Category Archives: Uncategorized

Empty Tomb. Full Hearts.

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8

One of the earliest transcripts of Mark’s gospel ends with an empty tomb. More specifically, it ends with the disciples fleeing the tomb too afraid and amazed to speak to anyone about the Risen Christ. It seemed all too incredible!

As a small church, we can be up against some big odds, and yet as incredible as it might seem to some, we trust that an even bigger God is with us. Therefore, we regularly stretch ourselves in service of the Gospel. We’ve embraced those who many would call outcasts. We’ve raised funds for projects and charity that seemed beyond us. We have helped shape the faith or future pastors, become a community center for our county, and befriended many despite denominational boundaries. As a result, many have heard of Jesus and been encouraged – not just in Mechanicsville but even internationally. It takes faith do that – a faith that comes from God as a gift of the Spirit.

As Easter celebrations recede on our calendar, I pray our Easter joy never does. People need to hear the story of Jesus from us. Christ wants us to be his body in a real and difficult world. This is no time for fear, no time to be struck dumb. It is our time to renew our search for Jesus and the seek those who need him as well.

I give continued thanks to be your pastor and am encouraged by your faith. Let us continue to share this faith boldly in word and deed. Despite our doubts and darkness, Jesus is ready to shine forth from our life together. He is no longer in the tomb. Our Savior lives in our midst and our overflowing hearts.

I wish you and your families a blessed Easter season, all fifty days.

Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (April 2018 edition).  

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

© 2018 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

No fooling!

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

As I prepare for Holy Week, I like many have been struck with the strange convergence of April Fools’ Day and Easter Sunday this year. I’m sure there will be many jokes made, but following Christ is not for fools. Often, it is not easy and calls for great sacrifice. And so during my pondering, I thought of the above quote by an Christian missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott. He had left a financially secure and respected life to become a missionary to the Huaorani people of Ecuador.

The Native people had been repeatedly harassed (sometimes violently) by Shell Oil Company employees, and some Shell employees were killed by the tribe in response. Jim Elliott and his friends hoped to resolve the standoff peacefully and help the tribe survive. Despite the tribe’s reputation for violence, they wanted to offer them the peace of Christ. Due to misunderstandings about the missionaries’ intentions, Native warriors from this remote, isolated tribe murdered Jim Elliott and his four fellow missionaries in their camp on January 8, 1956.

Jim Elliott, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint were said to have been called fools by many as they prepared to serve as missionaries, but they were motivated by Luke 9:24: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Several years after their death, family members, friends, and others inspired by their witness followed their lead, and peaceful contact with the tribe was eventually made. Prayer was offered, forgiveness shared, friendships formed, and many in the tribe became Christian – including those involved in the murders. One of these even came to serve as a spiritual leader for the tribe.

Did the missionaries die for nothing? Were their families also fools for loving those who had murdered the one’s they loved and lost? I think the fruit which came of their spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation proves otherwise. This same Spirit desires to inspire us as we face our political hot button issues, misunderstandings, news of school shootings and other horrors of our world.

Jesus, too, reached out to people in love and wasn’t understood. He was called a fool. Many since have been called fools as they sought to follow after Jesus. Some have been imprisoned or murdered. Others lost family and friends or faced ridicule. Yet they never gave up, and we now share in the faith which they helped preserve at great cost. Their holy witness has been entrusted to each of us to pass on.

At a time when many in our culture don’t have time for one another – never mind going to church or being church together – such faith-filled fools are needed. The offering of your time, treasure and talent in service to the Kingdom of God matters more than we will ever know in this world, and it will bear fruit no matter how small the offering. We may not all be called to become martyrs, but we all are called to share in the cross of Jesus in some way. No matter what happens around us or any obstacles facing us, we are here in this time and place to proclaim the Good News of Jesus with word and deed. Beyond that, we are already sharing in Christ’s victory by grace through faith. This is what his resurrection means for us. It is the bold church we are invited to become. No fooling!

