Tag Archives: pastoral letter

May I have a word, please.

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

God created all that is with a word. When the world lost its way, he sent his living Word, Jesus Christ, his beloved son. Through him, we have redemption and access to an abundant, eternal life. Because of him, we learned that God can be described with one word. As John teaches, God is love (1 John 4:8).

For over twenty years, a generation, Messiah members have generously supported Messiah Lutheran School. Over that time period, our varied staff members taught children many words. Among the most important were those relating to Jesus Christ. Weekly in formal chapel, in daily classroom study, service and play, they learned about love. They experienced what it means to be loved and to love.

In my eight plus years here, I have seen remarkable things. This particular ministry didn’t get us many new members, yet it was meant to be an offering, not a membership drive. It did at times help us financially, but for the most part, we shared the love that we have with others sometimes with great sacrifice. We assisted some children make sense of their world when love was lacking or there was abuse. We helped families during loss of jobs or loss of loved ones. We offered care for those suffering severe developmental disabilities and families who struggled to earn their daily bread. Scholarships were utilized to help kids stay in school when parents couldn’t manage, and food was sent home at times when people didn’t have enough. We supported families at time of birth and adoption, and we offered counseling to those who struggled to remain a family.

All the while, we worked with our families to provide the best learning environment possible. We shared in efforts to make the world a better place through St. Jude’s Trike-A-Thon, Operation Christmas Child, MCEF, and more. Together, we struggled to make love known – to make Christ present – in our world and accomplish the work set before us. On our way, we made many friends.

Like many of you, I’m going to miss the children who have been entrusted to our care. Their laughs and tears brought life to this building. I will grieve the loss of Messiah Lutheran School with many. Yet, I don’t think the time with our school should be regretted. God’s word is still at work in the lives we have touched. The time for this ministry might have past, might have seemed all to short, but it has succeeded accomplishing what God wanted. It had its season, and our love was not wasted. Our love is never wasted. It has changed the world whether we realize it or not; whether we see all the results or not.

Now as a community, we say goodbye to some faithful employees and friends. We have many good memories to sustain us amidst any grief. Yet, I also wonder, where will God send us now as a congregation? Where will we be sent next to share God’s Living Word? I don’t know yet, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us. I trust his Word is still on the move, and I know the world is still in need of such love.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (August 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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Paradise Noticed

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Boomer is thankful to roll in whatever grass we have.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isa. 43:19)

I am trying to grow grass on the clay I call my front yard. It isn’t easy. In fact, it seems downright impossible! I’ve paid people to help. No luck. I’ve spent hours prepping and preening the ground. Nothing. It sometimes seems like my yard is a desert waste. Yet, lo and behold, quite unexpectedly, I witness life in my front yard bloom each spring: rabbits and colorful birds, butterflies and fireflies. Yes, even some green grass manages to grow for my pup, Boomer, to joyfully roll in. It may not look as I planned, but there is beauty there.

Often, how we look at the world needs to change. We can’t perceive God blessings because we are too busy focusing on our own work, expectations or fears. We blind ourselves to God’s goodness. What if we prayed with thanksgiving for what we already have? What if we looked for signs of life instead of counting the signs of death around us? What if we dared to believe that the Lord’s prayer is being fulfilled around us: that God’s name is being hallowed; that God’s will is being done; that our daily bread is being laid out before us and forgiveness is ours to accept; that God is leading us to a better future filled with blessing? This is exactly what Jesus told us is happening.

True, our current life isn’t perfect. We will stumble into brambles and be chocked by weeds at times. Yet, that’s no excuse to miss the beauty around us. Jesus is coming, and Eden will be restored. Jesus sends us signs of that hope to us each day for those with the eyes of faith to see. Even now, recognized or not, God is seeking to create new life out of desert and death.

