Tag Archives: faith

Spring is here

flowers

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” Martin Luther

In this world, nothing lasts forever: fortunes fade or disappear, relationships end or move on, opportunities pass, and people sadly die. Therefore, change is often feared and the unknown suspected. If not in our words, our actions often reveal our true thoughts about this “reality.” We tend to make choices that are meant to protect ourselves from the world. Often based on fears and the perception of or needs or wants, they end up being choices that can hurt ourselves and others rather than bless. They can unintentionally, slowly separate us from God, others, and the abiding joy Christ promised for our present.

In contrast, spring reminds us that our struggles won’t last forever. Against stacked odds, we become witnesses to new life brought forth and the dead resurrected all around us. Birds sing, and flowers bloom. Time and again, great prophets like Isaiah shared God’s promises through such images (as in chapter thirty-five): “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad” or “the mirage will become a pool of water.” Based on such promises, he goes on to give a charge to the People of God, “Encourage the exhausted, and make staggering knees firm. Say to those with an anxious and panic-stricken heart, ‘Be strong, fear not!’”

Sowers plant seed, wait and watch for spring while longing for the harvest. It takes time and patience, intentionality and effort. Storms or droughts might come, but we break the ground to refresh the soil, remove weeds and dead growth. There’s a kind of sweat equity needed, yet many hands make lighter work. And so, we are asked to join with others trusting winter, want and war will not last forever. We plant in hope and trust spring will come and a certain harvest will follow.

This Easter, I hope we all reflect upon what God has done for us in Christ, but we should also consider what God is asking of us in response. We have been sent to this time and this place, for we still live in much the same world of Isaiah. People need our hope, help and companionship, and we need there’s. There’s much work to be done. The time is right for you and me and all to recommit to the work of the church…of being church together.

True, we and our congregation face many challenges each day, but Christ holds us in his crucified, resurrected, loving hands if we let him. Don’t hold onto the past or present with anxiety. Hold on to the promises of the Resurrection. Be strong. Fear not. Share all that you are and have with his Kingdom. Turn over all your cares to Christ. For, it is time to open our hearts and hands toward all anew and discover all the good which God intends to grow and give for our sake and the sake of the world.

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Pastoral Letter, Uncategorized

God hears us

Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7)

12809595_1148313495180921_4330328337464380992_nDuring our recent sermon series on the Book of Job, our congregation members and world faced its own share of challenges and loss: economic threats, deaths in our extended family, a terrorist attack in Orlando, even our own roof-ripping kind of “whirlwind.” The world can seem a terrible place, and like Job, we are tempted to cry out to some divine police officer, “Violence! Help us!”

If you missed our sermon series, know this. God hears us, and God cares. We might not always see God at work, but he promises to labor for our welfare not for woe (Jeremiah 29:11). Indeed, our God often works behind the scenes hidden from our human view. As Jesus proclaimed, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Our sovereign, loving Lord is in control.

Still, Job was right in one sense. There is no perfect justice in our world. Bad things can happen to good people. Yet in an unfair world, we are gifted with an unfair grace. God loves us and plans never to abandon us.

No more than Job can I pretend to know why month after month it seems I am mourning with congregational members or my own family members over one thing or another. Yet, I know this. God is love…only love. Like a child, I can choose to trust my heavenly parent who created me and you out of love. It is all I really have – God’s promise to love me. Fortunately, God doesn’t lie. Jesus, our brother, Son of the Living God, proved this love through his death and resurrection for our sake. Hear God’s promise:

“For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given me.’ Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.’” (Hebrews 2:11-15).

Job did not live in this world long enough to see justice reign in fullness, and we might not either. Still, even Job knew his Redeemer lives. We must as well and share that good news with others. God’s justice is breaking into our world. While we wait, we are only asked to trust in the love being offered us and share it. We must seek to give into love, not fear.

Yes, more trouble is in our future, but so is our Redeemer. He will return because he wishes to banish fear, tears, violence and evil forever. We might never understand the evil and struggle we face, but we can find courage. God loves us more than we could ever understand.

So in the face of much darkness, go ahead and pray. Go ahead and live in Jesus’ name.

