On Ash Wednesday

Greetings in Christ,

Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. Lent is an essential part of the Church year as it leads us to Good Friday and Easter. Easter is the heart of our faith and the weeks of preparation are not to be set aside. On the surface, Lent seems to be a gloomy time with its focus on repentance and preparation, but it is so much more than that.

If we are to know the deeper blessings of Easter, our Lenten journey is to be central in our lives in weeks before we celebrate Easter. Our journey begins this week with Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is about the truth of who we are as human beings. As much as we would care not to admit it, we are all mortal. The truth spoken to us on Ash Wednesday is the final truth of our physical lives. We will one day be returned to the dust of the of the earth. All who are born will one day die. It is the one inescapable truth that every human being must acknowledge. We can delay it, ignore it, pretend that we will be exempt from it, but in the end it comes to us all.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of this truth, not to depress us, but to point us beyond ourselves to the One who has taken on our human nature, confronted and undone the power of death. Yes, the ashes placed on our foreheads are a reminder that we are dust, but they are also a promise that the One who has shared our humanity has come. By His death and resurrection, we no longer are enslaved by death which has no lasting victory over us.

So come to Ash Wednesday worship, receive the reminder of who we are and the promise of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.

 

 

Praying for our Enemies

Greetings in Christ,

 

'You have heard that is was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.’ Matthew 5.43-45

 

Jesus just keeps raising the bar for us in the Sermon on the Mount. He is making it clear that to be a disciple is not merely having one’s name on the membership registry of a congregation. Discipleship means that one’s whole life is dedicated to living in a way that is very much at odds with the prevailing culture. It is at the least very challenging and certainly not a little bit scary.

 

The way of the world is to love those who agree with you, who are like you, who share the same worldview as you and to be suspicious, even hateful of those who do not. Sadly, history has shown that this has been the practice of humanity from the moment we began to form groups. We have chosen hate and violence against one another from the very beginning, from the days of Cain and Able.

 

So, the world wise would say to Jesus, ‘Isn’t this a bit too much, a bit unrealistic, even dangerous?’ Jesus is no pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky dreamer. He very clearly understands humanity and its brokenness. He is not saying that we should be doormats for the world to trample upon. He is teaching us that the way of the Father is not the way of the world. Where the world says ‘hate’ we will say ‘no, the love of God compels us to act in different way.’ We will not return hate for hate, evil for evil. We will take the much harder path of showing the love of God to all. We will pray for those who would be our enemies so that God in His mercy will change their hearts and ours to turn from the useless ways of this world.

 

Some will argue that this is still so very unrealistic, that if we don’t fight against evil it will take over. We have fought evil with evil generation upon generation and it is still active among us. Jesus is asking us to take a different way, to seek the transformation of our lives and of the lives of those around us. It will not be easy, but unless we try, unless we begin, evil will continue its grip on humanity. 

 

So, pray for your enemies, learn to love as Jesus has loved us. Begin there as children of our heavenly Father living in a world yearning for its renewal.

 

Blessings in Christ,

 

Pr. Hatcher

On Listening

Greetings in Christ,

 

I did not watch the Super Bowl last night. It apparently was a pretty good game, but I wanted to see the movie ‘Hidden Figures” in Elkader. This movie was about the contribution made by African American women to the early days of the American Space Program. It was a story that I had never heard of before, but one that I found to be inspiring. There is always more to learn about who we are as human beings, especially about people whose stories are different from ours.

 

One of the things you notice about Jesus as He goes about his earthly ministry is the time He takes to listen to people. He does not just listen to those who agree with Him. As He listens He comes to understand who they are, what their concerns might be and then He responds. He may speak a word of hope, healing, comfort, inspiration or challenge. The goal of Jesus’ listening is to first know the person before He responds to them

 

We are in a time in our nation where the response comes before listening, if folk bother to listen at all. Folk act as if there is nothing they need learn about another person or group and all that needs to be done is to shout their answer to everything as loud as they can. It is as if no one else has a story worth hearing and if they don’t completely agree with our story then they must be shouted down.

 

This isn’t civil behavior and it certainly isn’t the example our Lord has given us. If we are to find a way for all voices to be heard, we need to take the time to listen to others, even if the things they are saying are the complete opposite of what we believe. If we can’t or won’t hear another’s story, how can we expect them to listen to ours?

 

Have a Blessed Week

Pr. Hatcher

On Anger

Greetings in Christ,

 

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV)

 

As I went to bed last night the news came of a shooting at a mosque in Quebec. This morning the news tells of 6 killed and many more wounded. Reports indicate that at least two people have been arrested in relation to this crime. The cycle of violence seems to be unending and there will be investigations that will attempt to bring to account those responsible. No one, regardless of who they are, should live in fear of violence inflicted on them simply because of who they are. 

