall into their trap. Jesus has shown us a better way.

 

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Life Work

National Law Enforcement MemorialMany social scientists call the work of emergency responders and others in the medical field “death work.” This applies to the law enforcement community for many reasons. We certainly deal with a great deal of violence and death, but we also face it head on.

As the recent Law Enforcement Memorial Day reminds us, some within our calling will pay the ultimate price. Indeed, I never really stop thinking about my three coworkers[1] that died over the six years I was a police officer. They and other heroes who I never had the honor to know have somehow become a part of me.

Reflecting upon such loss, I believe the term “death work” proves quite the misnomer. For as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial reminds us, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” Their legacy continues to challenge, inspire and shape our service to the community whether still active in law enforcement or retired from it. When I meet current law enforcement officers, I think of the important “life work” they do without often realizing it – whether finding a lost autistic child, helping a domestic violence victim, comforting those experiencing loss or without hope, or seeking justice in a world that is too often unfair.

I remember a police officer in the town I grew up in who planted positive seeds in my life (a somewhat delinquent one at the time) just through conversation and simple kindness. I recall the valor of those who so rightly earned awards for heroic deeds as well as the kindness of other officers done without fanfare as they provided diapers for young families without or shared their own lunch with the homeless. I have seen those arrested for acts that were quite inhumane yet who were treated with human dignity by the officers they claimed as enemies.

These kinds of experiences taught me that the vocation that is shared by law enforcement officers is a sacred one, a holy summons to nurture life and shed light in what can seem a dark world. The long shifts, the thankless tasks, the time away from family and friends are very real costs, but it isn’t without benefit or meaning. It is a death to oneself and one’s desires so that others might live. It is life giving work embodying the truth of Jesus’ words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Law enforcement is often a difficult life, but it is a life worth living and sharing with others.

 

[1] Two died in the line of duty and are listed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. A third died from an unknown congenital heart condition at home following a foot pursuit earlier that evening. A fourth died years later from medical complications after being shot while apprehending robbery suspects.

Originally written for the newsletter of the Hanover County (VA) Sheriff’s Office. 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014). 

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Living Hope

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:6-7)

We members of Messiah often face some tough days. This past week, I have had conversations with brothers and sisters facing serious disease, family discord, financial difficulties, homelessness, and more. Institutionally, our old van broke down again at the cost of over $1000. For a small congregation, there is a lot going on here, and not all of it seems good.

Yet amidst all of this, we keep coming back and reaching outward. Why? We have been blessed to live an abundant life found in hope. This isn’t the hope of our secular world – as when we hope to win the lottery and magically have our financial (and other?) problems drift away. It is a hope found only in the reality of Pentecost.

The Spirit is moving in, around and through us. It offers us unexpected opportunities and roots us in Christ’s victory. There is an understanding and expectation that God is doing something here, and that although bad things will happen, God is always good. So although we might at times feel like we are in prison with Paul, we share similar hearts and expect the same wonderful destiny.

Rather than relying on any strategic planning and committees (although these can be helpful), we surrender to the Spirit. We are flexible because we know that we are reeds that God might allow to bend but not break (Isa. 42:3). We are courageous and generous in our love for our neighbor and one another because we believe God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities. Yet if it seems we are about to fail or give up, scripture goes on to say, it is God who will provide us a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). We are strong because despite any quirkiness, shortcomings or disagreements, our abilities or challenges, we strive to live out our baptismal covenant to love and forgive one another as Jesus loved us first (John 13:34). We don’t obsess about mistakes and program challenges, nor do we fret about political differences. We meet people and embrace them as they are (2 Tim. 2:23-26Rom. 12:9-21; Gal. 3:28). We can come to our assembly without makeup or dressed to the nines because we know we are welcomed, known, and loved here (Mark 9:36-37). I have witnessed how we live as family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and I and others are encouraged and inspired to believe in Christ all the more.

Yes, there are many larger, well healed congregations on our street and in our community doing wonderful things. (The Spirit is at work there too.) Yet, we pass those by to share in a call to this unique spiritual home called Messiah Lutheran. It is a place where both our needs and our talents fit into and find purpose. As brothers and sisters, we don’t give up or turn away when life gets hard. Instead, we dig in and get to work defending and confirming the Gospel. We hold on tight to one another and Christ to face our problems together and overcome. We do so trusting the Spirit is upon us.

Tough times will come and go, but the love we share – Christ’s love for us – will last forever. All things remain possible. All is and will be well.

Pastor Lou

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014). 

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Food for Thought

psalm34_8-taste-the-goodness-of-the-Lord“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

Ironically a time commonly associated with fasting, Lent can prove a time of refreshment and renewal. Through intentionally refocusing our faith, seeking out spiritual disciplines, service, and yes, even simple food and fellowship together, we can grow as children of God and be used to build Christ’s church.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first invites his followers, “Come and see.” To walk with him and share his life, that’s where we will come to know him – and perhaps ourselves and our purpose – all the more. Rooted in faith, we often grow by doing. When Jesus calls himself the living water or bread of life, you’ll also read that Jesus invites all to come to him, to taste and see, so that we will never hunger and thirst again.

Certainly, faith in Christ alone saves us, but his intention is for an active, communal faith that blesses us and others. It is a faith that calls us to assemble regularly to feast on his Word, share our gifts to honor God as well as for the good of others, and ultimately “remember” him and meet him; receiving his body and blood as a means of grace through his holy supper. This prepares and empowers us to go back out into the world, where we come to him in the lost, lonely, sick and dying. We become the vessels which carry his living water and bread of life, and yet, we often (if not always) find ourselves blessed more by such compassion than those we serve.

