Tag Archives: christianity

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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We are all strangers in a strange land

“Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and [Moses] named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”(Exodus 2:22)

Throughout scripture, we often sense the feeling of isolation and yearning for home. The people of God faced conquest, exile in foreign nations, and during the diaspora never quite fit in. Even in Jesus’ time, faithful Jews lived within a predominately Greco-Roman culture. It got even worse once Jesus preached a message contrary to the way the world so often operates. Jesus bluntly told his disciples, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

The truth remains, if Christian, we won’t ever feel like we fit in perfectly. God has put a yearning in our hearts for a heavenly home. The peace and justice promised us is not of this world. The faith, hope and love we possess isn’t always recognized or appreciated. Perhaps in this year’s caustic national election cycle, it has been particularly so.

Yet recall what Jesus also said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). He prepares for us a new home even now in his heavenly kingdom. We need seek to only follow Jesus in trust. Injustice and fighting will happen in this world. There will be wars and rumors of war with many things to rightly fear. Yet, Jesus promises these things must happen, but good will also come from them for the people of God.

This world can never fully satisfy us, so why play its political games? Pray for the “city of your sojourn” (Jeremiah 29:7). Be kind to those who persecute you or with who you disagree. Vote your conscience seeking to conform to God’s will as best as you understand it from your prayers and scripture, but also trust God will forgive you if you err. Never conform to the political hype and hatred, but conform to Christ. Love one another. Ask for the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

There is much to bother many of us about this election, and we may at times feel like casting stones. Yet we are called to be light in the darkness, ambassadors for Christ. We need not fear. No matter who wins the election, God promises to lead us home.

Remember what Paul tells us: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20). Why be lost in anger? Why waste our time in fear? Politicians come and go, and we have more important work to do.

Christ’s peace be with you,
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2016).

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

© 2016 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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Hanging Around With God

amy

Amy Delph of Messiah Lutheran goes Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91)

 

As our Virginia Synod team, “Fools for Christ,” prepared to rappel down 25 stories as part of Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia, there was indeed noticeable anxiety. One heard some nervous gallows humor about last words and breaking ropes. People pointed to those they blamed for getting them into this mess. Some people ascended to the roof top only to think better of it when looking at the edge separating them from the cold, hard ground below.

It isn’t unusual or foolish to feel fear at such moments, as fear is ultimately a God-given survival mechanism. Yet, some overcame their fear trusting in a greater purpose. Even for those who turned back, there was no shame. They had made the attempt. We all recognized our fear and vulnerability, and it created a comradery on that roof top; a sense of community. People sought to support each other with their prayers and kind words of encouragement in success or defeat – much like any church should do.

Yet for those of us who believe, it struck me that there was even greater comfort to be found. The certainty of God’s promises. When Jesus faced temptation on the pinnacle of the Temple, he thought of such comfort too.[i] He quoted Psalm 91 in the face of the Devil. It was the words he clung to for encouragement and safety.

Jesus understood his Father in Heaven and the heavenly host remained on guard. He could trust God as his dwelling place, and nothing could truly harm him. No fear need stop him from his mission. It is the same with our lives as we face whatever highs or lows, blessings or curses that might come. God is with us. God intends to protect those who love him and know his name. These are God’s promises, “When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation” (emphases added). We can go over the edge into our future with confidence.

Yes, fortunately for us, God never lies. We need not let fear dictate our choices or behaviors. Failure need not define us. We are the beloved children of God together. Whether barely making it on a wing and a prayer, finding ourselves out on a limb, or hanging by a thread (or perhaps even a rope 400 feet above Cary Street), we are not alone for we have one another to turn to. Perhaps better still, God and the Heavenly Host is not only ready to catch us if we fall but has plans to lift us up to new life no matter what happens.

This month, we can rightly give thanks to God even if we feel at the end of our rope. God is with us, and God will never let us go.

[i] Matthew 4

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 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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No Human is a Pig

fergusonThese images from a recent Daily Mail article reminded me of something Br. Roger of Taize’ once shared while I was a volunteer with his community in France.

