The season of Epiphany encompasses the eight weeks between the festivals of the Baptism of Our Lord and the Transfiguration. During the final weeks of Epiphany we experience some of the most well-known texts in the Bible, from John the Baptists Here is the Lamb of God to Micah’s What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God to Jesus’ powerful Sermon of the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes.
People often consider this time after Christmas as a long hiatus before the season of Lent begins; but, if they do, they are missing some very important messages focusing on how Christ transforms our lives by calling us to experience the joy, the struggle, and complexities of the Christian life. The Gospel messages throughout this season finds Jesus hard at work teaching, healing, calling disciples, and preaching on the mountain. Again and again we hear the themes of light, baptism, cross, and discipleship.
We are also reminded during the season of Epiphany that the goodness and justice of God extend far beyond our community of faith into all parts of the world and among all people. We are not meant to just hear the words of these scripture passages; we are also meant to be advocates for applying them in everyday life.
Epiphany could well be called a growing season for the church and for its mission. How can each of us cultivate new and exciting ways of serving God and one another? What can we do for the sake of the gospel that we may never have done before. Can we leave our comfort zones in order to minister to the poor, the afflicted, the grieving, the dying, and the persecuted? I should hope so, and I encourage you to give this some serious and prayerful thought.
As the hymn says:
“Listen, God is calling, through the word inviting,
offering forgiveness, comfort and joy.
Jesus gave his mandate: share the good news
that he came to save us and set us free.”
On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther very innocently posted 95 reasons for there to be debate concerning Roman Catholic doctrine and theology. The doors of the Wittenberg Church were pretty much the bulletin board of the university. Luther was calling for faculty and students to come together to discuss the direction in which the church was heading; a direction that he felt was contrary to scripture and the fundamental principles upon which the Christian Church was founded.
These Ninety-Five Theses were translated from Latin (which was intended for the university’s population) into the German language and widely distributed. Thus, an attempt at scholarly debate became an irritant among clergy, theologians, and heads of state, especially where the sale of indulgences was concerned. In his explanation to this document, Luther wrote that “the law is fulfilled not by our works but through faith, not by anything we offer God but by all we receive from Christ.”
In other words, God’s grace is a gift that cannot be earned by any human endeavor.
Although the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation will not officially be observed until October 31st of 2017, the ELCA is encouraging Lutherans and others within both Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church to utilize this intervening year as an opportunity for study and discussion. Long before he posted the Ninety Five Theses on the doors of Wittenberg Church, Luther had carefully studied the scriptures and written countless papers and letters in an effort to express his concerns.
I will be making recommendations to the Equip team in the near future for our providing opportunities within the congregation for study regarding Martin Luther and the impact of the Reformation upon the church and the world over these last five centuries. It is also important for us to view how Reformation history will continue to impact us far into the future. I encourage each of you take note of opportunities that will be provided in coming months within our own congregation, our synod, and among Lutherans and people of other denominations within our own community. It is also important for Lutherans to know, not just the history of where our legacy originated, but also how our understanding of justification by grace through faith impacts our mission, and our service as Christ’s disciples both now and into the future.
In the nineteenth century, Nicolai Grundtvig set these words to Martin Luther’s tune, A Mighty Fortress: “God’s word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever; to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor. Through life it guides our way; in death it is our stay. Lord, grant while time shall last your church may hold it fast through-out all generations.”
Passing the faith from generation to generation is, indeed, an endeavor worth pursuing.
While having lunch in a nearby restaurant last week, I was aware that the two people at the table next to me were engrossed deeply in conversation. I wasn’t really aware of the topic of their conversation until one person asked with a raised voice: “Well, what are the marks of a true Christian?” At that point I was completing my transaction with the server and on my way out of the restaurant. But, that question lingered in my mind.
How would you answer that question, “What are the marks of a true Christian?” Saint Paul certainly had no problem giving his opinion in his letter to the Christians in Rome:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13).
Paul’s answer certainly leaves the impression that one’s Christian identity is lived out, not off to oneself, but in relationship with fellow Christians and with others in this world. That is one reason Christians seek out communities of faith in which we can worship and be fully engaged. Our vision for Grace Lutheran Church is that we are fully committed to proclaiming Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing the very things that Paul was describing in those few sentences.
