The Scribe

"The Scribe" is the monthly newsletter of the Punxsutawney Lutheran Parish.  The following articles are the monthly Pastor's Notes, which comprise the first page of each newsletter.

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (June & July 2018)

posted Jun 2, 2018, 8:43 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Summertime is almost here – the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and school is almost out.  I’m looking forward to the warmer weather, and to getting to spend evenings around a fire or exploring the local walking trails with Pastor Sarah and Robbie.  There are several events that will be happening in our congregations this summer that I’m also very excited for, and that I’d like to take a moment to share with you.

The first event is my installation service, where I’ll be installed as the pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish by Bishop Jones of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.  The installation service will be on Sunday, June 3, at 3:30 in the afternoon at First English, with a potluck meal to follow.  I know there will be a few other Lutheran pastors from the Indiana and Jefferson clusters who’ll be there, and I’m hoping that other pastors from other Punxsutawney churches will be able to attend as well.  It should be a really unique worship service, and I’m excited to be able to be a part of it.  Since it’s an afternoon service, there will be worship at all the normal times that Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

I’m also looking forward to the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod’s annual Synod Assembly.  Synod assembly is an annual event where members of congregations from across the synod gather to do some of the necessary business, but also to learn and study, and to worship as members of the NWPA Synod.  It’s a chance to gather and share in fellowship and worship with our fellow Lutherans from across the synod.  This year’s synod assembly is from June 14-16, and we’ll be sharing the assembly with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod.  I’m excited to be able to be a part of it, and to be able to share in that time with members of the church from all across western Pennsylvania.

I’m also excited for some opportunities for us to worship together as a parish throughout the year.  There are typically four months in the year with five Sundays.  This year, those months are April, July, September, and December.  I’m hoping that on those fifth Sundays, we might be able to have one combined worship service as a parish, which would rotate among the three congregations’ buildings.  I’m still trying to work out all of the details, especially for the July service, because it would conflict with the Punxsutawney Ministerium’s Church in the Park event, but I’m excited for the chance for us to come together for worship and fellowship as a whole parish.

I’m looking forward to all of those things, and I’m also excited to be a part of the parish and of each of the three congregations.  I hope that whatever your plans may be for this summer, that it can be a time of rest and refreshment.


Peace,
Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (May 2018)

posted May 7, 2018, 7:25 AM by Russell D. Hampton   [ updated May 7, 2018, 7:26 AM ]

Quill Pen Notes from the Pastor

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,


Hello! I’m excited to be here as the called pastor of the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish.  It’s been an exciting few weeks already as my family and I have gotten through the unpacking process and have started to settle into our life here, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.


As we begin this time together, I’d like to take a few moments to introduce myself and share a little bit more about myself and how I came to be here.


I grew up on the other side of Pennsylvania, in a suburb of Philadelphia called Souderton. After high school, I bounced around from college to college and job to job for a few years, not certain what I was supposed to be doing with my life, but steadily crossing off things that I was finding out that I wasn’t supposed to be doing.  One night in college, while I was taking a break from writing a paper, God made it abundantly clear to me that I was called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. After that, it wasn’t necessarily easy, but I knew what I was supposed to be doing.  I graduated college and went to seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I met my wife, Pastor Sarah Aasheim, who was also a student at Trinity. When we graduated from Trinity, we were assigned to the Western Iowa Synod, where we each were called to churches and served as pastors.  When we started to feel that God was calling us to ministry in other parts of the church, we listed ourselves as open to call in a variety of synods.  Pastor Ben Austin, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Reynoldsville and Grace Lutheran Church in Brookville, is a friend of ours, and heard that we were thinking about moving. He suggested that I look at the Punxsutawney Area Lutheran Parish, and after several interviews, a trial preaching session, and a lot of prayer and discernment, I’m pleased to have accepted the call to serve as the parish’s new pastor.


Our family also includes a cat named Skeena and our thirteen-month-old son, Robbie.


I’m excited to be here, and to be your pastor.  Working with the three congregations in the parish is a new experience for me; each of the congregations does things just a little bit differently from the others.  But all three congregations have a lot in common, starting with their long history of working to proclaim the Gospel and to serve God’s people in this part of the world.  I’m looking forward to discovering and celebrating both the differences and things that unite us, and I’m excited to continue to meet and to get to know everyone in the parish, and to learn more about your stories.


