Monday, July 31, 2017

The (NEW) Mustard Seed Song

(Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

Heaven’s like a little mustard seed
            You planted in the field,
It grows up from a tiny shrub
            To the tree with the greatest yield.
The birds and squirrels
            They make their nest
The boys and girls
            Have a place to rest
A tree to climb where all are blessed
All from a little mustard seed

Heaven’s like a little pinch of yeast
            You add to your recipe
Of all the parts it is the least
            But it makes the rest complete
Your bread will rise
            When you bake your loaf
Before your eyes
            God gives the growth
Taste and see how good it goes
All with a little pinch of yeast

Heaven’s like a little treasure box
            You bury in the dirt
You buy the whole entire lot
            Cause you know what it’s worth.
You dance with glee
            When the treasure’s yours
The box, contents,
            And the whole outdoors,
When heaven reigns it surely pours,
What’s in your little treasure box?

Heaven’s like a little shiny pearl
            That sits in the jewelry store
Of all the things in all the world
            You’ve never seen it’s like before
So you sell your house
            To buy that jewel
The world thinks you’re
            A perfect fool
But none of them owns such a cool
Perfect little shiny pearl.

Heaven’s like a great big net of fish
            You pull up from the sea
They’re caught and cleaned and sorted out
            Like God caught you and me
You may be prone
            To worry, but
You and I
            Will make the cut
Cause we’ve been washed in Jesus’ blood
Caught in God’s big net of fish.

Heaven’s like a bunch of wondrous things
            We see from day to day
And yet we wonder what God means,
            And what He’s trying to say.
The master brings
            The new and old
And gives them to
            The whole household
The love of God is truly told
When we share God’s wondrous things!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Well-watered Life

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
And let the skies rain down righteousness,
Let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
And let it cause righteousness to spring up as well,
I the Lord have created it.”

-- Isaiah 45:8

Dear Friends of Atonement,

          It’s been tough keeping up with the growing grass as the summer rains keep falling.  It seems the day after you mow, it needs it again.  Our grass stays healthy thanks to all that good Florida sunshine and those brisk summer showers.  The skies open like clockwork almost every afternoon, and drench our lawns with life-giving water.  All that is green and growing owes its vitality to that which comes from above.

          Just like the grass, faith grows best when well-watered.  God’s Word, loving Christian friends and teachers, a caring faith family, and a life filled with prayer and worship all play their part in nourishing the spiritual life. 
           This week at Atonement we are hosting children from the community at our yearly “Day Camp” Vacation Bible School.  Once again we have a record number of children signed up, with 34 attending for the week.  Some of these children are not used to being in a church.  Some have never learned how to pray, or sing Bible songs.  Some don’t know that God loves them and that Jesus gave His life for them.  Thanks to you, this is their chance.
          Because of your support for Atonement, we are able to make outstanding Sunday school, confirmation, adult Bible study, youth and outdoor programs available to our congregation and community.  We know each of us needs the daily rain of God’s Word in our lives, and we strive to make it available in many forms to people of all ages.  For those who know our need for God every day and for the little ones just learning, I thank you for all your support and hope you are able to witness firsthand some of what your financial commitment makes possible.  Your regular giving supports all the ministries we do, touching not just the families in our pews, but those in our local neighborhoods and around the world. 

          God’s righteousness comes down to us so that salvation may spring up!  Together we stand under the rain of God’s grace and imagine a world well-watered with love.  Imagine the skies opening, pouring out hope and healing everywhere.  Imagine us all together becoming the kind of faith-filled people Isaiah described…

“The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your needs in parched places,
And make your bones strong;
And you shall be like a watered garden,
Like a bubbling spring,
Whose waters never fail.”