At home or away, we can always take private moments of prayer and meditation, but we are and remain the body of Christ. Jesus doesn’t want us to go through this life alone. Faith in Christ implies relationship with God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all our neighbors. For such love always feeds our lives, and Jesus seeks to love us always.

Yet, will we come to the feast being offered us? Do you feel you have been too busy laboring for your daily bread, running after things that don’t last, or beat up by the world, empty or alone? Perhaps you realize you haven’t loved Jesus as you should – that you are human? Well, don’t just sit there. I encourage you to come join your local family of faith. Come, taste and see. Rediscover the love that you were always meant to share.

Everyone is invited to eat, drink and be merry with Christ and his church this Lent, for “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22). That’s surely something to celebrate with our lives.

Peace,
Pastor Lou

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Biding Our Time Wisely

Rattlesnake_Mountain_as_seen_across_Chandler_Reach_vineyard_-_1Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:4-5; emphasis mine)

In Virginia, we are surrounded by a number of vineyards and wineries. Over the years, I have visited many and learned of the great efforts and loving, intentional care needed to help the plants prove fruitful. It is no accident that in Jesus’ own day without our modern agricultural skills Jesus spoke about our faith life in terms of a vineyard. Many people would have been familiar with them and the intensive work and oversight associated with them. The image of vineyard was common to Old Testament writings signifying safety, abundance, the people of Israel, as well as God’s harvest. Thus, Jesus used that same imagery, and bread and wine would become part of the sacraments Jesus would leave us; means of God’s grace.

Yet in John 15, Christ’s believers are invited to become intimately part of the vineyard. He is the vine, and we are the branches. His word and the gift of faith have already made us worthy to reside there. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to use the Greek word for abide. It signifies that we are to do more than just stay with him. “Abide” (meinate) in John is used over and over to imply much more. Life springs from, stems from, arises from this relationship; a relationship that begins to bear fruit as soon as we say, “We believe.” God dwells in us, and the love which is God wants to grow and expand to fully bless us and others with a love that overflows. It is an image of intimacy, relationship, and abundance.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is most certainly true. Yet, for all those that grow tired from long hours at work, for those fatigued from dealing with strife or illness, for all those who hunger and thirst because of anything amiss in their life including sin, please remember the abundance Christ speaks of rarely if ever just grows on its own. Ultimately, it is a gift of the Spirit dwelling within our hearts, yet it helps for us to be intentional about our relationship with Jesus and his church. We must accept and cooperate with the grace offered us, for relationships deepen and mature over time shared with one another. So, all of us need to spend time together in worship, study, fellowship, and service. At home and work, we are richly blessed by caring for our own spiritual, emotional, and material needs, but even more blessed as we seek to care for and share faith with others.

These days, “Christian formation” is the phrase often bandied about for educational programs of the church. Like a potter with clay, God shapes our lives and future through such active, intentional times together. Perhaps it could rightly be called abiding in Jesus – a supernatural process of growth and new life rooted in Jesus while connecting us to one another. Yet such formation is ongoing. All we do and experience can become part of the process. Abiding in Jesus takes us out of the home, classroom, and sanctuary and boldly into the world!

Do you abide in Jesus? Does Jesus abide in you? If you have faith at any level, do not doubt that this is so. You are saved. Still, Jesus said he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Nurturing our faith and church, the days ahead might not necessarily be easy, but they can prove more fruitful – filled with Christ’s joy, peace and love.

Dare respond to his many invitations, and watch grace grow. “Abide in me. Follow me. Come, taste and see.”

Peace,
Pastor Lou

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Epiphany Blessing

 

3kings blessing

 

 

Epiphany, also historically known as “Little Christmas,” marks the end of Christmas celebrations in Western Christendom on January 6th. The arrival of the Magi is often remembered as part of these celebrations. Although scripture never numbers the gentile Magi who came to worship Jesus, a tradition developed that there were three; each one baring a special gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They became popularly known as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar and are often artistically represented as being of different peoples and races, for Jesus came to offer salvation to all.

Over time, a popular custom began to bless one’s home on Epiphany with the words in Latin, Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ bless this house). I surmise this was because of the biblical scene from Matthew 2: 1-12. (Jesus was no longer in the stable but described to be in a house with his own family when the Magi visit.) Yet, I have not confirmed the origin of this practice. The first letter from each word of this blessing corresponds to the traditional names given the Magi. Which came first – the blessing or the names – remains a mystery, but their development within popular culture is likely related.

As we move forward into a new year, I suggest use of a simple blessing ceremony I have adapted from the internet. You can further adapt it to meet your family’s needs:

Once gathered, all may make the Sign of the Cross.

Leader: Peace be to this house and to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.

All: Blessed be God forever.

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Using chalk, write on the outside of your house’s door or frame (alternatively, on a path or driveway, or above or next to an entrance):

+ 20 C M B 14 +

This stands for the first half of the current year written out, Christus Mansionem Benedicat (Christ bless this house), then the other half of the current year written out. Start and end with a cross.

Optionally, the entire phrase may be written out. Each marking or word could be written by a varied member of the household if desired. The leader can share a prayer of their own or simply ask God to bless your home as the markings are made.

When finished, all can join in a closing prayer – “Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

May a joyful and blessed Epiphany be yours!

Pastor Lou

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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