A Resurrected People

“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:7)

Recently, I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. After eight years with my old phone, it was sadly necessary and overdue. One of its many features is the ability to play a musical alarm. Recalling my past joyful experiences with the Community of Taizé as well as the many prayers shared between All Souls Episcopal and Messiah Lutheran, I immediately thought to make a Taizé chant my alarm tone. Of all the many choices available, I selected Psalite Deo (Praise God), based on Psalm 118. [Listen below]

What a blessing it has proven to have my first conscious thoughts each day be of God’s love and the great things done and being done in my life. “This is the day the Lord has made” with all its opportunities. “Sing a new song to the Lord for all the wonders God has done.” It is another day for me to give thanks and praise with all the earth. “Sing out for joy!” No matter what happens in this day, “I shall not die but live!” “For God’s love endures forever.” “Alleluia! Alleluia!”

With such affirmations thrust upon my mind and heart, my day begins somehow differently than before. I recognize once again that God is always doing something new in my life. No matter the adversity laying before me in wait, I need not be afraid. It is truly time for me to awake from my slumber and witness to the new, joyful reality of the Risen Christ in my life.

In our Lenten class on grief, I mentioned that life can often seem like a number of “little deaths” with its many trials and losses. Yet as we might rightly grieve, we should never forget that through Jesus we have access to an abundant life. Our “little deaths” will be used by God to show love for us. Blessing will surely come, and so, we can live in hope. We are called as a resurrected people where we trust God is doing new and wonderful things in and through our lives. We need not get stuck in our doubts and darkness. We can instead embrace the resurrection dawning in our lives.

“In my distress, I called to the Lord. God heard my voice and set me free. God is my strength. God is my song.” How shall I proclaim this Good News? How can I not? It is humbling to think that our extraordinary God is breaking into our ordinary lives in such a joyful, intimate way.

Yes, we have access to God through the Risen Christ. The tomb is empty. Let us not linger there, but instead run and tell all we know through word and deed. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! A new song and new life lie before us.

In thanksgiving, I want to live for him and those he entrusts to our care. I intend to lift my voice to the Lord for he is surely good, for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 118). I pray your life will join mine and the lives of all the saints in singing praises to God forever.

Happy and blessed Easter to you all!

Pastor Lou

Posted again (after an earlier, recent post on Psalm 118), here is Psalite Deo the Ecumenical Community of Taizé

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (April 2015).

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

© 2015 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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In Christ’s Defeat, Our Victory: Meditation on Psalm 118

Psalm 118 is perhaps the consummate psalm for Palm Sunday and as we enter Holy Week. Throughout the Gospel According to Matthew, the gospel writer has lifted up how Jesus was the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Jewish scriptures. For example within the text, Matthew recounts five major lessons of Jesus’ teachings; much as there are five Books of Moses. When Jesus delivers his first recorded teaching in Matthew, Jesus gives his commands called the Beatitudes from a mountaintop; much like Moses was given the Decalogue on a mountain. Fourteen prophesies are explicitly connected to the actions of Jesus; fourteen being the traditional number of generations between Abraham and the establishment of the Davidic Dynasty, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus’ birth. It isn’t much different with Psalm 118. As with many, this psalm reflects aspects of the life and death of Jesus.

Psalm 118 is often recited as part of the Hallel, a Jewish prayer consisting of a verbatim recitation of Psalms 113 through 118. The Hallel is used for praise and thanksgiving on holidays such as the Passover, when the Jews recall the Angel of death passed over Jewish homes in Moses’ time leading to their freedom from Egyptian slavery. As Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, he deliberately enters “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This fulfills the apocalyptic prophesy of Zechariah 9 regarding the coming ruler of God’s people and the judgement of Israel’s enemies.

To an oppressed people under Rome’s authority, Jesus was considered by many a messianic figure in the political sense. They quote Psalm 118 (verses 25-26), “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Many likely expect Jesus to precipitate their freedom as Moses did long ago and reinitiate a Davidic kingship. In celebration, they will “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar” – the way to the Temple where Jesus will come into his final conflict with his adversaries.

Yet, Jesus hasn’t come to be king in that sense. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (v. 8-9). Like the ritual sacrifices in the Temple, Jesus will become a bloody, final sacrifice for our sake. Throughout the week, Jesus will remain in conflict until he is finally betrayed. He will be surrounded by adversaries like bees, pushed hard, and find himself crowned with thorns (v. 12).  He will die on a cross like a rebel, falsely accused of proclaiming himself king. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” The Temple will be destroyed in 70 CE, but the church, Christ’s body, will rise in its stead.

Thanks to God’s steadfast love, we will never be rejected. Through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we have access to our Father in Heaven and forgiveness for our rebellion in sin. With Jesus, our lips and hearts can pray with confidence, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Through the events of this upcoming week, we become conquerors with Christ (see Romans 8). We can rightly sing a song of victory – the victory of Jesus for our sake.

Christ’s peace be with you as we enter Holy Week together, Pastor Lou

 

Please enjoy a musical meditation on Psalm 118 from the Ecumenical Community of Taizé

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

© 2015 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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Ash Wednesday – Not really cancelled, just different

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With regret, Messiah Lutheran Church and School‘s building will close at 6:00 pm tonight. There will be no Ash Wednesday service.

