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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.

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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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Candlemas for the young family (And the young at heart)

presentation

What a wonderful opportunity to rejoice in the light of Christ once again – Candlemas!

Candlemas is actually the Christian “Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.” The Holy family had come to the Temple to fulfill the Law of Moses. Forty days after the birth of the male child, Mary’s ritual purification and the redemption of the firstborn son were due to be performed. Being a poor family, only a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons needed to be offered to God.

Yet while they prepared to do so, two elderly, faithful people, Simeon and Anna, saw something else going on beyond the sacrifice. God was doing something much greater and offering something much dearer. God was doing something new. The Spirit revealed to them that God’s light had broken through the darkness. The infant, Jesus, was the long awaited Messiah and nothing would be the same ever again. Jesus, our joy and salvation, had come into the world!

This feast day comes forty days after Christmas and historically closed out the season. The remaining Christmas greens would be taken down. The days were still short and nights long. Spring was, well, yet to be sprung. And so this day came to serve as reminder that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In time, it became a practice to bless the candles to be used in church during the coming year. Later, families would bring their own candles to church for a blessing. Hence, we now have the alternative name for the feast day, Candlemas.

candlemas at home

Using resources from Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Revised Common Lectionary, your family can easily mark this day and your own baptismal call. The following is a short ritual I offered my congregation for home use:

As the family gathers for a meal, before bed or at another convenient time, light your candle.

All: Alleluia. My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. Alleluia.

Leader reads: Luke 2:22-40

A short reflection may be shared, or discussion time, or even a brief moment of silence to reflect in the light of the candle. When finished…

Leader: Let us pray together…
All: Almighty and ever-living God, your only-begotten Son was presented this day in the temple. May we be presented to you with clean and pure hearts by the same Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Leader: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.

Optional –

Close the gathering with a hymn or song dealing with light, perhaps “This little light of mine.”

This might also be a wonderful time to take out any saved baptismal candles and reflect upon the meaning of our individual baptism and talk about events of that day.

As better candles are made of beeswax, perhaps make a beehive cake to help your family celebrate.

A quote from John Chrysostom comes to my mind, “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because it labors, but because it labors for others.”

As we look upon our candles this Candlemas, let us urge our children (and all the children of God) to not waste time just being “busy bees” chasing things of this world. Let us instead love God and neighbor. Then, our lives will be used to build the Kingdom of God with Jesus. His light will come to shine through us.

Happy Candlemas, everyone!

early behive

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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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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How one story became 25 – Going Over the Edge for Special Olympics Virginia

“We are fools for the sake of Christ…” (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Why do I try to love and support folks with intellectual disabilities? It is my family legacy.

Elvira, Roy, Lou (my father) and Theresa Florio (c. 1938)

Elvira, Roy, Lou (my father) and Theresa Florio (c. 1938)

In the early 1930s, my aunt, Theresa, was born with an intellectual disability. My grandmother told me before her death that her family and friends urged that my aunt be institutionalized – a very common practice at the time. My grandmother and grandfather refused. Instead of a life hidden away, Aunt Theresa received an education and learned necessary skills for a happy, productive life among her loving family. As an adult, she worked and eventually lived semi-independently.

Today as a pastor, I am thankful that our faith community has supported Hanover Adult Center’s Linking Lives Program as they join us weekly for our Messiah Lutheran School chapel program. In addition, we have been actively supporting the formation of a L’Arche community in Richmond, along with Lutheran Family Services’ programs, and others. Recently, Council has even agreed to become a Friends for Life Congregation, a new cooperative effort of congregations in Hanover County facilitating the intentional engagement of those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

This month, we have the opportunity to build upon these efforts by supporting Special Olympics Virginia. This organization provides much more than sporting events. It is a wonderful community helping people be their best. It provides education, life skills training, fellowship and more. Please prayerfully consider supporting our council president, Kevin Hendrickson, and the rest of our Virginia Synod team (“Fools for Christ”) for Over the Edge Virginia 2014. During the event, people show solidarity with Special Olympians by being “brave enough” to rappel twenty-five stories off of the Sun Trust Building in Richmond, Virginia. You can do so through this secure site: https://www.firstgiving.com/team/270359

Designated cash/check donations as part of your Sunday offering at Messiah or through the mail are also welcomed with much thanksgiving. A donation to any member of the team is a donation for all, and it helps thousands of Special Olympians throughout Virginia.

Those participating are taking this unusual, giant leap of faith out of love for their neighbors. Please join them in this step by offering your support. If you wish to root them on in person, come by the Sun Trust Center (919 East Main Street) on Friday, October 17th at 2:30 pm.

Peace,
Pastor Lou

This is a revised, expanded version of an earlier post created for submission to Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (October 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.

Going "over the Edge" in 2012

Going “Over the Edge” in 2012

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A new beginning

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28: 5-7)

In the midst of Lent, we continue to watch, wait and pray for the very special celebration of Easter. Many of us have participated in diverse spiritual disciplines to help us grow in faith and service. These are wonderful and often quite helpful, but Lent really isn’t about those disciplines in and of themselves. We should never forget that these disciplines and special worship experiences are not meant as an end for us but a new beginning.

Approaching Christ’s tomb, his women followers found it empty. The angel invited them to investigate and ponder what they experienced, but finally it was enough. It was time to act. They weren’t to stay in the tomb. They were to go and tell others the good news with joy. They certainly didn’t understand everything that had happened. They had much more to learn and experience, but they were to go and share what they had seen and heard as best as they could.

As we leave Lent for the springtime which is Easter, we are asked to do the same. Share the good news through word and deed. Invite others to share in our fellowship, service and worship. In doing so, we will experience the Resurrection in our lives more intimately and be used by God to share this new beginning with others. The miracle of Easter will continue throughout our lives.

I wish you and your extended family members an Easter season filled with blessings and new life,

Pastor Lou

The above pastoral letter was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (April 2011 edition). You are invited to join us at any of our remaining Lenten gatherings and for our celebration of Easter on April 24th. To view the entire April issue of The Messenger or to see the full calendar of events, visit: http://www.mlcas.org

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

© 2011 The Rev. Louis Florio. All contents not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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