I wish you all a blessed Lent and meaningful, faith affirming Holy Week.
Pastor Lou

In the below video, hear more of this story begun over 60 years ago; part of a larger eternal story still unfolding…

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (March 2018 edition).  

© 2018 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Walking with Jesus. Walking with you.

jesus-and-his-friend-icon

Often called “Jesus and his friend” or “Christ with Believer,” this ancient Coptic icon depicts a man called Menas but could represent any one of us. The original is displayed in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Back in 1994 when I served as a volunteer with the Ecumenical Community of Taizé in Burgundy, France, the founder of the community gave me a birthday present. It was a copy of an ancient Egyptian icon commonly called “Jesus and his friend.”  [The original is actually from the 8th century in and depicts Christ and Abba (Abbot) Mena (285-309 AD). It currently hangs in the Louvre in Paris.] As people gaze upon this icon during prayer and meditation, they often imagine, as I do, this friendly looking Jesus with his arm around them, talking about the cares of the day or hopes for the future. Walking together, the saint and Jesus seem to be moving toward the future, a future filled with hope.

After ten years serving at Messiah (and with my birthday just ahead), I’ve been thinking about this image a lot. I’m reminded to look for where Jesus has been walking with me and how, and the answers so often include you. We have been through many challenges together: lean economic times, personal loses and grief, even my own cancer diagnosis. Your prayers and support, your gifts of time, treasure and talent, have helped me and the congregation walk on right through these times. You have helped me see the light of Christ at work, and as I walk, even on darker days, I can find the peace and joy Christ promises.

What’s the future to bring? We are celebrating our 50 years as a congregation in 2018, so that is an appropriate question. Yet, I don’t fully know the answer any more than you – at least not in any detail or with certainty. What I do know is that I love you, and I give thanks to God for you. I appreciate your walking with Kristine and I through these ten years and toward the future. Through you and your shared love, Christ is seen and made known. I trust that whatever happens in the future, Jesus will walk on with us, faithfully loving us all the way. Each of us (and our congregation as a whole) will get to where we need to be. It may not always be easy, but our path will be blessed.

On behalf of Kristine and I, thank you for the many gifts and letters during the recent pastor appreciation month. It was quite uplifting and much appreciated. I also especially wish to thank Cheryl Griffis and Sally Bennett for heading up the 10X50=500 celebration and all those who have been coming together to make this day special. I look forward to rejoicing with you on December 3rd and throughout our Advent and Christmas season ahead.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New year to you all!
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2017/January 2018 edition).  

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, Pastoral Letter

A Statement of Unity

The following speaks of my pastoral response to the recent violent incidents involving racism, antisemitism, and anarcho-communism  in Virginia. It is a slightly revised (see endnote) version of an article in our September edition of Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger:

The Bishop and Bishop-elect of the Virginia Synod of the ELCA, the Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, as well as about twenty local ELCA pastors attended a simultaneous, peaceful ecumenical clergy protest in opposition to white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville. All Virginia Synod clergy were asked to consider attending by Bishop James Mauney.

Following the violent and deadly events in Charlottesville, Pastor Lou spoke at length at the beginning of worship the next day as to why – although invited – he did not choose to participate in the protest. Due to the personal and pastoral nature of his comments, they have not been published in detail or recorded, but as Messiah members, you may request to speak with him at any time. It will be a better discussion face to face. As a local law enforcement volunteer chaplain, he was also asked by a local coordinator* of the International Conference of Police Chaplains to be on stand-by to support local police chaplaincy efforts as needed, but he was not called upon to respond.

Among his comments, Pastor Lou spoke of the need for us as Christians to explicitly condemn the sin of white supremacy in any form. He also condemned the sin of some of those (not involved in the clergy protest) claiming to be confronting hate groups with their own violence – sometimes using such violence against first responders and other innocent people present.** As baptized children of God, he argued that we each should intentionally, prayerfully and boldly discern how we are called personally to work against such sin: prayer, protest, advocacy, voting, letters to the editor, cooperating with law enforcement, confronting its everyday forms as encountered in our relationships or work – there is no one way God might seek to use us.