I’m excited to see where God is calling us, and I’m excited to be called together with all of you!

Peace,

Pastor Russ

Pastor Russ

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (September 2016)

posted Aug 29, 2016, 7:57 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:4-7

It is with sorrow that this article will be my final one for the parish Scribe.  The past eight years have been a wonderful experience of learning and growth.  All of you have been my family (and I will consider you always my family) – providing nurture, love, and care.  As I said one evening, “I couldn’t have asked for a better first call!”  God has blessed me well during this time. 

May God’s blessings be upon you in the weeks and months ahead.  Trust that God in Christ will be with you.  Do not lose hope.  Love one another, as Christ loves you.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you.  Share God’s grace in all that you say and do! 

My final words of encouragement follow a pattern of three “P’s:”

1.      Patience – Have patience with the work of the Holy Spirit and with one another.  We are human; we want things to happen in our time.  Yet we live in God’s time.  God will be at work directing, guiding, and providing wisdom for your ministry.  God will open the door to reveal His divine plan.  When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done…,” we trust that God’s kingdom is coming and his will is being done, but we also pray it will come to us.  I encourage you to place your trust and faith in God’s work.  Then extend patience towards one another.  There may be times such as these that you may become frustrated or be filled with despair.  Maybe you will see these feelings in others.  Be patient with one another as you come to terms with your grief and find your place as you transition through leadership roles.  Always remember to forgive, to receive forgiveness, and to reconcile to one another.    

2.      Presence – Be present with one another.  If there is someone who is sick among you, reach out to them by sending a card, making a phone call, or asking if you can visit.  If there is a person or family who has been absent for some time, reach out to them.  And share your hospitality with one another.  Continue to find times to gather around meals and fellowship.  Extend invitations to persons who are a part of the parish and to those who are not.  Shine your presence into the community through your ministry and mission.  Bring the presence of Christ to all! 

3.      Prayer – Paul said it best, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Don’t forget to pray.  Pray on your own; pray when you are gathered together.  In your prayers, remember how God has blessed you already and continues to bless you each day.  Don’t be hesitant to take your requests to God and to share those petitions with one another. For prayer brings peace… peace leaves us open to the Holy Spirit… and the Holy Spirit keeps our hearts and minds grounded in Christ. 

Blessings and Love in Christ – Pastor Maureen

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (August 2016)

posted Aug 16, 2016, 3:59 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. ~ 1 John 3:18

Following the heinous act of violence in Orlando, Florida this past June, I came across a colleague’s post on Facebook.  The post had a picture of the night skyline of the city of Orlando.  On the picture it had “Pray for Orlando” (yes, the word “pray” had a strikethrough).  Did my colleague mean we should cease praying for the victims and their families or not pray at all?  By all means, NO!  Under the picture he had an explanation which included, “We are past a time of prayer and preaching… it is a time for action.”  He did not mean we should cease praying.  What he meant was that he was tired of the political rhetoric being a simple “let’s pray” with no action flowing forth from that prayer.  We hear over and over again in the face of gun violence, “We are very sorry for the victims and their families; we will keep them in our prayers,” but we see little to no action from our political leaders accompanying those prayers. And we need action… some plan to work towards making our country safer instead of the constant in-fighting of our elected leaders where next to nothing gets done in regards to this issue and we witness yet another mass shooting on our TV screens.  But… we still need prayer so that God’s Spirit can direct us to how we can faithfully address our elected leaders; how we can meet people in their needs with love and peace; and how we can live in the kingdom of the world while living in the kingdom of God. 

Now, I am not going to get into political discussions on gun control, 2nd Amendment rights, mental health issues, religious and racial differences, immigration, etc.  I’m going to share with you the need for prayer and what I think it should be doing in our lives.

