Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reforming the Reformation

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing.  It is the gift of God.”

                        -- Ephesians 2:8-9

             Why be Lutheran?  Is it for all the potlucks and Ole and Lena jokes?  Because we get to sing “A Mighty Fortress” and “Borning Cry”?  Is it so we can tell stories about Martin Luther and worship without having to lift our arms and yell “Amen”?  Those stereotypes may hit home, but they are not what being Lutheran is about.  The first Lutherans saw a need for change in the church.  They became Lutheran because they believed…
1.      The Church is the caretaker of God’s grace
2.      The Church should always be Re-forming

            Because God is loving and forgiving to all people, it’s the Church’s job to make God’s love known and to bring it to life in the world.  That’s what it means to be the caretaker of God’s grace.  But that’s not what was happening back in the 1500’s.  The Roman Catholic Church had gotten off-track and was no longer being a good caretaker of God’s grace.  The intense struggles to get it back on track ultimately became the Reformation. 
            The Reformation was about changing and improving what the Church does.  To stay healthy, relevant, and on-task the Church must continually re-think and clarify its understanding of God’s grace, and then adjust its message and practices to make sure it is communicating God’s love in a way that the world can understand it.  Lutherans believe that reformation is still necessary, and are committed to the hard work of positive change.  Where we can do better, we will, even if it means our understanding of the Reformation itself could use some reforming.
            This is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation.  As a historic occasion, we have a great opportunity to invite friends and neighbors in our community to come and hear the story of our faith tradition – who we are, why we do what we do, and how we got this way.  Through its print media as well as through our national Bishop Eaton and our local Synod offices, the ELCA is asking us all to be extra careful how we tell the story of the Reformation.  The Reformation we want to tell about is not a German holiday, but rather a worldwide movement which is still going on today.  We are a part of it.  As we welcome the community to join us in recognizing this important anniversary, we want our guests to learn what is truly most important about being Lutheran. 
            The date itself marks 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses – 95 arguments for change in the church.  But this is only a tiny piece of the Reformation story.  If it happened at all, that event probably took place on October 31, 1517, a day that came and went without anyone noticing.  As Lutheran Theology Professor Timothy Maschke writes, “What began as a quiet protest against indulgences – made by an unknown Augustinian friar at a new university in an inconspicuous town of northern Germany – quickly, almost miraculously transformed from gentle ripples of spiritual concern to a political and theological tsunami, affecting all of the European world and, rightly understood, all of Christendom.” (Cameron MacKenzie, The Reformation, p. iv). 

            Other reformers would take Luther’s ideas and insights all over Europe – and then missionaries took them into all the known world.  Today, there are Lutherans practically everywhere.  We speak many languages and come from many cultures.  The 2 largest Lutheran denominations today are both in Africa: Ethiopia and Tanzania.  It would be misleading to give the impression that somehow being Lutheran is about being German or Western European.  The real Lutheran story is multicultural, an important point to highlight on this Reformation anniversary. 

            For the past 50 years, the Lutheran story has also been one of continued dialog, ministry, and partnership with other churches, including Roman Catholics.  500 years ago, the Reformation tore us apart from the Roman Catholic Church.  Today, the Reformation is bringing us closer.  To be sensitive to our Roman Catholic neighbors, we are trying to avoid the term “celebration” in connection with this observance.  "It's neither a celebration nor a lament," says Wanda Deifelt, professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  "It's a commemoration, which comes from the Latin for 'We share memory.' We are telling the story of what happened 500 years ago without pointing fingers."  The ELCA has requested that our Reformation observances keep in mind our close relationship to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, and make it clear that we are members with them in the body of Christ.  We are aware that the divisions caused by the Reformation have been painful, and are seeking healing in our relationship with them.   Roman Catholics and Lutherans hope that the day will come when our differences are resolved and we can come together and share communion once again.  Some of that story is told in the book From Conflict to Communion, which you can download for free (in the language of your choice) at:  From Conflict to Communion

