Category Archives: Community Life

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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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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