  1. Prayer helps us stay connected to God: We hear in Luke 11:10-11, “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  I think this Scripture means that God will give us what God thinks we need.  Nevertheless, I believe it also has a deeper meaning – we should stay connected to God because we do not know what God will reveal to us and when it will be revealed.  So, don’t miss an opportunity to see what God has in store for you.  Stay connected through prayer!
  2. Prayer should spur us to action: There are many occasions in the Gospels where Jesus goes off to pray and then returns to his hands on ministry.  In Luke 9, Jesus goes up a mountain to pray with Peter, James and John.  On the mountain he is transfigured before them.  When they come down from the mountain, what happens?  He heals a boy suffering from an unclean spirit.  Our prayers should not be for our own sakes only.  Our prayers should stir us to action in this world.  Our prayers should compel us forward to work towards justice and goodness for all.
  3. Prayer gives us peace: In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Our prayers will keep us in the peace of Christ.  When we dwell in Christ’s peace, we can be agents of God’s peace in this world. 

The “gist” of what I am attempting to write – our prayer should inspire godly action and our action should come from our prayer connection with God.  Do not cease in praying… for you do not know how the Triune God will guide you to act in this world. 

In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (June/July 2016)

posted Jun 4, 2016, 5:46 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Summer is upon us.  Children and youth (and teachers!) get their much needed breaks from school.  Individuals and families take week-long or weekend vacations, camping trips, or adventures.  Some people enjoy a laid back, maybe even slow-paced time period.  And the Church normally experiences a decline in worship attendance and activity. 

So, I feel it is important to re-visit a question I have asked over the past few years (especially as we head into the season of lower worship attendance and church activity): Why is gathering for worship (or “going to church”) important – to you and for others?  In the past I have heard people tell me they can commune with God in nature.  Or, they need only to find a secluded place for prayer and meditation with God.  Yes, there are times we need individual time with God; nature and secluded places offer great opportunities of time with God.  Even Jesus went alone to pray (Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:22-23; Luke 5:15-16).  But the New Testament also witnesses to times when Jesus’ followers came together “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)  The word “worship” may not be in this passage, but I think we can conclude it was implied as a typical activity for those who followed Christ. 

Why is gathering together for worship important? 

1.      The community of faith is a gathered community.  We have been baptized into the community of Christ.  That involves getting together to be in community with God and with one another.  Sure, we can gather as a community other times – for Bible Study, prayer groups, meals, social events, etc.  But the opportunity we have to gather together frequently is worship.  Plus, when we worship, we gather around the Word and Sacrament. The Lutheran Confessions tell us that the Church is “the gathering of the saints where the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”  Which leads me to my next two points…    

2.      The community of faith is the gathered community where we hear the Word of God proclaimed to us!  We hear this Word (the saving acts of God in Christ Jesus) proclaimed when the Scriptures are read, when the sermon is preached, when we lift up our voices in song, when we offer our prayers to God, when we share the Peace of Christ, and more.  When we attend worship we experience the many means God’s Word is proclaimed to us.  Hearing this proclamation is important because it revitalizes us each week to leave the place of our worship and make disciples of all people.  In the gathering of worship we are promised that God’s Spirit will be among us in our work and reminded that Christ’s presence in our lives. 

3.      The community of faith is a gathering where we receive the visible forms of God’s grace: Holy Baptism and Communion.  When we attend worship, we see the baptismal font.  The font reminds us of our baptism and the promises that come with our baptism: we are forgiven of our sins, we are united to Christ, and we are made part of the Church.  When we attend worship, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  When we hear the words “this is my body given for you… this is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins” we are reminded that Christ went to the cross to free us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  It is within worship we receive these visible assurances that God in Christ loves us, lifts us to new life, and promises to save us. 

God in Christ calls us to be in community with one another.  Joining in worship of the great works God has done through Jesus Christ brings us together to experience that community and the promises found within the gathering.  Gathering for worship nourishes us with the Word and Sacrament so we can scatter and sow the seed of the kingdom. 

In Christ,

Pastor Maureen

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (May 2016)

posted Apr 29, 2016, 2:03 AM by Russell D. Hampton

“I have spoken these things while staying with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you. ~ John 14:25-26

On Sunday, May 15 we will celebrate the festival of Pentecost.  Pentecost is the day where the Holy Spirit was poured onto the disciples in full force.  The Book of Acts tells us how the disciples were waiting – waiting for the arrival of the promised Spirit.  Then the Holy Spirit was loosed upon the world: a violent wind filled the house where they were staying, divided tongues of fire rested upon their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (this Spirit gave them the ability to speak in a multitude of languages).  Peter stood before a gathered crowd to proclaim the story of Jesus with passion and conviction.  The scriptures tell us 3,000 people were baptized that day.

The events of Pentecost called me to reflect upon the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I would say Lutherans have not been good at paying attention to the Holy Spirit.  Sure, we acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.  We confess the Holy Spirit as a being of the Holy Trinity – One God, three persons; three persons, One God.  Nevertheless, we may not be able to describe who the Holy Spirit is for us.  So, I would like to address two questions: Who is the Holy Spirit?  What does the Holy Spirit do in our lives?   The best places to look are Scriptures, Creed, and Catechism.

1.   Scriptures – According to John, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, Jesus spoke final words to his disciples.  Part of this discourse included a promise that Jesus would not leave his disciples abandoned and alone.  Jesus promised to them the Paraclete – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This word “paraclete” can be translated many ways – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, or Intercessor.  But the truth is the Holy Spirit is all these roles.  If you read the Book of Acts or Paul’s letters or other writings of the New Testament, you will observe the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believers.  The Holy Spirit gave them comfort and strength.  The Holy Spirit led them to speak the truth and find joy in their present circumstances.  The Holy Spirit would direct them again and again to the promise of life and salvation in Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit reveals Christ’s presence among them.  The Holy Spirit does the same in the life of all believers of Jesus Christ. 

2.   The Creeds – We confess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”  We acknowledge in this confession that the Holy Spirit has always been present in this world.  The Holy Spirit is the voice speaking through the prophet and the Holy Spirit continues to sustain this world with life.  The Holy Spirit receives our worship and praise.  

3.   The Catechism – Martin Luther wrote the catechism so that followers of Christ could understand the essential elements of faith but also so that they could share the faith with others.  Through his study of the Scriptures, Luther gave us a way of understanding and expressing who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does for us.   Luther writes, “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with gifts, sanctified and kept me in the truth faith; even as the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”  We cannot understand who Jesus is or what Jesus has done without the Holy Spirit.  We cannot share the faith and use our gifts for service without the Holy Spirit leading us by the Gospel and giving us gifts for ministry.  The Holy Spirit acts in our lives so that we can have faith; use the gifts the Spirit activates within us; and keep us holy to do this work. 

I want to conclude this article by asking you to ponder the following questions: Where do you see the Holy Spirit calling, guiding, and acting in our life?  How do you respond to the Holy Spirit’s call?  How is the Holy Spirit leading the Church into the future? 

God’s Peace ~ Pastor Maureen

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (April 2016)

posted Mar 31, 2016, 9:57 AM by Russell D. Hampton

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

~ Acts 1:1-5

 

In our culture, Christmas is celebrated and recognized leading up to Christmas Day.  Once Christmas Day has come and gone, then the celebrations cease and people go back to business as usual.  Nevertheless, in the Church, Christmas is not a time leading up to the day of Christmas.  The time before Christmas is Advent and the Christmas season lasts from Christmas Day culminating in the celebration of Epiphany on January 6. 

 

The same thing happens at Easter time.  The cultural celebrations include Easter egg hunts, Easter themed candy arrayed on supermarket shelves, the Easter bunny inviting children to sit on his lap for photo ops, etc., all prior to the actual day of Easter.  But in the Church, the time leading up to Easter is marked by penance, the disciplines of Lent, and journeying with Jesus to his cross.  The celebration of the resurrection, beginning on Easter Day, is not one day but an entire season – beginning Easter day and culminating in the celebration of Pentecost 50 days later. 

 

This Easter season has Biblical roots.  The author of Acts tells us that Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days after the day of his resurrections.  He appeared to them to prove that he was alive, to further proclaim the kingdom of God, and to share with them that they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  After 40 days (notice the Biblical and liturgical connections here) he was taken up into heaven and the disciples were left waiting until the promised Spirit was poured out upon them.  Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the Spirit descends upon the disciples and the Day of Pentecost was celebrated (Pentecost meaning “fifty” – fifty days after the resurrection, the Spirit was released upon the whole world). 

 

I invite you to join in the full celebration of Easter.  This year, the appointed Gospel readings for the six Sundays following Easter Day will focus on John’s accounts of Jesus Christ’s resurrected appearances and Jesus’ teachings leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.  The sermon theme during the Sundays in Easter following Easter Day will focus on the readings from Acts where the Apostles proclaim the resurrection and perform signs to demonstrate the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.  Ascension liturgy – the celebration of Jesus being taken into heaven – will be held on Thursday, May 5 at Mount Zion beginning at 6:30PM.  Pentecost Sunday will fall on May 15 this year.     

 

Christ is Risen!  ~ Pastor Maureen

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (March 2016)

posted Feb 29, 2016, 11:04 AM by Russell D. Hampton

Christians in the ancient world celebrated Triduum – which means “three days.”  Triduum celebrates with solemnity Jesus’ passion and death and concludes with the joy of his resurrection.  Triduum lasts from Maundy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday.  In the past fifty years, the Lutheran church has witnessed a revival of the Triduum in the liturgical year.  Triduum has been celebrated in this parish since the 1950’s.    

One of the pastoral issues of the 21st century is that many Christians worship on Easter Sunday without observing the liturgies that lift up Jesus’ passion and death.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I believe that Easter Sunday is the most important Feast Day of the church year.  On Easter Sunday we celebrate God’s triumph over the powers of sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.  I pray that people will flock to church buildings to worship on this day.  Nevertheless, Christ’s death and resurrection go hand-in-hand.  We cannot find meaning in Christ’s death without his resurrection and there would be no weight to Christ’s resurrection without remembering his suffering and death.  As followers of our Lord Christ I think it is important we keep the whole feast of Triduum – beginning with Maundy Thursday moving to Good Friday and culminating with Easter Vigil.  For me, it gives a deeper meaning to the celebration in which we joyfully participate on Easter morning. 

Maundy Thursday: On this night we remember Christ’s last evening with his disciples.  He gathered around the table to share his final meal with them and instituted the Last Supper (which we celebrate each week in the liturgy of Holy Communion).  On this night, according to John’s gospel, Jesus knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet as a sign that he would give up his whole life for the sake of humanity.  “Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’  Jesus replied, ‘You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.’” ~ John 13:6-7.  At the conclusion of the evening, Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot and is arrested.  During the Maundy Thursday service, the community of faith gathers around Word and Sacrament, experiences the act of footwashing, and concludes with a stripping of the altar (to remember how Christ was stripped of his dignity and life).    

 

Good Friday: On this day, we journey with Christ through his trial, suffering, and death.  Traditionally the Passion according to John is read during the liturgy (Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts are read during the liturgy of Palm Sunday).  The liturgy includes the Bidding Prayer, the Adoration of the Cross, and the Solemn Reproaches.  During the service, the sin of the world is revealed at its fullest in the suffering of God’s Son.  “At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ~ Matthew 27:46. 

 

Easter Vigil: Traditionally, Christians would gather on Easter Vigil around midnight to “keep watch” until Easter morning.  The vigil celebrates the transition from the darkness of death to the light of resurrection.  The liturgy begins with the lighting of the first flame.  Readings from the Old Testament are shared to remember God’s mighty acts in this world.  The service then transitions from the darkness to the light where participants gather around the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments shared. In the ancient world, catechumenates were baptized at the Easter Vigil.  Some clergy attempt to reserve baptisms for this service, but if there are no baptisms, a Thanksgiving for Baptism will be celebrated.  “Jesus said,Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” ~ John 20:17b-20a.      

Blessings to your Lenten journeys and have a joyous Easter!  In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen 

 

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (February 2016)

posted Feb 5, 2016, 1:21 PM by Russell D. Hampton

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

These are the words we hear when we come forward to receive the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our journey through Lent – as we travel with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross.  The ashes that make the sign of the cross on our foreheads remind us of our frailty and mortality.  We are nothing more than dust and one day we shall return to that dust.  The ashes remind us that one day we will come to an end.

What a way to begin a journey – with ash!  With a reminder that every life placed on God’s creation will end in death.  Yet, there is a greater meaning to that cross of ash.  The cross placed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the One who will lead us out of death and into new life.  The cross of ash reaffirms the good news that, since we have been joined to the death of Jesus Christ, we shall certainly be joined to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The cross of ash seems like an ending, but becomes an invitation to make each day a new beginning.  Each day is a new beginning as we remember the promises made to us in baptism – that God continually washes us in forgiveness, mercy, and love.  With that cross on our brow, we await for the renewal that comes from the Easter Festival of Resurrection. 

While we wait for the celebration of the Easter Festival, we can work towards renewing our lives and relationship with God.  During Lent, we can works toward renewal through specific disciplines.  Now, I do not want you to think you have to make these disciplines a personal goal to be reached in 40 days.  I exhort you to place more emphasis on them during Lent so they can become a part of your daily lives throughout the whole church year. 

1.      Give alms – The hungry and poor will always be with us, not because God intends for it to be so, but because sin leads humanity into greed and neglect.  During Lent, our fundraising focus (see article) will be ELCA World Hunger “40 Days of Giving.”  Consider taking part in this fundraising effort. 

2.      Pray – We should pray every day thanking God for what we have and asking God to grant to us what we need.  Take time this Lent to strengthen your prayer life.  Prayer also helps us to listen for God’s voice in the midst of a chaotic world. 

3.      Fast – Traditionally, fasting means to give up food for a period of time.  However, think of other ways you can “fast” – limit time on social media or watching television; give up unhealthy foods and aim to eat healthy foods; if the weather is conducive to being outside, try to walk to places nearby instead of driving your car.  

4.      Practice Forgiveness – One of the hardest things to do is forgive another.  It is easier to hold onto anger and hurt then to let it go and move on with our lives.  Take some time this Lent to practice forgiveness and pray others will forgive you.   

5.      Engage in God’s Word – Read the Scriptures, attend a Bible Study, or participate in the Lenten mid-week services.  The Word is one of two ways (the other being partaking in the Sacraments) we are given assurances of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.     

Blessings to you during Lent!  In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen

Prayer: Gracious God, your mercy is greater than our imaginations, and the expanse of your love is beyond our comprehension.  Open our hearts, stretch our minds, and widen our perspectives, that we may recognize your work in and through our lives.  Amen.  (Bread for the Day: Daily Bible Readings and Prayers, 2016, p.31)

Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (December 2015 & January 2016)

posted Dec 7, 2015, 7:59 AM by Russell D. Hampton

O Come, blest Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel. 

(O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, LBW #34, v. 4)

As I sit at my desk, writing this article, I am haunted by the recent events in Paris, France and Beirut, Lebanon.  There were many lives lost and so many more lives affected by these tragedies.  But the other aspect that unsettles me is that it seems the terror and violence of this world is escalating exponentially each day.  I believe it grieves all of us and compels us to cry, “When Lord, will it end?!”

There was a story circulating on Facebook (it could have been true, it could have been an illustration, or it could have been a story taken from a Mr. Roger’s quote) following the Paris tragedy of a little boy asking his mother, “Mom, where was God when this happened?”  I believe the little boy was implying: Why didn’t God prevent this tragedy or why did God let it happen?  The mom answered back, “See all the people who ran to help.  God is there in those people.”

I can’t answer the question: Why do bad things happen to good or innocent people?  I certainly do not have THE answer to: Why did God let this tragedy or that violent act happen?  I have some explanations, but certainly not ones that will satisfy everyone or all situations.  What I do know is this: God promises to be in the midst of the people who are affected by the evil, violence, terror and death of this world. God promises to be present to help lift up those affected by tragedies.  God promises to shine divine light in the midst of darkness. 

God is present.  God is present through the first responders who risk their lives to stop the violence.  God is present in the bystanders who take heroic steps from letting violence escalates.  God is present in the community who offers support in the aftermath. God is present in the people who help, show kindness, and offer hope. 

We can trust that God is present because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Incarnate Word entered into our world to walk beside and with humanity.  He taught us about God’s ways of love, justice, mercy, and peace for all people, including the lowliest and most despised persons of this world.  Jesus proclaimed the good news that would set people free from captivity to this world and its ways of oppression.  Then Jesus demonstrated God’s love for this world by entering into the violence and evil, sin and corruption, darkness and death; dying on the cross; and triumphing over it all through the light and life of the resurrection. 

As we enter the Advent and Christmas seasons, let us remember: Christ has died – the Incarnate Word entered into this world to conquer sin and death and to bring life and salvation to all; Christ is Risen! – the presence of Christ remains with us in Word and Sacrament and in the persons of faith who seek to bring love and peace to this world; and Christ will come again – we place our hope in a day when God in Christ will disperse all darkness and evil, bring an end to death, and fill this world with everlasting love, peace, and joy. 

As we anticipate and watch for that day, let us be the presence of Christ to others.

In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen

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