Monday, January 15, 2018

Joseph and his amazing technicolor stewardship

  “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid!  Am I in the place of God?  Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today.  So have no fear.  I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’”

-- Genesis 51:19-21

Dear Friends of Atonement,
            Happy New Year!  We made it to 2018!  Hope it’s going well so far. 
            Again and again I’ve heard people say, “At least 2018 has got to be better than 2017…”  Last year certainly did have its challenges -- every year does.  But in 2017 we had hurricanes roar through the area, a beloved bishop leave office, struggles finding the right plan for our new building, issues with our old building and trouble with the brand new freezer unit, and just too many old friends leaving us…  I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own list. 

            And then I remember Joseph – the guy with the “coat of many colors.”  Beaten and left for dead by his own brothers, falsely accused of sexual misconduct, thrown into a foreign prison and forgotten by his friends, Joseph must have wondered why God was putting him through all this.  Yet he never lost his faith. 
            It took a while, but finally Joseph was recognized as “one who has the Spirit of the Lord.”  He was brought before the king, and God gave him the key to understanding the king’s mysterious dream.  Joseph knew that God was saying through that dream that the land was about to experience a severe drought and famine.  When the king hears that, immediately he makes Joseph his chief steward, manager of all his resources.  Joseph goes from jail to being the world’s second most powerful man – talk about rags to riches!
            But God’s real gift to Joseph wasn’t the wealth He put under Joseph’s control.  It was all the lives he was able to save by being a good steward.  He was able to use the king’s money and grain not only to save the kingdom, but also to save those brothers of his who beat him and left him for dead.  True, Joseph couldn’t resist messing with them a little when they came seeking his help (see Genesis 42-45), but ultimately he forgave them, took care of them and their families, and gave all the glory to God!

            However beat up you feel by 2017, I pray that 2018 will be a turnaround year in your life.  As God’s faithful people, we live in the hope of his promises.  Whatever life’s struggles, we are carried onward by the one who loves us.  He is there through the highs and lows, in times of laughter and of tears.  We go from Christ to Christ, whose candle was lit at our baptism and will be lit as we go to glory.  Along the way, He makes us his stewards here in the kingdom of this earth, so we might be like Joseph and share our resources, our forgiveness and our love with all in need.

            Last month, we shared that Atonement is still behind in our general fund and asked people to look again at increasing their giving.  We thank you for hearing our appeal and doing just that!  December’s giving was within $400 of our giving goal for the month, which brought our general fund deficit down to $12,335…the lowest it’s been for quite a while.  
            We have a ways to go till we become stewards as good as Joseph.  He spent seven years storing up enough surplus grain to see the whole kingdom through the hard years of famine.   But with your help we continue growing our ministries and finding new ways to care for the spiritually and physically hungry who come to us.  Thank you for growing in stewardship, and for your faithful giving which is helping more and more people know and experience God’s love. 

Pastor Scott 

P.S.  If you haven’t already, make your reservation to join us for the installation of our new bishop, Pedro Suarez, Jan. 20 at noon at St. Mark’s Catholic Church 9724 Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa.  Our own Esthel Kane and Nicholas Trejo will be in the opening procession.  Call the synod office at (813) 876-7660 or go to

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Little Revolutions

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

                                                            -- Micah 6:8
            Why now?  What is it about this moment that women are speaking out against harassers and abusers?  Is it the high profile of the abusers or the accusers?  Is it the ability to be instantly heard by thousands on social media?  Is it some new knowledge or insight that has led us as a society to see how unjustly imbalanced power is distributed in our society?
            Growing up in a household with no sisters, I didn’t do a lot of thinking about what women experience.  I loved James Bond movies, despite the uneasy feeling I got from the way women were used in them.  I knew women could be strong and achieve whatever a man could, but figured many just chose not to try.  It never occurred to me how much they had to overcome, how much they had to fear.
            When my mom went to seminary to become a pastor, I watched her work hard and struggle – not just with the schoolwork, but also with people’s attitudes.  The assumptions ran deep – pastors had been exclusively men for so long, people just assumed that was the way it was supposed to be.  A few of those people changed their minds after knowing her and hearing her preach.  But she was faced with colleagues in a career field who felt the same way.  Some of them who sat in halls of power were able to put major roadblocks in her way.
            The biggest shock of all came in the one counseling class I was required to take to become a pastor.  The professor had us all put our heads down and close our eyes and asked the women in class to raise their hands if they had ever been sexually abused.  He told us that a quarter of the women had raised their hands.  Later, a good friend told me she was one of them.  I was stunned and wondered what it meant for my classmates and what it said about our world.
            Many people feel the Bible is the culprit.  After all, doesn’t it say that women were made to stay home and make babies?  Actually, it doesn’t.  Doesn’t it say they are to keep silent and keep their heads covered?  Well, in one particular case, the Apostle Paul says that to one particular congregation.   Doesn’t it say that wives are to obey their husbands?  Yes, in the same passage where it tells husbands to love and honor their wives as Christ loves and honors the Church.  Since the Bible came out of a culture where men were more likely to be literate and employed, they were naturally expected to be the head of the household.  But this same Bible is full of examples of capable and heroic women.  Think of Sarah and Mary, Esther, Ruth, Mary Magdalene and Hannah (and don’t forget the daughters of Zelophead in Numbers 27).  The Bible also describes households like Timothy’s, where the mother’s line was far more influential than the father’s.
            Our ELCA denomination has been putting together a series of Social Statements, explaining our positions on various topics from the perspective of Biblical and church teaching.  If you go to this link: you will find documents on abortion, caring for creation, the death penalty, education, and other major issues.  The ELCA puts together a task force to draft each of these statements, and in the process they ask for input from church members and congregations.  These are used to describe our ELCA’s position on these major topics, for use in teaching and developing policies.
            This year, the ELCA has put together the task force which will be writing a social statement on Women and Justice.  They invite you to participate by reading the first draft of the statement, either individually or with a group.  This draft is available online at and includes a response form with questions.  You are encouraged to send in this form with your own thoughts and opinions you’d like to contribute to the discussions.  Forms need to be in by September 30. 
            Big change doesn’t happen overnight.  It may begin like an earthquake, but may take years of aftershocks to reach its full expression.  In the #MeToo movement we have heard brave women speak out against abuse.  We’ve seen harassers and abusers in power positions fall like dominoes.  By using their voices, they have made real change happen in our world.  Here is a chance for you to have a voice, and perhaps have it magnified in the megaphone of a social statement.  Let me know if you’d like more info, or if you’re interested in putting together a group to study this issue at Atonement.


Pastor Scott