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Reflections

Page history last edited by Robert Busch 4 years ago

Robert Busch

July 2016

Reflections - 183


OUR JOY IS TO SHARE



My aunt Elsie was married to a devout Roman Catholic person. As was the rule those days, the non-Catholic partner had to agree that children were to be baptized and brought up as Catholics.  In any event two children remained as Catholics, one became a Presbyterian, and the other left the church altogether.

As we all must, Aunt Elsie died, and so the dilemma unfolds. It was finally agreed that Elsie would be buried as a Roman Catholic next to her husband.  A Requiem Mass was planned in the local parish church knowing that half of the mourners attending would be Lutheran.   At the beginning of the Mass (and without his bishops approval) the Priest acknowledged that many of us were Lutherans, and invited all present to partake of the Lord’s Supper that day.  How refreshing!

Unfortunately that procedure is not very widespread in Roman Catholic churches today, but our two churches are working on that.  As the hymn says:

    Lord, we share in this communion, as one family of God’s children,
    reconciled through you, our brother, one in you with God our Father.
    give us grace to live for others, serving all, both friends and strangers,
    seeking justice, love, and mercy till you come in final glory.   (ELW 462)

And so, we who are Lutheran, gingerly made our way to that altar, knowing that the bread (and maybe wine) are the body and blood of Jesus.  Fulfilled and satisfied we made our way back to the pews and sat among those we loved.

My point in all of this is that while we Lutherans treasure the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we dare not ever jealously guard and protect it as our own, but we must always generously and graciously share the body and blood of Jesus with ALL who would come.   We can do no less.  And so:

    Now we join in celebration at our Savior’s invitation,
    dressed no more in spirit somber, clothed instead in joy and wonder,
    for the Lord of all existence, putting off divine transcendence,
    stoops again in love to meet us, with his very life to feed us.

Invite your friends, your neighbors, your acquaintances, those you love, and those you don’t for all are welcome when

    Lord, as round this feast we gather, fill our hearts with holy rapture!
    For this bread and cup of blessing are for us the sure possessing
    of your loving deed on Calvary, of your living self, our victory,
    pledge of your unfailing presence, foretaste here of heavenly gladness.


 

May 2016

Reflections - 182

BREATHE ON ME, BREATH OF GOD


The fifty days of Easter draw to a close with the Sunday we call “Pentecost.”  After fifty days celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension we encounter the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit in Acts 2:1-13 is revealed in stories that the first Christians told one another.  These are stories of God’s gift to empower witnesses of the resurrection by the rush of a mighty wind, spirit or breath which appeared as tongues of fire.  This spirit cannot be seen and is like the wind, or the breath of God working among us.  It is like the wind that the Old Testament calls “ruach”- a breath of God (John 3:8).

    Breathe of me, breath of God; fill me with life anew,
    That I may love all that you love and do what you would do. (LBW 488)

This “ruach” is for all.  People, young and old, will dream and have visions of hope and a new creation.  We believe that this ruach is open to all in God’s future. All people, young, old and middle aged will dream and have visions of hope and a new creation.  Pentecost is a new creation of living with and in the spirit of God.

    Breathe on me, breath of God, until my heart is pure,
    Until with you I will one will to do and to endure.

Because the “ruach” of the Holy Spirit can’t be seen, so the love we share in God, also can’t be seen. The love of God, and for each other is experienced in our hearts and in our lives.  And this love of God is forever.  The God whose love we share is forever, for God has said: “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
    
    Breathe on me, breath of God; so shall I never die,
   
But live with you the perfect life of your eternity.

And, so, filled with the Holy Spirit, we witness in word and deed and, as we continue to love God and each other, we continue to serve, to forgive, and to bless.  With the gift of the “ruach,” the breath of the Holy Spirit, all things are possible.


April 2016

Reflections - 181

SURPRISE !


It’s been two long, dark, quiet, lonely, yet frightening nights.  They have passed in silence.  The women go to the tomb carrying spices and ointments to prepare Jesus’s body for burial.  But – Surprise!  Jesus is not there.  He is alive.  Life has burst through death.  The angel has spoken:  Why do you look for the living among the dead.  He is not here.  He is risen”.  (Luke 24:5)

At Saint Peter’s the choir and congregation joyfully sings Psalm 118.  “On this day the Lord has acted.  Let us rejoice in it.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

This is the day the Lord has made for all who, like Mary Magdalene, hear God calling us by name.  This is the day the Lord has descended into death and then rose again.  This is the day when the promise becomes the very basis of our Christian hope – hope for our own resurrection as well as for those whom we love.  This is the promise of God.

God has acted, and continues to act – now and forevermore.  And the people shout:  “Christ is risen.  Alleluia?”


 

Reflections - 180

WE CALL THIS FRIDAY GOOD


We all know Good Friday as the Friday before Easter, the day on which the crucifixion and death of Jesus are remembered.  In many countries, it is a day of fasting, of abstinence, of prayer, and of penance.  On Good Friday we celebrate the saving and triumphant cross through which Christ redeemed the world.  But Good Friday is also the second day of the Triduum – the three-day celebration of the central events of Christianity, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

On Good Friday at Saint Peter’s we remember Christ’s passion and death from noon until three in the afternoon – the traditional hours of Jesus’ suffering and death.  During these hours the many hundreds gathered in our sanctuary hear the words of the St. Matthew Passion as set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach.  And, of course, we always close by singing: “Lord, thee I love with all my heart.”

In the evening we use the rite of the Western Church dating back to the early days of Christianity, - probably from about the fourth century.  It includes reflection, intercession and the adoration of the cross of Christ, the crucified, sacrificial lamb.  In the Lutheran church we focus on the Passion according to St. John.  At Saint Peter’s we recall the St. John Passion in a variety of ways – sometimes through music, sometimes through dance, and sometimes through drama.  We have placed a large cross against the altar in the center of the sanctuary, and we allow much time for silent reflection, veneration and personal adoration.

But, why do we call this Friday Good?  In some countries it is called Long Friday, Great Friday (in the Orthodox church), Holy Friday, Karfreitag or Stiller Freitag (in German), Langfredag (in Norwegian), or the Friday of the Passion.  Apparently Good Friday comes from the Dutch and Middle English for  “God’s Friday”.  No matter – for in every country it is the day of reflection, intercession and adoration on which we celebrate God’s sacrifice of his son on the cross.  But Good Friday is more than just a time of mourning, it is also a time to celebrate God’s awesome love for mankind.


 

February  2016

Reflections - 179

CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART


Each year on Ash Wednesday as we gather to begin our Lenten journey, we read Psalm 51.  This psalm – inextricably linked to the beginning of Lent – is a psalm of confession and forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is strictly between us and God – whatever our sin might be.  We confess that our sin is always before us (51:3), that sin is a part of our nature from the beginning (51:5), and that our sin, at its heart, is against God alone (51:4).  What this means is that each time we sin against ourselves, or a loved one, or a neighbor, God hurts too and our relationship with God is strained.

This psalm includes that ancient text – “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.  These words have been sung at a part of the Ash Wednesday Lutheran Liturgy for centuries.  My first recollection of it was when, as a youngster, it was sung as the offertory in the Common Service Book (red book).  It was also used in Lutheran Book of Worship (green book) and is now in our new Evangelical Lutheran Worship with four musical settings.  In these favorite verses we ask God for a clean heart, a new beginning – a chance for forgiveness.

As we begin our Lenten journey, we lay our sins before God, for as we confess our sins we trust that they will be met by the forgiveness of a God who is steadfast, loving, and merciful.  As the psalmist says: “Have mercy on me, O God; according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”

And, of course, we are forgiven, for we dare not limit the love and grace of God.  We’ve asked for God’s blessings, and we prayed for God to create in us clean hearts, and new and right spirits, and restore us to the joy of God’s salvation.  God will purge us, and we will be clean.

As sinners, our task is confession, repentance, and acknowledging our brokenness – and our reliance on God is met by abundant mercy, grace, forgiveness and love.


 

January 2016

Reflections - 178

2016 - THE YEAR OF LUKE


A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Christmas by hearing that familiar story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke.  We will be reading from Luke this year, as indicated in our three-year lectionary cycle.  Luke’s telling of the Christmas story as written in the King James Version of the Bible is so familiar to many of us – especially those of us in older generations.  Here’s how it goes:

    “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus.

 

     And so it was, that the days were accomplished…and she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room at the inn.

     ...and the angel said, Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

     …there was a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

     …Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Does this sound familiar?  You bet it does, but just who was Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and also the book of Acts?   Well, not too much is known about Luke other than it is generally thought that he was probably from the Hellenistic city of Antioch, in Syria, and that he very likely was a physician.  Luke’s Gospel is believed to have been written about 75-95 CE.  He died at age 84 in Boeotia, Greece.  This was a time when anyone who was alive at the time of Jesus was probably now dead, so preserving the story of Jesus was probably important to Luke.  He was a faithful friend and travel companion of Paul, and is said to have traveled to Rome with him.

So, just what’s in Luke’s Gospel, the third book in the Canon of the Bible.  Luke begins with a section on the infancy and boyhood of Jesus that includes the Annunciation, the Magnificat, narratives of Jesus’s birth, and the story of the boy Jesus in the temple.  This is followed by Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee, his journey to Jerusalem, his ministry in Jerusalem, Jesus’ last supper, passion, death and burial, followed by Jesus’s resurrection appearances and ascension.

So where does all this lead?  Stand by, for we’ll be hearing lots more, both read and proclaimed this year – the year of Luke.


 

December 2015

Reflections - 177

A GIFT FROM ST. NICK


The story of St. Nick, as told in “The Night before Christmas,” is well known to every child.  But, in fact, very little is known about St. Nicholas of Myra.

Legend has it that Nicholas not only inherited great wealth from his parents, but that he also inherited their Christian faith and their interest in sharing with and caring for others.  The story is told of Nicholas who, upon hearing of a poor man who could not afford a dowry for his three daughters, secretly gave three bags of gold to the family to free the daughters from slavery.  Nicholas is said to have done many more acts of kindness that were always done in praise of God.

Nicholas lived in Myra, a small city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey (in present day Anatolia).  When the Bishop of Myra died, one of the elder churchmen had a vision in a dream that he should be in church very early the next morning, for the first person to enter the church would be named Nicholas and would become the next bishop.  Well, it was Nicholas’ custom to go to the church as the early morning bells of the angelus rang.  As he entered the door, the old churchman was waiting and asked the visitor “What is your name?”  The man answered: “Nicholas, your servant for Jesus’ sake.”  “Praise God” exclaimed the churchman and he led Nicholas to the clergy who were aware of the vision.  Within a few weeks Nicholas was consecrated and hailed as the new Bishop of Myra.

Bishop Nicholas gained fame throughout much of Europe and Russia where he was venerated as a miracle worker and as a preacher of the word of God.  He is believed to have attended the Council of Nicaea in 325.  Because of his good deeds and generous gifts, Nicholas soon became known as St. Nicholas, however after the Reformation his fame seems to have disappeared everywhere except in the Netherlands where he became known as Sinterklass.  Sinterklass became a giver of gifts to children on December 6, the date of his commemoration.  The Dutch brought this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) and Sinterklass soon became known to children everywhere as Santa Claus.

So where is all this leading?  To a baby lying in a manger, and to you and to me.

After all, is it not God, the giver of all good gifts, the One who turned a baby into a savior, and an obscure fourth century bishop into Santa Claus, who calls all of us to be saints of God in giving and forgiving, in loving, in caring, and in Christian service?


 

November 2015

Reflections  - 176

ARE WE THERE YET?


Have you ever traveled a long distance with a couple of small children in the back seat of the car.  How many times have they asked “Are we there yet?”  

If you traveled before the days of the interstate highway system you probably traveled along a two-lane state highway when, as the afternoon light began to fade, you probably began looking for a motor hotel (or motel) and when you did find one sometimes there was a “no vacancy” sign out front.  In the midst of that frustration, the kids in the back seat kept asking “Are we there yet?”

Advent is a little like that.  The kids are anxious to see their Christmas gifts while the adults try to keep them interested while they celebrate the time of waiting.   Yes, contemporary life tends to be very rushed so, during Advent as we anxiously wait for that big day, perhaps we are taught a bit of patience.  Perhaps we will have time to think through to the end of that for which we are waiting.  Perhaps we’ll spend some time to practice “slow lane living” by consciously waiting and avoiding the real rush.

Waiting is hard, and it’s not something we modern Americans rejoice in.  As Advent begins we are invited into a period of gentle waiting.  Advent might actually teach us the art of waiting – and the joy of preparation and anticipation.  “Are we there yet?”  And so, in the darkest time of the year, we wait with anxious longing for the gradual return of light.

It’s just possible that, as we wait during these four weeks of Advent, we begin to see a bit of our future.  First, just one candle, then two, three and finally four all of which point us to the blaze of light that is Christmas.  All this waiting leads to the tidings of great joy we have longed for – the birth of a child in Bethlehem.

        Love has come – a light in the darkness!
        Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
        See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
        Hear how their song of joy arises:
        Love! Love!  Born unto you, a Savior!
        Love! Love!  Glory to God on high.


 

October 2015

Reflections  - 175

WORLD COMMUNION AT 75


When I was a youngster we Protestants rarely celebrated Holy Communion.  In fact, the Lutheran congregation in which I grew up had a service of Holy Communion on Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, World-Wide Communion Sunday, and Christmas.  That was it.

And so, the Presbyterian Church (USA) suggested that Protestant congregations offer Holy Communion on a common date once each year – and that date was selected to be the first Sunday in October.  Before long, the idea caught on and in 1940 the National Council of Churches in promoting this date named it World-Wide Communion Sunday. Those of us who are advanced in years will remember that World War 2 was looming and Pearl Harbor would soon be bombed. World-Wide Communion Sunday seemed appropriate in a time when globalization often undermined peace and justice, and when fear divided the people of God’s earth.

The name of the day was soon changed to “World Communion Sunday.” It was to be a day to mark the almost universal Christian practice of breaking bread with one another.  Since then, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and other major Protestant denominations, have begun to celebrate Holy Communion at every liturgy so the need for a “World Communion Sunday” is no longer the important day it once was.   There are, however, many Protestants who do not celebrate Holy Communion as often as we do, and for them it is still a special Sunday.

But no matter how often we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, each celebration is an opportunity for us all to affirm, exclaim and proclaim:

    One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
    One cup of blessings which we bless.
    And we, though many, through the earth,
    We are one body in this one Lord.


 

September 2015

Reflections - 174


THE PEOPLE PRAY

 

Our Sunday liturgy begins with the proclamation of the word of God.  We do this by singing the Kyrie and the hymn of praise (Alleluia).  After hearing the readings, psalm and Holy Gospel we listen to the sermon – an explanation of these readings, interpreted for our time.  Preaching is intended to lead us to faith.  The gathered assembly responds by singing a hymn and confessing a creed.  The hymn, known as the “Hymn of the Day” is chosen as a response to and a reflection of the Word that has been read, heard and proclaimed.

The readings, preaching and song are meant to bring us to trust in God and to bring us to a natural response to that faith by praying for the needs of the world.  As the Leaders Edition of Evangelical Lutheran Worship puts it “Grounded in the word and promise of God , the church prays, in the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ, for all the great needs of the world”.   (LE-21)

These prayers of the people are not simply random ramblings.  They are carefully prepared and are usually in a common shape recommended to the whole church.  Petitions are offered:

for the church universal, and the mission of the Gospel:
          Here we include prayer for all believers, for those which

          whom we are in full-communion and for their bishops and leaders.

for the well-being of all creation:
          For rain, and harvest, and for those afflicted by natural disaster

          and also for regional and worldwide ecological needs.

for peace and justice in the world,  for nations and for our community:
          Perhaps a petition here for world leaders, our congress, our

          state governors, and city mayors and especially for peace in the world

for the poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved and lonely:
          Here is a place to list persons by first name, followed by time and

          space for personal prayer for others (either silent or aloud)

for all who suffer in body, mind and spirit:
          Another time to pray for others in need – either silently or aloud.

for the congregation, and for special concerns:
          Here we pray for ourselves and for Saint Peter’s and its mission

prayers of thanksgiving for those who have recently died and for those commemorated in the church’s liturgical calendar:
          Here too, personal remembrances are appropriate as we pray for

          those the church has added to its calendar of saints and martyrs

a final closing commendation:
         The closing commendation, always said by the presiding pastor,

          emphasizes that all the previous petitions belong to the entire assembly as a prayer from us all.

So there you have it.  We Lutherans, along with many other Christians around the world follow a pattern of praying for specific intentions, yet at the same time allowing time for private prayer and reflection.  Perhaps you’ve noticed this shape in the Prayers of the People at Saint Peter’s, for in this common form and pattern we share a unity with other Christian churches around the world.


July 2015

Reflections - 173


THE MARVELS OF GOD’S CREATION


It’s late spring in Scandinavia, and as the kids get out of school for the summer they traditionally sing: “Den Blomsterid nu kommer”.  This is translated as “Now the time of blossoming arrives” and it’s a Swedish folk melody often associated with summertime.  The kids will be off to the joys of lakes, streams and fjords, of flowers, grasses and trees, of vacations, sightseeing and travels to relatives and loved ones, and time  for lots of games and sports. It’s no wonder they sing this lovely folk melody.

And what about those of us who are adults?  We marvel at the stars, planets and galaxies to far away to imagine, and at the tiniest molecules which scientists are just now using for incredible new healthcare discoveries.  But we also marvel at relationships with people and lands not dreamed of when this hymn was written.  Yes, God is there in all of this.

The tune may be dated back to a songbook off 1573, but it’s generally thought to have first appeared in 1697 in a manuscript in “Koral Psalmboken” published in Stockholm.

With a text by Valdemar Brien, one of Iceland’s most prolific hymnwriters dating to 1886 it beautifully reflects the rugged coasts and mountains of his homeland.  Translated by Charles Pilcher, it first appeared in English hymnals about 1913.

The text and tune are perfectly matched in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book for it seems a litany of the wonders of God’s creation and a reminder to us all of the glories not only of summer, but of all the changing seasons and times for it speaks of everything from flowers to chilly streams to mysterious mountain majesties.

As we appreciate and marvel at the wonders of God and God’s creation, why not spend some time pondering the first verse?


How marvelous God’s greatness,
how glorious God’s might!
To this the world bears witness
in wonders day and night:
in form of flower and snowflake,
in morn’s resplendent birth,
in afterglow at evening,
in sky and sea and earth.


June 2015

Reflections  -  172


FRANCIS


Giovanni di Pietro de Bernadone (whose father nicknamed him “Francesco”) lived only 37 years, from 1181-1226.  The son of a prosperous silk merchant, Francis lived the high-spirited life of a wealthy young man becoming involved in a group of troubadours and even wanting to fight for the town of Assisi.  While going off to war in 1204, Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life.

On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor in begging at St. Peter’s Basilica, an experience that moved him to live in poverty.  Returning home, Francis began preaching in the streets, and soon amassed a following.  In 1210 Pope Innocent III authorized the founding of his “Order of the Friars Minor” soon to be followed by the “Order of the Poor Clares” and also the “Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance”.

Even though Frances was never ordained, these orders flourished and spread across Italy and were soon divided into provinces and groups were sent to France, Germany, Hungary and Spain.  One of them soon became known as the “Franciscans”.

During his ministry, about 1200, Francis celebrated Christmas be setting up the first known presepio or crèche.   His nativity scene used live animals so that worshippers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus.

Francis called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters” and is said to have preached to the birds.  His deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced others, and he declared that he “considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died”

On July 16, 1228 Pope Gregpry IX proclaimed Francis a saint.  He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and he is one of the two patron saints of Italy.  It was on World Peace Day in 1990 that Pope John Paul II said that the saint of Assisi  “offers Christians an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation.”  He was known for his unique simplicity and pure grace of spirit – and of course for that favorite prayer of many Christians “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”.

Cardinal Mario Jorge Bergolio, who was elected Pope in 2013, was the first pope to choose the name Francis. He has called for “a poor church for the poor” and has said that the church, at its heart, is not an institution but a “love story” and prefers the title “Servant of the Servants of God.”  Doesn’t that seem like a good definition of leadership for the church?

 

 


 

 

May 2015


Reflections: - 171


GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN


Fifty days after Easter Jesus ascends from earth to heaven and we shall extinguish the flame of our paschal candle.  These fifty days are a "week of weeks" during which we encounter the risen Christ - on the road to Emmaus, behind locked doors with Thomas, calling the sheep, and in blessing at Bethany.  But, when we finally extinguish the Easter season flame of the paschal candle we should not focus on the historical event of Jesus' ascension, but rather on the promise of the Gospel.  For although he has ascended into heaven, Jesus does not leave us on Ascension Day.

Jesus is present now, and at the end of time, for he is about the work of preparing a place for us in the rooms of his Father's house.  And he is present now, in water, in bread and wine, in our community of faith, and in the love, forgiveness, and care we have for each other.

Do you remember the closing verse of a hymn we sang in Advent?

        Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
        High on thine eternal throne;
        Savior, take the power and glory,
        Claim the kingdom as thine own.
        Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
        Thou shalt reign, and thou alone!

Jesus has taken earthly leave from his disciples, but he assures us of his continuing presence and of the gift of the Holy Spirit that binds us together as the one body of his Church here on earth.  There is always much work to be done, and with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we continue his ongoing work - in the world, in our city, in our lives, and here at Saint Peter's as together we go forth in peace, to love, to forgive, to bless and to serve.


 

March 2015

Reflections  -  170


FACE TO FACE


At the last supper of our Lord, Jesus invites everyone to eat, to drink, and to remember.  The way we Lutheran Christians at Saint Peter’s observe this follows an ancient pattern often called the Mass, Eucharist or Holy Communion.

After we gather for worship we sing a psalm and listen to readings from the Bible.   This is followed by a sermon proclaiming the word of God for today.  Then after the hymn of the day, a creed and prayers of the people we turn our attention to the celebration of the meal.

It is in the celebration of the meal that we come face to face with Jesus.  The table has been set and the ancient dialog of thanksgiving between presider and the gathered assembly is sung –The Lord be with you….. Lift   up your hearts….. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

We have nothing more to bring to the table except our thanks so we continue with the Sanctus – “Holy, holy, holy Lord…”

This is followed by one of numerous prayers of Thanksgiving at the table – sometimes called the Eucharistic Prayer.  In the prayer of Thanksgiving we hear the words from the first Lord’s Supper in which Jesus gives us his body and blood and Jesus’ death and resurrection ore remembered in thanksgiving.  We pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and on those gathered together.  The Thanksgiving concludes with the Great Amen that St. Augustine called the most important “Amen” of the liturgy.

In view of this great mystery of bread and wine/body and blood now before us on the table we pray the words Jesus taught us.  With this prayer we stand before God.

All is now ready and the presider breaks the bread for all to share. It is in this bread and wine that we meet the body and blood of Christ.  As we receive the bread and wine we hear “The body/blood of Christ, given/shed for you.”  To this we respond “Amen.”

As that wonderful hymn puts it:

    Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face; 
    Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
    Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
    And all my weariness upon thee lean.

    This is the hour of banquet and of song;
    This is the heavenly table spread for me;
    Here let me feast and, feasting, still prolong
    The brief bright hour of fellowship with thee.


 

February 2015

Reflections  -  169

                                    
LOOKING BACK – LOOKING AHEAD


On February 2, 40 days after Christmas, the Christian church celebrates Jesus’ “Presentation in the Temple.”  In obedience to Jewish law, Mary and Joseph come to the temple for Mary’s purification and to present the child Jesus to the Lord.  There to greet them are the aged prophetess Anna (she is said to be 84 years old) and Simeon the priest.  On seeing Jesus, Anna begins to praise God and to speak about the child to all who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem  (Luke 2:22-38).  Simeon rejoices as he takes Jesus in his arms, speaks the Nunc Dimittis and predicts that the child is destined for the falling and rising of many and that a sword will pierce the soul of Mary.  Mary and Joseph return home to Nazareth and nothing more is heard about Jesus until he returns to the temple again at age 12.

The earliest reference to this festival dates to the late 4th century when Egeria attended its celebration in the holy land.  The celebration soon spread to Eastern cities and in 542 CE Justinian decreed that the celebration should always be on February 2.  By this time, the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced in the Eastern Church where it was primarily a festival of Christ.  When Pope Sergius 1 (687-701) instituted the festival in Rome is was primarily a celebration of the Virgin Mary.  This was changed with the reform of the Roman calendar in 1969 and it is now celebrated as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

The history of this day – sometimes called Candlemas – is complex for it includes purification, judgment, presentation, waiting, meeting and light. Although not generally celebrated in Lutheran congregations, Candlemas is a favorite for many of us.  Some congregations will light all the Christmas candles one last time on this day for it provides one last look back toward Christmas and Epiphany.  It is considered a “Christmas festival” even though it is not a part of the Christmas season.

At Saint Peter’s, as we process toward the baptismal font with lighted candles, we may sing the Song of Simeon “O Lord, now let your servant depart in heavenly peace.”  (ELW 313)   As we extinguish the candles, it is the last time in the liturgical calendar that we remember Christ as an infant child.  At this last look back toward Christmas, Candlemas and the Presentation in the temple the festive season of Christmas and Epiphany draws to a close, and it is a turning point in the liturgical year as the church turns its attention to Lent, Holy Week and Easter.


 

January 2015

Reflections - 168


REMEMBERING OUR BAPTISM


Each January we celebrate “The Baptism of Our Lord.”  We read the story of how Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin John.  And we hear again the voice from heaven, “You are my beloved.”  But the story does not end there, it’s also a story of new beginnings.  Baptism was a new beginning for Jesus, and it is a new beginning for us.  At his baptism in the river Jordan, God claimed Jesus and filled him with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16).   And in our baptism in the waters of the font, God claims us, and calls us by name.  God washes us with the Word and anoints us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Read again the definitive words of “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” – “Baptism is the sign of new life through Jesus Christ.  It unites the one baptized with Christ and with his people.  Baptism is participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, a washing away of sin, and a renewal by the Spirit.”

Here are a few things to think about:

Do you remember your own baptism?  What happened?  Who were the witnesses?  Did they make a difference in your life?

Think about the last baptism you witnessed.  What was your role in it?  Were you a parent, sponsor or a member of the witnessing congregation?  Did that baptism make a difference in your life?

Think about Baptism at Saint Peter’s.  Think about the way we celebrate a baptism of a child of God.  We celebrate the baptism of a new child of God at the beginning of liturgy – is this appropriate?  Does it signify new life and an entrance into the body of Christ which we share?  Is it possible to make Baptism more meaningful or is the very act of Baptism an acceptance of our entry into the holy presence of God.

As we grow older, what images of Baptism speak to us most directly?  Do you remember your Baptism daily?  And, do you know that as a child of God you have been forgiven of all your sins?  Do you pray that God will keep you as his child – as a most precious child in God’s sight?

Just what do you remember about Baptism?  And how important is it to you?


 

December 2014

Reflections  -  167


COME TO BETHLEHEM AND SEE

 

Two thousand years ago, most people were illiterate and since there were no widely available books (and certainly no Bibles) there was no way of teaching them to read.  So for many generations the story of the birth of Jesus was told to children by their parents  by word of mouth.

The first Christmas drawing was probably made in the 4th century and represented the child Jesus with Mary, his mother, and perhaps the three kings praying nearby.

Fast forward to 1223 where, in the village of Greccio near Assisi, St. Francis celebrated Christmas Mass in front of a crude wooden manger with a live ox and a donkey.  This way the event of Jesus’ birth became easier for the people to understand.  For them it was a realistic interpretation of the story that had been told for many generations.

Although displayed in many countries of Europe, the Weihnachtskrippe (Christmas crib) is very popular in the German speaking countries of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.  Here visitors are invited into people’s homes to admire beautiful scenes of the birth in Bethlehem.  Many of them were (and still are) hand carved in wood from linden or maple trees.  Some were elaborately painted while others are natural wood.  The tradition of the Weihnachtskrippe soon spread to many countries.  In Italy it is called Presepio, in France Creche, and in Spain Nacimento.

Today, Christmas cribs are seen around the world, from the simple folkloric carvings of South America, to the most elaborate ones near Naples.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Angelus message in Advent some years ago said: “The crib can help us, in fact, to understand the secret of the true Christmas, because it speaks of humility and the merciful goodness of Christ, who ‘though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor.’ (II Corinthians 8:9)  His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, as the shepherds in Bethlehem, heard the words of the angel: ‘And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’  (Luke 2:12)

So, join us dear friends, and “Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king.  Gloria in excelsis Deo”.


 

November 2014

Reflections  -  166

WHERE IS JESUS?


A story is told about vandalism in a church building.  The church, a beautifully appointed building had a marble reproduction of Thorvaldsen’s “Christus” behind the altar.  You may recall this remarkable statue.  The original is in the cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark and depicts Jesus standing with his arms outstretched in blessing.

But – one day this fine building was broken into and because the statue was marble and very heavy, the vandals couldn’t steal it, so instead they took a sledge hammer and broke an arm off it. The people were heartbroken and decided to send it to a renowned sculptor to see if it could be repaired.  When the congregation arrived for worship the following Sunday, Jesus was gone – and they all wondered: “Where is Jesus?”

Jesus is not a piece of marble standing on a pedestal, but he is everywhere in our midst.

Jesus is at the senior center and at the nursing home watching over elderly and sick folks.

Jesus is at the intersection of Broad and Main Streets where we work and where we shop.

Jesus is in our schools, parks and playgrounds where our children play and learn.

Jesus is at our colleges and seminaries where students are prepared for lives of meaningful work and for lives of service in the church.

Jesus is with the doctors and nurses at our hospitals where rich and poor alike are treated for serious illness and injury.

Jesus is in the firehouse, at factories and farms, in our home offices and in our kitchens.

Jesus is everywhere.

So what about that statue?  Will Jesus come back?  Of course he will.  Luther said that Jesus had to go away so that he could be with us – everywhere and always.  And Jesus is at the table, sharing his body and blood with all who come – and I suppose he’s also with those who don’t.

For you see, Jesus IS.

 


 

                                  September 2014

Reflections  - 165


ON REVERENCING THE ALTAR


You have probably noticed that when some of us (especially those wearing choir robes or white albs) process into the church we pause and acknowledge the altar.  Some of us make a deep bow while others simply nod their heads toward the altar.  The extent to which we acknowledge that altar really doesn’t matter – the fact that we do acknowledge it does matter, for as we reverence the altar we bow before that which is holy.

Some folks say that it is because the altar holds the communion elements of bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus that we reverence the altar, but as we enter and leave the church the bread and wine are usually on a side table known as a “credence table.”  Actually we bow before the altar because it reminds us that God in Christ is present among us.  Reverencing is a way of showing respect while acknowledging the presence of God in our midst.  Just as we acknowledge each other in the church we acknowledge God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is present among us.

But when to bow?  According to Pastor Arthur Carl Piepkorn in “The Conduct of the Service” one may reverence the altar with a bow when first entering and last leaving the sanctuary – since the altar is a symbol of the presence of God.”   Some will also bow and make the sign of the cross when the doxological formula “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is sung or said and it is also appropriate to bow during the Sanctus when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might” at which time one remains bowing until we make the sign of the cross at  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

But the real question is “What does this matter”?   Bowing (or reverencing the altar) is not a requirement or a prescription – it is simply a custom practiced by those who find it a meaningful aid to worship God with mind, speech and gestures.

So, basically, do that which is most comfortable and meaningful to you.


 

 

July 2014


Reflections  -  164


HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING?


For many of us, for much of our lives we’ve been immersed in music – and the hymns of the church in particular.  Martin Luther wrote “I desire that all Christians cherish the lovely gift of music, a precious, worthy and costly treasure given by God to humankind.  Next to God, the noble art of music is the worlds greatest treasure.”

My earliest recollection of a hymn is, as a very young child, when my Mother sang “Beautiful Savior” to me in German.  By the time I was old enough to go to Sunday school I soon learned that you could sing it in English as well.  One day, Mrs. Hartmann, our Sunday school pianist, played “Jesus loves me, this I know”.  All the kids sang and I was hooked on hymns.

When I was confirmed (in 1948 believe it or not) we sang “Jesus, lead thou on” which is now translated as “Jesus, still lead on”.  It’s been in Lutheran hymnals since 1725.

There are so many times when I come home from church and I can’t get a hymn-tune out of my brain.  I’m sure it’s happened to you too.  One of my fondest recollections was when, at Pastor Pankow’s funeral, the choir sang “Behold a star from Jacob shining” from Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul” which ends with that glorious chorale “How brightly beams the morning star.”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

After a rather serious surgery, when I emerged from general anesthesia and was taken off a breathing machine my head was filled with that great tune, to “All my hope in God is founded.”  Surely God was there with me that day.

Bishop Mark Hanson once commented: “Music reminds us that God’s relationship with humankind in Jesus is so much more than an intellectual experience.”  And with the great treasure of Christian hymnody, as “my life flows on in endless song; how can I keep from singing.”   (ELW 763)


 

 

June 2014


Reflections  -  163


MORNING HAS BROKEN


The lyrics to “Morning has broken” were written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) in 1931 and immediately began to grow in popularity.  It was revived by, among others, American pop singer Cat Stevens, whose 1981 recording became a best seller.  The song exudes both a sense of freshness and beauty in his soaring lyricism and easy-going folk-type character.

The melody was a favorite Scottish folk tune probably dating back several centuries.  With an ethnic character that some sharp-eared listener will discern, it is a charming creation and it’s named “Bunnesan” in our hymnals after a small village in the south of the island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland.  Bunessan has several sets of words – the oldest text was a Christmas carol “Child in the Manger” written by Mary Macdonald (1799-1872).  About 1927 Alexander Fraser heard the melody on the Scottish highlands and wrote it down, and it soon came to the attention of Percy Dearmer, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw who included it in hymnals they were editing.  

The theme in the hymn “Morning has broken” is striking and quite memorable, imparting both a sunny atmosphere, and a sense of yearning and it speaks of the beauties of nature with a deeply spiritual sense.  Yes, morning has broken, and this folk hymn reminds us that each morning we are able to experience God’s marvelous creation anew.  So often when we think of creation, we typically think of the far distant past, when in reality the process of Creation is ongoing.  Morning has broken, and every morning we are all witnesses to God’s ever-developing amazing Creation.

    Morning has broken, like the first morning
    Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
    Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
    Praise for the springing fresh from the word.

    Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
    Like the first dewfall, on the sweet grass
    Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
    Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.
    
    Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
    Born of the one light, Eden saw play
    Praise with elation, praise every morning
    God’s recreation of the new day.


 

 May 2014

Reflections  -  162

HIS GLORY FILLS THE SKIES


Just 40 days after Easter, the Ascension of Jesus is an important day.  Dating from the late 4th century, it is not generally celebrated in western Protestant churches.  And, in fact, the ascension is barely mentioned in the Gospels.  I suppose that is because in the Gospels we find the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ manifested by his death and proven by his resurrection.  Perhaps the ascension somehow seems anti-climactic  in the light of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for it tends to conclude on a note of sadness and separation rather than joy, victory and triumph.

Even though the ascension was not stressed in the Gospels, it is important in the book of Acts.  In Acts, the story seems to generally pick up after the Ascension of Jesus, and tells what the Lord continued to do through his body the church. And these acts continue through the centuries as the church continues to spread the word of God to all people, through the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised.

The Ascension of Jesus is the Christian doctrine of the moment Jesus was taken up to heaven in his resurrected body. It is found in the Nicene Creed, (and in the western church the Apostle’s Creed).  After the resurrection, the disciples were concerned with the coming of the kingdom but Jesus never told them when the kingdom might come, only that after his departure the Holy Spirit would come – on the day we know as Pentecost.  And that Holy Spirit would give the disciples the power to be witnesses to the Lord. On that mountaintop when our Lord returned to the Father it was in splendor and glory.  As he promised, the savior will come again and we all rejoice and sing:  (ELW 315)

        How good, Lord, to be here!
        Your glory fills the night
        Your face and garments like the sun
        Shine with unborrowed light.

        Fulfiller of the past
        And hope of things to be,
        We hail your body glorified
        And your redemption see.



March-April 2014

Reflections  -  161

TRANSITIONS


Generally speaking, a transition is a process or period of changing from one state to another.  It can be a musical modulation from one key to another, a temperature at which a substance changes, a developing change in architectural styles, or a type of eyeglasses that change from light to dark as the surrounding light changes.  Perhaps Lent too could be described as a time of transitions.

As Lent begins, the merriment of Christmas and the brightness of Epiphany appear to dim as our eyes and minds begin to look ahead toward preparations for observing Lent and Holy Week.

Lent was first observed in the early church as the final preparation of candidates for baptism at the Easter liturgy.  And it was a somber time because those who had been excommunicated for grave sins had finished their period of penance and were preparing to receive Holy Communion at Easter.  So, Lent became a period of transition, of learning and of seeking forgiveness.  This learning and penance expressed in prayer and fasting, seems dim in the stark simplicity of the church’s Lenten worship.

“Alleluias” and similar expressions of joy are changed to expressions of austerity.  In some churches the cross is veiled – not really the cross itself – but the visual splendor of rich and jeweled metalwork.  The cross is never completely obscured, so sometimes a simpler one is displayed.  Ash Wednesday begins this transition as a time when we sinners confess our sins and may have ashes placed on our foreheads for all to see.  During Lent, we sometimes “see through a glass darkly” for we know the time of the Saviors passion and death will soon be here.

As the solemnity of Lent draws to a close we turn toward the darkness and despair of Holy Week.  But first we must celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  Jesus went up to Jerusalem (everyone goes up to Jerusalem for it is the highest elevation for miles around) and there he makes a triumphal entrance.  Folks line the streets shouting “Hosanna to the king of David” and wave palm branches as he moves through the streets on a donkey.  But this doesn’t last very long for his trial, passion and death are looming.

And now, another transition, as Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the end.  From this point on, Christian worship is a continuum, or a single service until the first liturgy of Easter.  Because this is a continuous observance of the last events of Jesus’ life there are no blessings at the end of each days liturgy.  On Holy Thursday we stress themes of love and service by the washing of feet and also the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Good Friday stresses the proclamation of the cross and Jesus’ death.  At Saint Peter’s our choir usually sings Bach’s “Saint Matthew Passion” during the afternoon and then as we observe an interpretation of the Saint John Passion in the evening that enables worshippers to think more deeply about the death of Jesus.

Then on Saturday night the vigil liturgy is one of watching and waiting.  It begins with the lighting of a new fire from which the paschal candle and the candles of the congregation are lighted, symbolizing Christ, the light of the world.  We hear a series of readings followed by the baptism of a new Christian, thus linking all of Lent and Holy Week to a festive celebration of Easter.  At this point the major transition happens for the church now becomes bright with lots of candles, flowers, bells and “Alleluia’s.”  The congregation celebrates with the Easter liturgy and a celebration of Holy Communion in which we are reunited with the risen Lord.

To paraphrase the scripture – we have seen darkly, but now we see face to face – for Jesus is alive and with us now – and to the end of time.


                                        January 2014

Reflections  -  160

THE BAPTISM OF JESUS (AND OUR OWN)



Each year, soon after Christmas, we remember the baptism of Jesus.  You may recall the story as told in the Gospels however they do vary slightly from book to book.

In Matthew, John the Baptist is the prophet who is prophesied for he is the link between what God has done and what God is about to do by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  This is interesting for he has told us that Jesus is the great baptizer, but now Jesus come to John to be baptized.

Mark identifies Jesus as God’s beloved Son and also shows that Jesus’ relationship to God is unique for God has said (of Jesus), “With you I am well pleased.”

Luke removes John from the scene and then notes that Jesus was baptized.  Luke seems unsure of God’s words so he omits the link present in Mark and Matthew but says that Jesus is praying when the spirit comes upon him.

John seems to almost suggest that Jesus was a follower of John who did not recognize him as “the one who was to come” until the descent of the dove upon Jesus (perhaps on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism) – however there is no account of Jesus baptism in John’s Gospel.

These differences might be understandable as the stories were verbally passed down from father to son for many generations – and in passing down stories through generations, errors, omissions, and forgetfulness in folks of the first century could occur.

But does it matter about the intricate details?  It seems to me that the point of the story is that John said “I baptize you with water, but the one who comes after me is mightier than I.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” so when Jesus was baptized he came up out of the water and the heavens were opened and he saw the spirit of God descending on him and heard these famous words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The God who spoke at Jesus’ baptism also speaks to each of us when God says: “You are my son.  You are my daughter.  My beloved.  I am so very pleased with you.”

But do you remember your own baptism?  It’s been nearly 80 years since I was baptized and I don’t remember it at all.  But I do know that I was baptized – I’ve got a piece of paper to prove it.  I know that there was water, but perhaps only a few drops of it.  And I know that I was given a promise – a promise that will never be broken.  In the promise of baptismal water we see a reflection, not only of ourselves, but of God, who comes to us in love to inspire, to encourage, and to call us his own - forever.


 

Christmas 2013

Reflections  -  159


IT AIN’T NECESSARILY SO


All of us who have ever looked at a Christmas nativity scene assumed that we would see donkeys, sheep and camels.  But when you read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke camels and donkeys are nowhere to be found.  So, what gives?

Yes, Mary did travel to Bethlehem with Joseph, but it doesn’t say she traveled on a donkey, but she might have.  I doubt that she came by subway, so a donkey or perhaps a camel is possible – or a very long walk for a very pregnant young lady.

The Magi (who were probably astrologers) did visit the young Jesus but the Bible doesn’t mention how many there were.  It’s true that it mentions three costly gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh, brought by the Magi, but the Magi probably did not venture across the deserts of dry barren land alone, so there must have been a caravan.  And a caravan crossing a desert most probably traveled on camels.  After all, camels carry their own source of water so it’s possible for them to travel long distances over Arabian sands.  
Camels travel very slowly, so perhaps the Magi did not arrive in Bethlehem in time for Jesus’ birth but they might have gotten there for Jesus’ presentation in the temple.

And what about the sheep?  Yes there were shepherds taking care of their flocks, but it gets cold in Israel so I wonder if the shepherds did “abide in the fields” or if perhaps the shepherds were huddled together in a stable caring for their animals.  After all, they did have to keep warm.  The Bible does say that a multitude of angels appeared to them praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest …” but hark, did the herald angels say or sing?

Was that a star the wise men saw in the heavens?  With modern computers, astronomers seem to understand that the bright light the Magi saw was most probably a confluence of the planets Jupiter and Venus and the star Regulus (a part of the constellation Leo).  From earth this appeared as a very bright light – and that light was stationary for it was the earth that was rotating giving the impression of a moving star.

So – what does all of this matter?  Probably not too much except that it beautifully tells a story – the story of the birth of the Redeemer – who was born, died and rose again for us and for all mankind.


 

 

October 2013

Reflections  - 158

DID HE, OR DIDN’T HE ?


Ever since we were children in Sunday School we were taught that Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  We know that he was dissatisfied with the status of the church in his day – he especially objected to the sale of indulgences.

The sale of indulgences, you see, was authorized by Pope Leo X in order to raise money for the Vatican treasury and for construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (it’s the building we all know and admire today).  The sale of these indulgences was generally accepted in Luther’s day, and was one of the reasons for his writing the 95 Theses that helped spark the Protestant Reformation.  Depending on how much you paid for these indulgences, you could buy a loved one out of purgatory or reduce the time spent there.  Indulgences were used by unscrupulous “pardoners” to “sell” forgiveness.  Johann Tetzel, who Pope Leo X made Commissioner of Indulgences for all of Germany, sold so many of these indulgences that he is supposed to have said “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”  Fifty percent of the money raised was to go to Rome and the other 50% was to go to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg who borrowed heavily for his high church rank and was deeply in debt.

Luther, however, disagreed, and said that since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, and that those who claimed that indulgences absolved the purchasers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error.  He continued to insist on Justification by Faith (sola fide) and not by any good works a person could do.

Now the interesting question is: “Did Luther actually nail these 95 objections to the castle church door, or were they published in another way?  Studies of the past half-century seem to indicate that the 95 Theses might have been posted on the door, but could also have been delivered to the Bishop.  Within two weeks copies of the Theses had spread throughout Germany, and within two months they spread throughout Europe.

Erwin Iseloh, in his 1960’s book “The Theses Were Not Posted” notes there was no written mention of the events of October 31, 1517 having taken place.  Church officials never mentioned it, nor did Luther; however church officials did speak of a letter asking for open discussion written by Luther and delivered by more formal means to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg in the fall of 1517 – a letter that contained the 95 Theses.

The first mention of the nailing act was from a peer and friend of Luther, Philipp Melanchthon who was probably not an eyewitness to the event since he was not called to Wittenberg University as a professor until 1518.  He is said to have first mentioned it in his preface to the first volume of “Luther’s Collected Works” in 1546, but by then Luther was already dead.

 Currently it seems that casual writing for the layperson tends to continue to treat the event as “nailing” the Theses to the castle church door; historical and scholarly texts simply remove mention of the nailing, disavow it, or mention that the traditional story attributed to Melanchthon was anecdotal and unproven.

Further research finds that the debate has been more active since 2006 when a Martin Luther scholar named Martin Treu claimed to have discovered a document in the personal effects of Luther’s secretary Georg Rörer indicating that Luther had in fact nailed the Theses to multiple church doors and that despite conflicting evidence, Melanchthon was in town after all.  So, the debate does continue.

Based on 75+ years of hearing about nailing the Theses to the castle church doors (in fact you can see a bronze plate of them on the doors today) – but also the probability that Luther had the courage and good sense to send a copy to the Archbishop since he was still under the authority of the bishop (good political common sense I’d say), I’d like to propose a possible combination of activities.  The fact remains that Luther wrote the 95 Theses as his means of announcing a variety of concerns about the church in the 16th Century.  I’d speculate that he did nail the theses to the castle church door and also notified the Archbishop of his concerns.

There is no doubt that one man, asking pointed questions and refusing to let others determine his course, literally changed the course of an entire belief system.  And it is that inspiration to which Lutherans today continue to subscribe, study and preach.


September 2013

Reflections  -  157


CELEBRATING THE CROSS


Among the pilgrims to the holy city of Jerusalem in 326 CE was the widow of one emperor and the mother of another.  She was Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian.  It is said that while visiting the place of Jesus’ crucifixion she found, buried in the ground, a cross.

Helena and Constantine were great builders of churches including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the original St. Peter’s in Rome.  Because of finding the cross, Helena (and her son Constantine) had a church built over the hill of Golgotha to mark the spot where the cross was found.  Dedicated on September 14, 335 CE that (now much enlarged and highly decorated) church is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

And so, September 14 became a day for recognizing the cross (in an atmosphere of celebration that would not be appropriate on Good Friday) as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection and victory over death and as a reminder of his promise, “And I, when I am lifted up from the cross, will draw all people to myself.”  (NRSV John 12:32)

The cross reminds us that at the heart of the Christian faith is God’s victory in the midst of pain and loss.  Though the cross is a sign of torture and death, it is also a sign of life, for it is through death that we are saved to eternal life.

Bishop Francis Sayre, former dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, once wrote a devotional guide for the cathedral’s many visitors.  In it he wrote:

“The Cross is the shape of Christ’s dying, his agony and our reproach, the utter fallibility of everything in this world which one day must perish, even the sacred things we most cherish.  But it also is the shape of our hope, recalling the place where God redeemed the death of his Son, and forgave us for it and lifted us with him to a wholly new kind of life which can never be taken away.”


 

July/August 2013


Reflections  -  156


LIVING IN GOD’S AMAZING GRACE


Several years ago I had the privilege of attending an ELCA church-wide assembly.  The theme that year was “Living in God’s Amazing Grace.”  But what is it about grace that is so amazing?

Grace can be described as the “undeserved favor and kindness of God.”  It is a gift of God that no one on this earth has a right to and that none of us deserves.  It is a precious and abundant gift of God.

Saint Paul believed so fully in this grace that he opened and closed all of his letters wishing all his readers (in Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, etc.) the Grace of God.  In his letter to the folks at Ephesus (Ephesians 2:8) he writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

It’s summer again and the grass is green, the birds are singing, and the flowers are bursting forth in glorious color.  What could be more amazing – for we are truly living in God’s amazing grace.  Grace that is a gift from the God of all creation, who accepts us and loves us just as we are.  And for this we say, “Thanks be to God.”

Yes, it’s summer again and the skies are filled with billowing clouds, the rains nourish the trees and fields, and the mountains, oceans and lakes provide incredible beauty to which, in the words of a favorite hymn (ELW 750), we gratefully respond

     “Lord, grant that I in every place may glorify thy lavish grace and serve and help my neighbor.  

     … that these mine eyes with joy may see,

     O Son of God, thy glorious face,

     my Savior and my fount of grace,

     Lord Jesus Christ,

     my prayers attend,

     and I will praise thee without end.”


 

May 2013

Reflections - 155


“P” IS FOR PENTECOST


Pentecost is always celebrated 50 days after Easter and it always falls on a Sunday. For Christians, Pentecost is a commemoration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the earliest followers of Jesus.

Fifty days after Easter (and 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension to the Father) the apostles and some faithful followers of Jesus were gathered together, probably confused and probably contemplating their future mission and purpose.  Suddenly a flame rested on them and they began to speak in “tongues” by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Tongues were unintelligible languages which none of them were able to understand. – although they may have been understood by people from foreign lands.  And so, Pentecost is a time to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, and by inference, the historical beginning of the Christian church.  Because of all this, the Spirit brings the church into existence.  So, along with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is one of the three major festivals of the Western Church and one of twelve great feasts of the Eastern Church.  Depending on the date of Easter, Pentecost can occur as early as May 10 and as late as June 10  In the northern hemisphere it always occurs in mid-late spring and in the southern hemisphere it is celebrated in mid-late Autumn.

In some English speaking countries, Pentecost is also known as Whitsunday – possibly a derivation of an old English word for “White Sunday” referring to the practice of baptizing converts clothed in white robes on the Sunday of Pentecost.

In the Ukraine, Poland and parts of Austria, Pentecost is celebrated by taking green plants and tress into homes and churches as symbols of new life.

Believed to be the oldest festival of the Church, the story of Pentecost seems to date back to the first century CE and coincided with the Jewish Feast of Weeks (which falls 50 days after the Jewish festival of Passover).

Regardless of the background, Pentecost is a perfect time for Christians of all denominations or backgrounds to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in individual lives and in worshiping communities.  For it is this Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) which offers the presence and power of the Spirit of God through which we live in faith, hope, a sharing of community and an awareness of a God much greater than we humans can possibly imagine.

Happy Birthday, Church!


 

 

April 2013

Reflections - 154

 

ABOUT THAT BIG CANDLE IN THE AISLE


The "Paschal Mystery" refers to Christ's passage from death to new life and reminds us of the ancient Hebrews passage from slavery through the Red Sea to freedom in the promised land.  That big candle in the aisle is called the Paschal Candle from the Hebrew word ‘pesach’, meaning deliverance or Passover – thus connecting the Exodus to the Resurrection.  The Paschal vigil (or "watch") which we keep during the night before Easter, sometimes called "the mother of all vigils" was originally a repetition of the actions and gestures remembering how the people of Israel kept watch with prayer and praise the night of the Passover.  In Christian tradition, it was first of all a preparation for baptism.

In later years the Vigil was expanded to include - the blessing of the new fire, processing into the church and singing the Easter proclamation (the "Exultet"), - a series of lessons, psalms and canticles, - the sacrament of Holy Baptism, - and the first Eucharist of Easter.

What about that big candle in the aisle?  The ancient service of light that begins the Easter vigil starts in darkness reminding us of the desolation of Holy Saturday and of Jesus lying in the tomb.  At Saint Peter's we begin the service of light on the Plaza level where a small bonfire has been prepared.  The fire is blessed with a prayer and the large paschal candle is lit from it.  The pastor says: "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds."  Like the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites (Ex. 13:22) the paschal candle is carried into the darkened church and the congregation lights its candles from it.  The deacon sings the Exultet (meaning, "rejoice, healing powers") and after the verse "The light of Christ" we respond "Thanks be to God".  In the Service of Light, with word and dramatic ceremony, the lighted paschal candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the world, who is risen from darkness and the grave and proclaims the victory of God’s light in the world: the resurrection.

In use since the 4th century, the candle is always made of white wax and is inscribed with a cross, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega symbolizing the beginning and the end, and with the four numerals of the current year.  It is always placed near where the Gospel is read - in the center aisle at Saint Peter's.  The candle is lighted at each liturgy for the Season of Easter and is extinguished on the fiftieth day - the Day of Pentecost.  After Pentecost, it is moved near the baptismal font where it is lighted at all baptisms.  It may also be lighted for funerals.

So there you have it - more than you ever wanted to know about that big candle in the middle of the aisle.  But all you need to remember is that "Christ is the Light of the world which no darkness can overcome," and that the paschal candle is lighted to remind us of the presence of the risen Christ among his people, for Jesus is alive, and with us now, and until the end of time!


 

March 2013


Reflections - 153


ABOUT LENT


The earliest known mention of Lent in the history of the Church comes from the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.  The council of Nicaea is best known for the “Nicene Creed” -  the profession of faith which is still recited in most major denominations to this day.

However, the council also issued twenty canons of a practical nature, which dealt with various aspects of life in the early church. The fifth of these canons speaks of Lent.

In this fifth canon, the word used for Lent is tessarakonta (in the original Greek that means forty.)  In this canon we have the first mention of a forty-day period of preparation for Easter.  This forty-day period was adopted in imitation of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert as the beginning of his public ministry.  To come up with 40 days the Church counted backward from Easter (eliminating Sundays) and so the forty-day period of Lent began on a Wednesday – commonly known today as Ash Wednesday.  After Vatican II ended in 1965, the three days of the Triduum – (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) were excluded from Lent.  So as not to disturb the solemnity of Ash Wednesday, Lent is now about 37 days.  But no matter if you consider Lent to be 40 days or 37 days, it is the attitude, devotion and time spent in prayer that really matters.

In many languages the word for Lent is usually a derivation of forty, but in English the word Lent has another, very beautiful derivation.  It seems to have come form the early English Anglo-Saxon word meaning to “lengthen”.  For in the northern hemisphere, Lent comes at a time when the hours of daylight are lengthening, as spring approaches and it is an appropriate time for us to ‘lengthen’ spiritually, a time when we can stretch out and grow in the Spirit.

During these days of Lent, the Church sought to remember Christ’s forty days in the desert while giving Christians an appropriate time for quiet contemplation, time to consider ones sinfulness and time for prayer and reflection.  Today, in addition to days of introspection, prayer and preparation, the closing days of Lent point to the Triduum:

Maundy Thursday, deriving from the Latin mandatum referring to the new commandment to love one another, and to celebrate the solemnity of the institution of the Last Supper (the Holy Communion or Eucharist);

Good Friday commemorating the bitter and sad details of Christ’s passion, his scourging and crowning with thorns and his condemnation, his journey to Calvary, his death on the cross and his burial;

Holy Saturday quietly remembering the sadness of Christ’s time in the tomb and a looking forward to Easter, celebrating the joys of the Resurrection on the third day as Jesus promised.


For most Christians these days, Lent is a time for introspection, self-examination and repentance.  It is a period of time marked by prayer and reflection on our personal shortcomings, asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness, and as a preparation to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter.

Lent then is really a time to remember the past, but also to prepare to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter and the resurrected and renewed life that we live as Christ’s body in the world.

 


 

February 2013

Reflections - 152

THE ELCA AT 25


It was a cold, wintry day in January 1988 when the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in American became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Some of us remember that day when there were great hopes for a stronger church in mission.  All would be enriched by the wisdom, faith and ministries of our partners.

But what has happened these past 25 years?  It’s true that the ELCA has lost about a million members and about a thousand congregations (there are 9,600 now) but the church has started 435 new congregations, ordained 8,000 new pastors, sent out 2,000 missionaries to serve around the world, and has contributed more than $ 350 million to end hunger and poverty.

In its 25 years, the ELCA has been a pivotal church in the ecumenical movement.  Because of sound theology and practice, the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Reformed and Moravian churches have joined us as full-communion partners.  And with the signing of the document on Justification by Faith, the Roman Catholic Church and Lutherans around the world have drawn a bit closer.

As the ELCA celebrates its silver anniversary year, there is much to be thankful for.  Under the anniversary theme “Always being made new, 25 years together in Christ” we not only remember the past, but look forward to the future.  We will have opportunities to bolster funding for new congregations, give financial grants to revitalize parishes, support scholarships and anti-hunger efforts, and to address HIV/AIDS, malaria and other global ministry projects. Yes, God is renewing our life together as Christ’s body in the world.

As Mark Hanson, our presiding bishop, has written, “We will celebrate our 25th anniversary not because we nostalgically long for the past but because memories give us a confidence in God’s faithfulness and openness toward God’s promised future.  We have a new life in the ELCA, not because of what was done in 1988, but because of what God has done in Christ and continues to do in and through us for the life of the world.  In Christ we are always being made new.”


 

January 2013

Reflections - 151


WHERE IS GOD IN CHRIST JESUS IN ALL OF THIS?


For some years now, many parts of the world have been in conflict, and these conflicts not only touch many of us personally, but conflict affects our national, economic, political, civic and spiritual lives.  There has even been a rumor that ELCA synods could be divided into red and blue synods – how unchristian.  I’m sure it is true that some faithful Christians support actions of conflict, and I’m equally sure that some faithful Christians do not.  Where is God in Christ Jesus in all of this?

Where do we stand?  Yes, our Lord was born in a world of conflict and exploitation, as human life was dangerous, short, and nearly worthless.  Is this the reality of some in the vast regions of our world today?  Where is God in Christ Jesus in all of this?

Do you remember Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge is smug, arrogant, and exploiting the working class of deprived citizens?  Where is God in Christ Jesus in all of this?

Where is Jesus?  God in Christ is with our fighting armed forces – and also with the enemy.  God in Christ is with the abused child, and also with the child molester.  God in Christ is with the victim, and also with the victimizer.  God in Christ is with the ill, and with those who care for them.  God in Christ is with those who are desperately lonely, and also with those who know love.

Many of us enjoyed a warm and beautiful Christmas, but surely Christmas is not warm and beautiful for many in this world.  Has human condition really changed since that birth in Bethlehem so many years ago?  Where is God in Christ Jesus in all of this?

God in Christ Jesus entered into our history at a birth in Bethlehem.  Perhaps human condition doesn’t seem to have changed much; what has changed is that by that birth in Bethlehem, God became a part of our humanity.  And we celebrate Christmas because we have become children of God and God’s disciples to work toward transforming the world.

As Fr. George Brandt has written:  “When we finally understand that God is calling us to bring the world to Him through our Lord Jesus Christ, then we understand that Christmas is the beginning of the new reality God wants for the world.”  God came to us in Christ to save and transform the world, not in compulsion, domination or conflict, but in love and service to one another.

It is because of a birth in Bethlehem, and a death and resurrection in Jerusalem, that the people of Saint Peter’s go forth, day after day, to serve, to forgive, to bless and to love.


 

December 2012

Reflections  -  150


MAJESTY, MARY, ME


The day we have been waiting for has come.  The majesty of the angels proclaiming a birth in Bethlehem who is with us now. Those mighty words  “Glory to God in the highest” are majestically sung from the heavens.  As that exquisite carol set to a French tune of 1856 puts it:  (ELW 292)

     Love has come – a light in the darkness!
     Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
     See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
     Hear how their song of joy arises:
     Love! Love! Born unto you a Savior!
     Love! Love! Glory to God on high.

And what about Mary in all of this heavenly majesty?   After all, she is the mother of that new born child  -  the only son of GOD.  Mary, in great humility, while holding a helpless child in her arms, ponders what has happened and simply remembers the words, “You shall call his name “Jesus”.

     Love is born!   Come, share in the wonder.
     Love is God now asleep in the hay.
     See the glow in the eyes of his mother;     
     What is the name her heart is saying?
     Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers:
     Love! Love!  Jesus Immanuel.

And what about us?   How do we fit into the story?  Well that’s simple – the gift of divine love has been given to us forever.  It is the free gift of a loving God.  All we need to do is accept this marvelous gift.

     Love has come and never will leave us!
     Love is life everlasting and free.
     Love is Jesus within and among us.
     Love is the peace our hearts are seeking.
     Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas;
     Love! Love: Praise to you, God on high!


November 2012

Reflections - 149

FOR ALL GODS’ SAINTS


For well over a thousand years, November 1st has been known as All Saints’ Day on the Christian calendar.  The meaning of this day always speaks to our time as a way of remembering all those, known and unknown, who have gone before us.  But it is also more personal than that, for on this day, the assembled people of God not only remember the “heavenly host who from their labors rest,” but we remember those who are still in our hearts as beloved family and friends.

But how do we see those in our hearts and minds who now rest from their labors?  We see them teaching in classrooms, caring for those in hospitals and emergency rooms, embracing with great love and compassion the spouse of one who has just died, and ministering to those in retirement homes.  We see them tutoring retarded youngsters, performing honest work in repair shops, at home scrubbing floors, making beds and doing laundry, and we also see them behind executive desks.  In short, we see them as us.

At All Saints’, while we remember and pray for those who have gone before us, we also remember our own baptism and what it means to be baptized.  As we renew our baptism, we hear those promises as an invitation from God to live in God’s eternal presence each and every day.  In our baptism we marvel that God embraces us, imperfect and flawed, as God’s forgiven sinners.  “God has planted in us the seed of eternal life.  The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow.”(1)  And one day God will welcome us into God’s eternal blinding holiness.

So, as the baptized people of God, assembled at Saint Peter’s to rejoice and remember, we pray:

“Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

(1)  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Kent State College, 1970


 

October 2012

Reflections - 148


SO THAT ALL MAY BE ONE


It’s been almost 500 years since 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, beginning the Lutheran Reformation.  This resulted in a new interpretation of scripture, and wide dissemination of the written Bible, both of which soon spread across much of Europe and became known as the Protestant Reformation.  In America, Protestants include not only the Lutheran Church, but also the Protestant Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, UCC, Moravian and other churches.

For much of these five centuries each church was accustomed to writing liturgies and translating existing texts and lectionaries as it saw fit.  But with the advancement of modern technologies, travel and communication, it became apparent that common texts were desirable.  And so, the ELLC – English Language Liturgical Consultation – was formed.

The ecumenical and liturgical movements of the twentieth century together with advanced biblical and historical studies suggested a need for common English language liturgical texts.  Notable among these texts are the Revised Common Lectionary and some texts of the historical and ancient order of the Mass.

The Revised Common Lectionary, as well as the Lord’s Prayer, Nicene and Apostles Creeds, Gloria in Excelsis and many other common texts are being used in many churches.  These common texts are experienced in a real way and celebrate the sense of being at home in one another’s churches when praying the same words and hearing the same scriptures in the Sunday liturgy.  This gives great hope and expectation that the Holy Spirit will strengthen and guide this important work.

In the process of agreeing on common texts, scholars from different Christian traditions agreed to the principles of translation from earliest sources.  This in itself has been a gift to the church.  Despite the ELLC only having been in existence for a relatively short time, these texts have been adopted by an ever-increasing number of churches.  These common texts and the Revised Common Lectionary are a way and a sign toward Christian unity.  The possibilities offered by sharing common scripture readings and liturgical texts are blessings that unite the hearts and minds of Christians everywhere so that, in God’s good time, the church and the people of God might be one.


 

 

July-August 2012

Reflections - 147

IT REALLY ISN’T BORING


Pentecost Sunday has passed.  At Saint Peter’s, the red and gold banners have been put away.  The great festivals of the church year are over and the celebratory vestments of the clergy have been stowed..  We celebrated the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  So now what?

It’s the long green season of ordinary time, but is any time really ordinary?  Hardly – for we continue to be involved in our ministry, ministry of being born and re-born, of living, and of dying.  Regardless of the season, we can’t avoid thinking of the problems of living and of dying.  Yet some (perhaps many) are caught up in what could be perceived as the boredom of modern life.

We Lutheran Christians can, and should, find joy in the ordinary.  During this “ordinary time” we rejoice in those ordinary things which, while familiar and simple, focus on the hummingbird seeking honey in a blossom, the taste of a wonderful chocolate truffle, the laughter of a child jumping into a swimming pool, or the joy of listening to great music.

I’m reminded of the hymn “This is my Father’s world.”  We all know it for we learned it as children.  But have we really thought about its text:

    This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
    all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
    This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
    of rocks and trees, of skies and seas: his hand the wonders wrought.

The church sees this “Ordinary Time” as a season of growth, renewal, and joy in the pleasures and beauties of God’s creation.  So, in this season of television re-runs, daily baseball games and football practice for next season, and the soon-to-be fading flowers and grasses we rejoice in the marvelous workings of God, in the holy omnipotence of the creator, and in the wonders of God’s creation.  And yet, in all of this, the news continues to be filled with violence, terrorism and rumors of war.

    This is my Father’s world, oh, let me not forget that,
    though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet!
    This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad?
    The Lord is king, let the heavens ring; God reigns, let the earth be glad.

I believe God wants the ordinary to become a joyful experience.  Then how can we dare to say that these summer months of ordinary Pentecost living are dull or uninteresting.  These months, like water and word, bread and wine reveal the loving Father, for the Lord is king, and the heavens ring, for God reigns and the earth is glad.

And so, we go out in peace, into our ordinary surroundings, and as beloved children of the heavenly Father, to love, to bless, to forgive, and to serve each other.


 

June 2012

Reflections - 146


TACKLING THE TRINITY


Some preachers take a vacation on the festival of the Holy Trinity, while some other pastors invite guest preachers on Trinity Sunday. Why?  Because the concept of one God in three persons is one of the most difficult and mysterious doctrines on which to prepare a sermon.  So I’m not going there.

Trinity – from the Latin for “three” is one of the principal festivals of the church year.  It is always celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost.  This festival dates to about the tenth century, and in 1334 it officially became of part of the Church’s liturgical calendar.

The festival of the Holy Trinity is the only liturgical festival celebrating a doctrine instead of an event or commemorating a person.  Intended to be a celebration of the mystery of God, on this day the church recalls salvation history and acknowledges in its liturgy all that was accomplished by God the Father through the Son and Holy Spirit.  There goes that mysterious explanation again.  But for us Christians, all we do is done in the name of the triune God.  In the name of the Trinity we were baptized, and in the name of the Trinity we are blessed every time we worship.

The festival of the Holy Trinity seems to be an appropriate liturgical transition to that part of the year when Sunday by Sunday the work of God is unfolded before us.  For during the following months we celebrate the mighty acts of God.

So how do we explain the mystery of the Triune God?  I’m not really sure, but we trust the ancient church fathers and brilliant theologians to know and explain it.  Suffice it to quote two verses of our Lutheran Book of Worship hymn 535:

    Holy God, we praise your name; Lord of all we bow before you.
    All on earth your scepter claim, all in heaven above adore you.
    Infinite your vast domain, everlasting is your reign.

    Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name you,
    though in essence only one; undivided God we claim you
    and adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery.

As Lutheran Christians, the Trinity is at the very foundation of our faith.  For it is in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we baptize, teach, witness and go forth in peace to love and to serve.


 

 

May 2012

Reflections  - 145

 

IT’S COME AND GONE.  OR HAS IT?


Easter has come and gone.  The lilies have faded, the fancy hats have been put away, and the parade on Fifth Avenue has long ended.  But not so fast, for Easter is celebration of 50 days.  During these days we ponder the mystery of the resurrection, and it’s meaning for us 21st century Christians.  It’s a time of learning, and a time to live differently in response to Christ’s resurrection.  Resurrection can be a fearful experience for it is bigger than anything we humans can possibly reason or imagine.  Perhaps this is why the church sets aside fifty days - because we need time to take it all in and explore its dimensions - the truth of Christ is larger than anything we can comprehend.  And especially the love of Christ is more than anything we can even dream.

Just what did Jesus do on Easter Day and the weeks leading up to his Ascension to the Father?  Well, after Jesus rose from the tomb, he appeared to the women as they were on their way to tell the disciples, Jesus appeared to Peter, he appeared to the travelers on the road to Emmaus, and he appeared to the disciples in the upper room (remember Thomas was not there) – a pretty busy time I’d say.

And there were more appearances.  Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room (this time Thomas was present), to James the brother of Jesus, and to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee.  Still marked with the wounds of the cross, the risen Lord appears in the midst of his disciples and offers them forgiveness, and then commands them to pass the gift of forgiveness on to others.

The resurrection accounts show us a Christ who meets us on our way as he met the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They show us a Christ who reveals himself in the breaking of bread and the blessing of wine, a Christ who ministers to Thomas by inviting him to touch his wounds, a Christ who gently asks his confused disciples for something to eat, and a Christ who meets us in the midst of our lives, our struggles, our despairs and our joys with great compassion.

But when it really comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, we Lutheran Christians believe that every Eucharist celebrates Easter for “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  For us Easter is a life-long experience!  And to this we gratefully respond: “Thanks be to God.”


 

 

April 2012

Reflections - 144


THE UNFAMILIAR AND FAMILIAR


For many Lutheran Christians, the Triduum, the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil are unfamiliar territory.  The Triduum is not a Sunday liturgy, and in fact, the word Triduum might seem strange to us 21st century American Christians.

The days of the Triduum leads us into incomprehensible mysteries as we modern Christians want to be able to “explain” everything according to our known formulas.  And so, the Triduum also leads us into that murky mystery at the edges of our minds.  In the Triduum we are a bit uncomfortable and a little uncertain about what happened some 2000 years ago and we come away with the sense that things are beyond our understanding.  But there is also a brief glimpse, a hint of the future promises given us through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

To best experience the single three-day liturgy known as “The Triduum” requires preparation – ideal for the 40 days of Lent.  In those 40 days, we remember his death, our own mortality and look ahead to God’s new creation.  The Triduum is Christian Passover – and the more we try to interpret the passage of Christ through death to life - the more baffling it seems to be.  In fact, can we really celebrate the Paschal mysteries in just three days, or does it take a lifetime?  I suspect that even a lifetime is not enough to ponder the mysterious ways of God.

Just what do we do during the days of the Triduum?  We wash each others feet as a sign of humility, we receive the forgiveness of our sins, we remember the first celebration of the Lord’s supper, we remember the paradox of the cross (is it a sign of death, or a symbol of victory?), we hear the age-old story of human history, we are washed in baptismal waters and we receive the body and blood of our Lord.  As darkness turns to light, our hearts are cleansed, and finally we hear those familiar words: “He is risen, he is not here.”  

And as we stand in the familiar brightness of the rising sun and the radiance of the risen Son we gaze into an empty tomb.  We’ve been through the unfamiliar which we do not understand, yet we believe.  The stone has been rolled away and with all our hearts we say:  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”


 

February 2012

Reflections  -  143


WHY DOES SAINT PETER’S LOOK
THE WAY IT DOES?


There are many ways to design a church building, so have you ever wondered why Saint Peter’s looks the way it does?

The short answer is that our Lutheran theology is centered on God’s word and the sacraments, so at Saint Peter’s the visible symbols of word and the sacraments are all-important.

As we enter the sanctuary, we find a large granite baptismal font with ever-flowing water.  This is no accident in planning.  Our font is designed for either sprinkling or immersion – perhaps you have experienced both in our liturgies.  It is here that we bring our children to God in the sure knowledge that God will make them his own.  It is through baptism that God calls us all to be his own, sets us free, and forgives our sins.  That is why we often have our confession of sins and asperges (the sprinkling of water reminding us of our baptism) from the font.

The movable pulpit, with a Saint Peter’s cross carved into it, is where the word of God is read  and proclaimed in the sermon.  At Saint Peter’s the sermon is not simply a few comments (or a homily), but it is a carefully thought-out in-depth explanation of the readings for the day interpreted for us 21st century Lutheran Christians.  It is from the pulpit that we hear of God’s amazing grace and love.

At the center of our worship space is the solid red oak wood altar – the table at which the Eucharist is celebrated and around which we gather to share Christ’s body and blood – a table at which all are always welcome.  While the pastor presides, many assistants share in distributing the Eucharist – a sign of the involvement of all of us.

Although our apace is flexible and the furniture is movable, our Worship Committee always strives to keep the altar at the center of our worship experience.  For at the center of our faith is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us and for all the world.  For if Christ had not died and risen again there would be no need for us to have built Saint Peter’s the way we did.  In fact there would be no need for us to have built Saint Peter’s at all.  But Christ did die, and he did rise again, and to this the people of Saint Peter’s say “Alleluia.”

So there you have it – everything else in our marvelous church building is superfluous – our magnificent Klais organ supports our song, the columbarium reminds of our deceased loved ones, and the clear glass windows let in God’s sunshine (and sometimes a bit of rain).  Passersby can look in our windows and see Saint Peter’s at prayer – and perhaps say a prayer too.  But no matter, the center of it all is altar, font and pulpit.

And it’s precisely because of what happens at altar, font and pulpit that the people of Saint Peter’s go forth week after week, and year after year to love and to serve.


 

January 2012


Reflections - 142

AND WHAT DID YOU GET FOR CHRISTMAS?


The presents have been opened, the wrappings and ribbons tossed out and the stores are crowded again.  But this time it’s with lots of people returning gifts and taking advantage of post-Christmas sales.

What did you get for Christmas?  I got a new sweater, a hand-carved wooden angel for our creche and a set of DVD’s of my favorite British High-Court Magistrate - Judge John Deed (a truly ethical example of great jurisprudence).  None of these will be returned to the stores.

Little Kyler got a shiny red wagon, a fluffy “William” kids back-pack from the Metropolitan Museum, and a stuffed dog.  Perhaps next Christmas Santa will bring him a live puppy.

But what did you get for Christmas, and is that important?  I suspect that it’s not what we got for Christmas, but what we gave for Christmas that matters.  The best gift is one that is carefully chosen with the hope that it will give great joy and delight to the recipient.  It need not be expensive or precious, but it does need to be given with much thought, with much pleasure, and with great love.

And what did all of us get for Christmas?  We all received that gift which cannot be returned to the stores and which is longed for everywhere.  We all received the precious gift of God’s only son, Incarnate – in word, water, bread and wine.  We have all received the greatest of gifts.  That greatest of gifts is:
     of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be,     
     he is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending he,
     of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
     Evermore and evermore.

During Epiphany, as the wise men go home “by another route”, we accept God’s gift with thanksgiving, for it was given to each of us in great love.  As that familiar hymn says it: “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down!  Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.”   And in that great wonder, love, praise and thanks to God, we too will give of our best as we go forth in peace to love and to serve.


 

December 2011

Reflections - 141

 

IS THE LORD NEAR?

 

Is the Lord near?  This seems like a rather dumb question when we Christians know that Jesus is always among us.  Why then do we wait for him during this Advent season? And what are we waiting for?

The season of Advent seems to have a twofold character.  Firstly, it’s a season to prepare for Christmas when Jesus’ first coming to us is remembered.  Secondly, as we remember the first coming, we also need to consider how we will wait for the second coming at the end of time.  So, as we wait for One who has already come, and is also to come again, Advent becomes a complex season as it doesn’t seem to have a simple definition.  

Just think about the text to one of our loveliest Advent hymns:
      “O Lord, how shall I meet you, how welcome you aright?
      Your people long to greet you, my hope, my heart’s delight.
      Love caused your incarnation; love brought you down to me.
      Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.”  

And so, once again, in quiet contemplation, we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s coming as a human baby.  As Father Henri Nouwen put it: “Advent does not lead to nervous tension stemming from expectation of something spectacular about to happen.  On the contrary, it leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing me to realize that the One for whom I am waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of my heart.”

But read on, as the hymn begins to look toward the second coming:
    “Rejoice, then, you sad-hearted, who sit in deepest gloom,
    who mourn your joys departed and tremble at your doom.
    All hail the Lord’s appearing!  O glorious sun, now come,
    send forth your beams so cheering and guide us safely home”.

Having remembered the first coming at Jesus’ birth, we look ahead to the second coming of the One who has already come when we will be guided safely home into the waiting arms of a merciful and loving Father.

As the days of Advent draw to a close our liturgies abruptly shift gear from waiting, learning, hoping, and anticipation to the joyous news that a child has been born among us – full of truth and grace.  And it is in just that truth and grace that we are ever mindful of the God who will one day guide us safely home.  Yes, God is near – in his word, in his body and blood, in his love and in his continuing forgiveness.  And it is that same truth and grace which calls us to be Christians and as Christians, to go forth to love, to forgive, and to serve our neighbor.


 

 

November 2011

Reflections - 140

A CHILDS PRAYER – OR IS IT ?


When I was a child (more years ago than I care to count) both of my parents worked and so my younger brother and I were cared for by a German-speaking nanny – Oma Fahle.  Oma Fahle could speak no English so she taught us this simple table grace which is etched in the deepest part of my memory.  It goes something like this:

        Komm, Herr Jesu, sei unser Gast,
        Und segnet was du uns bescheret hast.

An English translation would be something like:

        Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest
        And may these gifts to us be blest.

The origin of this simple prayer is not precisely known.  Some suggest it might have been written by Martin Luther in the 17th century, while others think it is probably the work of Ludwig Nikolaus von Zinzendonk, a Moravian.  No matter, the earliest written record is found in a Moravian hymnal, “Bruder Gemeinde” published in London in 1753.

The beauty of this little prayer is that it is so easy for a child to learn, yet it remains in our memory for a lifetime.  But the beauty is also is also one of incredibly sound theology.

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” sometimes a prelude to “Pass the potatoes,” is also an invitation for God to guide everything we do, and a thanksgiving for all of God’s gifts.  It is often in common prayers like this that we ask God for so many gifts.  Mealtimes offer occasions for us to remember the innumerable blessings we receive each day.

While we give thanks and invite Christ to dine with us, Christ is really the best host who invites us to dine on him as week after week we are guests at the table where the meal is Christ’s body and blood.


 

October 2011

Reflections  -  139

. . . EVERY 500 YEARS

Phyllis Tickle, in a recent book “The Great Emergence” suggests that major events in the life of Christianity occur about every 500 years.  For example, some 500 years ago there was the Protestant Reformation.  Five hundred years before that, the Great Schism that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  Five hundred years before that saw the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and about 500 years before that, the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

But what does this mean for the church of the future and its worship?  An early indication might be “Called to Common Mission,” a document which binds the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, USA to share ministry and opens the way for cooperative mission efforts. Another major event could be the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church agreeing on the interpretation of “Grace, by faith alone.”  And for the future . . . . well, that’s still an unanswered question.

Will Protestantism disappear?  Perhaps, or perhaps not, but it may be in a form which none of us can imagine now.  Our children’s children may not recognize the local congregation as we know it today.  The church of the future might borrow from many denominations and at the same time resurrect ancient traditions and customs.  The emerging church could “take to the streets” and worship where the people are.  Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of that today.

And what about worship?  Worship may turn away from what “we do,” or what “they want,” and move in some way toward how we participate in the story of God at work - in our lives and in our world.  Worship will continue to manifest the mission of God for the sake of the world.  All God’s children will have a place and purpose in the emerging church of the future.  Worship, in its rich verbal and musical tradition will continue for a while, but it may develop into an exploration of all human senses:  the aroma and texture of freshly baked bread in the meal, the increasing splashing of baptismal waters, and the visual and aural  senses of some of the  music and literature of the church, and the visual emphasis on rich fabrics and art, and  perhaps the flickering of a candle will illumine human experience in its worship.  Interestingly Frank Senn in “Christian Liturgy” has written “Liturgy in this post-modern world must aim for enchantment, not entertainment.” (Christian Liturgy, page 704)

But, in all of this, there will always be one constant - and that constant is the saving crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, as savior of us all.


 

 

September 2011

Reflections  -  138


WHAT’S IN A NUMBER ?


Numbers can express many things.  They are used to tell us the time or the date, help us balance our checkbooks, pay our bills, count our population, and on and on.  But there is one number that, for the past ten years, has expressed an event.  That number is 9/11 - for it was on September 11, 2001 that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers and that day altered all our lives forever.  I’m certain that all of us over twenty will remember where we were that fateful day.  I know I was on the roof  of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and gasped in shock and horror when the second plane hit the tower.

Ten years ago, on September 11, none of us who lived in New York City had a harsh look on our faces or had a harsh word for one another.  With all the death, damage and destruction around us our hearts were too heavy to waste our time on such pettiness.  This  huge city in which we live felt strangely quiet and gentle as the fires burned in lower Manhattan, as the survivors were rushed to hospitals, and as those who died were mourned.  Our hearts went out to each other, and especially to the loved ones of those who were injured or killed.

We were all so stunned, but we soon began to think about and to understand what was really important in our lives.  What was important to you that awful day?

It’s now ten years later, and the two giant pools and waterfalls designed by Michael Arad are in almost the exact spot where the towers once stood.  People now flock there by the thousands to remember and reflect.  To remember and reflect on what happened here that dreadful day.  And the new towers are finally under construction to replace those which were lost.  They will be a marvelous tribute to the many, many people affected by 9/11.
 
The people of Saint Peter’s, and our many visitors from all over the world, continue to remember the tragic events of 9/11 at every liturgy (nearly 5,000 of them since that dark day) with this prayer:

“O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.  Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our city, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts: through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen”


 

July 2011

Reflections: 137

A CAKE FOR THE KING


With a small number of copies and a large number of errors, and costing 12 shillings, a new translation of the Bible was born.  With the 1611 royal imprimatur of King James, this new Bible would change history.

Because of religious strife between Puritans who preferred a plain faith stripped of ornaments and frills, and the Church of England which still closely resembled the Roman Catholic Church, King James I announced a conference at Hampton Court Palace, near London, in 1604.  The Puritans were reading the Geneva Bible while Anglicans were reading the Bishops’ Bible of 1568.  James, known as the “Peacemaker King assembled 47 of the days top religious scholars (all Church of England) not to write a new translation of the Bible, but “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principle good one.”  What the King cared about was clarity, simplicity and doctrinal orthodoxy.

There were numerous versions of the Bible in existence, so the committee of 47 had their work cut out for them.  For example, in common use, was the Latin Vulgate Bible from about 400 C.E. and the Tyndale translation and others. When the King James Bible was finally finished in 1611 all 47 scholars had agreed on every word in it - a seemingly impossible task.

The King James Version, with its classical style and majestic cadences of poetry and prose, remains the gold standard among Bibles even today, 400 years after its introduction. Consider some of the phrases which still remain a part of the English language.  For example, We sometimes work at a “labor of love”; we “fight the good fight”; and we “eat, drink and be merry,” all “in the twinkling of an eye.”

After 400 years, Oxford University Press still sells more that 250,000 copies of the King James Bible every year, and it is still probably the most widely used translation today.  And if you watched the royal wedding last spring you heard that majestic and glorious language in all its splendor.

Happy Birthday, King James Version.


 

 

June 2011


Reflections: 136


RECONCILED AND RECONCILING

 

As we celebrate the great Festival of Pentecost on June 12, it seems appropriate to reflect on the love of the Holy Spirit and the holy spirit of love.

In the time of the apostles, the Holy Spirit was thought of as a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire.  But cannot that same Spirit be given to us as a gentle and intimate breath, for did not Jesus gently breathe on the disciples when he said “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20-22)?

In this season of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Spirit who works within us and makes all things new.  And, as people of the body of Christ at Saint Peter’s, are we not members of God’s reconciled and reconciling community?  And in our community isn’t it love which creates and deepens our relationship to Christ, to one another, and to all creation?  To love is not only our duty, but it is also our hearts desire, for “we love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

As we are loved and love, the Spirit teaches us to pray – and to become one with God, with ourselves and with our neighbor.  And as we pray, the Spirit prays with us and God’s love flows into our hearts so that we can become an image of Christ.  And in that image of Christ we become that reconciled and reconciling community – a community reconciled with God, and reconciling with one another.  As the hymn says:

     Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down!
     Fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown.
     Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
     visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart.

     Breathe, oh breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast;
     let us all in thee inherit: let us find thy promised rest.
     Take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
     end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.

In Christ all things are made new and our community is opened to that Spirit who sends us out into the world until we become “lost in wonder, love and praise.”


 

May 2011


Reflections: 135

 

SAINT PETER’S AT PRAYER


Those of us who regularly worship at Saint Peter’s know that every liturgy is one of praise, prayer and thanksgiving.  Our prayers, whether private and personal, or together with the gathered assembly, always have a central place in our worship.  Our private prayers are for ourselves, our friends and family, for those who are ill or in need, and for many other personal desires.  Or perhaps they are just a few moments spent with God in the beauty of holiness.  When we pray with the gathered people of God, our prayers generally become less personal and more involved with our community, for those in need, for those around the world with whom we share our beliefs, for our communion partners, and for those whose memory we cherish.

There are basically four types of prayers in our liturgy, which we know as the Mass.  They are the Prayer of the Day, the Prayers of Intercession,  the Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Prayer after Communion to which, after the horrible events of 9/11 we have added a Prayer for Peace.

Basically, the Prayer of the Day is designed to focus our attention on the theme for the day, but since it is printed in our service leaflet it may also be used as a private prayer.  It is brief, and prayed thoughtfully by the presiding pastor and is centered on the readings for the day.

At Saint Peter’s, our Prayers of Intercession are prayed by a member of the assembly on behalf of all who are gathered for worship.  These prayers, for the needs of the church, the world, and all people have been a part of Christian worship for almost 20 centuries.

The Prayers of Intercession are sort of like a hourglass in that traditionally they begin with general  prayer concerns of the whole people of God, then the become more local and personal in nature when we pray for those who are ill and have asked for our prayers, and for our congregation.  Then the hourglass broadens out as we pray for saints, those who have gone before us, and finally close as the presider commends us to God’s loving care and mercy.

During the communion, on behalf of all the people, the presider offers the Prayer of Thanksgiving, following an ancient practice of proclamation.  At the communion table, the presider recalls some of the mighty acts of God and also consecrates the bread and wine.  This prayer at the table always concludes with all those gathered together praying the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Finally, after all have been served bread and wine, an assisting minister - on behalf of all of us - gives thanks for the gift of Jesus' body and blood.

After the final blessing, to remember the horrendous acts of 9/11, we at Saint Peter’s add one last prayer:  a  prayer for peace, for the world, for our nation and city, for our homes and our hearts - along with the words “Go in peace.”

And so, “Go in peace” dear friends; serve the Lord.


 

Easter 20011


Reflections: 134

COMPROMISES AND PROMISES


In modern society we all have to make many, many compromises in our daily lives.  We make compromises in business arrangements and contracts, compromises in resolving disputes, compromises in ethics and many others.  Even in our liturgies we sometimes have to compromise and accomplish those things which we are capable of doing well, and not all that we might desire.

I suspect that in the time of Jesus people also made compromises.  Did Judas really want to betray Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane?  Did Pilate really want to crucify Jesus, or did he release Barabbas and allow Jesus to be crucified in order to please the crowds? Did the Roman soldiers want to crucify Jesus on Good Friday, or were they under orders to do so?  Did the soldiers want to leave his garment as one piece of cloth, or would they have preferred to cut it into pieces?

In fact throughout history, had it not been for compromises, nations would constantly have been at war with each other.  In our personal lives, we are constantly making compromises in our relations with one another.  And had it not been for compromises the world would be a far different place.

But after all is said and done, there is the promise of the resurrection.  In the resurrection God has promised us everything – with no compromises.  God has promised us life, salvation, forgiveness and grace.  And in these promises we need not fear any compromises – for God does not compromise – God always keeps his promises – and gives us the gift of eternal life.


 

March 2011


Reflections:  -  133


LENT - THEN AND NOW

 

When I was a child going to Sunday School (some three-quarters of a century ago) Lent was very different than it is today.  As kids we were expected to be excused from Public School each Wednesday afternoon to attend “religious education” class, and if we were old enough to be in Confirmation (as they called it then) Class we were expected to attend church on Wednesday evenings and memorize Luther’s Small Catechism (do kids still do that today?).  And on Palm Sunday the Confirmation Class had to sit in the front row and be “examined” in our knowledge (and memorization) of the catechism.  Then after we were confirmed we went back to church on Holy Thursday to receive Holy Communion for the first time (my, how times have changed.)

And don’t forget those Lenten offering folders in which each child was asked to put in 10 cents each day - totaling $4.00 for the Lenten season.  My recollection is that my parents gave me an allowance of of about one dollar a week, so putting 10 cents in the folder each day was a real sacrifice.

And, of course, we had to “give something up” for Lent and most of us would give up either candy, ice cream, or going to the movies.  I was the lucky kid as my parents owned an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor which also sold home-made candy.  If I gave up candy, I’d double-up on my ice cream consumption, and vice-versa.

By the time I got to college I was attending Christ Lutheran Church in Gettysburg where  Herman Stuempfle was our pastor.  As an outstanding preacher and hymnwriter, attending Lenten liturgies became something I wanted to do and didn’t “have to” do.  (Have you noticed that there are 8 wonderful hymn texts by Pastor Stuempfle in our new Evangelical Lutheran Worship book?)  Pastor Stuempfle soon became President of Gettysburg Seminary.

After college, while in the Air Force where our base had a Lutheran as chaplain.  When I was not flying B-52’s or on “combat alert” I was often asked to play the organ for chapel services - and with the chaplain helped plan our Lenten worship.

After the Air Force I returned home and joined the Church of the Epiphany where Pastor Gibney lead the Lenten study programs.  Here I first noticed how the Lenten emphasis was shifting - from a “giving up something” to “doing something.”  

As a church organist in the 1970’ and 80‘s it became clear that Lent had lost much of its somber feeling and so I prepared a service of readings and hymns called “We call this Friday good” for our congregation.  It was published in “Reformed Worship” and is still used in some congregations to this day.

Now fast forward to the 21st century, when some congregations have a “pancake supper” on the day before Ash Wednesday, and then what?  In some congregations, not very much.  

Lent need not be negative, nor need it be somber, nor need it be a time to “give up” something.

In the struggle of Lent, and as we read the liturgies of Lent (and Holy Week), we soon realize that we all “fall short.”  Falling short can be a humbling experience which leads to soul searching and amendment of life.  It seems to me that the heart of Lent is reconciliation - with God and with one another, for we all “fall short.”   I think God would be pleased with someone who has fallen short and sincerely wants to change.

A blessed Lent.


 

February 2011

Reflections  -  132


GOD’S STORY - OUR STORY


The story of the people of Saint Peter’s began in a garden where God made all things and they were good.  It is a story of a covenant, and a testament, both old and new, which reached cosmic fulfillment in the person of Jesus, for we are a people who are inevitably linked as part of one global family.

The story of Saint Peter’s is one of a diverse group of people and communities who continue in the tradition of the apostles.  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of bread and the prayers.  (Acts 2:42).  Our story is linked to places like Wittenberg and Geneva and Uppsala and Augsburg.  In later centuries we have come from places as diverse as Berlin and Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, Manila and Sydney.  We are a congregation with roots from all parts of the world embracing many who are not “native Lutherans.”  Ours is a story of a people who have loved New York through times of war and times of peace, in blizzard and blackout, heat wave and cold spell, in springtime and harvest.  We find delight in being urban apostles with a mission in our beloved city, celebrating the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

But it’s not just a story about us, for our story is inextricably intertwined with God’s story.  God’s story began at the beginning of time.  It’s a story of creation, failure, redemption, forgiveness and salvation.  God’s story begins in Genesis in a garden with an apple tree and never ends.  It takes us through time itself and when we  have really messed things up, God gave us a son - a savior.  It’s a story we love to tell again and again and again

Those of us who are getting along in years will remember a favorite childhood Sunday School hymn:

        I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
        Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
        I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory,
        To tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Our story is not complete.  We are on a continuing journey.  Reconciling in Christ, our life together reflects the diversity of our members: gathering afresh to hear God’s promises, to seek ways to live out our faith and to offer our God-given gifts in service to others.  Together we witness, share our joys and sorrows, join in work, worship and play in that ever homeward-bound journey toward the presence of a loving God who patiently waits for us with welcoming arms.


 

January 2011

Reflections -  131

REVEALING, RADIATING, REMINDING


Christmas is over.  All of the gifts have been opened and some of the toys have already been broken.  The ornaments have been taken down from the tree and the carpet is littered with pine needles. Department stores are having big sales, and the glitter and bright lights seem a bit dimmer now.  What a letdown.

Now think about all of this for a moment.  Yes, the excitement of Christmas has ended, but a new light is dawning.  Our sanctuary is decorated with a big white Moravian star hanging from the rafters.  Why?  Because during the season immediately following Christmas that we call Epiphany, new life is revealed and radiates out of the darkness.  As the season progresses we learn more and more about revealing the presence of God, about the light of God radiating outward (and inward) and a reminder that the gift of God in his Son is here.

On Christmas God revealed himself by giving us his Son as a tiny, vulnerable infant.  The child was born in a stable, not in a hospital or the palace of a king.  And God revealed his Son by the light of a great star.  And light the way it did, as it radiated across the heavens leading wise men to worship at the manger where the incarnate Word of God lies for all to see.  That same light radiates today as the word of God continues to be understood, revealed and spread throughout the world.

As our Epiphany journey unfolds on Candlemas, we take one last look back to Christmas to rejoice in the revelation of God’s light, and at the same time we begin to look forward to the cross and to the coming suffering and death of Jesus.  But the story does not end there – that death becomes a new creation with Jesus’ resurrection.  And it is precisely because of the resurrection that we continue to forgive, to love and to serve.


 

December  2010

Reflections - 130

"CREATOR OF THE STARS OF NIGHT"


For those of us who live and work in New York City it is always a great joy to visit the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.  We enter this marvelous new building, settle back in our upholstered seats, and watch the room become dimmer as the starry galaxies of the heavens are unfolded before our eyes.  We no longer focus upon the smallness of our own selves, but on the greatness of God and the wonderful creation which God has made for us.  As the Advent hymn says: "Creator of the stars of night, your people's everlasting light, O Christ, Redeemer of us all, we pray you hear us when we call" (ELW 245:1).

As Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, has written: . . “the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness.  The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast.  The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair.  But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things or stain the joy of cosmic dance that is always there."

Could Advent, for us, be like the silence of the spheres, and be filled with the cosmic music of preparation for the coming of God's kingdom?  As once again we observe the season of Advent we step back and become introspective, we stop from the rush of Christmas shopping, and from the madness of just getting everything done before the big day.  As we observe Advent we are invited to pause, to wait, to reflect, and to hope.  And in our pausing, waiting, reflecting and hoping we are assured that in the end our human journey is not an empty void, but a great cosmic dance.  As the hymn continues: "Come in your holy night, we pray, redeem us for eternal day. . .  “

In Advent, the first season of the new church year, we are always reminded that God continues to give us opportunities for new beginnings for as a hymn says:  ". . . you come, O Savior, to set free your own in glorious liberty."  In God's eyes it is never too late to know the freedom of life in Christ and to join all creation in that great cosmic dance which was, which is, and which always will be there for us.


