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…

           
AMEN


Your spiritual DNA


“I [Paul] am grateful to God – whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did – when I remember you [Timothy] constantly in my prayers night and day.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

                                                                        -- 2 Timothy 1:3-7



            Two unusual boxes arrived in the mail at my house this week, one from my uncle and one from ancestry.com.  Ancestry.com sent a DNA kit so I can find out a little more about my biological background.  It arrived in the mail yesterday, and I have yet to open it, but as I understand it I will swab my cheek with a Q-tip, send it in, and they’ll send me a report telling me how much German, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian, African etc. I have in my DNA.  Who knows, I may be related to Ole and Lena after all…

            The box from my uncle contained this old German coin:

He found it while going through a closet, and apparently my grandparents picked it up at some point.  It is dated 1661, and has a picture of Martin Luther on one side, and a German city on the back.  There is a poem that reads: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehen nun und nimmermehr “God’s word and Luther’s teaching never dies.”

            When Paul wrote to Timothy, trying to comfort him from some disappointment, he first reminds him of who he is.  He is a man of “sincere faith,” something not easy to come by in this world.  He is also part of a heritage, the receiver of a treasure that has been passed from one generation to another.  First his grandmother, then his mother, now Timothy himself carries this faith in his heart and his life.  Now is the time, Paul tells him, to rekindle that gift.  Now is the time to take it out of the box and turn it on.  Now is the time, not to be timid and hide your faith, but to stand up in courage and love and be who God made you to be.

            Like Timothy, you were made to bear a special gift to the world.  You have a heritage, a spiritual family, and a purpose in life to share the love which has been passed on to you.  But just what is your spiritual DNA?  How has this gift been put into your hands?  Who is in your faith family tree that makes you the recipient of so much blessing and so much responsibility?

            In Timothy’s case, Paul points to his immediate family members.  Perhaps you too had a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa who took you to Sunday school, taught you the catechism, or simply was a good model of Christ’s forgiveness and love for all.  Maybe you had certain individuals who encouraged you in faith, who loved you in special ways that echoed the unconditional love Jesus gave on the cross.  Perhaps you knew special people who told you that you too were special, or who lifted you up in prayer.  Any of these would be powerful faith-boosters that might set you on the road to follow Jesus.

  
But beyond the family that you know and the friends that made evident contributions to your understanding of God’s love and Christ’s ways, there is a greater lineage and ancestry that influences your spiritual DNA.  You are connected to a wider family of faith – fellow followers of Christ who do God’s work with their hands and hearts, serving in churches, senior facilities, hospitals, seminaries, synods, missions, and a host of social welfare ministries worldwide.  Wherever you go in this world, you may run into fellow Lutherans who will recognize the common spiritual DNA that connects you to them. 
            That DNA goes back to Martin Luther, and the ministry he did back in the 1500’s to set the church straight from the wrong turns it had taken which led it away from the way of Jesus.  But Luther was not the only reformer, or the only spiritual leader who called the church back to faithfulness. In fact all the great saints and teachers of the church have had a hand in keeping Christianity on course and keeping our focus on Christ.  From St. Augustine to Martin Luther King Jr., there is a long lineage of incredible people whose lives were on fire for spreading the good news of Christ, serving those in need, and unleashing the healing and liberation of God in the world.  They too, are part of your spiritual DNA.


            What’s more, we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, our most basic summary of Christian beliefs, that we believe in the “holy catholic church…”  That word “catholic” means that we believe the church of Jesus Christ is not represented by a denomination or officially recognized group.  Jesus’ church – THE Church (with a capital “c”) – is a catholic (meaning universal) Church.  Not simply a Roman Catholic church with a pope, or an ELCA with a bishop, but nothing less than all Christians scooped up together into the arms of our Savior has the right to be called the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Anyone whose faith grows out from what that man did, anyone who sees his blood as precious, who knows his body was given for our own – anyone who looks back to the events of the original Good Friday and Easter and sees them as the turning point of all history – they too are in our DNA.  The history of all Christian faiths, and truly, of all Christians, is also our history.