In response to Charlottesville, you may wish to follow or volunteer with the efforts of the Virginia Synod’s Tapestry Team. This team’s mission is “to empower congregations in the Virginia Synod to be Ambassadors for Christ in matters of diversity and inclusion, walking with God, and guided by the Holy Spirit to bring healing, reconciliation, and justice.” The team provides “resources, facilitates conversations, and fosters networking across the Synod in order to advocate for God’s desire to weave a rich and diverse Body of Christ.” There are also many other worthy groups with which you might choose to support or volunteer.

As Hanover County is considered part of the Metro-Richmond area, Pastor Lou has signed the “Metro Richmond Pastors and Ministry Leaders’ Statement of Unity.” This represents his endorsement only, and it does not imply anyone else’s agreement other than those clergy who signed it. This statement seeks: to explicitly affirm that all people are created in the image of God; condemn the ideology of white supremacy, including antisemitism, as an unqualified evil, as well as that any teaching suggesting that one people, race or nation are inherently superior to others “for God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”; and to have the signers repent of their own and church’s historical or present complicity (intentional or unintentional) in the sins related to racism. In closing, the signers promise to promote healing and reconciliation; leading “in the way of love, and to seek ways to heal the divisions that separate races and cultures in our city.” The statement is a local, grass roots effort attached to no one organization. It is ecumenical, bipartisan, and avoids accusatory or “revolutionary” language found in many such documents of late. The statement does not directly address the local and statewide issue of Confederate statues and memorials. The complete text can be read here: richmondpastorsstatement.org.

Inspired by 2 Cor. 5:11-21, our Virginia Synod has called for its members to be ambassadors for Christ. The ministry of reconciliation is shared by us all. Please continue to pray for those who mourn the deaths of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, all those injured, as well as peace, justice and reconciliation in our commonwealth and nation.

* I inserted the words “a local coordinator” for clarity

**In error, the published article indicated those coming prepared to use violence in Charlottesville under the guise of fighting fascism might have also assaulted clergy. I have been told of attacks on clergy by hate-group supporters, but I’m aware of no attacks on clergy by others. Supporters of Anti-fa (who describe themselves as Anarcho-communists, or claiming an anarchist and communist blended philosophy) and others did (as reported in open sources) come prepared for violence, and assault and battery did occur against law enforcement and others not directly involved with the hate group sponsoring the original rally.

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2017). Revised version here is dated 24 August 2017. 

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, peace, social justice

Worried? Trust Jesus!

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

The summer fun is about to end, and “school days, dear old golden rule days” are about to return. I’ve already seen people buying school supplies and clothing for their children, and from conversations, I know people are already trying to get their minds around their return to fall work schedules. It is a busy and often anxious time of year!

Whatever age the child of God might be, we are to look toward the same direction for our hope and encouragement. No matter how big or small the worry, whether your anxiety is about your lack of time, treasure, or talent, you are not meant to be alone. Jesus wants to walk with, guide and comfort you.

Above the hubbub of our days or amidst the darkness of any fear, turn to Jesus. Stop and listen for his still small voice. It can indeed be found in Bible study, daily prayer, and corporate worship. Martin Luther wrote, “I have so much to do that if I didn’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done.”

Now, we don’t have to spend three hours in prayer, but we do need to be attentive and intentional to help us hear the voice of Christ in our lives. Martin Luther has some things to share with us about prayer:

  1. His theology of prayer was centered on scripture. – To know the Word of God, we all need to spend time immersed in it. Hearing other viewpoints from sermons and group studies helps us avoid our own voices from unintentionally shouting down Christ’s own.
  2. His theology of prayer recognized its importance. – Think about your own human relationships. Does conversations and quality time spent with the one’s you love help you to grow closer to one another? It is the same with our relationship with God and Christ’s church.
  3. His theology of prayer understood the human and humble aspects of it. – We need God. We need others. Prayer helps remind us of these needs even as it helps us share them. Prayer is can be both talking and listening, spoken or sung, original or rote. There’s perhaps no such thing as a bad prayer, but simplicity and honesty can make them better. And if you can’t pray? Remember that the Spirit prays for us as can the church!
  4. Luther’s theology of prayer is practical. – No issue is too small or unimportant, for we matter to Christ. We don’t need to prattle on, for our prayers can be as simple as calling for help or saying thank you. It is our heart that matters more than our words. Even dwelling upon a daily passage or verse of scripture can help shape our prayer life.[1]

Do not be anxious, but do not forget whose you are either. You belong to Jesus, and you are meant to be a gift to the church and the church a gift to you. So come on by and stay a spell. We have a place for you, and your brothers and sisters need to see you too!

 

[1] For a more complete exposition on the topic, I commend the essay “Martin Luther on Prayer” as found at gfcto.com/articles/church-history/martin-luther/martin-luther-on-prayer. I owe a debt to it for my thoughts in this article. Even pastors need to listen!

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (August 2017). 

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

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, Pastoral Letter

Starlight, Starbright

1024pxMilkywaysummitlakewv1__West_Virginia__ForestWander

Forest Wander/Wikimedia Commons

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)

One of my favorite activities during the summer is to leisurely walk my little buddy, Boomer, as the sun sets and the summer heat subsides. More often than not, we become witnesses to a wondrous spectacle of birds settling in for the night, rabbits and deer foraging, and a magnificent burst of colors as the sun recedes and the moon and stars appear. What a special time of year!

I hope as you travel or recreate closer to home, you take an opportunity to pause in your own wonder and worship. Consider the same loving God who created the world and stars created you. Like all of nature, you have a purpose and place in God’s loving, creative plan. In the hush of the evening, I suspect you might better hear and understand your call to reflect God’s beautiful light.

Yet like the stars above, we remain called to be in communion with one another – reflecting and sharing Christ’s love. We are asked to plant seeds of faith, justice and peace – as when volunteering at vacation bible school, local humane societies, food pantries, or serving in many other ways. At all times, we are invited to raise our voices in worship and praise of God with the mountains, seas, and firmament.

No matter where you go or what you do this summer, please contemplate our shared call to be church. We remain Christ’s, and it is Christ’s light and beauty which we are called to reflect and share. It is you, me and others that were created, called and baptized to be Christ’s church together.

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (July 2017). Revised version, 26 June 2017. 

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

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, Ministry, Pastoral Letter

Anchored Together

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…” (Hebrews 6:19a)

anchorIn our sanctuary, you will find a stained-glass window featuring seven doves surrounding an anchor contained in a heart. The seven doves represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit alluded to in Isaiah 11:1-2. The heart represents our God who is the embodiment of love according to scripture. Yet, what’s the deal with the anchor?

It is likely the anchor became a Christian symbol very early on. Fishermen who intimately knew the dangers of the sea were Jesus’ first followers after all. They walked with Jesus during trying times – a time of radical change when they seemed surrounded by all kinds of threats. Where does a fisherman turn as storms approach? An anchor serves to moor a vessel and save it from destruction, and it is Jesus who desires to anchor and saves us.

It is little wonder then that this common image is used in Hebrews when the author speaks of the perils of falling away from our faith. The author writes, “For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

And what promises! Through faith, we share a certain hope of eternal salvation. We have an intimate connection to the love of God through the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Church. We are called to share in the glorious, life-transforming work of the Gospel. This is our call, and it will prove our joy.

I hope all of us enjoy summer activities and perhaps even travel, but I also encourage each of us to hold fast to our one and only anchor that can withstand any storm. No matter where we find ourselves, continue to worship, serve and rejoice in the Lord. Support the life of Christ’s church, and let the church support you. Together with Christ, we are not just able to survive life’s storms. We are being asked with Jesus to make them fade away forever.

Happy summer to one and all. May you be blessed to be a blessing.

Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (June 2017).

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

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized