Category Archives: Community Life

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Starlight, Starbright

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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.

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Pilgrimage to the “Big D” a Big Success

RiseUp Logo (300)

We continue to give thanks for the love and faithfulness of James Norman (Messiah Lutheran) and Megan Bower (All Souls Episcopal) after serving in Detroit during the ELCA’s 2015 National Youth Gathering, “Rise Up!” During their week with over 30,000 other Lutheran youth from across the United States, they worshiped God, heard inspiring speakers, participated in meaningful service, and attended concerts from leading Christian contemporary artists. They also made many new friends as they experienced educational and social events.

As Lutherans descended on the city, Detroit residents didn’t know what to make of it at first. Who were all these young people in bright orange and other neon colored shirts? They were polite and respectful…even helpful. They were singing joyfully and proclaiming Christ’s love loudly through word and deed.  A news article seemed to lament that the downtown area might seem like Disneyland for a few days. Our youth were called by one social media pundit “insufferably cheerful.” Another person said online that it looked as if a Skittles factory exploded, and a new Twitter hashtag was born (#SkittlesExplosion) to go along with the event’s #RiseUpELCA.

Ford Field - Detoit, Michigan

Ford Field – Detroit, Michigan

Yet as our youth got to work making friends amongst themselves and the community, helped local area nonprofits, and brought life and joy to a struggling economy and distressed community, attitudes quickly changed. Dare I say that both we and the city changed? The positive energy was palpable as love was made concrete. The youth discovered a welcoming city far from dead. The city itself responded in hospitality, joy and hope.

Social media captured many of the insights learned as well as the opening hearts. One resident was amazed at all the youth had done. They cleaned her neighborhood and made murals to help board up empty houses while providing beauty as well. She said what they had done “has physically, mentally, & spiritually made an impact.” Another posted, “Have not seen this many smiling faces in 1 place since well… ever! Thanks for visiting Detroit, Ya’ll come back now , Ya hear…” An impoverished, disabled resident marveled at the changes she witnessed on her street and the friendliness of all the youth. She said it was a highlight of her day to watch the youth at work and wave to them as they came and went each day.

IMG_1295The most wonderful change came through personal interaction. High fives and hellos poured down the Detroit streets. Residents would shout out their welcome and thanks. Cries of “Thank you, Lutherans! Thank you for coming here!” and “God bless you!” rose up like amens at an energetic Sunday morning worship. One taxi driver saw our group working hard cleaning a neighborhood on a mid-90 degree day with high humidity. Without being asked, he bought cold water for all and shared in friendly conversation as well. Choking up a bit, he said we were working on his grandparents’ old street. It brought back his boyhood memories as well as hope for a future in Detroit.

People would say over and over again, “Please share the good news about Detroit back home,” and “Say nice things about our city.” Honestly, a number of our 30,000 attendees expected Detroit to be only a filthy, crime-ridden city. Some parents were afraid (or at least a bit concerned) to let their youth go there. Yet, we all discovered much more in that city: a people rising up and reinventing their home, a hospitable and gracious welcome, yes, even new community.

For as the week wore on, race, class and geographical origin mattered less and less. We were rising up as one together and meeting the Risen Christ already in Detroit and at work. That’s the best news about Detroit. We didn’t come to save the city. Jesus does the saving, and we visitors and city residents were now the joint beneficiaries of his blessing.

To members of my congregation, I say thank you for supporting our All Souls/Messiah youth who attended. In three years, we might have more heading to Houston for the next announced Gathering. Until then, ask James and Megan to share their experience, faith and hope with you. They are part of this larger story, but have their own unique story to tell. Better yet, let’s rise up together, looking for the Risen Christ here in Hanover County, and join in his mission. Young or old, that’s what we’ve been called and sent here to do.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (August 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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We hasten in darkness…

As I think of and pray for the struggles in Baltimore, this simple chant from Taize’ presented itself once again. It provides shape for my deep, inexpressible cries.

I cry for those who mourn the death of Freddie Gray, for the police involved and those declared guilty by association, for those hurt by the riots and those hurt by historic, ongoing injustices, for all in Baltimore or places like Baltimore, for all the children of God who wound each other from their own woundedness out of ignorance or intentional malice.

Yes, we hasten in our darkness and amidst the darkness which surrounds us. We seek easy answers when love is never easy. The love of Christ calls us to love one another – even our enemy. We are to do good even to those who persecute us and always desire reconciliation. Is this possible? How shall we know if we don’t seek for it together?

People are thirsty for peace, all people. Yet for peace to happen, we need to first listen to God and one another even when difficult – without all the finger pointing and name calling; loving each other without preconditions even as we strive for justice. I have experienced such peace and witnessed such improbable miracles during and after my first sojourn with the Brothers of Taize’. It was a love that changed my life and called me out from isolation.

I learned peace is possible even now – an inner peace as well as with one’s enemy, a peace not of this world and yet within our reach. It begins with our humble and contrite heart, one we dare open to others who might reject us. Christ, too, was rejected, and yet he chose to love us to the end.

Let us search for this peace together no matter how hidden or distant it seems. We should not give up in our thirst, but instead be led onward. The darkness need not crush us.

Choose to love to the end, for the light who is Christ will reveal himself in such love. We will be refreshed. We will find new life where there was none. We’ll discover that we need not walk alone and afraid. We never did.

Lyric translation of De noche iremos: By night we hasten in darkness to search for living water, only our thirst leads us onward, only our thirst leads us onward.

God of compassion, we give you thanks for Brother Roger’s life. In a world often torn apart by violence, through his life and those of his brothers he created a parable of communion. We give you thanks for his witness to the Risen Christ and for his faithfulness right up until death. Send your Holy Spirit upon us, that we may also be witnesses to reconciliation in our daily lives. Make of us builders of unity among Christians where they are separated, bearers of peace among people when they are opposed. Help us to live in solidarity with those who are poor, be they near or far away. With Brother Roger we would like to say: Happy those you abandon themselves to you, O God, with a trusting heart. You hold us in joy, simplicity, mercy.
(Prayer written by Brother Alois to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Brother Roger’s birth)

© 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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