-- Isaiah 58:11-12

Pastor Scott

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking the wings of the morning

“Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me…” – Psalm 139:7-9
            Well it’s back to days in the 90’s and one Sunday service -- must be summer is here.  While Florida summer can feel like down time, maybe we should see it as an opportunity.  As things go by a little slower, there could be more chances to stop and reflect, more opportunity for fellowship – get-togethers, visiting friends, getting to know each other better.  With the hectic pace of getting through each week easing up just a bit, summer gives us a chance to build on what we’re supposed to be about anyway – relationships.
            Events and projects, committees and meetings – sometimes that’s all the church seems to be made of.  But remember the old Sunday school hand trick: “…open the doors and see all the PEOPLE.”  We people of faith are not God’s special project, but God’s holy community.  In fact, church is not some offhand second thought God had while He was busy making stars and planets.  No, this is His divine plan to reveal and distribute His love to all the world.  The church is about worship, but it’s especially about the worship and prayer that happens when we gather as God’s faithful people.  Church is about helping others, but it’s especially about the kind of help we can give when we are working together on Jesus’ team.   That’s our job, and even through summer’s endless parade of 90 degree days, we’re sticking to it.
            Throughout the summer people will continue coming on Wednesdays for food.  Friday lunch times will remain open for drive-through prayer for anyone who needs a listening ear and a blessing from God.  Though Sunday school will be taking a break, there will be Day Camp in July for the children of our congregation and the community.  People who come here should always find that we dispense more than some bags of food or a few kind words.  Here the heart of Jesus still beats, here His hopes are pursued, here the ideas of justice, peace, and grace are lived out.  At Atonement, we are a love pantry.
            God’s love is not just a warm feeling or a polite disposition.  When we love, we help fulfill the mission of Jesus (John 3:16).  When we love we are connected to God, because all love comes from God (1 John 4:6-7).  When we love, we welcome those who are different whether they are neighbors (Mark 12:31), foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19), or even enemies (Luke 6:35).  Lovers are fearless (1 John 4:18-19), loyal (John 15:13), constant (Proverbs 17:17), chivalrous and respectful (Ephesians 5:25, 33).  When we love, the best of us rises to the top (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:14), and the worst of us sinks away (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8).  When we love, we are connected to the ones we love through our concern and commitment to their well-being (1 John 3:16-18). 
            We’ve said quite a few good-byes in the last couple months.  Among the usual snowbirds heading back up north, a few have sold their Florida homes and are done with the back-and-forth.  We don’t know when we will see them again, but we know when they look up at night, they will see the light of the same stars we see.  We know they’ll feel the warmth of the same sun that we stand under, and that they remain in the hands and heart of the same God who holds us.

            The cross of Jesus and the promises of baptism unite us wherever we may go.  We are connected by love to the same God, regardless of the distance between us.  Wherever you may find yourself this summer, God’s Holy Spirit will follow you.  Whether you are climbing a mountain, fishing in the Gulf, or sitting and knitting quietly at home, you will find the insight of the psalmist true that wherever you go, “…[God’s] right hand shall hold [you] fast” (Psalm 139:10).  So when you put on the wings of the morning and fly off to your next destination, make sure you take love along with you. 

Pastor Scott

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading the Heart

"But there are also many other things that Jesus did.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  -- John 21:25

“Every day I write the book” – Elvis Costello

            At the end of the Gospel of John, we have this surprising statement.  John says that this gospel he wrote was only the very tip of the iceberg in telling the full and complete story of Jesus.  So what we have, as beautiful and amazing as it is, is more like the Cliff Notes to the life of Jesus than the full Director’s Cut.  He does his best to hit the highlights because he wants us to know this man whose story he tells.  But he picks and chooses, and he does so with a clear purpose: “…these are written so that you come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).  So we’re informed that he’s given us the stripped-down version of a story that, if it were fully told, would require an earth-sized library to hold it all (or at least buildings crammed full of terabyte hard drives).

            Atonement will turn 30 this year, just one week after the Lutheran movement turns 500 on Reformation Sunday.  We have lived through interesting times as a congregation – we’ve gone from being a mission church in the boonies to finding ourselves right in the heart of a booming suburb.  We’ve weathered storms of conflict, low attendance, and insufficient income.  We carried on through years when the church almost closed and we witnessed years when we’ve made great strides in our mission and ministry.  We’ve gone from being a barely seen church sitting a ways back from the main road to one that is up front and known in the community as a place where people find help. 