            We could go back and point out that our heritage as Christians has deep DNA roots in the faith of Israel, in the stories, wisdom, and Torah of the Old Testament and the faith of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But the Bible, that most remarkable and uniquely insightful of all books, does not stop there.  It takes us back to the beginnings, to the primal origin of all humans.  Biblical faith calls us to recognize that God’s law is written on every human heart, that every human is God’s child made by God’s hand and given God’s most fundamental blessings.  Our spiritual chromosomes bear witness to that most basic truth: we are all members of the human family, formed from the dust of the earth, enlivened by the breath of God’s Spirit, broken by sin but alive in the shadow of the cross of Christ. 


            The DNA in our cells carries the signs of the great diversity of influences in our genetic makeup.  But it also expresses the unique character traits we exhibit as individuals.  Even twins (or triplets) can look and act very differently, and can live out the gifts and blessings of God individually in ways that only they can.  As you come to discover who you are in Christ and the great riches that are yours in knowing his grace and love, you know even more if you know what’s in your spiritual DNA.  We share this community, this earth, this universe with others who may not know or see the gift that God has placed in their hands.  This month we’ll see it all unfold in worship: the Son sent by God to redeem the world carries God’s deep forgiveness and love to the very end – and that end becomes the new beginning… for me, for you, and for every fellow child of God through all time and all the world.


Peace,
Pastor Scott

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent can dance


 Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?...”                                -- Matthew 16:24-26a

      So everybody loves Christmas and Easter, right?  And why not?  After all, they are festivals of the church -- times when we celebrate the high points in the story of Jesus, and who doesn’t love a festival?  But between those peak experiences of our church calendar comes this time of Lent… not a festival, but a time of quiet and reflective prayer and penitence…not a feast, but a fast.  I understand: Lent is not the popular season.  It’s the one left sitting alone in the corner, not the one everyone picks to take to the dance.  But don’t let that fool you -- Lent can dance.  It won’t do the Charleston, but it will, with slow deliberate steps, take you somewhere you need to go. 

      The dance of Lent begins with the two-step of Ash Wednesday, recognizing that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We remember our human limitations, and that this life which began in our mother’s womb shall end one day in the womb of the earth.            
      It picks up with the waltz of repentance.  Instead of the regular 4/4 drumbeat of the other seasons, Lent is whole 40-day season that moves to its own rhythm.  The ¾ waltz-time movement of Lent is a reminder that we are skipping something, giving up a piece of our regular routine.  In Lent we try to drop that regular self-centered beat that keeps turning our attention back to our own desires.  Try not to scratch that itch.  Try not to eat that candybar.  Bet you didn’t even know you were hungry till you just started thinking about it.  Whether or not you “give something up” for Lent, hopefully you at least try harder to resist those mental messages.

      In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, the “tune” we will be playing for your dance of Lent this year comes from Luther’s Small Catechism.  The Small Catechism was designed as a teaching tool of the faith, not just within the church but in the home. Martin Luther intended for the home to be the place where faith was first shared and taught. To that end he created the Small Catechism—a simple explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments. He included basic prayers for morning and evening, and suggested ways to worship, praise, and revere God during each part of our day.

      In addition to weekly Wednesday services at 4pm and 7pm which will focus on the parts of the Catechism, we are offering copies of the excellent Lenten devotional Free Indeed, which invites us to consider each day how the Small Catechism helps us keep in step with God in our lives. 

      An old folk-hymn tells the story of the what happens to Jesus in between Lent and Easter.   The song calls Jesus the “Lord of the Dance” because He shows us how to move through life with grace and love.  He showed it most vividly when everyone thought the dance was over, when his life ended on a still and bloody cross.  But the dance, as we know and as the final verse tells us, went on. 

      Our lives of faith include the daily rhythm of prayer, the weekly rhythm of worship, and the yearly rhythm of celebrating the seasons of fasts and festivals.  Within that spectrum of spirituality, Lent serves as the slow-dance number that leads into and prepares us for the all-out swing dance jumping and jiving of Easter.  But on the way to that all-out energy and exuberant joy, we slow-dance with Jesus through Lent, and hopefully by the end of it, we’ve learned how to let Him take the lead.

