God Wants Us to Enjoy Our “Vacay” Together
Vacay. A new word. Kind of fun-sounding. We all need time away from daily work. Amen to that. As Lutheran Christians we need to reflect upon that truth, because Martin Luther does not emphasize the importance of rest in his explanation to the Third Commandment:
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
What does this mean?– We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.
Rightly, Luther centers our hearts on the need for and the gift of worship. The Sabbath is to be a day of “sacred assembly” according to Leviticus 23. Yes, weekly worship is the commandment. Amen to that. Check LCMS.org for a local church where you are vacationing. One more suggestion: be sure to phone in advance to check on the accuracy of summer worship times. Worship, preaching and God’s Word!
But rest is also an essential part of the original commandment as given in Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In confirmation class I reference studies that have shown that Lutherans are by higher rates business owners and upper-level employees. It is part of our ethic to value education and to work hard. Of course this becomes a missional challenge for our church body as young Lutheran families often relocate to newer communities. But it creates another spiritual challenge: to rest… to pause with hands folded and still in worship and in moments of restful renewal. This is, after all, a matter of faithful coming to Jesus who invites: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11. When we pause and rest, we trust God to work for our good. Appropriate rest becomes a witness to the God of grace and mercy.
So Vacay is time away from work, but it is also time with family and friends. It is time to be present with those whom we love most and who love us most and to be renewed in our relationships. I like that reference in Leviticus 23: “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a holy day, a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly,” a time to be still and congregate in worship. But let me push that a bit: a time to rest and listen and be attentive and prayerful with our beloved. One of the more unusual references to this is in Deuteronomy 14. Evidently, the Old Testament tithe included a worship vacation feast. Check it out in verses 22- 28. I’m not sure how to interpret that, but I think God is saying that restful, worshipful and even fun Vacays are part of His will for us as faithful people.
Pastor Ray +
The Call to Faith in Transitions
A time of good transition. That is how one person describes the month of May. And we get the modifier.
It seems like too often in life transitions come upon us and we have to deal with the reality of this broken world. Our recent Lenten worship focus “At the Crossroads” caused us to reflect upon the negative side of transitions brought about by sin and loss. No question these are real.
In counterpoint are the transitions we celebrate this month: confirmation, promotion to the next grade or new job, graduation and, even, the anticipation of a more relaxed summer schedule. All good. Yes, but these also are transitions that also call us to faith.
On March 12, the 8th Grade confirmands gathered for their annual retreat. Our theme was Growing in Prayer and the last devotion was entitled Praying in God’s Will for You, for the unique, individual confirmand. Two of our high school Voyager youth led the devo (went really well; thanks Diana and Andrea!) and helped the 8th graders to reflect on their personal gifts and God’s potential leading in their eventual calling in life. Exciting? You bet. But also a little daunting. For every young person who said, I want to be a veterinarian, there was another who had no firm idea of calling. One youth aspired to photography and another had narrowed it down to three possibilities. So we talked about bringing God’s calling in life to God in prayer, about taking stock of God’s gifts in our personal lives and the importance of discovering personalities and our abilities and using them to God’s glory and for the good of one another. It was a time of reflection on good transitions that called for a growth in faith and prayer.
And I got thinking that finally all transitions are like that as we live with God. Good or negative transitions are worked or allowed by God to call us closer to Him. And we have the assurance that no matter the transition God is with us. In Jesus, God is there at the crossroad, calling us back in confession and reflection and giving grace to move us forward in a journey of grace and hope and faith. So the Easter season this year overarches the transitional month of May. As Jesus is risen from cross and grave, we are called to His side, transitioning from death to life in a growing life of faith. In our risen Savior the promise of God is a reality in the “whatever and wherever” life of faith:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (from Romans 8:28-30).
Faithfully transitioning with you,
Pastor Ray +
Our Easter tradition at Christ Lutheran includes a Sunrise Communion Service with Procession to the Outside. People keep their coats for the first part of the service so as to be prepared to go out into God’s awakening creation to recall and celebrate the rising of our Lord and Savior on Easter morn. Most years we bask in the bright dawn light as we hear the Sunrise Gospel from John, chapter 20, and sing Easter hymns that resound into Orland Square Mall.
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 became an unlikely herald. She bears the first personal word of the resurrection from our Lord to the world. Jesus just keeps giving his grace and hope to her, as she was delivered from demon possession (Luke 8: 2) and is now especially comforted with the wonder of the resurrection. At Easter Jesus gives his grace and hope to her and through her to others.