Reviewing several television and government weather forecasts as well as other public safety resources, it seems our region is expecting an inch or less of snow accumulation. Unfortunately, a number of these same resources suggest that it could come fast and with heavy “bursts” causing a quarter mile or less visibility in some areas. Wind gusts could reach 30 mph with temperatures dramatically falling into the single digits this evening. Wind chill is expected to be in the below zero range (-5). Melting prior to nightfall is expected to refreeze causing hazardous road conditions into tomorrow.

The snow is supposed to arrive in our region right as we would have gathered for worship (5:00 pm – 8:00 pm). As our membership comes from such a wide expanse of territory in our region, we are cancelling tonight’s service for safety reasons. Yet for those interested, we will offer the imposition of Ashes on the First Sunday of Lent, February 22 at both services.

In addition, it is important to understand that the imposition of ashes need not be done only in a church or by a pastor or priest. As our upcoming Wednesday night Lenten program, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” will help remind us, we are all called to ministry and every home is a little church. For those interested, there is a home liturgy available through the article, “Ashes on Ice: Celebrating Ash Wednesday at Home.”

The imposition of ashes on the forehead as a sign of repentance recalls the Jewish practice of wearing sackcloth (a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair), fasting, and sitting in ashes as a sign of mourning or repentance. Christians began to practice this ritual by the 10th Century AD. It became an official rite of the church by the 13th century. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Methodists, and other liturgical Protestants continue this tradition. The practice serves as a symbol of our mortality as well as the regret we share over our individual and collective sin. Imposing ashes in the sign of the cross, it serves to witness to others and remind ourselves that we are sinner-saints, people who struggle with sin but who also rely on God’s grace. It echoes the marking of a cross on our foreheads with anointing oil during our baptism.

In all the above traditions, a pastor, deacon or lay person can impose the ashes. Although ashes can be distributed “on the go” at any location, we prefer to gather corporately during public worship as a reminder of our interconnectedness in a fallen world.  We suffer from and contribute to individual and systemic sin. We live in hope with all the heavenly host and communion of saints.

Thus in the spirit of the prophet Joel’s admonition, we seek to live in a manner that reflects the short time we have to live out our baptismal call and share Christ’s love. We gather together in a spirit of repentance but also in hopeful expectation of Christ’s imminent return: Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. (Joel 2:1)

Life is too short, and Judgment Day will surely come for all. Yet as part of the communion of saints, trusting in Jesus, we are never alone. Even on that terrible day, forgiveness is ours. With confidence, we may await the day of Christ’s return.

While we wait, let us cooperate with the grace offered us to reform our lives. Let us struggle to love God and others all the more.

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

© 2015 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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Kayla Mueller: child of God, child of Love

kayla

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Kayla Mueller, an American hostage of ISIS, has been in the news a lot since her death was announced. Her Christian faith and love, inspirational to her friends and family over the years, is now being recognized by the wider world. In confirming her death Tuesday, the Mueller family quoted an earlier letter the young woman penned to her father on his birthday in 2011.

“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you,” Kayla reflected. “I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”

In her final letter, she wrote “If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness. I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another…”

A friend, the Rev. Kathleen Day, recently commented, “They tried to silence her. They locked her up. They kept us silent out of fear. But now she is free. She said she found freedom even in captivity. Her light shines. And we thank you for shining your light, not on Kayla, but shine your light on the suffering that Kayla saw.”

As humans, our political solutions to the world’s problems may differ. People may disagree over faith issues. Yet, I think we all could learn something important from Kayla.

Our lives need to be shaped by the love of Christ, who humbled himself to serve us and set us free to love.

Certainly, God will present us with different calls and spiritual gifts. (Charisms some call this.) We will find Christ reaching out to each of us differently through ordinary people, places, situations, and for some perhaps a more direct, mystical call. It might prove hard to see the Christ in others, and at times, ourselves. Still, we are all created and called to share in the same purpose: making God’s love manifest in the world.

Most simply, we are asked to love God and one another.

Through our faith and baptism, Christ declares us the children of God; a God who is only love. Our acts of love – no mater how small – will never be wasted. We and the love we seek to share remain God’s own forever. It changes our world a relationship at a time. God intends to use us all – liberal, conservative or anywhere in between.

Listen for Christ’s call in your life at all times and in ever place. Seek him even in the utmost darkness when God seems most silent and far way. Don’t fear mistakes or rejection, but instead love with abandon. For, God’s kingdom will surely come. It is already at work through remarkable people like Kayla and like you, children of Love created and sent to this time and place.

Some might argue, “…but I’m no saint.” Yet before we ever recognized it, the Love which is God knew us. Jesus promises to be with us always. The Spirit is sent to sustain us. Wherever we find ourselves, it is the right time and place for us to make Christ’s love known throughout the world. For, deny it as we may, we who believe in Jesus are his saints in communion with the Heavenly Host and one another. We are never alone, and our lives prove part of a sacred plan bigger than ourselves. Miracles will happen (both large and small) when we only seek to love.