I wish you Christ’s peace in all that you might face,
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (July 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Pastoral Letter, peace

Walk in Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

long walk flikr

With each January, I’m usually contacted by several of our congregation’s youth and young adults as well as younger staff members at our school. They want me to write recommendations for college entrance or a new job. Almost always, the person making this request is humbled by the choices before them. They fear rejection or failure. At the same time, they feel dwarfed by the opportunities looming before them. Could their dreams be realized? They are almost afraid to find out!

Certainly, we aren’t always successful in our plans, but perhaps we should not get stuck in despair. Look instead toward God’s plans for us and be comforted. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God seeks to be in communion with our hearts. Jesus came to rescue not condemn. The Spirit is our gift to console and guide us. With such company, need we become paralyzed in fear?

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, reminds us, “Prayer is to say to Jesus, ‘Tell me what you want. May your will be done.’ Then, unexpectedly, Jesus says to us, ‘Tell me what you want.’ ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do…. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it’ (John 14:13, 14).” Peter begs us, “Cast all your cares on Jesus, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Paul reminds us, “All things work for the good of those that love the Lord” (Romans 8:28).

Fear is very human, but Jesus wants to walk with us through our fear to the place God needs us to be. God’s plans may not prove our own. If we seek to listen to Jesus and follow, even if we mishear him a wee bit or a lot, it is he who will lead us to that place. That’s his promise to all God’s children, yes, even you.

The future is like a cloud to us, but then is it really just a coincidence that God so often is heard speaking from clouds in scripture? I don’t think so. We only have one way to go – forward. We can only navigate properly by following the Christ who loves us…into the gray…into sickness…into failure…into joblessness…even into the valley of death…

Yet through faith, we know any sadness need not last. Grace, forgiveness, healing and a peace beyond understanding awaits us. You see, God is already in our future awaiting us with open arms wherever and whatever that future may be. There’s nothing really to fear. God’s ready and willing to welcome us home. Like the paralytic healed in Capernaum, we really just need to pick up our mat and walk. We are forgiven. We are healed. We are free.

I pray that your Lenten walk be one centered on Jesus and the abundant hope he has in store for you.

Pastor Lou

 

References:

Vanier, J. (u.d.). What is prayer? As posted at Pallotinesisters.org

Voegtli, R. (30 Oct. 2010) Photo: “Long walk”used with permission. The photographer retains all rights to its use. 

Scripture quotations my translation, other than in Jean Vanier’s quote.

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

3 Comments

Filed under Pastoral Letter, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Pastoral Letter

Preparing the Barren Fields

Sun Snow, by Trenton Jones (2015)

Sun Snow, by Trenton Jones (2015) Gizmodo.com

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37)

As we approach another Lenten season, I see barren farm fields around us. In the midst of winter, they don’t look like much. They are tired and seem spent. Yet with the right amount of gifts from God (water and nutrients) as well as care from the farmer (tilling, planting, weeding, etc.), these same fields will become abundant signs of life as we enter spring.

This is much as our Lent should be. We intentionally cooperate with the grace of God to promote and nurture life and love in the world. Following chosen disciplines and special worship or by making extra efforts of charity and service, we tend to the plot of land God has given us. We till and plant (reflecting on our lives, confessing our sin, and turning with expectation toward God’s promises). We weed (repent) and grow (renew). This sacred process is not just for us but also for our neighbor as we seek to share the love and grace we ourselves receive.

Yes, as we enter Lent, we return once again to the mission fields. We seek to reconnect to Christ and one another. What will you do to cooperate with God’s grace and nurture new life? Certainly, Jesus offers us his love freely, and so we could just watch and wait for spiritual growth. Yet as good farmers know, seeds of faith grow better with intentional love rather than lukewarm care.

Grace abounds, but Jesus invites all of us to roll up our sleeves and grow with God this Lent. Come join Jesus in the fields before us and witness the miracles God can do through your life and love.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (February 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.

1 Comment

Filed under Pastoral Letter

Be a clown!

Be a clownA cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

I have been called many things in my life, but this past month I was called a clown. To be more precise, I was called to be a clown as part of our Vacation Bible School. Through skit and song, crafts and games, I was blessed to share a journey with forty youth and almost as many adults into deeper friendship with God and one another.

I find that relationships are most easily formed through joyful encounters and positive attitudes, and it isn’t much different for our relationship with Christ and his church. Our happy fellowship, laughter, and even a caring smile can serve as a witness to our faith and help sustain others, but I believe it also serves to encourage us in our work and shape our own futures.