            But think of all the things the community doesn’t know about us.  Sure, they know we care about the community, but do they know that we have an active youth program and Sunday school?  They surely know about our food pantry and drive-through prayer, but do they know we have a worship service where all are welcome and where young and old together sing new and old songs to the praise of God?  Do they know we believe in God’s radical grace that empowers us all to be ministers, priests, and witnesses to God’s love?
            As our council came together for our annual retreat last month, we tried to identify the core values that flow from our identity as Lutherans and from our mission to share the love of Jesus, glorify God and extend His kingdom.  These values are the important principles that we are passionate about – things we hope to communicate clearly to our community, and to always keep before us as we move forward.  Here’s what we came up with:

At Atonement, we give praise and glory to God by…

Å      sharing the love of Jesus in Word and Sacrament

Å      helping others in need, whether they are members or not
Å      growing enriching relationships with God and our neighbors
Å      creating a safe haven where faith is nurtured and people experience Jesus
Å      seeing and treating all people as Christ in our midst
Å      reaching out to our community to bring people closer to God
Å      having fun

[OK, I admit it.  I put that last one in there.  But I do feel that following Christ brings with it an undeniable and irrepressible spirit of joy, which I see over and over at Atonement!]
            John wanted people to know that there’s much more to knowing Jesus than they can get from reading his book.  Still, he wrote to change hearts and share the story of our Risen Lord.  It is this Jesus himself who brings us new life.  By knowing him we gain a new life perspective.  By following him we develop a new life-style. 
            Just so, we hope to be an open book like John’s gospel.  We hope that when they read us, they find out about our Risen Lord.  Can they see his face in ours?  Will they sense his heart in our actions and hear his grace in our words?  Will our events and hospitality at Atonement --  will our outreach and work in the community communicate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that believing in him brings life?  Do they see that life in us?  May God continue writing his Easter story in each of our hearts, and may we always be ready to be read!

Pastor Scott

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Don't Hold On

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned, and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father...’”                                                                   -- John 20:16-17

 Dear members and friends of Atonement,

            It’s a moment that takes your breath away.  Mary hears her name spoken by the man she thinks is the gardener, and suddenly her mind clears and she sees that it is Jesus.  He is alive!  In her wildest dreams, she never dared to believe it could happen.  The man she’d followed for so long, the man who revealed God’s love to her and spoke heaven’s wisdom into her heart, the one she thought she had lost forever was right there, so close she could touch him.  And what did she want to do more than anything in that one moment?  Every fiber of her being must have told her to run to him, to throw her arms around him, to hold on to him and never let go.  But Jesus said no. 

            Jesus asks us to listen to him, to follow him, to trust him, and to love him.  These things are all hard enough, but perhaps the hardest thing he asks of us is to not hold on to him.  We are to cling to his Word and his promises, but not to Christ himself, for He has ascended to the Father, and now comes to us in many ways… He comes in works of love and healing, He comes in, with, and under the holy sacraments, He comes through the wisdom of the scriptures, He comes in deeds of peace and hope, He comes when two or more gather in His name, he comes in and through our prayers, He comes in humble and believing hearts that seek his mercy and desire to share his love.  Through all of these He comes, He who spoke our name at baptism, and when we finally recognize that firm and fair voice and realize that our Master, Redeemer, Savior and Friend has been calling out to us all this time, our hearts burn with Easter joy.

            The Easter season reminds us that we are not to hold on to the things of this world.  The anger and hatred we hold for others, the guilt and shame that keeps us from seeing God’s love for us, the regret and longing for a past that is long gone, the ideologies and prejudices which put more value on one kind of person than another, all of these things belong in the tomb, buried with the crucified and broken body of the One who died for us.  But now, that One is risen.  He said to Mary, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God…” (John 20:18).

            The risen Jesus calls us to new life, and to recognize that our destiny is in heaven with Him.  This new life is a letting go of the old, a setting of our spiritual sights on our true eternal home.  Our life in the church looks forward to this everlasting life he gives.  Together we prepare for heaven by learning to let go, to find ways of loving unselfishly, to give graciously in response to His giving himself to us.  We love because God first loved us (1John 4:19), and we give because God first gave His Son for the life of the world (1 John 5:11). 

            Your giving to Atonement this year enables us to bring the Word of hope into the lives of those who gather with us Sunday mornings, but also to bring prayer to those who come for drive-in prayers on Fridays.  It will allow us to provide concentrated caring ministry through the Stephen Ministry program, to bring food to over 1000 local families through the food bank, to reach our Hispanic neighbors with the hope of the Gospel, to continue men’s and women’s Bible studies and children’s Sunday school, to give a home to community support groups and Scout groups, to provide a website with Live Streaming for our shut-ins and sign language translations of sermons for the hearing impaired.  The risen Jesus calls to us in countless ways at Atonement as we worship, serve, and share the life He gives. 

