Tag Archives: grace

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.

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Be born in me, again and again

Angels appearing before the shepherds, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Angels appearing before the shepherds,                                     by Henry Ossawa Tanner

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”(Luke 2:13-14)

What a powerful, enduring image – an angelic multitude proclaiming the birth of Jesus to poor shepherds in a field! In great works of art or on more humble Christmas cards or creches, even in our favorite carols, we imagine them in song with the shepherds below basking in the glory and love of our God. How much more should we let our lives sing a song of gladness? For Jesus came not to remain in that stable, but instead plans to come to us where we are. He desires to reside in our hearts.

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Yes, through our faith and baptism, we share a more similar experience to Mary’s own. She was a poor, relatively uneducated young lady; likely 13 to 15 years old. She had lots of questions, doubts and fears to wrestle with, yet when the angel announced she would become the mother of the one true God, she submitted. Her magnificat (a song of praise captured in Luke 1) declares with certainty, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary was God’s favored one, and we share in that favor. Truly, Jesus waits to be born in each of us and reborn each day. No matter how we perceive ourselves with our varied gifts and struggles, God has come to us declaring each of us beloved child. Prophets in the Jewish scriptures predicted a time when the Temple would be no more, for our bodies would become the place where the yet unknown Christ resides. The Angels in the field proclaimed that Jesus came for all of us who are poor, imperfect and in need of love.

In Jewish theology, our heart represents more than an organ or emotional passion, it reflects our utmost being – the depths and totality of who we are. That’s where Jesus wishes to reside. So, Jesus prayed that we be one as he and the Trinity are one. It is Jesus who chose and called each of us to follow him. It is he who wants to live inside us and through us so intimately in every moment that he names us as his body. This good fortune is offered as a certain gift to all who dare trust in his promises.

Surely, Christ’s presence will upset our lives. It might even make us the objects of scorn or worse. Yet, “Do not be afraid!” God’s favor will never disappoint. Walk on so that your life becomes his song. Walk on trusting that Christ walks with you and that many more miracles shall surely come. His presence will bless us beyond our expectations.

The Christian singer Francessca Battistelli in a recent song imagines these words coming from the heart of Mary and her own, “I am not brave. I’ll never be. The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy. I’m just a girl. Nothing more. But I am willing, I am Yours. Be born in me.”

Do not doubt any longer, but believe. Open your heart and welcome Christ at each new sunrise or whenever darkness falls. The promises of God are fulfilled in your hearing. Blessed are you! Holy are you! Sing to the glory of God, so that all might believe!

Be born in me (Mary), Francesca Battistelli 

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2014/January 2015).

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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I give thanks

psalm 118

 

This fall has seen a flurry of activity at Messiah: new audio-visual assets installed in the sanctuary; a very successful and well attended effort during God’s Work – Our Hands Day; a growing craft fair and pet blessing; wonderful and numerous contacts made at the county’s community fellowship festival; and of course an attention getting but very helpful effort by Kevin Hendrickson and our Virginia Synod team at Over the Edge for Special Olympics. I could make a longer list if I cared to do so. In short though, it has been a busy but productive time, and it couldn’t have happened without your support. I give thanks to you and our God for all the mighty things that God has accomplished through our small church family and its shared ministry.

As we continue into November, things will seem only to get busier. I would encourage all of us (me included) to not get lost in the hustle and bustle. Turn toward God and his church instead. Remember we were created to be human beings, not human doers. God reminds us, “Be still and no that I am God” (Palm 46:10). Let’s take time to reconnect with friends and family, as well as our family of faith. Let’s take time to be together and to rejoice in the love that we share. If you have been away, we invite you to come back and join our celebrations. Let’s give thanks together.

The truth remains, we need one another, and the world needs our witness. As Jesus reminds us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” (Matthew 18:19-20). Yet also we are told that we proclaim the risen Christ through our gatherings, service and celebrations. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus needs to be invited into our lives and thus made manifest in the world. Do you already sense his presence, or is he perhaps inviting you to seek him out? Either way, we’ll find our place at his table when we live as church together.