Often Jesus creates unlikely bridges for the Gospel. Our WSPG (Women’s Scripture and Prayer Group) is now reviewing Saul’s conversion and call to be the unlikely apostle to the Gentiles. We began this Lent by considering the sinful struggles of David and his preparatory role for Jesus only by God’s mercy.
Unlikely bridges. As I write this article for the April edition of the enewsletter, we are planning for our Easter Eggstravaganza here at Christ Lutheran on Saturday, April 8. My thoughts go back to the establishment of the first Eggstravaganza (Egg Hunt and Real Story of Easter Event) about 30 years ago. (Thank you, Sheryl Barnhart for coming up with the “Eggstravaganza” name! We hope all is well with Joe and you and family.) That first Eggstravaganza was a push in pastoral and church terms. What do you mean, pastor? Are you going to bring the Easter bunny into our sacred celebration? No, but maybe a symbol of new birth and spring like the egg can provide a bridge to the real story of Easter. Getting volunteers was not easy in those early days, but God worked and has worked now for three + decades of real blessing in the Gospel of the crucified and risen Savior.
God yet surprises us. Jesus lives and brings comfort in the surprising forgiveness of sins assured as Christ is risen. Jesus lives and surprises us with His presence in His word and in Baptism and Holy Communion. Jesus lives and surprises us with the message from Mary Magdalene and with Gospel bridges like the Eggstravaganza and the …..
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her (from John, chapter 20:16-18).
A Blessed and, even, Surprising Easter to you,
Pastor Ray Rohlfs+
Does Your Church Have Lent?
I recently talked with a young couple who was looking for a church home. They were worshipping regularly at an active Christian congregation but were looking for more. I listened for the “more” they were seeking as they talked. One of their questions: “Does your church have Lent?” In the broader Christian church there are liturgical and non-liturgical churches. Ours is liturgical, following the tradition of the church calendar, so, yes, our church observes Lent. The seasons of the church calendar add a kind of depth to our faith life in Christ, so it’s not uncommon to meet people who are looking for the “more” of a liturgical congregation.
In the season of Lent, Almighty God directs our steps to follow our Savior to Calvary. We journey together as the people of God to “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We journey together, but we also go as individuals. Lent is a time for personal reflection, repentance and assurance of God’s grace and presence for real life with Him. This Lent we will consider God’s presence in the critical crossroads of life-loss, transitions, choices, uncertainties and disappointments. At these times faith and real life intersect, and we become more aware of our Savior’s presence, strength and guidance. The assurance voiced by St. Paul in Romans 8: 31-39 will be a blessed companion with us: What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Plan on being a congregant with us this Lent as we “rise from the ashes” on Ash Wednesday and meet our Savior At the Crossroads.
On Ash Wednesday, March 1, three Communion Services with Imposition of Ashes will be conducted: 6:20 a.m. (in Duehr Memorial Chapel), 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. During the rest of the Lenten season, Thursday Lenten communion services will meet at 11:00 a.m. (a lunch after) and 7:00 p.m. on March 9, 16, 23, 30, and April 6, under the theme: “At The Crossroads.” The evening Lent services will take place in Duehr Memorial Chapel.
Available in the narthex during Lent is the daily devotional that complements our Lenten Series: “At The Crossroads” from Creative Communications for the Parish.
Pastor Ray Rohlfs+
Words have complex meanings. Maybe no word expresses a more complex reality. Some wonder if it is that: real. What is real love?
St. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe it in I Corinthians 13:1-13
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I have read that passage at countless weddings. Some reflections: Love is essential to faith and life with God. Patience is its first quality: Lord, I pray, give me patience and give it to me right now! Second: Love is kind. Not so complicated; just hard. And, then, the “nots.” A bunch of “nots.” This higher love is expressed in contrast to what comes too naturally. The “nots” make us pause in repentance. And like the Lord’s Prayer petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” next comes an intended redundancy: “always perseveres.” Even to eternity. When faith is fulfilled and hope realized, love abides.
Wow. Tall order. Not so much what love is but WHO love is. His name is Jesus and when he is received in the heart, to quote Noel “Paul” Stookey out of context: “There is Love!”
May Jesus be present in your heart this Valentine’s Day and always,