Out of clay, God created the first humans with sacred breath. Through a small tribal people, God would introduce love to the ends of the earth. Through death on the cross, Christ’s body and blood would offer the world salvation. So, we in turn are asked to continue to expect the impossible. In the face of hunger, we are asked to feed others. Surrounded by poverty, we are asked to share what we have. Even in the deepest, darkest clay, we are to generously plant the seeds that God has given us – our time, treasure and talent – trusting God’s garden will grow.

Jeremiah once spoke for God about you saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). You were planted and born with a purpose. Open your eyes! Open your heart! Open your hands! Behold the glory of God at work in and through your life!

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (May 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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The Christmas rush isn’t all bad

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“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” so the song goes. Unfortunately, our Advent and Christmas can seem anything but calm. As I write this, it is mid-November, and yet, our congregation’s planning teams have already been working on our Christmas together for weeks. Christmas music has started to play in stores and in some cases on the radio. One of my neighbors has already set up their Christmas tree even though Advent doesn’t begin for almost two weeks!

Our society seems impatient to experience Christmas joy and peace. Perhaps this is because there is too little joy and peace in our world. At this time of year, it gets busier at our congregation and busier in our homes. Light dims and darkness grows. Unexpected bills happen. Sickness and death comes. After Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and on and on, terrorism and war frighten us. We hope for an ideal Christmas because our lives in a fallen world are always less than perfect. Too little is calm, and our future may seem dark to us. We often hunger for a reprieve from our pain and busy, unpredictable life.

Jesus came into a time of trouble not so unlike our own. People were lucky to reach their teens. Thirty was considered old. Israel was an occupied country with isolated rebels and thieves (especially in Judea) seeking to defeat the Roman Empire and perhaps get a little economic advantage and power for themselves at the same time. For their part, the Romans wished to assert their power at all costs. Their vassal king, Herod the Great, was known to be tyrannical if not a bit mentally unstable. It would be he who ordered all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem murdered over fear that the recently born Jesus would usurp his throne. Life was hard and often unfair.

Despite these threats, Jesus came as a most vulnerable babe. He was a child of scandal, for his neighbors had heard of Mary’s pregnancy prior to her marriage with Joseph. Many in that day were poor like Jesus’ own family, and they often lived and died by the discretion and generosity of others with higher stature. Jesus didn’t come into the world to avoid our pain. Instead, he embraced and crushed it forever. As one liturgical communion prayer reminds us, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.”

Most certainly, we can be encouraged that Jesus shared in our weakness and sorrows in order to share with us his victory over sin, suffering, death and the Devil. Against all odds, peace forcefully broke into our world to live among us and die among us through Jesus. For a moment, all was calm and all was bright because God was finally with us in the flesh. It was time for all creation to pause, worship and give thanks.

A mere 33 years later, all too soon, Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven. We were warned life would not be easy in his absence, but it wouldn’t remain hard for ever. Similar to our wait for Christmas morning, creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” It might prove a bumpy, fearful ride at times until then, but there can be joy on our journey. For Christmas day has come, and Easter is on its way. And all the while, we’re not alone. We are the church together: enlivened by God’s Spirit, sharing both our pain and joys with one another; offering pardon to those still in darkness. We are rushing not toward our death but toward a certain future filled with hope.

With all the saints before us, we can pray with confidence as we face any darkness, “Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” We don’t know the time, but we can trust Christ is already on his way. And when he comes, all will be calm and bright forevermore. For this time, Christ will be here to stay, and despite whatever might go on around us until then, I for one can’t wait. If that’s our future, let time fly.

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2015 – January 2016).

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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Relax & Let Go – Always!

matthew6_34“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Life is indeed challenging, but when the theology of our faith meets the bumpy roads of our lives, we will be reminded that God will make all things work for the good of those who love him in God’s good time.

Our Lord is sovereign, all powerful, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, all knowing, all loving, and you know what? God loves you – at every time and in all seasons, good and bad. So, we don’t need to walk alone, and we were never meant to do so. Our lives are not meant to be about pressure or time crunches, although those do happen. The fate of the world doesn’t rely on us even if it sometimes feels that way. Our God is, well, our God. We need to trust rather than work and worry.