So, seek Jesus in your life as Kayla tried to do – in nature, love, suffering, whatever. Keep your heart and mind open, for God can meet you anywhere and at any time. Don’t be afraid. We won’t all be called to martyrdom. (Yet, if we ever are, Jesus will help us find freedom even then.) We only need start with our small piece of the world. Our context is our mission field. Our gifts are Christ’s own.

Just try to love those Christ has entrusted to your care or sends to intersect your life. Seek and serve Jesus in others. He is there. Don’t fear mistakes but please reflect upon your actions as honestly and gently as possible. Speak with trusted friends and spiritual advisers to help you discern your course. Listen to those who oppose you with patience and a desire to learn. Be open to repentance if you ever sense you are wrong.

As scripture attests, you were created to be a child of Love. Do your best to love. Then, trust Christ has done or will do the rest. He’ll lead all his children home.

Sources:
http://www.azcentral.com/…/kayla-mueller-portrait…/23218063/

http://www.nytimes.com/…/document-kayla-muellers-letter-fro…

http://www.azcentral.com/…/12news-parents-receive…/23165397/

Picture: A photo of Kayla Mueller previously volunteering as a relief worker in India found on AZCentral.com

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

© 2015 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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Preparing the Barren Fields

Sun Snow, by Trenton Jones (2015)

Sun Snow, by Trenton Jones (2015) Gizmodo.com

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37)

As we approach another Lenten season, I see barren farm fields around us. In the midst of winter, they don’t look like much. They are tired and seem spent. Yet with the right amount of gifts from God (water and nutrients) as well as care from the farmer (tilling, planting, weeding, etc.), these same fields will become abundant signs of life as we enter spring.

This is much as our Lent should be. We intentionally cooperate with the grace of God to promote and nurture life and love in the world. Following chosen disciplines and special worship or by making extra efforts of charity and service, we tend to the plot of land God has given us. We till and plant (reflecting on our lives, confessing our sin, and turning with expectation toward God’s promises). We weed (repent) and grow (renew). This sacred process is not just for us but also for our neighbor as we seek to share the love and grace we ourselves receive.

Yes, as we enter Lent, we return once again to the mission fields. We seek to reconnect to Christ and one another. What will you do to cooperate with God’s grace and nurture new life? Certainly, Jesus offers us his love freely, and so we could just watch and wait for spiritual growth. Yet as good farmers know, seeds of faith grow better with intentional love rather than lukewarm care.

Grace abounds, but Jesus invites all of us to roll up our sleeves and grow with God this Lent. Come join Jesus in the fields before us and witness the miracles God can do through your life and love.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

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

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

© 2015 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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Candlemas for the young family (And the young at heart)

presentation

What a wonderful opportunity to rejoice in the light of Christ once again – Candlemas!

Candlemas is actually the Christian “Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.” The Holy family had come to the Temple to fulfill the Law of Moses. Forty days after the birth of the male child, Mary’s ritual purification and the redemption of the firstborn son were due to be performed. Being a poor family, only a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons needed to be offered to God.

Yet while they prepared to do so, two elderly, faithful people, Simeon and Anna, saw something else going on beyond the sacrifice. God was doing something much greater and offering something much dearer. God was doing something new. The Spirit revealed to them that God’s light had broken through the darkness. The infant, Jesus, was the long awaited Messiah and nothing would be the same ever again. Jesus, our joy and salvation, had come into the world!

This feast day comes forty days after Christmas and historically closed out the season. The remaining Christmas greens would be taken down. The days were still short and nights long. Spring was, well, yet to be sprung. And so this day came to serve as reminder that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In time, it became a practice to bless the candles to be used in church during the coming year. Later, families would bring their own candles to church for a blessing. Hence, we now have the alternative name for the feast day, Candlemas.

Using resources from Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Revised Common Lectionary, your family can easily mark this day and your own baptismal call. The following is a short ritual I offered my congregation for home use:

As the family gathers for a meal, before bed or at another convenient time, light your candle.

All: Alleluia. My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. Alleluia.

Leader reads: Luke 2:22-40

A short reflection may be shared, or discussion time, or even a brief moment of silence to reflect in the light of the candle. When finished…

Leader: Let us pray together…
All: Almighty and ever-living God, your only-begotten Son was presented this day in the temple. May we be presented to you with clean and pure hearts by the same Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Leader: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Optional –

Close the gathering with a hymn or song dealing with light, perhaps “This little light of mine.”

This might also be a wonderful time to take out any saved baptismal candles and reflect upon the meaning of our individual baptism and talk about events of that day.

As better candles are made of beeswax, perhaps make a beehive cake to help your family celebrate.

A quote from John Chrysostom comes to my mind, “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because it labors, but because it labors for others.”

As we look upon our candles this Candlemas, let us urge our children (and all the children of God) to not waste time just being “busy bees” chasing things of this world. Let us instead love God and neighbor. Then, our lives will be used to build the Kingdom of God with Jesus. His light will come to shine through us.

Happy Candlemas, everyone!

early behive

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

© 2015 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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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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