Peace,
Pastor Scott

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Neighbors by the numbers

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   He said to him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this and you will live.”
            But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?
              -- Luke 10:25-29

             The lawyer speaking to Jesus must have gotten straight A’s in Sunday school.  He knew his Bible verses, pulling the best ones out at the moment they were needed.  From Deuteronomy 6:5, he quotes the famous “Shema” verse about the duty of God’s children to love their heavenly Father, and from Leviticus 19:18, God’s command to not seek revenge but instead love the neighbor.  “But who,” he asks Jesus, “IS my neighbor?”
            We ask the same question in a different spirit.  Where the lawyer was trying to get Jesus to define the term so he could look for loopholes, we seek to find out more about the neighbors who surround us.  We know Jesus wants us to love all the people in our community, and that there is no boundary separating those who are neighbors and those who are not.  When we ask “Who is my neighbor?” as a church, we are asking as servants.  We want to know the makeup and the breakdown of our community so we can continue doing a better job reaching out with our mission: “Sharing the love of Jesus, glorifying God, and extending His kingdom.”
            If you were looking for the right place to plant a garden, you would look for the land with the richest soil.  There are many ways to reach out to our community, many services we could provide, many ways we could advertise, many neighborhoods in our area where we could establish a presence.  But where to begin?  Where is the richest soil to grow new ministries to reach new people, to share God’s love in the best way possible right here in the Wesley Chapel area? Here is where it helps to know what is happening in our community.  Who ARE our neighbors?  Where do our strengths and the things we have to offer coincide with the needs and longings of those around us?  What aspects of our ministry do we need to strengthen in order to better serve those most likely to come through our doors?

            Just like a business wants an accurate picture of the community where they do business, we can also benefit greatly by looking at our neighborhoods by the numbers.  Demographics will show us the socio-economic trends, as well as behavioral, life-style, psychological and spiritual tendencies we are likely to find.  The Wesley Chapel area has been growing for some time now – what new opportunities does that give us?  Where is it growing the most and what are these people like who are coming into our area? 

            This month, we’ve invited Pastor Jefferson Cox to join us for an evening of discovery.  He brings with him knowledge and expertise in the powerful demographics engine called Mission Insite.  Our Florida-Bahamas Synod makes Mission Insite available to us through special mission funding.  I have used it often to create basic reports on areas around our church.  Pastor Cox has much deeper knowledge of how this program works, and can show us with great detail what has been happening and can illuminate the future trends which will impact our ministry.

            We realized that we needed more in-depth information as we began strategizing for our Hispanic ministry.  School statistics showed us that 20% of our community has a Hispanic background.  But what does that mean?  Are they of Mexican, Caribbean, or South American descent?  There are cultural differences in the prayer and faith traditions of these groups.  The makeup of the community will make a difference in the way we celebrate holidays or the kinds of spiritual practices we would establish in our Hispanic outreach.   That’s when we knew we needed Pastor Cox’s help to see what we are dealing with.

            The detailed look at our growing area which Pastor Cox will bring to us this month can benefit all of our ministries.  From deciding where to advertise to looking at choices of music, events to offer, or ways to enhance our childrens’ ministry, the information available through Mission Insite can apply to just about anything we do.  One especially interesting feature of Mission Insite is their set of “Mosaic Groups.”  They have applied sociological and generational research to identify key aspects of 19 different categories of Americans, from “Golden Year Guardians” to “Middle Class Melting Pot.”  Segments of the population can represent “Flourishing Families,” or “Blue Sky Boomers,”  “Suburban Style” or “Singles and Starters.”  Think of how important recognizing certain segments of the population was in the recent presidential election.  It is also important for us in knowing “Who is our neighhor,” and how to reach out to them.
            So I’d like to invite you to join us on Friday, February 17 for our Mission Insite worshop with Pastor Jefferson Cox.  Come for the Hispanic focused segment from 4-6pm or the General community workshop from 7-9pm, or both.  Either way, you are welcome to join us for dinner in between.  I’m sure it will be fascinating for anyone who has seen the amazing growth and change we have been through in the last few years.  Bring your thoughts and questions, ideas and insights. There will be opportunity to learn and share as we discover our community in depth and think about ways to apply that knowledge to better love God and to better serve our neighbors. 

Peace,
Pastor Scott

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Beholding Truth


“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”      -- the words of Jesus in John 14:6

            In the wake of all the hub-bub surrounding the Brexit and the 2016 US election, the Oxford Dictionary has chosen their “word of the year” for 2016.  And that word is “post-truth.”  It is a word that refers to a kind of political maneuvering, or more sadly, to a new era that some see we are entering.  By choosing  this as the year’s most important word, they are really warning us about where our world may be headed.  They are trying to tell us that the world may soon care less about what’s true and what’s not.