          Conversations between Lutherans and Catholics worldwide have led to proposals that we have been taking to heart here in our Florida-Bahamas Synod.  The proposals call for us to engage in worship, Bible study, and service together with our Roman Catholic friends as part of this 500th anniversary observance.  We have worshiped together (at the Common Prayer service, held earlier this year at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Largo).  Our clergy have shared in a Bible study retreat.  And the God’s Work Our Hands project we had planned for September 10 last month was to be a joint service project with Lutherans from our Tampa conference bringing a meal and worship to the Roman Catholic homeless mission Pinellas HOPE in Clearwater.  Hurricane Irma got in the way of that, but we will be rescheduling it for sometime later this year.  
            Here at Atonement, we have a team of people who have been hard at work planning this year’s Reformation observance.  The group includes a wide variety of Atonement members who have been looking at ways we can tell the bigger story about Lutherans and the Reformation.  Nick Trejo has been leading the team, which he has taken on as his Eagle Scout project.  We have been careful to include our new Hispanic mission.  Being a Lutheran ministry to our local Hispanic community, they have the opportunity to reach a segment of the population we have not been able to.  Todos Unidos en Cristo has generously agreed to fund and help design a mass mailing to invite our community to join us on Reformation Sunday.  That day, there may be an Ole joke or two and we’ll definitely be singing “A Mighty Fortress.”  There will be some of our usual German food, along with a puppet show, bounce house and face painting for the children.  But we will also be including some Hispanic food and elements of worship as well, to help show the multicultural side of our Lutheran tradition.  Reformation day this year will be our official open house for the community.  We hope and pray that anyone who comes to us looking for a place to grow in Christ, serve others, and learn about God’s grace will discover God’s love at Atonement.

Peace,
Pastor Scott

Friday, September 22, 2017

Wedding of Guy Lynn and Jordy Daly, September 16, 2017


"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends."
--- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

           Jesus once said to Nicodemus, “The Spirit of God blows wherever it wants, and you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.”  I’ll bet each one of us can think of a few unpredictable twists and turns our lives have taken, thanks to God’s wild, bracing wind that blows in ways we can’t foresee.  And it’s a sure thing that, if you dare to go where that wind takes you, you will find yourself surrounded by new possibilities -- opportunities you never expected or even dreamed of.  When I first met Jordy, she went by Georgie, had a different hair color, and though she certainty had the energy and creativity we know so well, there was not nearly so much joy in her life.  It’s been amazing to watch, as over the last couple years God’s Spirit has opened up the world for her, showing her where she has come from and where she is going.
            The hair color change came in discovering where she came from, and being free to celebrate her Irish/Scotch ancestry.  Anyone who knows Jordy knows she is unique in many ways, and when she does something she jumps in with both feet.  Suddenly we saw Jordy celebrating her heritage in all kinds of ways, from the clothes she wore to the emblems on her coffee cup.  When Jordy reached the point in her life where she really felt she had the freedom to be who she was, and to express that openly and creatively, she started by looking back at where she came from and let that become the launch pad for a new identity.
            But this new self she was becoming – Jordy instead of Georgi – was just as open to seeing where the Spirit of God was heading, not just where it came from.  Who knew that the winds of the Spirit was blowing her towards the internet, to Match.com to be exact.  There she discovered just what the old saying says: there are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of nut cases on dating sites.  But among all the outrageous and arrogant profiles she saw on Match.com, she also discovered one simple straightforward profile that was only 3 sentences… and she decided to give Guy Lynn a chance.
            Sometimes the wind of the Spirit blows like a gentle breeze, and sometimes you get Irma.  We are here today because two hearts, two souls, two lives have been brought together by the irresistible gales of love… love, which the Bible tells us is stronger than death, love which Jesus tells us the greatest commandment, love, which Paul tells us bears and believes all things, love, which John tells us is the very essence of God.  With Guy, Jordy has experienced companionship and caring that echoes those words in our passage from 1 Corinthians – patient and kind, not insisting on its own way, rejoicing in the truth.  “He thinks of my wants and needs and allows me to be me,” Jordy said.  It’s this kind of respect and care that today Guy and Jordy are pledging to share with each other till the end of their days.  It begins, not with the wants and desires we have for ourselves, but in the honest concern and wish for the well-being of the one we love.

            It is this kind of love that God had from the beginning --  for the world he created, and the people God took as his children.  It is this kind of love that poured out of Jesus in his life on earth and death on a cross.  It is this love that travels on the winds of God’s Spirit, blowing into our hearts when we least expect it, causing us to love our neighbor, to care for those in need, and to believe in a world of peace.  It is moments like these, where we see what love can do in the lives of two wonderful people, that we can imagine a hurricane of hope blowing through the world, and wonder where God’s Spirit may be taking us on our way to knowing fully and being fully known.