True, we were created to share in God’s creative, redemptive work, but we are not God. We never will be. So, God provides us with a call to Sabbath, a time for rest, worship, and reconnecting to God and one another as a community. God provides us with people to love, care for and walk with us called family, friends and church. And if these should ever fail you as humans sometimes do? God in his Word directs us to cast all our cares upon Christ, for he cares for us.

We aren’t to shirk our responsibilities. We aren’t to hang back when called to act. We are not to forsake the assembly as some are prone to do. (Consider Hebrews 10:19-25, for example.) Yet we can let go, and let God do the heavy lifting in our lives through the grace and forgiveness offered us. The refreshing Fruit of the Spirit is always at our disposal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We don’t have to work for them. Yet, we need to slow ourselves down and savor their taste. We need to seek them out even when they seem most far off.

As the world seemingly goes crazy, we are called to discernment. Rather than asking what God is doing, we ask, “What should we be doing to help?” Sometimes there will be lots to do. Many more times the answer is “ do nothing” due to our powerlessness…nothing other than watch and wait in hope…nothing other than pray for God’s will to be done in our lives and the courage to live it out…nothing other than trusting that God’s Spirit is at work in the craziness around us and battling for our welfare just as promised.

What good does worrying do? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said it does no good at all. The wisdom of God isn’t as hard to live out as we might at first think. Do what you can as you discern that you are called to do. Seek to love God and neighbor as yourself. Yet also recognize God’s authority and love reigning over your life. You don’t have to be in control of everything. You don’t have to be your own savior. You can let God and others seek to love you, even as you seek to love them. Trust God to do what we cannot. The pressure is off.

At work or on vacation, rest in the Spirit that is reaching out to you. Attend to the Spirit and let it direct your path. Trust God in all things. Those who have God’s love have enough. This is the true wisdom of God.

As one saying goes, “Growing closer to God isn’t the result of working harder, but of surrendering more.” So, relax, and let Christ complete his work in you. The Spirit will make our paths clear and is there to catch us when we fall.

Wishing you a joyful summer with spiritual growth,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (July 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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A difficult way…but true

baltimore 2As I write this, Baltimore is in flames. Pundits are spouting off. Peace seems a mirage; very much out of reach. Yet the peace Christ offers us isn’t of this world. It is both available to us here and now but also on its way.

If we say we want peace and justice, I found through the years that it isn’t achieved by pointing fingers of protest or in harsh judgments. It begins with a searching, fearless and ongoing look at my life and how I contribute to the injustices around me. Then, I make amends where I can.

It requires listening to the voices, pain, and problems of those I disagree with or who might not wish to listen to me. It comes from loving your enemies, and doing the good to those who hate you.

This is all difficult, but I think it is the only way for real and lasting change – Christ’s way.

We don’t offer such a love based upon people deserving it. We love because Jesus loved us even when we were his enemy. It is a conscious, heart centered choice. We make this offering even though we might be rejected, made fun of or worse.

This doesn’t mean we become doormats, for even the first disciples needed to dust off their sandals and walk away at times. Yet we might at other times be called to a form of martyrdom, where our pride, prejudice and preference are surrendered to the will of God despite the cost.

Our relationship with Christ calls us into relationship with others, even our enemies. That has to be our intentional goal. We need to seek them out. Again like the early disciples, we might have to return multiple times to try just once more to offer our faith and friendship. The person we seek to love might never get it. They may never understand and remain suspicious of us. Yet, change is possible.

If nothing else, you’ll witness the peace of Christ breaking into your heart and your world in a new way. Christ promised this. And maybe…just maybe…one who was your enemy might become your brother and sister, an unexpected gift in your life and to the world.

This is a difficult way, but it is true. Let’s seek to walk this way together, no matter what others might choose.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

This post originally appeared as a pastoral letter in Messiah Lutheran‘s newsletter, The Messenger (May 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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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.

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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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