            Messing with the truth is nothing new, of course.  We’ve heard it said that “truth is in the eye of the beholder,” so we imagine anyone can just make up their own version of reality.  We’ve heard slogans used to overpower reasoning and watched people change the subject when confronted with facts.  We’ve heard dialog devolve into dissension.  We’ve seen debates that are no such thing.  Of course there is nothing new about public figures ignoring the points of their opponents and falling back on quips and accusations.  But when the words people say fly in the face of the truth we all know, we start to question the methods and the motives behind those words and the one who is speaking them.  Or at least we should.

            Martin Luther had a healthy distrust for human reason and saw the dangerous side of “facts.”  After all, people in his time seemed convinced of the so-called obvious “facts” that good people go to heaven, that you become a good person by doing good deeds, and that the good leaders of the church were just the right people to tell you what good deeds you are to do.  Few people questioned the catchy slogans of the fundraising friars who called out, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  Once the lie within those long-trusted beliefs was revealed, all of society was shaken.  While the educated elite and religious leaders clung to their doctrines and traditions, the peasants took to the streets in outright rebellion.  Luther proclaimed that neither way would lead us to truth.

            As Christians, we understand that the only one we can trust completely is God.  As for the rest of us, “no one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).  We are all a mish-mash of good and evil motives, love, fear and prejudice, truth and untruth.   We know that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8) and that “love does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  We understand that speaking untruth against another violates God’s 8th commandment (Exodus 20:16).  The small catechism tells us what this commandment requires:

“We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully contradict, slander, or defame our neighbors, but defend them, think and speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything.”

In other words, it’s about love – about respecting each other enough to be honest with everyone, and speak about them with love.  God’s truth cannot be contained in slogans or revealed by facts.  It is not an assertion or a prescription – it is a relationship.  It is not an opinion or an attitude; it is the Way, the Truth and the Life of the world.  Anything less is death.

            Into a dark world that is lost in lies, a light has shined.  It is the light of a new Way, a post post-truth mind-set that brings us to our knees beside friends and enemies, gathered around the manger of Jesus.  There we trade in our personal truths and opinions for the Truth that is Life.  There we stop hoping in our own gods and glories and place all our hope in love.  There God shows Himself as a child, trusting and open to all the world.  It is there that we find what we’ve always looked for, where we know the Truth and the Truth sets us free (John 8:32).

Peace,

Pastor Scott

...Our Way of Life


“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what He has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”                                             
-- Ephesians 2:8-10


Dear members and friends of Atonement,
            2016’s numerous blessings are spilling out into 2017.  Our Capital campaign reached its goal of $300,000 last year, and now plans are proceeding for an expansion of our fellowship area and a new kitchen.  Our food pantry went through some transitions this year, and are now serving over 900 local families.  The Hispanic outreach got a boost through a grant from the Florida-Bahamas Synod, and has now become an official new ministry start with support from the ELCA.  Esthel Kane, the lay developer for this growing outreach, will be off to Chicago next month to attend leadership training.  Our Drive-through Prayer is becoming a weekly routine every Friday, and the Stephen’s Ministry visitation team will be up and running once leaders are trained this month.

              So much going on, so many growing ministries, but best of all is what lies at the heart of everything we do.  Ultimately, our greatest treasure is not our ministries – it’s our message.  You see, God has given you an indescribable gift.  No, not a new car, or even superbowl tickets…  Even better!  He has given you salvation…by grace, through faith, He has taken you into His family and made you His own.  Not of your own doing or because of your own works, but purely out of the love God has for you -- His creation, His child.  That amazing and priceless gift is yours.

