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).


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.

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 .  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. 

Pastor Scott