Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Perfect Tens

Apart from being beautiful, what do you do for a living? I hope you know CPR, because you take my breath away.
You must be lost, because heaven is a long way from here.
Are you from Tennessee?  Cause you’re the only “10” I see!

OK, so maybe we don’t need to use cheesy pick-up lines to let people know we like them.   But when we come to church, we’re on God’s turf.  It’s our job as God’s people (and we are God’s people, aren’t we?) to make sure God’s welcome is shared with everyone.  We want each visitor to know without a doubt they are surrounded by people who will care about them, welcome them, and are ready to become new friends. 
Worship is not quite like anything else we experience in life these days.  When you go out to a restaurant, you normally don’t peer into the booths on either side of you to introduce yourselves to other diners.  At a movie, you probably keep to your family and friends and rarely strike up conversations with other moviegoers.  These are the usual daily public experiences where we go about our business and do our own thing.  But worship isn’t about doing our own thing — it’s about doing God’s.
In worship we experience and share the gifts of God here on earth.  Jesus wants so much for us all to know him, he came into this world and spent a lifetime loving people God’s way.  He was so desperate that we all would know him, he was always reaching for a new image to explain it: I am the gate, he said, the door, the light;  the way, the truth, and the life; the Good Shepherd, the vine and the bread… I am the resurrection and the life.  He said it in so many different ways because there are so very many ways to share Jesus.  A smile, a kind word, a moment learning a stranger’s name — these all can mean a lot to someone who is seeking God in their life.
                 So keep your eye out for when a new person or family enters the sanctuary on a Sunday morning.  If they sit near you, don’t look away and keep talking to your friend in the seat in front of you — take a moment to introduce yourself and say, “Good morning, glad you’re here!”  When you share the peace, scan the room for that new person standing all alone, silently watching everyone else around them greeting just their friends.  Then make your way toward them through the crowd, on a mission from God to make a new friend.
Everyone we see Sunday morning is beautiful — all perfect 10’s in the eyes of God, all needing a warm, safe place to rest and hear the Good Shepherd’s voice.  If we take them as they come and embrace them with the love of Christ, not only do we give joy to God, we make new friends.

Regarding November

With the constant hot temperatures behind us, there’s a crispness in the air and folks are finally venturing outside in the afternoons.  Florida is becoming paradise again.  How appropriate then, that our services in November point us towards heaven.  We have been moving in worship week by week through stations of the spirit.  Though we’ve “been there done that” long ago with Christmas and Easter, there is still more of our story to be told.  In fact, you could say the best is yet to come.  In fact, November’s themes bring us to a glorious climax as we contemplate our ultimate destination on All Saints’ (Nov. 2) and the ultimate destiny of all things on Christ the King Sunday (Nov. 20).  Our weekly scriptures and celebrations throughout the year have shown us God’s kingdom approaching and encroaching on this world.  It’s time to take a look at what will happen when that kingdom arrives and heaven becomes present reality.  Those we thought we lost to death still live (as Jesus points out in Matthew 22:31-32), and we are with them when we praise God and live the life of God’s kingdom together.  And at last, the kingdom comes (“even without our prayers,” Luther reminds us), takes over all things (check out chapter 21 of the book of Revelation), and (as Dame Julian Norwich puts it), “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
            If this is the direction God is moving, we’d better get on board.  Now is the time to consider what it means that God has made you one of the saints.  When you were baptized, God put you into the divine story and made you a part of Jesus’ “occupy earth” movement.  We are camped out on this planet until the kingdom comes, protesting pain and suffering, standing together to proclaim good news to the lost, to feed hungry people, to share the love of Jesus and reach a world that doesn’t know what it’s about.
            And so we begin this November with All Saints’ Sunday, remembering saints who’ve gone before us, especially members of our own Atonement family…
                                                Carl & CJ Haberland
                                                Lois Peterson
                                                Jane Winters
                                                Joyce Reimer.

