Tag Archives: theology

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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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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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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My Heart Remains in Wonder

stained glass nativity with sunOn coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

Have you ever taken a good look around our sanctuary? Our stained glass windows are beautiful and educational. Long before the average person could read, people attempted to capture and share the wonder of God’s love for us through the art of stained glass.

At this time of year, my thoughts are always drawn to meditate upon the meaning behind our nativity window. It shows the star of Bethlehem shining above a manger. In the manger is the ancient “Chi Rho” symbol. This symbol is the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek joined together. Early Christians used this mark to represent Jesus. The window reminds us that Jesus, the Christ, came to us in human form at Christmas. Such news becomes even more wondrous when one considers that he comes to us throughout time. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end – present before history began and will be after it ends – because Jesus always was, is and will be our God who is with us and for us.

Luther once wrote that the Bible is like the manger where we can meet, know and worship Jesus the Christ over and over again. This, too, is true, but it also doesn’t quite capture this special relationship – the intimacy spoken of goes well beyond “knowing” Jesus with only our intellect. Our holy texts assure us that Jesus has come to live with us in our hearts. Jesus wants to abide in us. He longs to be an intimate part of every aspect of our lives. This joyful mystery cannot be captured fully in written word or by any other human art, yet my thoughts came back to an old 18th Century Danish hymn which focuses upon the joining of our human hearts with the divine heart though the incarnation and gift of faith. It is one of my favorite pieces of Christmas music.

BrorsonWritten by a Danish Lutheran pastor and later bishop, Hans Adolph Brorson, Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker (in English, sometimes entitled “My Heart Always Wanders” or “My Heart Remains in Wonder”) movingly grasps at the surprise and mystery of the incarnation. Soundly pietist,  the reflection remains more oriented toward his feelings and heart rather than any intellectual exploration. The lyrics reflect relationship and intimacy, as well as grace and gratitude. Contemplating this miracle, God coming to us as a vulnerable newborn in a stable, Brorson’s own mind and heart wanders and enters a blissful wonderment as he thinks about his current saving, relationship with Christ.

O come, my Lord, I pray Thee!
And be my honour’d guest,
I will in love array Thee
A home within my breast.
That home can be no stranger
You bought it all yourself.
Thou will surely stay here
Swaddled in my heart.

We will never be able to fully appreciate, capture, or understand the miracle of love offered to us through Jesus Christ. Yet because it is not just an historical event, each and every day we may strive to cooperate with grace and make room for the Christ child in our hearts above all other things. His birth should move us to reflect upon the ultimate, ongoing Christmas miracle which comes to us through Christian faith, worship, fellowship and service. Christ’s Spirit continues to shape us and sanctify us into the gift God first intended with our own creation. We become part of God’s greatest gift to the world, where in Jesus’ name, we will love others. Through grace, we concretely become the Christ’s body, here and now.

Throughout your holiday wanderings and celebrations, I pray that you, your family and friends stop and ponder the nativity. Continue to wonder about and experience this joyful mystery and invitation in your life. Rejoice, for a child has been born for us! His name is Jesus, and we will never be alone or unloved. In response, let us seek to rightly worship him, opening our hearts and offering all that we are to him in thanksgiving.

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Many variants of the song exist in English due to the difficulty of translation. Along with the above video, here are English lyrics for this wonderful Christmas song:

My Heart Remains in Wonder/My Heart Always Wanders

My heart remains in wonder (or better translation: My heart always wanders)
Before that lowly bed
Within the stable yonder
Where Christ, my Lord, was laid. (or: was born)
My faith finds there its treasure,
My soul its pure delight,
Its joy beyond all measure,
The Lord of Christmas night.

But Oh! my heart is riven
With grief and sore dismay
To see the Lord of heaven
Must rest on straw and hay,
That He whom angels offer
Their worship and acclaim
From sinful man must suffer
Such scorn, neglect and shame.

Why should not castles royal
Before Him open stand,
And kings, as servants loyal,
Obey His least command?
Why came He not in splendor
Arrayed in robes of light
And called the world to render
Its homage to His might?

The sparrow finds a gable
Where it may build its nest,
The oxen know a stable
For shelter, food and rest;
Must then my Lord and Savior
A homeless stranger be,
Denied the simplest favor
His lowly creatures see.

