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

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!

Peace,
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.

Peace,
Pastor Scott