I pray that the holiday season ahead serves to bless you to be a blessing to your family, your congregation, and the world. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good; his love endures forever. His love is at work in you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Lou

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2014).

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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Harvest Time

matthew9_37-38_txtbox

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)

It is harvest time again! After a milder summer with a good amount of rain, I see many gardens overflowing. Nearly a ton of fresh vegetables have been harvested in All Souls’ community garden alone to feed our hungry neighbors. More is likely to be harvested throughout September. We are blessed to share in that effort as well as that of our community food pantry, MCEF.

Yet, we have neighbors who hunger for much more than food. In the upcoming months, we’ll need to feed the souls of those participating in worship, as well as others longing for the word of God through our Christian formation programs and witness. We’ll be asked to help Hanover Habitat in its mission to provide affordable, quality homes to our neighbors. We’ll seek to help the local Gideon’s comfort and enrich travelers, military members and others by providing Bibles. We’ll be feeding the intellect, heads, hearts and stomachs of our preschool and after school students. We’ll be actively preparing our house of faith to better welcome those with physical and intellectual disabilities. At times, we’ll be visiting the sick, suffering and dying. At other times, we’ll celebrate God’s creation through arts and crafts as well as our pets. At all times, we’ll continue to walk with our homeless brothers and sisters – especially those in our congregation – toward greater stability and renewal. This is just a short list of the harvest our shared ministry yields all year long. As busy as it may get, we are asked by Jesus to love one another, so we’ll plan to have some fun together too.

I once saw a sign that said, “Church is a verb.” As a past English major, I can’t strictly agree with that, but I do agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. We are the church. We were created to be living, growing beings who share a living, growing faith in active community. We are God’s hands and feet, and our faces shine upon others with the love of God.

If you have been away, distracted, or just plain unavailable, think about returning once again to the mission field with us. We invite you to worship, bible study, prayer and service, but I think you’ll find it filled with fellowship and fun. Your life will be enriched along with the lives of others. It is as scripture tells us, “Faith without works is dead.” Instead, Jesus’ desires to offer us an abundant life; one so full of love that it overflows to bless the lives of others. Even our most humble attempts to share faith, hope and love will even be used to usher in the kingdom of God.

Trust that our labor together will not be in vain, for it is God who sends us. Why not come, taste and see? Why not have your vision and sense of family and purpose renewed? Welcome back to another year at Messiah Lutheran! Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Learn about upcoming events and more at mlcas.org or our news pages. (Be sure to check out the “more news” tab for hot off the press information.) 

 

Originally submitted for Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2014).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014). 

© 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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Living Hope

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:6-7)

We members of Messiah often face some tough days. This past week, I have had conversations with brothers and sisters facing serious disease, family discord, financial difficulties, homelessness, and more. Institutionally, our old van broke down again at the cost of over $1000. For a small congregation, there is a lot going on here, and not all of it seems good.

Yet amidst all of this, we keep coming back and reaching outward. Why? We have been blessed to live an abundant life found in hope. This isn’t the hope of our secular world – as when we hope to win the lottery and magically have our financial (and other?) problems drift away. It is a hope found only in the reality of Pentecost.

The Spirit is moving in, around and through us. It offers us unexpected opportunities and roots us in Christ’s victory. There is an understanding and expectation that God is doing something here, and that although bad things will happen, God is always good. So although we might at times feel like we are in prison with Paul, we share similar hearts and expect the same wonderful destiny.

Rather than relying on any strategic planning and committees (although these can be helpful), we surrender to the Spirit. We are flexible because we know that we are reeds that God might allow to bend but not break (Isa. 42:3). We are courageous and generous in our love for our neighbor and one another because we believe God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities. Yet if it seems we are about to fail or give up, scripture goes on to say, it is God who will provide us a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). We are strong because despite any quirkiness, shortcomings or disagreements, our abilities or challenges, we strive to live out our baptismal covenant to love and forgive one another as Jesus loved us first (John 13:34). We don’t obsess about mistakes and program challenges, nor do we fret about political differences. We meet people and embrace them as they are (2 Tim. 2:23-26Rom. 12:9-21; Gal. 3:28). We can come to our assembly without makeup or dressed to the nines because we know we are welcomed, known, and loved here (Mark 9:36-37). I have witnessed how we live as family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and I and others are encouraged and inspired to believe in Christ all the more.

Yes, there are many larger, well healed congregations on our street and in our community doing wonderful things. (The Spirit is at work there too.) Yet, we pass those by to share in a call to this unique spiritual home called Messiah Lutheran. It is a place where both our needs and our talents fit into and find purpose. As brothers and sisters, we don’t give up or turn away when life gets hard. Instead, we dig in and get to work defending and confirming the Gospel. We hold on tight to one another and Christ to face our problems together and overcome. We do so trusting the Spirit is upon us.

Tough times will come and go, but the love we share – Christ’s love for us – will last forever. All things remain possible. All is and will be well.

Pastor Lou

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014). 

© 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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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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Biding Our Time Wisely

Rattlesnake_Mountain_as_seen_across_Chandler_Reach_vineyard_-_1Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:4-5; emphasis mine)

In Virginia, we are surrounded by a number of vineyards and wineries. Over the years, I have visited many and learned of the great efforts and loving, intentional care needed to help the plants prove fruitful. It is no accident that in Jesus’ own day without our modern agricultural skills Jesus spoke about our faith life in terms of a vineyard. Many people would have been familiar with them and the intensive work and oversight associated with them. The image of vineyard was common to Old Testament writings signifying safety, abundance, the people of Israel, as well as God’s harvest. Thus, Jesus used that same imagery, and bread and wine would become part of the sacraments Jesus would leave us; means of God’s grace.

Yet in John 15, Christ’s believers are invited to become intimately part of the vineyard. He is the vine, and we are the branches. His word and the gift of faith have already made us worthy to reside there. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to use the Greek word for abide. It signifies that we are to do more than just stay with him. “Abide” (meinate) in John is used over and over to imply much more. Life springs from, stems from, arises from this relationship; a relationship that begins to bear fruit as soon as we say, “We believe.” God dwells in us, and the love which is God wants to grow and expand to fully bless us and others with a love that overflows. It is an image of intimacy, relationship, and abundance.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is most certainly true. Yet, for all those that grow tired from long hours at work, for those fatigued from dealing with strife or illness, for all those who hunger and thirst because of anything amiss in their life including sin, please remember the abundance Christ speaks of rarely if ever just grows on its own. Ultimately, it is a gift of the Spirit dwelling within our hearts, yet it helps for us to be intentional about our relationship with Jesus and his church. We must accept and cooperate with the grace offered us, for relationships deepen and mature over time shared with one another. So, all of us need to spend time together in worship, study, fellowship, and service. At home and work, we are richly blessed by caring for our own spiritual, emotional, and material needs, but even more blessed as we seek to care for and share faith with others.

These days, “Christian formation” is the phrase often bandied about for educational programs of the church. Like a potter with clay, God shapes our lives and future through such active, intentional times together. Perhaps it could rightly be called abiding in Jesus – a supernatural process of growth and new life rooted in Jesus while connecting us to one another. Yet such formation is ongoing. All we do and experience can become part of the process. Abiding in Jesus takes us out of the home, classroom, and sanctuary and boldly into the world!

Do you abide in Jesus? Does Jesus abide in you? If you have faith at any level, do not doubt that this is so. You are saved. Still, Jesus said he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Nurturing our faith and church, the days ahead might not necessarily be easy, but they can prove more fruitful – filled with Christ’s joy, peace and love.

Dare respond to his many invitations, and watch grace grow. “Abide in me. Follow me. Come, taste and see.”

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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