 

November 2010

Reflections  -  129

 

SING A SONG OF THE SAINTS OF GOD

 

A story is told of a mother who took her young son to see a particularly beautiful church.  Once inside they soon discovered a long wall of stained glass windows with brilliant sunlight shining through the colored glass.  Pictured on the windows were many great Christians from throughout the centuries – bishops, martyrs, musicians, artists and many more. The mother told her young boy that the people pictured on the windows were saints.  The little boy quickly responded, “Oh, I get it.  Saints are people that the sun shines through.”

The little boy was right, but didn’t understand why.  You see, saints are people who live in the love of God, and who let the light of God’s Son shine through them.  It doesn’t matter if the person is high and mighty, or meek and lowly.  It can be the lady from the church who brings the altar flowers to the hospital, the young man who delivers “meals on wheels” to the shut in who is unable to get out, the teacher who works many extra hours teaching a child to read, or the volunteers who help build low-income housing.

You see, God loves all of them and us, and has a purpose for each and every one of us.  We should never feel discouraged because our part doesn’t seem very big – for it is what God has chosen for us to do.  There is a whole history of saints who work to produce our goods and services, who take the time to mentor a child, who spend time with those who are ill, and who comfort those who mourn.  These saints of God are us.

The great Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote that “the whole harmony of creation depended upon the offering by each humble spirit of its own appropriate note of music which no other can sound without discord.”  We each have our part to sing – and no one can sing it for us.  It doesn’t matter how well we sing, but that we sing, for if we each sing our part we will be singing with and among the saints of God.

Won’t you join us on All Saints’ Sunday as we sing for all the saints, those living here on earth, those dear to us who have departed this earthly life, and those countless numbers who now sing in the arms of the God who loves them so dearly, and who loves you and me too.


October 2010

Reflection  -  128

GUTENBERG AND THE REFORMATION


Surprisingly enough, Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (1398-1468), whom we generally know simply as “Gutenberg,” played a key role in the development of the Protestant Reformation.  And the reason for his key role is his invention of movable-type printing.

When Martin Luther (1483-1546) was still young, some clerics were beginning to have doubts about the practices of the church, especially regarding the sale of indulgences.  You see, before the invention of movable type, Gutenberg was carving the plates and printing the indulgences which the church was selling.

Before Gutenberg, however, the ability to read was known only to the upper classes of society, nobility, aristocracy and clergy.  Average folks didn’t need to be able to read because there was nothing for them to read.  Hand written manuscripts and the Bible were only owned by the church and the wealthy.  Whether it was a king or the clergy, all they had to tell the peasants was “It is written” and no one could question their authority.

Slowly however, peasants began to learn to read and were beginning to question authority, thus early seeds of disagreement within the church began to be planted.  Within a few decades, Luther appeared on the scene and in 1517 he posted 95 areas of disagreement with the church on the castle chapel door in Wittenberg.  These 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, French, Dutch and English and thanks to movable type they were quickly printed and spread throughout much of Europe igniting a major controversy, fanning the flames of the Reformation.

Gutenberg’s Bible was printed in Latin, but by 1522 Luther had translated the Bible from Latin  into German and once that was printed, ordinary folks could read the Bible in their native language and the Reformation was on in full-force, spreading from Germany into Switzerland, Holland, England and much of Europe.

So it seems as though the Reformation was bound to happen, but it was hastened when movable type was invented and when Luther and the other reformers appeared on the scene.  We can’t credit Gutenberg alone for the Reformation just because he was printing indulgences, but the work of Gutenberg seems to have hastened the beginning of the Reformation when printing became a mass medium.

While the condemnations of the reformers and between churches of the time have largely been forgiven, the impact of the Reformation has been greatly diminished.  And with the ecumenical movements of the past 50 years, those disagreements have been abolished.  But, history is history, and the Reformation did happen - but thanks be to God, those disagreements are no longer meaningful - and together we now pray with Jesus that the church might become one.


 

September 2010

Reflection -  127


BE


Be Still, And Know That I Am God!

In Psalm 46:10, Yahweh, the God whose name is too holy to be spoken, seems to be telling us to shut up and listen.  In actuality though the Hebrew word for be “be still” is probably better translated as “let go,” or to relax ones grip on something.  It might have been God telling God’s people to cease and desist from armed struggle, for God is telling of his supremacy over all the world.  Could it be that there was a major war going on at the time for the last verse of the psalm “The Lord of Hosts is with us” is said to be better translated as “The Lord of armies is with us”?  How appropriate for today’s people of the world to back off from warfare for the Lord of armies is with us and the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Now sit back and be still for a while.

Be Still And Know

Yahweh is not only telling us to back off or let go, but to know that God is God and to simply let God be God.  Secure in the knowledge that God is God we can go about our daily business in confidence and trust, always knowing that we are the Lord’s and that God is watching over us.  We need to know not only who we are, but whose we are.  Think about that in stillness for a time.

Be Still

Maybe we are being told to shut up as well as to back off.  Our lives these days are so incredibly busy and filled with the noises of our city that perhaps it’s good to simply be quiet for a while and contemplate – contemplate ourselves, our joys and sorrows, our neighbors and friends and all that is.  It could be a time to contemplate God’s creation and all the good that is around us but which we never notice or give thanks for.  Have we ever stopped to give thanks for a blade of grass, or a blossom, or for the air we breathe or the water we drink?  Sit back, be still.

Be

Some time ago we heard Arno Part’s “The Beatitudes”  with music for each word separated by a time of silence.  Between periods of “minimalistic music”  there were spaces of silence.  “Holy Minimalism” is to music what contemplative spirituality is to prayer.

During a rehearsal the composer protested: “The silence must be long. This music is about the silence.  The sounds are there to surround the silence.”

The conductor rehearsing “The Beatitudes” looked skeptical.  He sought a rational analysis. “Exactly how many beats of silence?” he demanded.  “What do you do during the silence?”

“You don’t do anything,” replied the composer, explaining,  “You wait,  God does it.”

Perhaps our lives should be more like that.  Perhaps we should just “Be” and let God “Be.”


 

 

August 2010

 

Reflection 126

BONES OF THE MAGI

 

This month Doris Lange, Richard Dematteis and I (along with a couple of friends) are in Germany where we have the opportunity to worship with our Roman Catholic friends in the great Cathedral of Cologne.  The Cologne cathedral, which can hold 4,000 people, is an amazing place.  Not only is it the largest cathedral north of the Alps, but here are a few details.  The total length of the cathedral is 471 feet (about the length of 1 1/2 football fields) and the twin towers reach 510 feet toward the sky (about the same as a 50 story building).  And the altar (are you ready for this?) is a single slab of black marble 15 feet long.

The cathedral was built to house the shrine of the three kings who brought gifts to the Christ child at Bethlehem.  These relics were originally kept in Constantinople but were brought to Milan in 344.  In 1164, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa brought them to Cologne.  To house these relics, a new cathedral was needed, so construction began in 1248 and the cathedral took 632 years to complete.

Behind, and above the enormous marble altar is the shrine and remains of the three kings. It was designed and made by the famous medieval goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun.  It was begun in 1180 and completed in 1225.  It’s a huge monument, more than 7 feet in length and is made of gold.  It’s in a beautifully lighted, bullet-proof glass case.

But so what?  Why were we there?  To see the magnificent cathedral?  Perhaps.  To see the shrine of the three wise men?  Perhaps?

But, I’d suggest that we were there, just like the three kings came to Bethlehem - mysterious, seemingly appearing out of nowhere - to follow a star, for as Felix Mendelssohn who brilliantly wrote in his oratorio “Christus” we

    Behold a star from Jacob shining
    and a scepter from Israel rising
    to reign in glory over the nations.

    Like some bright morning star is he,
    the promise of the coming day,
    beyond the night of sorrow.
    Break forth, O Light!
    We, our joyful hearts uplifting with thanksgiving,
    hail the brightness of thy rising.

So there we were, travelers from the west, gathered near the shrine of the Magi, and gathered together at the table, where east and west, north and south, heaven and earth meet  ---  meet with the One in whom we put our trust, and in whom we gather to love, to forgive, to bless and to serve.


 

July 2010

 

Reflection 125


TEN YEARS LATER


Background:  Before proceeding with what I as a Lutheran lay person might write in a “Reflection” on Ten Years of Full Communion with the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it might be a good idea to consider my earlier thoughts on Full-Communion written when full-communion went into effect between our two churches.  The dreams I had in 2000 have really not materialized as I had hoped, at least not to any great extent – and especially not at the congregational level.  It seems to me that for Full-Communion to be an effective relationship, our congregations and the people who fill the pews need to get more involved with each other in both worship and community service.  For the sake of the one holy catholic and apostolic church we must make it happen – and soon.

July 2000   -   SO WE'RE IN FULL-COMMUNION.  NOW WHAT?

In July the Episcopal Church voted to join in a Full-Communion partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The people of Saint Peter's rejoice that we will be sharing our lives in Christ together.  Lutherans are also in full-communion with the Presbyterian, Reformed, United Church of Christ and Moravian churches.  But what does this mean?  And where will it lead?

For Lutherans who subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, article 7 simply states: "For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments."

But full-communion means many other things as well, including: (a) a common confessing of our Christian faith, (b) a sharing of both Baptism and the Lord's Supper in which we are invited to partake of the sacraments in each others churches, (c) allowing pastors to serve in each others churches, (d) a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service, (e) a means of common decision making on issues of faith and life, and (f) a mutual lifting of any condemnations which might exist between the churches.

In worship, full-communion means that, while we are still separate denominations and have different forms of worship, we are always welcome to worship and receive the sacraments in each others' churches.  Our forms of worship may vary, but our interpretation and teaching of the Gospel and the sacraments is consistent.

And where will full-communion lead us?  We don't know except that we are committed to working, serving, loving, worshipping, and sharing our Christian lives with one another.  I suspect that in years to come it will be possible to publish common worship and educational materials, cooperate in the operation of hospitals, medical centers and homes for the aged, jointly operate colleges and seminaries, work together in social services for the homeless and needy, and many other collaborative efforts.

Forming an effective partnership often requires tough decision making and overcoming many obstacles, but I'm reminded of a hymn we sang on Holy Thursday (LBW 126:1, 3, 4).  Here are a couple of verses.

Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ's love, by love we are thus bound.

Let us recall that in our midst dwells Christ, God's holy Son;
As members of each body joined, in him we are made one.

Let strife among us be unknown; let all contentions cease.
Be God's the glory that we seek; be his our only peace.


July 2010   -   TEN YEARS LATER.   WHAT HAVE WE ACCOMPLISHED?

It’s been 10 years since our two churches joined in full-communion.  Ten years is more than 500 Sundays, and 500 opportunities to worship together. I cannot speak for all Lutherans, nor for Episcopalians, but at Saint Peter’s we worship together about twice a year.  Most notably, we at Saint Peter’s were pleased to host an annual Eucharist with the William Reed Huntington sermon, and we have been blessed to have the Presiding Bishops of both of our churches preside and preach.  And local synodical and diocesan bishops have presided at our altar.  But what about congregations in the rest of the country?  How many Lutheran pastors have presided at Episcopal altars and how many Episcopal priests have preached at Lutheran liturgies?  I suspect the answer is “Not very many.”

Yes, we Lutherans and Episcopalians have a few professors at each others seminaries.  But beyond that?  And I suppose there are a few areas of cooperation between our churches in operating hospitals and other institutions of mercy.  And I know that there are a few clergy serving each others’ congregations.  But that’s not nearly enough.

For me, full-communion means just that - Full Communion – for there is so much more we can do together than we can do separately.  Doctors and nurses can demonstrate full-communion in hospitals, teachers and administrators can demonstrate it in schools and seminaries, and those who operate our publishing houses can demonstrate it by jointly publishing worship and theological materials.  For example, why can’t there be a jointly published “Book of Life Experiences” to include services for weddings, funerals, healing, prayers for the sick and dying, house blessings, and opening/closing of assemblies, etc?  And have our publishing houses considered joining forces and publishing a joint book of liturgy, prayer and hymn to eventually combine and/or integrate the Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982 and the ELCA’s Evangelical Lutheran Worship?  And why not get our other Ecumenical Partners involved as well.  This would be a major step forward to show the world the unity we share in Jesus Christ.

Its not until the folks in the pew get involved and work together that full-communion will become a true reality.  I propose that Episcopalians and Lutherans from every diocese and every synod establish a joint worship committee to prepare an annual service of Holy Communion to be held in every cathedral and every parish in these United States.  Only in this sharing of the bread and wine of the Eucharist will the people in the pew begin to know each other and begin to pray, serve and work together.

I further boldly propose that the ELCA consider amending its constitution so that “Church-Wide Assemblies” are held every three years – in conjunction with, and at the same place as the Episcopal General Convention.  This would give both churches the opportunity to hold separate meetings – but at the same time worship together.  And the interactions at meals, workshops, social gatherings, etc. could lead to unprecedented opportunities for mission-driven, mission-centered work together.

I would also challenge the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and their seminaries to instill the marvelous tradition of the Mass in our clergy of the future but at the same time make that Mass relevant to 21st century worship.  I place great value on the liturgies, hymns and practices of the 16th century, but 500 years have now passed and both churches need to find a way to move forward together in the full diversity of Christian history and community, all the while preserving that from the past which is so precious to us all.

Ten years ago I quoted the above three verses from a Holy Week hymn.  Perhaps now is the time to look back and reflect on the other two verses (ELW 359:2, 3).

With grateful joy and holy fear, God’s charity we learn;
as members of each body joined, in him we are made one.

Let us forgive each others faults as we our own confess,
that we may love each other well in Christian gentleness.

As members of the one holy catholic and apostolic church we all need to forgive, to love, to bless, to serve and to become the church for which Jesus prayed and which the world so desperately needs.

We all need to seriously and prayerfully fulfill the challenge of ELW 575: 2:

        In Christ called to banquet, one table we share,
        A haven of welcome, a circle of care.
        Although we are many, we share in one bread,
        One cup of Thanksgiving proclaims Christ our head.

That little verse says it all:  we must believe that we share one table at which all are always welcome– that all of our churches must become a haven of welcome for everyone, and a circle of care, not only for ourselves, but for each other, and for all who need our prayers, love and support.  It’s true we come from many diverse backgrounds yet we must always share the one bread and one cup of thanksgiving as we proclaim Jesus, the Christ, as Lord.

Personally, I long for the day when there will no longer be an Anglican Communion, or a Lutheran Communion, or any other world communion, but – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a Communion of Christian Churches.  As the hymn puts it:

        A single great commission compels us from above
        to plan and work together that all may know Christ’s love.

For me, this is the heart of the matter and the crucial and vitally important task at hand.

        So shall the church at last be one;
        so shall God’s will on earth be done,
        New lamps be lit, new tasks begun.  Alleluia!     (ELW 662:5)

For Jesus’ sake, let’s get on with it.


June 2010

Reflections - 124

TRINITY – NOT FOR THEOLOGICAL LIGHTWEIGHTS

 

Some of our brothers and sisters of a church with which we are in Full-Communion attended a lectionary study group.  The subject for the day was preaching on Trinity Sunday.

 

One person said: “Trinity Sunday is my least favorite Sunday in the year.”  Another commented: “My people would just roll their eyes and tune out” so I’ll just ignore Trinity Sunday.  The choice is to plan for celebrating the Christian faith in the Triune God, or to ignore it, or to do some serious soul searching about what it means to be a people who know God whose presence and action is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

It seems that in a desire to keep the Christian faith “accessible to seekers” (and to the faithful as well) has led to an almost wholesale abandonment of liturgical reference to the Triune God and then avoid having to preach on the Trinity.  I know of a pastor who always had his vicar or intern preach on Trinity Sunday, and if there was no vicar he’d invite a guest preacher.  But to me, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.

 

If we are going to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” we had better know what that means.  Discussing the Holy Trinity is not a question that can be dealt with on just one Sunday each year.  It must be a part of our journey with God, and our journey to God – for the Triune God is the basis of all we are and do as Christians.  As baptized people we bear the name of the Triune God in one person.

 

We probably have to admit that we don’t understand all of this, but because we have been baptized we come together at the table.  And it is there that we are shaped, and re-shaped, and transformed by God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

We all know that familiar hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  Consider the last verse:

 

    Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

    All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.

    Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

    God in three persons, blessed Trinity.


Reflection - 123


ON THE DEATH OF A FRIEND


Saint Peter’s and we have lost a dear friend.  Saint Peter’s lost a faithful member, a faithful Christian, and a person who devoted his life to faithful service to the church.  We lost a loyal, loving and compassionate friend.

While we mourn the loss of a friend, we also rejoice that life goes on.  In the midst of sadness as we realize that we will not see our friend again in this world.  Life goes on.  How can life just go on?  But it does.

Like it or not, the sun will continue to rise in the golden eastern sky, and it will continue to set in the red evenings of the western sky.  And yes, people will get out of bed in the morning and go to work.  Parents will cook meals, look after their children and do the laundry.  Students will continue to pass their exams (or fail them).  Young couples will begin new families and move into their first homes, and the aged will move into their last.  Life goes on.

But in the pain of our loss, how can life go on?  How dare life go on when we hurt and ache?

It has been said that “time heals all wounds,” but does it really?  Yes, time will make the wound of losing a friend less painful, but I suggest that even in hurting as pain diminishes there will always be a scar.  The scar may not be visible, but it will be there whether we want it or not.  But life goes on.

The life that goes on is a gift from our creator.  It is precious.  It is amazing, yet it is ever changing.  Life will go on because God wants it to go on - and so, we too, will go on.  Grief soon becomes more tolerable.  We will soon be able to remind ourselves that our friend would have wanted us to go on living fulfilling lives.  It is because life goes on that we can look forward to that life which goes on in eternity.

So, dear friend, we will miss you on this earth, but we will see you again in that “new heaven and new earth” where together we will rejoice in the presence of the holy One who bids us dine with him at the table - the table where together we celebrate the meal which joins heaven and earth and all creation.   Forever.   And as life goes on, forever starts now.

        O blessed saint, now take your rest;
        a thousand times shall you be blest
        for keeping faith firm unto death.
        For now you live at home with God,
        you’ve joined that glorious throng
        where all rejoice and sing
        our great redeemer’s song.


May 2010

Reflection - 122

SEND FORTH YOUR SPIRIT

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

 

Pentecost was originally an Old Testament festival called Shavot (the Feast of Weeks) and always falls on the 50th day of Easter.  It is the seventh Sunday in the season of Easter (7 weeks x 7 days plus Easter = 50 days).  In the Old Testament it was an agricultural festival celebrating the giving thanks for the “first fruits” of the spring harvest (Leviticus 23, Exodus 23, 34).  It was a time when the earth was beginning a renewal of warmth, and a bursting forth of life.

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

 

By the early New Testament era, it gradually lost its association with agriculture and became associated with the celebration of God’s creation of his people and their religious history.  By 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed the festival focused exclusively on God’s gracious gift of Torah (the “Law”) on Mount Sinai.  Modern Judaism still observes this.

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

 

In New Testament times, the most significant reference to Pentecost is in Acts 2 with the familiar scene of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those in the ‘upper room’.  This emphasis becomes an empowerment through the Holy Spirit enabling the people of God to witness to Jesus Christ.

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

 

It seems clear that Pentecost manifests God’s gracious and enabling presence to actively work among God’s people.  This work is like a wind blowing with God’s fullness, imagination and love to renew the face of the earth and all the people.

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

 

The Spirit of Pentecost celebrates wonderful things that can mean so much to each of us.  The Spirit shows us a deeper awareness of diversity and difference and a revelation of the ever-expanding divine imagination.  The Spirit leads the celebration of God’s ongoing work in the world.  The Spirit challenges us to be a focus in the church’s mission to the world.  Pentecost calls us to renewal in the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

Send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.


April 2010

Reflections - 121

WHEN IS EASTER?   AND DOES IT MATTER?

 

We are all aware that Easter is a movable festival in the church year, and that the date set for Easter governs the dates of Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Ascension, Pentecost and the Holy Trinity.  Easter is not only a movable festival, but a multiple one in that in most years Western churches and Eastern churches celebrate Easter on different dates.  For the next few years, the dates of Passover, Easter (Western church), and Pasha (Eastern Orthodox church) fall as shown below.

 

Year       Passover      Easter (Western Church)      Pasha (Eastern Church)

2010      March 29    April 4                                  April 4

2011      April 18      April 24                                April 24

2012      April 6        April 8                                  April 15

2013      March 25    March 31                              May 5

 

So what is the secret to setting the date for Easter?  The date for Easter is normally explained as “the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox” - is identical for both Western and Orthodox Easters, but the churches base the date on different calendars:  Western churches use the Gregorian Calendar (the standard for much of the world and how it transacts its business), but the Eastern Orthodox churches use the older Julian calendar for establishing the date of Easter.

 

It’s true that the date is set by the definition of the vernal equinox and the full moon.  The Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon, and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian at Jerusalem, the site of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  In Eastern Churches Easter always falls after Passover, since biblically the Crucifixion and Resurrection took place after Passover.

 

The Western church does not use the actual or astronomically correct date for the vernal equinox but uses a fixed date of March 21.  And the word full moon doesn’t mean the astronomical full moon, but the “ecclesiastical moon” which is based on tables created by the church in centuries past.

 

So what? – we might say ,for it doesn’t really matter that much when Easter is celebrated. The difference in dates has no strong theological basis, but neither is it simply a technical skirmish.  The emphasis, both in the west and in the east, on honoring tradition and maintaining religious identity is therefore essential.  A meeting organized by the World Council of Churches (in Aleppo, Syria in March 1997) proposed a solution thought to be favorable to both East and West:  both methods of calculating the equinox and the paschal full moon would be replaced with the most advanced astronomically accurate calculations available, and using the meridian at Jerusalem as the point of measure.  No progress was made and so the difference remains.  

 

Another proposal was to set a fixed date for Easter as the Sunday following the second Saturday in April  - but while this had some support, it has not been adopted.

 

 

As interesting (or confusing) as all of this might be, the crucial thing to remember is this, the most holy day of the church year is that morning when the Mary’s went to the tomb to try to roll away the heavy stone, only to find that it had already be done.  And when the Mary’s went inside the tomb to look for Jesus an angel said to them: “He is risen!  He is not here.”  And from that moment everything changed, and everything became new.  So, to this day, with great excitement, exhilaration, and exuberance all join in shouting: “Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia!”


March 2010

Reflections - 120

THE GOSPEL OF …………..WHO?

 

I’ve recently been reading a fascinating book about the way Egyptian artifacts (coins, statues, jewelry, manuscripts, etc.) were discovered, traded and sold in rather shady antiques markets in Cairo and Alexandria.  Generally the dealers and merchants did not want a paper trail of items bought and sold, and so there was (and is) no provenance which could prove who owned or sold items of great value from times of antiquity.

 

Coptic Christians are believed to be the very earliest of Christian sects, and the people most closely related in their faith and understanding of the scriptures to the Christianity of Jesus’ day.  To this day, one in eight Egyptians is a Coptic Christian.

 

One of the most interesting items was a codex (or collection of pages of papyrus manuscripts) discovered by an Egyptian Coptic Christian farmer in the mid 1970’s in a burial chamber in the hills of Jebel Quara near the banks of the Nile River where it had been for nearly 2 millennia.  This papyrus was found near the Al-Muharraq monastery at Assiut.  This is the place where Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus are thought to have lived while in Egypt and the place from which they are supposed to have left Egypt to return to Israel after the death of King Herod.  This codex, one of the greatest discoveries in Judeo-Christian archaeology, had a bizarre “cloak and dagger” journey and was bought and sold numerous times on three continents until about the year 2001.  By that time it had been badly damaged by moving it from place to place in a great variety of temperatures and humidity, including 16 years in a bank vault in Hicksville, Long Island.

 

The intrigue of the movement and sales of this incredible papyrus from dealer to dealer and from place to place is mind boggling but the codex finally ended up at the Maecenas Foundation in Switzerland where it was painstakingly assembled  and translated by the few scholars who can read and understand the ancient Coptic language.  Especially noteworthy was the work of the Swiss Coptic scholar, Rudolphe Kasser and papyrus restorer Florence Darbre.

 

Before the translation could begin though, scientists performed carbon testing and dating of both the papyrus and the ink on it and found it to be genuine and from the second or perhaps the third century of the Common Era – C.E.

 

By now you must be wondering what this important papyrus is all about.  It appears that this codex is a missing volume from the Nag Hammadi library discovered in Egypt in 1945.  It’s believed to be the lost Gnostic Gospel of Judas Iscariot – the last person a twenty-first century Christian would expect to be the subject of a Gospel, for he is known throughout Christian history as the traitor – the one disciple of Jesus who had turned evil and betrayed his master.

 

The premise of this lost Gospel is that Judas was not the betrayer of Jesus as we believe him to be, but that perhaps he was the closest to Jesus of all the disciples, and that he was the only one that Jesus could trust to bear the pain and misery of betraying his dear friend and master.  Now that takes real courage, love, stamina and faith on the part of Judas.  Only Jesus’ closest confidant could be entrusted with the news that he had to betray his beloved friend and teacher.  And only Jesus’ dearest friend could be asked to bear the shame and misery of his deed.

 

To quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Judas: “Jesus said to Judas, ‘Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom.  It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.”  And also, “Jesus said to the disciples: “(Let) any one of you who is (strong enough) among human beings bring out the perfect human and stand before my face.”  The disciples all said, “We have the strength.”  But their spirits did not dare to stand before (him), except for Judas Iscariot.”

 

But now consider this.  If Judas had not kissed Jesus to identify him to the Roman soldiers, there might not have been an arrest, and without an arrest there would not have been a trial.  If there were no trial there could not have been a crucifixion.  And had there not been a crucifixion and death of Jesus, there could not have been a resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the Father.

 

Most churches have closed the “Canon” of the Bible, so the Gospel of Judas (or any of about 30 others) cannot be put into the scriptures as we know them.  But if it is authentic and could be added, it is possible that we would be celebrating Holy Week in an entirely different way.  In fact, Elaine Pagels suggests that because of these important discoveries, the history of Christianity might have to be re-evaluated and re-written.

 

So where does all this lead?  I don’t know.  Although Irenaeus, a second century church father, deemed the Gospel of Judas to be not accurate, modern archaeology and scholarship certainly gives us an opportunity for reactions, and also a time to remember and to reflect.  The place of Judas in Christian history might be something to think about in this holy season of Lent.

 

Does all of this really matter?  Again, I don’t know.  But the point is still, and always will be, that Jesus died for you and for me, so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life in the holy presence of God.


February 2010

Reflections  -  119

 

TO KYLER, AT HIS BAPTISM

 

Dear Kyler,

 

This is your day, for today your Mother and Dad are bringing you to God’s house to be baptized.  For even though they are bringing you to the church for holy baptism, your baptism is not about them, nor is it about you.  It’s about God – and about what God in infinite wisdom, goodness, love, mercy, and grace does for you today.

 

You see, Kyler, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you have been made one with God.  And in this oneness with God you will abide in that inclusive love which encircles every race, you will be oblivious to gender, to wealth, and to social rank or place.  And God says to you, “ Go my child, with my blessing, you are my own.  Your sins are forgiven, and I give you peace.”

 

Know too, Kyler that you have two wonderful parents who will nurture you and guide you.  Your Mom and Dad will pour out their hearts and souls in prayer for you.  They will give of their earthly possessions to speed you on your way.  And they will spend countless hours teaching you how to be a man – a gentle man, as well as a gentleman.  Honor and love them Kyler, as they love you.

 

But when everything is said and done – and no matter how your life unfolds, you will always belong to God and God will never abandon you.  For God was there to hear you cry at birth, and God is here on this day of your baptism.  God will be with you as a child and will keep his eye on you as your life unfolds.  And when you find a life partner and join your hearts as one, God will be there to cheer you along the way.  God will be with you in your middle age, and as the evening of your life gently closes in.  And when at last you finally close your eyes, God will still be there – with just one more surprise.

 

So, dear Kyler, remember your baptism daily, and be nourished at God’s table regularly.  For when you do, the heavens will rejoice and all will join in singing “Alleluia, we sing God’s praises.  All our hearts are filled with gladness.”

 

With much love,


January 2010

Reflections   -   118

 

THEIR JOURNEY  -  OUR JOURNEY

 

Epiphany, which takes its name from a Greek word meaning “manifestation, revelation, or disclosure” falls on January 6, twelve days after Christmas.  The first few Sundays after the Epiphany cover the arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi, the departure of the holy family for Egypt, and the Presentation of our Lord in the temple (also known as Candlemas).  Then the readings begin to turn our attention toward Lent.

The Magi (also known as the Wise Men) are an interesting group.  They were probably astrologists, primitive experts on the stars and planets, and perhaps they were also interpreters of dreams.  Interestingly, in order to get to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, they would have had to leave their homes long before Christmas.  What prompted their departure from their own land?  They were probably drawn into something large, more mysterious, and beyond the boundaries of contemporary human understanding.  But they did leave their homes and villages behind and followed a bright star (or as some think today, a confluence of planets) to a location not yet revealed to them.

When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, they inquired of Herod where the child might be found.  Eventually they found the child and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Then they left Bethlehem and returned to their country “by another road” so as not to tell Herod where the child was.

With the Magi, we too are on a journey – a journey leading each of us on different roads, those paths which form us, guide us, and lead us to deeper mysteries: yet we are all on a journey with a bright star and the open arms of a loving, gracious God as our ultimate destination.  If such love could reveal itself to the Magi in the form of a Child, just imagine the gift of the love of God, that has no boundaries but grace, forgiveness and welcome.

Just as the Magi traveled as a group, our journey too, is part of a community.  Their journey was undoubtedly difficult, and in hard times they probably had to encourage each other to be faithful.  Sounds very familiar these days, doesn’t it?

And what about our own journeys?  Our journeys (yours and mine) are seldom undertaken alone, for along the way we stumble and fall, but there is always the One who picks us up, guides us, calls us to bear each others’ burdens, and encourages each of us to be faithful.  Our routes and journeys may differ, but we all travel toward that final destination, the everlasting truth which in our Baptism God has promised and  toward which we are all drawn – and along that journey of life, and in that truth we continue to go forward to forgive, to love, to bless and to serve.


Sharing Our Christmas Liturgy 

 

We are delighted to share the Metro New York Synod Christmas card with you this holy season.  The card, showing Christmas Eve liturgy at Saint Peter’s, was sent to all pastors of the synod and to every bishop and synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

 

Signs and wonders lead the dancing

from the heart God frees from fear:

wings of angels greet the maiden,

and God finds a dwelling here;

boldly may we lift our hands,

bow the head, and voice Amen;

thus does Glory shine at midnight:

open hearts invite the starlight.

  --Evangelical Lutheran Worship - 672


 

 

 

Comments (4)

Sam Hutcheson said

at 4:32 pm on Jan 6, 2009

Bob,
Thanks for doing this!

Terry Rochford said

at 8:16 pm on Aug 15, 2009

Bob,
Re September "Reflections" :
As far as making the Bible come alive, I think Saint Peter's has been "in tune" for quite a while now. You are invited to our Wednesday night classes and the Forums that deal with the Bible i.e. Robert Owens has led Forums on the Hebrew Scriptures, Pr. Derr has led many Wednesday night classes on the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. We've studied Paul, the Prophets and Parables among other aspects of the Bible. Thanks for your comments.

Dorothy Goldman said

at 11:26 am on Aug 19, 2009

Re: Reflections on Book of Faith. I've seen this subject reported on in at least one Lutheran Publication and thought, "hey, we do that!" So, I am glad to see the comments on our Reflections Page. I have appreciated all of our study groups and forums at Saint Peter's that have dealt with Scripture, and books concerned with various parts/aspects of the Bible, and am looking forward to more starting early in our new program year. Also, I look forward to being joined by friends from other denominations and churches who join us in these studies/discussions.

Joe Brewer said

at 2:07 pm on Nov 18, 2011

Excellent Advent thoughts, Bob!!

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