Category Archives: Community Life

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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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.

candlemas at home

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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Food for Thought

psalm34_8-taste-the-goodness-of-the-Lord“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

Ironically a time commonly associated with fasting, Lent can prove a time of refreshment and renewal. Through intentionally refocusing our faith, seeking out spiritual disciplines, service, and yes, even simple food and fellowship together, we can grow as children of God and be used to build Christ’s church.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first invites his followers, “Come and see.” To walk with him and share his life, that’s where we will come to know him – and perhaps ourselves and our purpose – all the more. Rooted in faith, we often grow by doing. When Jesus calls himself the living water or bread of life, you’ll also read that Jesus invites all to come to him, to taste and see, so that we will never hunger and thirst again.

Certainly, faith in Christ alone saves us, but his intention is for an active, communal faith that blesses us and others. It is a faith that calls us to assemble regularly to feast on his Word, share our gifts to honor God as well as for the good of others, and ultimately “remember” him and meet him; receiving his body and blood as a means of grace through his holy supper. This prepares and empowers us to go back out into the world, where we come to him in the lost, lonely, sick and dying. We become the vessels which carry his living water and bread of life, and yet, we often (if not always) find ourselves blessed more by such compassion than those we serve.

At home or away, we can always take private moments of prayer and meditation, but we are and remain the body of Christ. Jesus doesn’t want us to go through this life alone. Faith in Christ implies relationship with God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all our neighbors. For such love always feeds our lives, and Jesus seeks to love us always.

Yet, will we come to the feast being offered us? Do you feel you have been too busy laboring for your daily bread, running after things that don’t last, or beat up by the world, empty or alone? Perhaps you realize you haven’t loved Jesus as you should – that you are human? Well, don’t just sit there. I encourage you to come join your local family of faith. Come, taste and see. Rediscover the love that you were always meant to share.

Everyone is invited to eat, drink and be merry with Christ and his church this Lent, for “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22). That’s surely something to celebrate with our lives.

Peace,
Pastor Lou

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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