When the community was forming, a group of French communists in a nearby village wanted to protest the injustice and riches of Christianity. So, they killed a pig on some church steps one Good Friday. The pig was supposed to be Jesus.

Now, no police officer is Jesus per se, but it strikes me that systemic injustices (no matter how true or not) can’t be addressed by effigies reflecting personal agendas, ignorance, anger or hate. In doing so, we tend to objectify and dehumanize our “enemy”, which makes it harder to recognize any of our own wrongs. We also tend to promote conflict rather than justice and peace. A poet in the 1960s (Ginsberg?) said something like this: “If you call a person a pig enough, they’ll surely become one.”

Like Br. Roger, I’ll strive not to waste time with anger in response. I’ll seek all the more for reconciliation, justice and peace. I will pray for all in Ferguson and our nation, even those who might wish to be my enemy, for I think we all know not what we do when it comes to our current racial divide. I’ll take stock of my behaviors and try to repent where I can identify any of my wrongs. To be sure, there’s enough sin and stupidity to go around, because we all are human.

Perhaps instead of angrily talking, tweeting, posting and pointing fingers, we should try to listen better to one another and learn. Perhaps we should try to seek and recognize the love of God which is planted like a seed within each of us. We are all part of the problem, and we all have a lot to learn from one another.

Entering relationship with one another – as difficult as it might sound – is the way forward. I have seen its power at work through Taize’ prayers and gatherings time and again. Relationship is how Jesus often changes our lives and our lot. It is harder to hate our neighbor when we get to know them, but to do so, requires we put our anger, agendas and arrogance aside. We have to be willing to reflect upon and admit our own sin.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Read Matthew 5:43-48

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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Who said growing in grace was easy?

3108_1920x1080There has been a great number of people to pray for of late. Both people in my family and our family of faith faced serious hardship. Some dealt with a reality that so often comes with age – the deterioration of our mortal bodies, some even facing death. Farther afield, too many folks remained hungry, cities burned in upheaval, the earth shook, and war and terrorism was much of the news. Some reported the shrinking of Christianity while an RV on the road was covered with threats: “Repent! The end is near! Jesus is coming in judgment!”

Is this really the abundant life Christ promised us or our doom? Ponder Paul’s words: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:18-19). He’ll go on to say that like birth pangs presenting new life, the Kingdom of God is both here and on its way.

If we focus on our suffering – if it is all we meditate on and what shapes our decisions – then, no, we aren’t likely living the life Jesus intended nor experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. That false “reality” misshapes our lives. To Paul, Christ’s resurrection has changed our world and our lot. We shouldn’t trust gossip or the news. We can’t trust our senses. We need to trust in the promises of God alone. A new heaven and new earth are on their way – as certain as the fall harvest even though we might find ourselves presently under the most blistering sun.

Here and now, the seeds of God’s love are germinating and beginning to sprout, but the harvest day isn’t quite here. That’s right, we aren’t just waiting for heaven in some far off future, but we are surrounded by heaven breaking into a very real and difficult world. It’s being revealed in the signs of comfort offered us and sustaining grace experienced during trial. It proves manifest in new life – creation itself, the birth of new children or opportunities, but also in the transformed and still changing children of God. Peter agrees with Paul writing, “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

This true reality is rooted in faith and a certain hope that feeds the hungry, ministers to the sick and dying, welcomes the stranger, or can love in the face of death. I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking here but radically trusting in the power of God. While we wait, we choose to believe. We seek to trust and follow. We only try to act on the certainty of eternal love around us and in us – not the uncertainty of our passing, present experience. Our Triune God does the rest.

Amidst wars and rumors of war, Jesus will come again. He is coming here and now. Yet, that’s not a threat. It is a new reality that has the power to redirect and bless every minute of our lives.

I pray your summer prove a time of fun, refreshment and new growth.

Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (June 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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In Christ’s Defeat, Our Victory: Meditation on Psalm 118

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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