            Our Lord is risen indeed!  This and every Sunday He comes in Word and sacrament, speaking your name and calling you to follow Him to new life.  Thank you for hearing God’s call and sharing His love through your generous tithes and offerings.  Come join your church family this Easter as we celebrate the resurrection and receive the light, life and joy that this world cannot give.

Pastor Scott

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wedding of Russell Young and Cassie Lenz

"My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
         See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

-- Song of Solomon 2:10-13

Years ago, when Cassie was being trained at Publix as the new employee she met this man standing beside her.  By that time Russ had been working there many years, had seen many employees come and go, and didn’t pay much attention to the new recruit.  But Cassie remembers what Bobby told her when they were first introduced: “Russ is your man if you want something in the kitchen.”

            I’ve known Cassie for 10 years now, and ever since I met her, I’ve been delighted with her smiley and sunny disposition.  I’ve had the pleasure of being her pastor, teaching her in confirmation, hearing her dreams of becoming a bartending librarian… and for a while there, had to put up with constant questioning from church members: “what’s up with Cassie and your son…they’re always together.”  At some point I lost count of the number of times I used to tell people, “Nothing…they’re just good friends.” 

            But family friends and church friends do become very special to you, and when you see someone every week over a period of several years and watch them grow up, you start to feel a little protective of them.  You look with wonder to see this flighty young teen grow into such a smart and responsible young adult, but then here she is…following the call of God and the urgings of her heart to join in this blessed bond of marriage, to become a family with Russ and Bailey, to allow that love which is bigger than us all to make the two into one.

            Two becoming one – blood and bone, body and body.  Russ and Cassie have made the choice of a lifetime in coming here before us and before God, to share their wedding vows.  They have been thinking ahead and planning for this life together literally for years now.  Even before they knew it themselves, from the time Russ drove half an hour to give her a Twix candy bar, or from their official public appearance as boy friend and girlfriend on Christmas eve 2012, Russ and Cassie have been journeying together towards this moment. 

            Love is patient, indeed, as St. Paul tells us.  And kind.  Cassie looked at Russ and saw someone who has worked long and hard to do the right thing and struggled to care for a family in the face of many difficulties.  She was able to make him laugh and get him out of his shell, and experience life in a new way.  Before Russ asked Cassie to marry him, he talked to Bailey and they looked at rings at the mall.  Nervously, he went to ask Nils for Cassie’s hand in marriage, but he wasn’t home.  The tension just got worse when it happened again.  The third try, he and his future father-in-law finally came face-to-face.  And rock-hard Nils was all tears of joy….

            A week later, Russ and Cassie were back at the Ruby Tuesdays where they’d had their first date.  Somehow the atmosphere in the restaurant just never seemed right for the moment.  Instead of popping the question over dinner, they got back in the car, buckled their seat belts, and then it happened.  By the time they got back to the Lenz house they had one question for Cassie, “So, you got new jewelry?”

            Russ and Cassie, you will both be leaving this ceremony with new jewelry.  Although you are two people, you are determined to live as one.  Through our prayers and presence we declare that same God who created you and brought you together will also make you a new creation through the promises and commitment, the love and determination you share today. 

            Together, you have created a vision of what your marriage will look like.  You’ve agreed not just to love each other, but to say “I love you” to one another often; not just to care about each other’s feelings but to talk about whatever’s bothering you, to have each other’s backs, to laugh a lot, clean up after one another, and to share your toys.  In the vows that you are about to exchange, you will give yourselves to each other through Christ, who gave himself to us and to the world.  With his own body and soul, the one who knows us inside and out, who sees the truth of our inmost spirit, also gives us his life and our heavenly Father’s love.  Through Christ, God accepts us completely and enable to love others the way St. Paul describes: with both gentleness and wholehearted passion, with great tenderness, and with a strength that endures to the end.

            Today we join our prayers and best wishes, and our own promises to support you in your new life together.  May God grant you joy and adventure, long life and a full house.  The best part is yet to come, so you better buckle your seatbelts…