            But Ephesians 2 tells us more about that special gift.  It goes on to say we were created to do good works – this is our purpose and our proper way of life.  Receiving God’s love may be our greatest gift, but sharing God’s love is what we do, and what brings us the most joy.  Atonement is here to help us with both.  Yes, it is here we receive the promise and celebrate this good news gospel message in worship.  But Atonement is also here to help us give – to care for the needy, to grow in generosity and love, to live the transformed life of a disciple, and ultimately to become the hands and feet of Christ.
            This is a special outlook that we Lutherans have to share with our neighbors.  Ours is a faith that combines the message of Christ’s grace with the mission to help others.  Our faith brings basic Christian teachings and traditions into a world that is ever changing and always new.  Like Abraham, who was “blessed to be a blessing” to all humanity, we have been blessed with this “amazing grace” faith.  It’s something our friends, our community, and the whole world needs.  God has placed this church here in this growing area as a lighthouse beacon shining out the light of God’s love!  But thousands drive by day after day, zooming down State Rd. 54 with no idea what a Lutheran is or what goes on at that place called Atonement. 

            So 2017 is a year to get the word out!  Waiting in line at a store this afternoon, I began a conversation with a snowbird couple and I ended by inviting them to church.  I hope you are doing the same.  This year we’ll observe the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Church, as well as the 30th anniversary of Atonement.  Let’s invite all we know to come join us and be blessed.  So much to celebrate, so much to share with a world that is just waiting to hear God’s good news...

            It’s truly a privilege worshiping and serving God alongside of you.  I hope you feel as blessed as I do in knowing our Lord Jesus.  And how exciting to be surrounded by talented, caring people who have a heart for serving God and helping those in need!  All the success we have seen at Atonement this year – from the completion of our Capital campaign and the growth of our food pantry to the support we’ve gotten for our Hispanic & caring ministries – it all feels like a gift handed to us by the very hand of God.  This is because God has had His hand on you, and your prayers and support and participation in God’s work here are helping to make it all possible.  Thanks for the gifts that you bring and the gift that you are to Atonement.


Peace,
Pastor Scott

The Big 500

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

                                                                                                --- Matthew 1:21






Just what is a Lutheran?  What do we stand for, and what do we believe?  If someone has ever asked you that question and you weren’t sure how to answer, you couldn’t do any better than hand them a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism.  Here we Lutherans find the Owner’s Manual for a heart of faith.

            In 1529, a day and age when Bibles were very expensive and few people could read them, much less afford one, Martin Luther produced his Small Catechism.  It was originally printed on a single page and sold for pennies.  By 1580, when the movement known as the Lutheran church gathered together the writings that defined them, they included the Small Catechism alongside The Augsburg Confession and other statements of faith in the Book of Concord.  By then, the Small Catechism had circulated in many editions and was known as a Bible for the Laity.

            Today, this little pamphlet still holds the essence of Christian teaching, revealing it in profound but simple words as we find nowhere else.  By bringing together The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, and explaining them in simple terms, Luther stripped away all the false doctrines and unnecessary complications that stood in the way of typical Christians grasping the plain Gospel message.  In each section, Luther asks the most relevant question of all: “What does this mean?”  And not what does it mean in some abstract sense, but what does it mean to me, here and now, what does it mean for my life?  What does it mean that God is my Father and Jesus is my Savior?  I’m no murderer, so what does ‘Thou shalt not kill’ have to do with me?  What do we mean when we pray to God “hallowed be Thy name”?  Luther gives clear answers for small children and great scholars alike.
            As we get closer to 2017’s recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we will be offering sermons, devotions and Bible studies that examine the legacy of Martin Luther and the Reformation - those events that formed the Lutheran faith as a distinct branch of the Christian family tree.  When I asked the congregation how many knew the catechism or learned it growing up, only about half the people raised their hands.  This convinced me that we need to take a close look at the Small Catechism this year, through sermons and studies and Lenten devotions.  This is a pure treasure box we are opening, and I believe each of us will discover or rediscover its unadorned beauty.

            Copies of the Catechism will be available at church, but you just might want to download your own Small Catechism app.    You’ll find it at http://info.augsburgfortress.org/luthers-small-catechism-new-mobile-app .  Take it with you wherever you go, and you can use it as a guide for devotions, memorization, or as a tool for witnessing. 

            That holiday is fast approaching which centers around the birth of a baby.  “Unto you a child is born; unto you a Son is given,” to be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  We too ask the Small Catechism question: What does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus came to this world?  Luther lays it out for us in his explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed…


“At great cost He has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.  He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil – not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.  And this He has done that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.  This is most certainly true.”


This is most certainly the true gift of Christmas and the “holy” in the holi-day season.  Not silver or gold, but the love of a Savior. 

Peace,
Pastor Scott