“Hair-on-Fire Christian Witness”
As the third of the great Church Festivals – Pentecost – approaches on June 9, our hearts turn in the direction of Christian witnessing as prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. On that first Pentecost, the disciples/apostles were topped with “flames” and enabled to speak the “wonders of God” in the various languages of the Jewish pilgrims. Prior to that day, the Lord instructed them to go to Jerusalem and wait “for power from on high,” (Acts 2 and Luke 24).
So, God calls us to first “wait on the Lord,” Psalm 27, for the opportunity and the power to witness.
I was asked to share a personal story of witnessing. Bear with me, for it goes way back as Jo Ann and I waited on the Lord:
College days. I was working 3-11 at Christ Hospital. Sister Ruth just finished pre-med. The call for VBS volunteers at Hope Lutheran was heard by her. “Ray, let’s do it together.” Ruth is persistent, so sleepily at first I answered the call. The young ones opened my eyes with their prayerful faith.
- New ministry and home (technically “used” home) on Sherwood Road in Williamston, Michigan. Great neighbors with two kids. Dad worked nights at GM, so the neighbor boys would come over and play with our kids and us. We helped out our neighbors like we try to. Sometimes the boys ate with us, so they prayed with us. VBS came around. We invited them. They came, and were baptized and, later, confirmed in the Christian faith. They are dear friends today.
My point is that God provided the connect as I/we waited on the Lord. Power came from on high in prayer and devotion and helping our neighbors day by day. Sounds kind of boring, but as I recall this, my hair may not be on fire, but my heart truly feels kind of warm – in God’s grace and presence and power and love.
Not long ago in worship we sang a “Gradual Hymn.” During Lent the Alleluias are omitted, so an added Lenten hymn is sometimes inserted. At our worship planning meeting it was noted that a little triangle (Stand) needed to precede the Gradual Hymn. Why? It is the song that precedes the “high” Scripture reading of the Gospel for which we always stand. Gradual means “to step up.”
Maybe this year you are joining our family in celebrating a graduation. For us, Maria will step up on the dais and receive her college diploma. Yeah! Then she will join your graduate in stepping forth into the next chapter of education, work, or service life.
On May 19, our confirmands will step up and kneel to confirm their faith and receive Holy Communion. We don’t like to use the word graduation for confirmation because that can mean a leaving, and far too many confirmands are tempted to go away from worship life for a time. Google “bats in belfry joke.” But understood correctly this is a “Gradual” moment, a standing up in confession and a stepping up in Sacramental and ministry life.
This May let us say a prayer for our graduates and our confirmands. Moments of “Gradual” are both a joy and a leap of faith for God’s own. The risen Savior promises to “be with us always,” Matthew 28: 20, so that we might go forth in the words of Colossians 3: 17, “… and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Praying and stepping forth with you,
“Lent to Easter Lillies”
As I write this April article the days are getting longer. Last week marked the Vernal Equinox and signaled, by both the increasing light and the warming temperatures, the creation is awakening from its winter slumber. Among the signs of spring are the shoots emerging from flowering bulbs.
The lily, the traditional flower for Easter, is captured in the stained glass art of Christ Lutheran. That last window on the Baptismal Font side of the church is powerful in its proclamation. Its white recalls the angelic brilliance of the resurrection, shining with the wonder of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave. The trumpeting flower symbolizes the message of the Gospel of Christ crucified and Christ risen. In our Easter worship tradition at Christ Lutheran, the Gospel for the Sunrise Service is the account of our Lord’s personal appearance to Mary Magdalene and His sending of her with the news of His resurrection to the disciples. Mary bore the first personal word of the resurrection from our Lord to the world. At Easter, the news of life restored through Jesus is trumpeted to us and through us. For me, our Easter Lily window is a reminder of that joyful and hopeful proclamation.
In these days of Lent to Easter, we have a special opportunity to share the message and hope of the risen Savior with our community. On April 13 we will again host our Easter Eggstravaganza here at Christ Lutheran at 10: 30 a.m. What is the Easter Eggstravaganza? In short, it is the Easter Story, creatively told and sung, and 8,000 eggs! It is a time to trumpet the joy of life in the risen Savior to community and church. I hope that you will join us this year. Contact the church office to help, or come and bring a neighboring young family with you.
Yes, sign up now to donate a lily or other spring flower for the chancel on Easter, but most of all let’s join together as Easter Lilies: washed white in grace through the crucified and risen Lord and proclaiming the new life Jesus seeks to give to us and to all people.
“Shrove Sunday… Ash Wednesday… Easter!”
So we are at the entrance to Lent with Ash Wednesday on March 6 this year. For Lent we line up with the lunar calendar following our ancient faith-lead of Passover and marking time with the risen Savior in the celebration of Easter. So usually Easter is the Sunday after the Saturday of Passover and takes place on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. Excluding the Sundays, Ash Wednesday falls 40 days before Easter. There will NOT be a test on this! As a result, Ash Wednesday is therefore a little late this year. But here it comes. And this year our Youth will help us start off on the right foot with a Shrove Sunday breakfast on March 3. Usually held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, a shrove meal is to be an introduction to the days of “shriving” ahead. Old words often connect us with good old ways. Shriving is the old word for confession and absolution, for repentance that turns away from sins and to God’s mercy. In Lent it is connected with turning from fleshly indulgence and toward the things of God. The idea is to enjoy a little but to put your rich food away after you receive the Ashes on Ash Wednesday. This kind of fasting is not a Christian requirement but can be in the words of Luther “fine outward training.” I find that withholding something in Lent reminds me of repentance.
But there is a second part to this Lenten practice: turning to God in faith and in the good work of giving to others in need. Because God gives us grace and mercy as we turn to him, we also give to others. Whatever we have saved by withholding in our lives, we give. On March 3 we will give graciously in advance to the need of the 19, yes 19!, youth who are in need of support for their National Gathering trip. Or maybe you will recall the sermon from February 24 and leave 20% for those good restaurant servers during Lent-including Sundays! And Holy Week, a special offering to the Treasure Chest Oncology kids (talk to Todd and Cindy Miller) would be good and pleasing to the Lord. Not just giving up, but giving is the way of the people of God. We follow in Lent the living God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
Shriving with you,
“Going Forward with God”
Year of Our Lord 2019. Or is it just 2019?
As we enter the New Year, we are encouraged in faith to go with the hope and strength that comes with God’s presence.
One of my favorite devotional writers over these now many years has been Rev. Herman Gockel. In a devotion entitled “Our God Is at Both Ends,” he tells the following story:
“The story is told of a farmer boy who was hauling his first load of hay to town. Perched high on the mound of hay above the wagon, the hay bulging on both sides, he guided the horses along a country road until he came to a covered bridge. The bridge was long and, as he looked, it appeared funnel-like with a small patch of light at the end.”
You guessed it. He turned around, assuming he would never make it through.
That boy was a victim of an optical illusion. Life is full of illusions. It may be that as you consider the challenges of the year ahead, that health condition, work issue, or family struggle seems to close in on you. We all have something this side of heaven, don’t we?
How often in the middle of the night when our weak faith is faltering have we lost sleep to worry only to find the truth of the Psalmist’s words: “When I awake, I am still with Thee,” Psalm 139:18.
Our God is Emmanuel through Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior. Jesus promises, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” Matthew 28: 20. This promise is sure through the redemptive love revealed in Christ crucified and Christ risen!
Gockel concludes the devotion: “No matter which end of the bridge we are standing on, we can be sure: our God is at both ends! On whatever end of the bridge we may be standing at this moment, let us put our hand in His-and go courageously forward.”
The Year of Our Lord 2019!