Recalling the legacy of love they left us and the mercy of Christ that will at last bring us all together into that kingdom, we ask: What can we offer now to build on their legacy and keep the light shining?
            One way is to join your church family in mission to feed the poor.  Our big fundraiser this year takes place Nov. 12, and we’re sending out an SOS with the aim to “Stock Our Shelves.   Last year, Helping Hands food pantry received a $7000 donation, but it’s not there this year.  So we are calling out to the community to join us that day for pancake breakfast, games, music, and all kinds of fun and fellowship as we raise money to support this amazing ministry.
            And November 20 we round out our yearly journey through the story of faith with the Sunday of Christ the King.  That day, we will be doing an “Instructional Eucharist” which walks us through the worship service asking a basic Lutheran question each step of the way: “What does this mean?”  If you’re new to the faith, a little rusty, or maybe it’s been a loooong time since confirmation class, you’re sure to learn something new about the way we worship God.
            And what would November be without Thanksgiving?  This year, Thanksgiving sits neatly between the close of our present church year and the beginning, with Advent, of the next.  What a great time to pause, reflect, count blessings, and be grateful!  All we have comes from God, right?  And all we give came from God.  And everything we need is available to us through God.  So when we give our offerings we give generously, because we’re sharing with the world by giving back to God.  God has made us saints, blessed with divine destiny.  It’s time we live like we’re ready for God’s kingdom, to give as God’s people are supposed to give, and to love as God loves us.  Better get ready – November’s on it’s way!

Dear Friends of Atonement,

“This is how one should regard us,
 as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
-- 1 Corinthians 4:1      

          We are keeping an eye out for the changes that Fall brings our way.  Up north, they watch the colors change on the trees.  Here in Florida, we see the colors change on the license plates.  The snowbirds are on their way, we’ve missed them and we ‘re  glad they’re coming back.
I have heard people remark more than once about how active the snowbirds are at Atonement.  Unlike many congregations where the wintertime visitors limit their involvement to simply worshiping on Sunday morning, many of our snowbirds participate in ministries.  We have snowbirds that sing in the choir and serve in the food pantry.  They’ll help with the youth yard sales and take parts in the Live Nativity.  You won’t just see them show up to eat at fundraising events, they’ll be helping in the kitchen.  Such enthusiasm for serving the Lord inspires me, and I’m so happy we have a congregation where everyone can find a place to use their gifts. 
The Christian faith has this wonderful word for the way we use all our gifts and resources: “stewardship.”  My brother used to be a medical courier.  It was his job to take specimens and samples back and forth between hospitals and labs all over the city.  He had to drive carefully on the streets and freeways, always handling those items like priceless artifacts.  What made those specimens and samples so valuable was that they were unique to those individuals.
God has made you a unique specimen of grace, love and beauty given human form and shape and carefully patterned after His own image. Imagine how unique and important your own gifts are.  There are talents you have, skills you’ve gained, a specific set of experience and knowledge no one else shares.  Your stewardship is wrapped up in how you use the one-of-a-kind “you-ness” God has given you, along with all the gifts and resources around you.
This afternoon, Carla Haberland and I were at Garden Montessori school on Boyette Rd.  Children’s eyes grew bright and they exclaimed, “Miss Carla!” when they saw her, remembering her from their field trip to the food pantry.  Everything around us was kid-sized, so we stood as we heard the story of how their class of 11 kindergarteners voted to do a car wash fundraiser, then voted to have the funds go to the food pantry.  They told us they had fun washing the cars, that they used special environmentally-friendly soap, and that they ended up raising $456.25.  “Let us know, whatever we can do,” the teacher told us as we left. 
What wonderful stewards these children are learning to be – not only learning things like how to care for the planet and clean up after themselves, but how to use your gifts to help others.  They are learning to answer God’s invitation to “let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Thanks again for all the ways you participate in God’s work.  Every offering given from the heart, every bit of time spent volunteering, praying, visiting, encouraging and supporting others – these are priceless gifts from God that you are sharing with others.  Thanks for answering God’s invitation to shine your light brightly.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a long-time member or a brand new visitor, a snowbird, youth, parent or single… we all have an invitation to involvement.  And it’s an open invitation, so we don’t have to wait round for another one – just jump right in and turn on your light!