            One of the ministries we have at our church, which Jordy participates in faithfully, is our Drive-Thru Prayer.  Every Friday from 11:30-1:30, people from the community are invited to come through our parking lot and drive up under the overhang where our prayer team stands ready to pray with them.  It can be anything at all – a need for themselves, a loved one, a neighbor, or just a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done in their lives – our prayer team, the God Squad, will lift it up with them, and they don’t even have to get out of the car.  I told Jordy, if you don’t want to have a big wedding, we could just do it at the drive-thru – but you know Jordy – when she does something, she jumps in with both feet.  She wanted the friends, the music, the full celebration – and each of you, to be here as she and Guy share their vows, and recognize the one who brought them together, brought them to this place, and will take them from here together, on the winds of His Spirit, to their next set of adventures.              
AMEN

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Out from the shadow


“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” 
                                                                                  -- Jeremiah 29:11
            Today (August 21, 2017) the skies darkened, and in some places day turned to night.  Not unexpectedly, for our solar eclipse had been hyped up since the last one in 1979.  Today the news channels tracked the eclipse as it fell across the country from Oregon to North Carolina and we saw again and again the amazed reactions of crowds who knew full well what was coming.  After all, many of them had driven hundreds of miles or taken trains, planes, or boats to reach the best view.  But still, when it happened the crowds went wild.  People cheered and clapped and gaped in amazement at the show put on by sun and moon, and over and over when asked how they felt about witnessing this cosmic event, people said, “It really puts us in our place.”

            Thinking about the immensity of space, the consistent clockwork of our celestial companions, and the fragility of our planet as we spin about on it can certainly fill us with wonder.  But when witnessing the effects of the moon’s 70 mile wide shadow sweeping swiftly across the land, what can we do but marvel at the powerful forces of God’s creation and the might of His hand?  We knew that shadow was coming, but in times past an eclipse was an omen of dread, a sign that things were out of whack.  If the sun could wink out in the middle of a bright afternoon, who knew what else might happen?  Maybe the ground would suddenly disappear out from under our feet, or the crops would fail, or our friends and neighbors would suddenly turn and attack us.  Maybe creation is not as stable as we thought.  Maybe God decided to take a coffee break and let the world go wild?

            The people of Jeremiah’s time felt that way as they witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, the murder of their king, and the removal of all the officials, skilled workers and artists of the land.  The trained and educated people were taken to Babylon, where they could be watched and controlled by the powerful Babylonian Empire.  In their fear and despair at the devastation they wondered if God had deserted them.  God’s Word to them through the prophet Jeremiah was NO.  God had not forgotten them.  In fact, God had plans for them, a future in the works.  Despite the dark shadow that they were living under, a bright new day would dawn.

            Even now in our time and in our country there are people who live every day under a distressing shadow of uncertainty.  Poverty and homelessness should not be a problem where we have such wealth and resources.  The truth is, family, health and employment issues can leave people without means to care for themselves to the point where even day to day survival becomes a challenge.  As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to give a hand up to those who have fallen in dark times.

            Our annual “God’s Work Our Hands” service day is Sunday, September 10, and this year we are partnering with other ELCA congregations in our area and with our local Roman Catholic neighbors to provide a meal and worship at their Pinellas HOPE homeless shelter.  Run by Catholic Charities of St. Petersburg, Pinellas HOPE stands on the site of a previous homeless tent city in the Clearwater area.  They have about 200 residents who live in tents and converted storage units.  They are a model program for serving the homeless.  In operation since 2007, Pinellas HOPE brings not just food and shelter but also case workers, medical attention, and assistance finding housing into the lives of people in need.  Check them out at www.pinellashope.org. We will be joining the residents there from 3-6:30 pm, and our visit will include a tour of the facility, and sharing worship and dinner with them.  By partnering with our Roman Catholic friends, we are also showing that the Reformation that divided us 500 years ago can bring us together today.
            A Helping Rock is a ministry in Zephyrhills that has been serving homeless and needy people for the past year.  They have a thrift store and moving service, but their focus is on transitional housing.  They have over 20 acres on the east side of Zephyrhills, with a church building and small cabins, where qualified people can stay for up to a year under the supervision of a case worker.  Check them out at www.ahelpingrock.org.  On October 17, they will be hosting Stepping Stone, a community outreach event for local programs and organizations that support the needy.  Their hope for the event is bring these groups together to network and strengthen the caring capacity of our locale.  Atonement will be present there with information about our Helping Hands Food Pantry, ACCESS and Caring ministries.

            When God’s love and mercy are eclipsed by poverty and people fall into the shadow of need, programs like Pinellas HOPE and A Helping Rock are there to help bring them back into the light.  We are blessed to have opportunities to partner with these ministries as we do our own part helping people find God’s plan to give them hope and a future.  Thanks for all you do to care for and support those in need as we work together to help the light of God’s love shine brightly on all people.

Peace, 
Pastor Scott

Monday, July 31, 2017

The (NEW) Mustard Seed Song

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

1.
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

2.
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

3.
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?

4.
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.

5. 
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.

6.
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

Peace,
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. 

Peace,
Pastor Scott