Be born in me, again and again

Angels appearing before the shepherds, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Angels appearing before the shepherds,                                     by Henry Ossawa Tanner

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”(Luke 2:13-14)

What a powerful, enduring image – an angelic multitude proclaiming the birth of Jesus to poor shepherds in a field! In great works of art or on more humble Christmas cards or creches, even in our favorite carols, we imagine them in song with the shepherds below basking in the glory and love of our God. How much more should we let our lives sing a song of gladness? For Jesus came not to remain in that stable, but instead plans to come to us where we are. He desires to reside in our hearts.

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Yes, through our faith and baptism, we share a more similar experience to Mary’s own. She was a poor, relatively uneducated young lady; likely 13 to 15 years old. She had lots of questions, doubts and fears to wrestle with, yet when the angel announced she would become the mother of the one true God, she submitted. Her magnificat (a song of praise captured in Luke 1) declares with certainty, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary was God’s favored one, and we share in that favor. Truly, Jesus waits to be born in each of us and reborn each day. No matter how we perceive ourselves with our varied gifts and struggles, God has come to us declaring each of us beloved child. Prophets in the Jewish scriptures predicted a time when the Temple would be no more, for our bodies would become the place where the yet unknown Christ resides. The Angels in the field proclaimed that Jesus came for all of us who are poor, imperfect and in need of love.

In Jewish theology, our heart represents more than an organ or emotional passion, it reflects our utmost being – the depths and totality of who we are. That’s where Jesus wishes to reside. So, Jesus prayed that we be one as he and the Trinity are one. It is Jesus who chose and called each of us to follow him. It is he who wants to live inside us and through us so intimately in every moment that he names us as his body. This good fortune is offered as a certain gift to all who dare trust in his promises.

Surely, Christ’s presence will upset our lives. It might even make us the objects of scorn or worse. Yet, “Do not be afraid!” God’s favor will never disappoint. Walk on so that your life becomes his song. Walk on trusting that Christ walks with you and that many more miracles shall surely come. His presence will bless us beyond our expectations.

The Christian singer Francessca Battistelli in a recent song imagines these words coming from the heart of Mary and her own, “I am not brave. I’ll never be. The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy. I’m just a girl. Nothing more. But I am willing, I am Yours. Be born in me.”

Do not doubt any longer, but believe. Open your heart and welcome Christ at each new sunrise or whenever darkness falls. The promises of God are fulfilled in your hearing. Blessed are you! Holy are you! Sing to the glory of God, so that all might believe!

Be born in me (Mary), Francesca Battistelli 

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2014/January 2015).

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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I give thanks

psalm 118

 

This fall has seen a flurry of activity at Messiah: new audio-visual assets installed in the sanctuary; a very successful and well attended effort during God’s Work – Our Hands Day; a growing craft fair and pet blessing; wonderful and numerous contacts made at the county’s community fellowship festival; and of course an attention getting but very helpful effort by Kevin Hendrickson and our Virginia Synod team at Over the Edge for Special Olympics. I could make a longer list if I cared to do so. In short though, it has been a busy but productive time, and it couldn’t have happened without your support. I give thanks to you and our God for all the mighty things that God has accomplished through our small church family and its shared ministry.

As we continue into November, things will seem only to get busier. I would encourage all of us (me included) to not get lost in the hustle and bustle. Turn toward God and his church instead. Remember we were created to be human beings, not human doers. God reminds us, “Be still and no that I am God” (Palm 46:10). Let’s take time to reconnect with friends and family, as well as our family of faith. Let’s take time to be together and to rejoice in the love that we share. If you have been away, we invite you to come back and join our celebrations. Let’s give thanks together.

The truth remains, we need one another, and the world needs our witness. As Jesus reminds us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” (Matthew 18:19-20). Yet also we are told that we proclaim the risen Christ through our gatherings, service and celebrations. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus needs to be invited into our lives and thus made manifest in the world. Do you already sense his presence, or is he perhaps inviting you to seek him out? Either way, we’ll find our place at his table when we live as church together.

I pray that the holiday season ahead serves to bless you to be a blessing to your family, your congregation, and the world. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good; his love endures forever. His love is at work in you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Lou

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2014).

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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How one story became 25 – Going Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia

“We are fools for the sake of Christ…” (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Why do I try to love and support folks with intellectual disabilities? It is my family legacy.

Elvira, Roy, Lou (my father) and Theresa Florio (c. 1938)

Elvira, Roy, Lou (my father) and Theresa Florio (c. 1938)

In the early 1930s, my aunt, Theresa, was born with an intellectual disability. My grandmother told me before her death that her family and friends urged that my aunt be institutionalized – a very common practice at the time. My grandmother and grandfather refused. Instead of a life hidden away, Aunt Theresa received an education and learned necessary skills for a happy, productive life among her loving family. As an adult, she worked and eventually lived semi-independently.

Today as a pastor, I am thankful that our faith community has supported Hanover Adult Center’s Linking Lives Program as they join us weekly for our Messiah Lutheran School chapel program. In addition, we have been actively supporting the formation of a L’Arche community in Richmond, along with Lutheran Family Services’ programs, and others. Recently, Council has even agreed to become a Friends for Life Congregation, a new cooperative effort of congregations in Hanover County facilitating the intentional engagement of those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

This month, we have the opportunity to build upon these efforts by supporting Special Olympics Virginia. This organization provides much more than sporting events. It is a wonderful community helping people be their best. It provides education, life skills training, fellowship and more. Please prayerfully consider supporting our council president, Kevin Hendrickson, and the rest of our Virginia Synod team (“Fools for Christ”) for Over the Edge Virginia 2014. During the event, people show solidarity with Special Olympians by being “brave enough” to rappel twenty-five stories off of the Sun Trust Building in Richmond, Virginia. You can do so through this secure site: https://www.firstgiving.com/team/270359

Designated cash/check donations as part of your Sunday offering at Messiah or through the mail are also welcomed with much thanksgiving. A donation to any member of the team is a donation for all, and it helps thousands of Special Olympians throughout Virginia.

Those participating are taking this unusual, giant leap of faith out of love for their neighbors. Please join them in this step by offering your support. If you wish to root them on in person, come by the Sun Trust Center (919 East Main Street) on Friday, October 17th at 2:30 pm.

Peace,
Pastor Lou

This is a revised, expanded version of an earlier post created for submission to Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (October 2014).

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.

Going "over the Edge" in 2012

Going “Over the Edge” in 2012

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Harvest Time

matthew9_37-38_txtbox

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.

 

© 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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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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