What kind of joy is this? I am talking about much more than a positive attitude (although that helps). In fact, it ultimately isn’t about us at all. Trusting that no matter what happens we will always be cared for by Christ frees us to smile, to laugh, to risk relationship and love no matter the cost. We can be rejected, and yet our healthy self-esteem can continue unharmed because we are loved by God. We can seem to fail in our efforts and yet not worry; we share in Christ’s victory. Even as we struggle with sin or illness or tears, or anything else one can think of, we can trust with Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” God will use whatever happens for our good.

“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times,” declared Martin Luther. Yes, faith is God’s punch line to our world’s fallen reality. Faith surprises and empowers us. Even amidst difficulties or tears, it manifests itself through the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It keeps us going in the face of great obstacles, and in answer to death, it births an abundant life.

Long ago, Francis of Assisi and his followers encountered Christ’s love in their midst through active fellowship, service and worship together. This radical communal lifestyle raised the eyebrows of many who called them “Fools for Christ,” yet that way of life brought Francis, his friends and those they served an abundance of joy – not sour, pious faces, rigorous religiosity, or burdensome obligations. Perhaps, they had the last laugh by adopting the name meant to deride them.

That is the kind of clown I hope I can be…that I believe Christ intends us to be together as church. Please help us together discover the gift of such joy this fall as we celebrate 45 years of ministry at Messiah. No kidding, it might just change the world.

May Christ’s peace and joy always reign in your life,

Pastor Lou

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

© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, Grace, Ministry, Pastoral Letter, Uncategorized

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

The following is a short sermon I preached to my congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church and School, on the Third Sunday of Advent, often called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. Although our preschool students and elementary-agers were present to perform a joyous Christmas musical, the death and sadness of the last week, especially in Newtown, CT, could not be ignored.

As our last hymn [O come, O come, Emmanuel] reminds us[i], the Advent season is a time of waiting and expectation. The song is much like many others among our Advent hymns and even some of our more traditional Christmas carols. Many project a sense of sadness and longing. They can prove almost melancholy. Our hymn writers and liturgists – just like us – know the imperfections and pain of this world, and so we look toward Christ to deliver us. Our music, images, and prayers can reflect that sense of loss, waiting and hope. Being a Christian, I heard someone once say, is like being a person separated from their greatest love; something is missing, and not quite right. We hunger and thirst for that love to be one with us again, so that our lives can feel whole.

This week, we have been unhappily reminded of that truth. We lost our assistant to the bishop, Pastor “Chip” Gunsten, a dear friend of mine and many here at Messiah as well as throughout our synod, who died suddenly while undergoing treatment for cancer. We are not the only ones mourning, for our Catholic brothers and sisters lost their former beloved bishop, Walter Sullivan on the same day. He was someone I knew well, and he proved influential to my own discernment of service within the church. Our Presbyterian friends in Virginia lost one of their own leaders as well, Cynthia Bolboch, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on December 12th.  Having many Presbyterian friends after attending a Presbyterian seminary, I shared in their own grief and sadness. As the week closed, I was tired and worn down from dealing with death and the many emotions that always accompany it. Then, we received the horrific, numbing news of Newtown, CT. People thousands of miles away shared in that community’s dread and grief and fearfully held their own loved ones closer.

How can we make sense of such things? I’m not sure that we can. Oh, as a Christian, I trust that God can use them – turn them on their head and make all things work for our good. I know blessings and signs of love can be found even amidst tragedy – perhaps especially at times of tragedy – through the heroes and servants shining in those times of darkness, or through the love that is shared with us to help us make it through. Yet, maybe we are never supposed to make sense of these things at all. It isn’t within our capabilities to make sense of the nonsensicle. The issues can be too involved for us to handle or beyond us. Maybe they just can’t ever make sense, because they are counter to what God wants for us. God’s will is to save us for a future full of hope, not to condemn us to an eternity of woe[ii]. God’s plan from the time of Adam and Eve was to redeem and save us out of love.[iii]

These sufferings are symptoms of that earlier wound. They are parts of our life as a fallen, imperfect people in a fallen, imperfect world. People sin. People suffer. People die. Uncontrollable evil and sadness do exist. Perhaps instead of looking back for answers as to why things happened, we should look forward. Our time is better spent in the face of such evil asking, “What would you have us do, Lord?”