O come, my Lord, I pray Thee,
And be my honored guest.
I will in love array Thee
A home within my breast.
It cannot be a stranger
To Thee, who made it free.
Thou shalt find there a manger (or: Thou will surely stay there)
Warmed by my love to Thee.[i] (or: swaddled in my heart)

In English, it is difficult to find a flowing, direct translation of the traditional final stanza in Danish or Norwegian, but it means roughly:

I’ll willingly spread branches
Of palms around your bed.
For you and you alone
I will live and I will die.
Come, let my soul find bliss
In this moment of delight:
To see you born right here,
Deep inside my heart’s abyss. (or: loving heart)[ii]


[i] English version on Hymnary.org

[ii] Translation merging multiple sources, primarily the above video and pust.org

The above piece was adapted from one shared in Messiah’s newsletter, The Messenger, in November 2009. 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.

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Star of Hope – Advent, Week 4

A comet that gained an earthly following because of its bright tail visible from space was initially declared dead after essentially grazing the sun. Now, there is a silver of hope that Comet ISON may have survived. (Source: AP, 11/19/13)

A comet that gained an earthly following because of its bright tail visible from space was initially declared dead after essentially grazing the sun. Now, there is a sliver of hope that Comet ISON may have survived. (Source: AP, 11/19/13)

“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 with hope.”(Jeremiah 29:11)

In Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish people in exile, we hear God speak profound words of hope in the face of their doubt and darkness. God had not abandoned them. God did not stop loving them. The world seemed to be crashing down around them, and many were tempted to give up on forgiveness, salvation and new life. Yet, God would never give up on them. Rather than assimilating to the “realistic” outlook and ways of the world, they were invited to look to the Lord, have faith, and truly live.

No matter the generation, it is no different for us who dare to believe in God amidst our own struggles. Abraham hoped against hope; trusting that he would become “the father of many nations”[1] just because God had promised. We are told not to be jealous or measure ourselves against others. “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off,” Proverbs assures us.[2] In the face of many trials and losses, Moses and his people were still shown the way to freedom. They just had to trust, seek to follow God, and walk on.

Jesus himself tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow.”[3] Instead, he only asks us to trust in him, follow his light, and reflect his love. He is our star of hope which no darkness – including our sin – can ever overcome. No matter our challenges, our lives are free to glorify God and rejoice, because of the hope laid up for us in heaven.[4]

Discussion question: How can living as a people of hope shape our lives?  


[4] Colossians 1:4-6

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications’ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

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.

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Star of Unity – Advent, Week 2

Nasa has released an image of the 'light echo' produced by the glare from a star that was, for one brief shining moment, the brightest in the night sky.

An image of a ‘light echo’ produced by the glare from a star that was, for one brief shining moment, the brightest star in the night sky – V838 Monocerotis (Source: Daily Mail)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Through the fall, the world suffered what seemed to be irreparable separation from God. Instead, the rest of scripture reveals God’s ultimate plan, the reconciliation and unity that occur through Jesus Christ.

In the Jewish scriptures, God promises time and again to use the Jewish people as a means to bless all nations. In the Gospels, we see Jesus preach, teach and do miracles in ways that heal the world and draw people together in his love. As the church begins, we learn from the Spirit that there is no longer gentile or Jew, male or female. Economic and political differences, ethnicity and language are moot points when it comes to the reach of God’s love.

In the end of time, all promises will be fulfilled. Jesus will come again as “the bright morning star” announcing:

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev. 22:17)

Until that day, we have been called together to be his one body, the church. On his behalf and with his authority, we have the honor and duty to share the water of life and invite all we meet, “Come, follow Jesus. Be one with us in his love.”

 

Discussion questions:

What gets in your way of a deeper relationship with Jesus? How do you live as one with his church? How can you invite others into such a relationship?

 

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the Second Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications’ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

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.

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Star of Creation – Advent, Week 1

This new Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

This Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

Luther observed, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” God is, was, and always will be part of the creation that surrounds us.

Yet in a fallen world, that wasn’t good enough. The works of sin, death, and the Devil enslave our lives, separating us from God and one another.

Instead, God longs for relationship and intimacy; to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Through the prophets, God promised to make his home with us, not in some new stone temple, but in those same hearts so prone to wander and fail.

Into the world, God sent his only Son to fulfill this promise. Jesus would take on flesh for our sake. He would live for us, work for us, suffer for us, and die for us. From his resurrection, our own eternal life springs forth.

Through the mysteries of our shared faith and baptism, we now become a new creation, freed from our flesh and the limits of this world to be the children of God. We are saved to be his body which proclaims the Good News: Jesus has come into the world to offer new life to all.

 

Discussion questions: As part of God’s creation, the promise of resurrection is written in each of us, as we are now. How does your life signify or serve as a promise of the resurrection? How could you “shine more brightly” to better give God glory and point others toward Christ?

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI), downloaded on November 30, 2013 from:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1647.html

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the First Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications‘ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

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.

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