Christian discipleship involves growth – spiritually, faithfully, prayerfully, and in our generosity of our time, our personal gifts and talents, and in our financial support of our ministries in the congregation and in our community. You will be hearing shortly from the Stewardship Team about “Celebrate Generosity,” our fall commitment program. There are many innovative and exciting components to this program, and the team is looking forward to sharing through video, temple talks, and printed information the story of Grace congregation’s discipleship and outreach. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the far-reaching impact our congregation has beyond 5010 Six Forks Road, as what we are capable of accomplishing through faithful witness and generosity.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8).
Yours in Christ,
Whenever the month of July comes around, our thoughts certainly go to the Fourth of July and our appreciation to our ancestors for bravely establishing the foundation upon which our nation has been built for these 240 years. We also remember the countless number of brave individuals over the decades who have placed their lives on the line, as well as those who have given their lives, to preserve the freedoms and rights for their generation and the generations to come. We owe them our gratitude, our respect, and our commitment to continue living by the principles of justice and freedom established so long ago.
As Christians we are also aware of God’s call to be faithful to the Gospel and to our call as Christ’s disciples, both in our communities and in our world. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, proclaimed
For freedom Christ has set us free
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
As a dual citizen, both a Jew and a Roman, Paul lived within the laws of both nations. As a follower of Christ, Paul also knew that he must never relinquish the law of love to which Christ had called him. Following Christ allowed him to make some tough decisions in his life and in his ministry, even though doing so brought him into conflict with powerful forces that took issue with where he stood. Martin Luther later took similar stands, based upon his knowledge of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both placed the will of God above all else.
Whenever we are faced with making decisions in matters of conscience, let us also remember that we, too, are citizens of two kingdoms while we live on this earth. Therefore, as ones whose lives are guided by God’s Holy Spirit, let us also remember these words of Paul: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another….let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Yours in Christ,
The ELCA congregations of the North Carolina Synod will be meeting in assembly June 3-4 in Charlotte, NC.
The theme of the assembly is We Are Church.
Pastors and lay voting members from each congregation will worship together, hear reports from boards and institutions of the Synod and a representative from the ELCA Churchwide offices in Chicago. There will also be Bible studies and seminars, election of officers and representatives to the Synod Council and agencies and boards of the Synod. The assembled group will take action on resolutions and proposals that impact the ministries of the synod.
Grace will be well represented by four voting members elected at a recent Congregation Council meeting: Tommy Oates, President of the congregation; Barbara Rodberg, Elliott Smith, and Caity Stratemeyer. Judy and I will also be in attendance. I will be overseeing election procedures again this year, and Barbara Rodberg will serve on the elections committee.
Our voting members will report back to the congregation once they have returned. The assembly can be followed via live-stream on the synod website: www.nclutheran.org.
Yours in Christ,
On Sunday, June 5, we will go to one summer worship service at 10:00 AM. We do realize that some may feel that attending at either a later or earlier time is inconvenient, but we do encourage everyone to bear with us for these summer months in order for all of our church family to reconnect with one another.
One feature of our summer worship schedule will be the addition of an hour of fellowship beginning at 9:00 AM. We have given this hour of fellowship the name, Grace Fest.
There will be food and beverages, special gathering tables in the narthex and on the front patio (with tents for inclement weather), special music by some of our talented members and guests, and a coloring and activity table for the children. The Celebrate and Connect Mission Teams are working together on this project. We hope that you will take advantage of this time of fellowship to get to know one another better.
Summer is normally a time when people will be away on vacation and attendance at worship is sometimes not possible. We hope that when you do travel that you travel well and come back to us safely. We are also mindful of the need to continue supporting the mission plan through the summer with our contributions, and we thank you for either mailing in your offerings or using the on-line contribution button on the Grace website when you are unable to be in worship.
My prayers are with those of you who will be traveling this summer. God’s peace be with you.
Yours in Christ,
May 1st falls on Sunday this year. By coincidence, it was on May 1st fifteen years ago that I began my ministry at Grace Lutheran Church as the Senior Pastor. I shared this story before, but I think it bears repeating. As I walked through the office door that morning, I was greeted cheerfully by our Administrative Assistant Jan Decker: Good morning. Mrs Russell just had her baby at Rex Hospital. So, I got quick directions to Rex Hospital and was on my way within minutes to greet our newest church member and his family. What a wonderful way to begin a new ministry!
Now, as I write this, I am confronted with recent news from Jan that she will be retiring at the end of June. Has it really been that long, Jan? And, you were here at Grace three and a half years prior to my arrival! I know that I speak for the entire congregation when I say Thank you, Jan, for your many years of faithful service at Grace. You have often gone above and beyond the call of duty, and we appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that you have put into each of the tasks that you have performed on our behalf. We are pleased to know that Jan will continue her membership here and Grace, so we will continue to see her in worship and at congregational functions.