Certainly, God never abandons us to this sorrow. God has a purpose and a plan which includes us. Jesus was sent into our world as a little child to share our life and lot; even our suffering unto death. God doesn’t rejoice at our destruction, but rather wants us to live abundantly through his only son.[iv] Jesus would become God’s final word on evil, sin and death. They have been defeated through his cross and resurrection, and we are saved here and now. Yet, sin and death are enjoying their final death throws at our expense. Jesus declares we are free from their power; saved even as we and creation might groan at times.[v]

In this present age, Jesus promises to come again to complete the work which he started and banish sin and death forever. There will be a new heaven and earth where suffering will be no more.[vi] In the meantime amidst our lingering troubles, he asks us to look up and be ready, not as a sullen or defeated people, but as his beloved people. Be ready, he says, so that our hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, so that the day doesn’t catch us unexpectedly, like a trap.[vii]

No, we who are saved have a purposeful, divine work to do. We are left here – called to this time and this place – as his messengers speaking his words of love, healing and forgiveness; words so sorely needed in this wounded, combative world. Like the law and the prophets before him including John the Baptizer [viii], Jesus taught us what we need to do – love God with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves.[ix]

Today both despite our suffering and because of it, we are to speak these words and embody them. God uses us with all our weakness and imperfection to give them form and substance, flesh and bone, to make them real. We are echoes of Jesus crossing all the earth shouting, “Do not be afraid! Jesus has come! He is risen and will come again!” We are called to lovingly and boldly put these words into actions together as church…Christ’s church…his body…his hands reaching out and touching broken lives through our own.[x]

Today, we have also heard words that Paul spoke to Christians in Philippi when they were persecuted, broken and felt alone. These same words were shared with us yesterday at Pastor Gunsten’s funeral. Perhaps it is providential that the lectionary had them as one of our assigned texts considering recent events:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4: 4-7)

Rightly, Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with Us. We need not get stuck in our fear, hurt or anger. Look up! Raise your head! Do not be afraid! These are the words Jesus speaks to us in the face of our most unimaginable threats or losses. When the world and its realities rage, when struck by great sorrow, or when we cannot find reconciliation with others we so deeply long for, Jesus speaks to us as he did similarly to that storm long ago, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”[xi]

This world can be a frightful, sad and lonely place, but we need not grieve as people without faith.[xii] We need not live as a people without love.[xiii] Despite any of our doubts, Christ’s peace and love are with us always[xiv], and we have a shared ministry to do in his holy name.[xv] His light is in our midst and shining through our hearts, and the darkness shall not overcome it.[xvi] Remember always that we are baptized – claimed and called, to be Christ and to serve Christ in the world.[xvii] We must never try to hide ourselves from the pain of this life and thus not truly live.[xviii]

We are Christ’s church, together with Jesus and thus never alone. He has come for us and will come again. Our longing will be vindicated. This truth is rightly celebrated at every moment and forever, but especially during Advent. We celebrate it this morning through our young people attending Messiah Lutheran School who have come to proclaim the story of Christ’s birth with us anew today.[xix] Amen.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent – December 16, 2012
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18


[i] “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Hymn 257, verse 1)

[xiv] In Mother Teresa and Brother Roger’s book called Seeking the Heart of God (1993), Brother Roger writes: “Four hundred years after Christ, a believer names Augustine lived in North Africa. He had experienced misfortunes, the death of his loved one. One day he was able to say to Christ: ‘Light of my heart, do not let me darkness speak to me.’ In his trials, St. Augustine realized that the presence of the Risen Christ had never left him; it was the light in the midst of his darkness.”

[xvii] At times of fear or doubt, Martin Luther is said to have reminded himself, “I am baptized”; a reminder that he was Christ’s called, claimed and sent child. His writings also indicate that we act as Jesus in the world, but also encounter Jesus in the least of these, those suffering and alone. Through their lives Jesus cries out to us for compassion.

[xix] Isaiah 11:6

The Funeral of the Rev. Paul "Chip" Gunsten by The Rev. David Delaney, Ph.D

The Funeral of the Rev. Paul “Chip” Gunsten by The Rev. David Delaney, Ph.D

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

© 2012 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Life, Law and Gospel, Liturgical Year, Uncategorized, worship