We will have a time to celebrate and express our appreciation to Jan during the month of June. There will be more information about that celebration in the weeks to come. In the meantime, take advantage of the opportunities you have to express your personal appreciation to Jan for her years of service.
Have you ever noticed that the Sundays following Easter Day are called the Sundays of Easter, and not The Sundays after Easter?
The Resurrection of our Lord is so significant that we continue to celebrate it for the fifty days leading up to the Day of Pentecost (ten days after Christ’s Ascension). While the Season of Lent was a time for fasting and contemplation as we remembered Christ’s suffering and death, the Season of Easter focuses on our seeing Jesus as our triumphant Lord and Savior. It is a time of praise and thanksgiving in our worship and in our living out our daily lives in gratitude and service.
Richard Avery and Donald Marsh wrote a wonderful song which reminds us that the Easter experience should continue to be a part of our daily lives. I am especially fond of the refrain and one particular verse:
Ev’ry morning is Easter morning from now on!
Ev’ry day is resurrection day, the past is over and gone!
Daily news is so bad it seems the Good News seldom gets heard.
Get it straight from the Easter People! God’s in charge spread the word!
(Words and Music © 1972 Hope Publishing Co.)
This wonderful song reminds us that our Risen Lord is always with us. Christ walks alongside us and sees us through both the good and the bad that come our way. With every approaching day we can either expect the worst, or we can look upon it as an exciting opportunity to share the Good News of Christ’s presence both in our lives and in the world. If enough “Easter People” live our lives with attitudes of gratitude to our Risen Lord, we can effect positive change in others and even bring about positive results in the midst of adversity.
There are still a lot of days of Easter in front of us, so let us approach each new day with the attitude that God’s in charge and that we have an opportunity and an obligation, as Christ’s disciples to share that news in the way in which we live our own lives. The past is over and gone. The future is yet to be written, both for us and for those with whom our lives intersect. What an exciting thought!
Yours in Christ,
In a day and time in the world when many heads of state, religious leaders, and politicians are finding fault with one another and espousing theirs as the only way to save the world, we are observing the Season of Lent in which God reminds us of his love and concern for us in spite of all our faults.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him my not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17.
Christians fully understand that Christ has called us to love God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But, we might ask, like the young man who wanted to follow Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Put quite simply, our neighbor is every child, woman, and man on this earth. And, there are a lot of those neighbors who make it very, very hard to love them. We certainly do not appreciate or condone any actions by others which endanger, belittle, or harm another human being. But, being both flawed human beings and disciples of Christ, we must strive to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved.
That means that we have to know what is right and what is wrong and to be willing to take a stand against un-Christian-like conduct, and stand with those who seek truth, justice, and peace for all human beings. We may not be able to take all of the evil out of the world until the second coming of Christ, but we can certainly represent God’s goodness, grace, and mercy in our own lives.
As we continue on our Lenten journey, following in the footsteps of Christ to the cross, let us remember and live by the words of the song we learned as children in Sunday School: “Red and yellow, black and white, (we) are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Thank God, Jesus was willing to go the distance all the way to the cross for our sake and our salvation. How far are we willing to go to thank and praise, serve and obey him?
Yours in Christ,
Ash Wednesday is on February 10th this year. Many people observe the season of Lent by making a personal sacrifice such as giving up a favorite food or habit. Others may refrain from an activity they enjoy, etc. Much of the time they give up something that probably isn’t that good for their health anyway.
Your Lenten Sacrifice
I should hope that during this Lenten Season we might consider ways of observing a fast or giving our time and energy sacrificially that will be of service or bring comfort to others. And, I should also hope that we will make time for mid-week and Sunday worship, and family devotions> We can take time out of our busy schedules to reflect upon our relationship with God. Remember that God speaks to us in quiet moments, as well as through the relationships that we cultivate with friends, family, and even those accidental meetings with strangers.
What would Jesus Do?
As we take this Lenten Walk with Jesus in the forty days before Easter, let us remember that Jesus grew up in the same way, endured many of the same hardships we face, and overcame the same temptations that confront us so that he could take them upon himself for our sake on the cross. He did this for us, so that we might understand the importance of our being available for others who need to experience the Savior’s love, forgiveness, and salvation.
Throughout these forty days of Lent, Let us open our eyes, and ears, and hearts to those around us so that the love and presence of Jesus will shine through.
Yours in Christ,