 

Jesus as He teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount is quite clear about the origin of murder, of violence. Every violent act has it’s beginning with anger growing in the heart. Anger is a dangerous thing in a sinner’s heart for it can grow and spread so quickly that it bursts forth from us in actions we can barely comprehend or control. At the extreme, anger leads to the taking of life, but long before the act is done, anger has paved the way.

 

Jesus teaches us to be attentive to our hearts so we may see early on what is growing there. He teaches us to recognize at an early stage the anger that seeks to undo us, name it for what it is and lay it before the Father. He teaches us to confess our anger to the Father and pray for His strength to dislodge the anger in our hearts. He teaches us to ask that any anger be replaced with His mercy and grace that we might then turn over to Him the anger that would control our lives.

 

Is anger ever justified? Yes, Jesus shows us this as He cleanses the Temple, but He is in control of his anger and it ceases when the need is past. Anger left uncontrolled will rapidly control us and our lives will be consumed by it.

 

Let us pray for the victims of this latest violence, for the victims of anger we do not hear about and that we ourselves might not let anger become the master of our lives.

 

 

On Blessings

Greetings in Christ,

 

‘Blessed are you…’, so begins the part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we call the Beatitudes. The blessings of which Jesus speaks do not sound like blessings as we think of blessings. ‘Blessed are you poor in spirit, who mourn, the meek, those hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

 

We regard a blessing as a thing that is a benefit or good in our lives. We don’t think of poverty of spirit, mourning, or persecution as blessings. Indeed, we would see them as things to avoid if we could. Yet, Jesus tells us that even in these things we can know blessing.  The blessings that Jesus speaks of find their source in God the Father.

 

A blessing that based on the things of this life can change or disappear entirely. They too often depend on things that are out of our control or if we do have some say, depend on our emotional, physical or financial state. Then what was once seen as a blessing no longer is and we are filled with sorrow, pain and loss.

 

The blessings that flow from God the Father are ours in all circumstances of our lives. They cannot be taken from us or undone by anything we encounter in this life. Even in the deepest valley of sorrow, loss and death, the love of the Father is ours. It may not be easy for us to see the blessing of the Father in our struggles, but in faith in Him, we can learn the confidence of His enduring presence.

Blessings in Christ,

Pr. Hatcher

On Faithfulness

Greetings in Christ,

 

January is the time for Annual Reports in the life of a congregation. They are often statistics of the events of the parish life in the past year, the number of baptisms, confirmations, deaths, transfers and such. There are questions about the financial health of the congregation and plans for the future ministry. There is value to looking at these things as trends in membership, finances and plans can give an indication of the direction and health of a congregation. What they cannot do is give a picture of the faithfulness of the members as they serve the Lord.

Our faithfulness to Jesus is not measured by the amount of money we give, the time we spend at church, or the plans we have made about the future of our congregation. Our faithfulness to Jesus is a matter of the heart and soul. It begins with a living relationship to the Risen Jesus. The daily walk with Him in our lives is where we deepen our life in His love and mercy. 

Faithfulness takes shape in the prayers lifted to the Lord in the small hours of the night, often for people who will never know that they were being held in prayer. Faithfulness appears in words of hope and encouragement to the neighbor when their lives have taken a turn for the worse. Faithfulness appears as we read our Bibles to go deeper into the mysteries of God revealed to us in His Word. Faithfulness appears in the loving invitation to someone to join you in worship. Faithfulness appears in our longing for the Holy Supper and blessing it gives us in our lives.

Our congregations may be small ones serving in a rural area where like many rural areas the population is aging and declining, but our faithfulness to our Lord remains the center of who we have been, who we are and who we will continue to be.

 

Have a Blessed Week

Pr. Hatcher

On Preaching and Hearing the Word

Greetings in Christ,

I have belonged to a Pastor’s Text Study group for well over twenty years. We meet each Tuesday morning to go over the lessons for the coming Sunday worship. Our goal is to dig as deeply into the texts as we can in order to better prepare the message for the coming Sunday. Most folk are surprised to discover that the average sermon takes between 10 to 20 hours of preparation for a sermon that last 15 to 20 minutes. There are some pastors who can just get up and give a sermon with little preparation, but they are rare.  The pastors I know want to bring a message that helps the hearers come closer to God and that takes effort.

Of course, the Holy Spirit is the chief actor in any sermon. The pastor puts in the effort they can to do as well as possible each week, but the Holy Spirit is the One who brings the fullness of God’s Word, sometimes in spite of the preacher. I am grateful that the Spirit is always at work for I would never presume to get into the pulpit week by week merely on my own. As Luther’s Sacristy prayer goes, ‘if it were left up to me, I would have ruined things long ago.’ Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit is at work in the proclaiming God’s Word.

That same Spirit is at work in the hearing of the Word as well. A Christian who is prepared to hear the Word will discover the Spirit at work in them as the sermon is proclaimed. We do well to ask for an attentive heart the the Word may find a place within us. If we come in the expectation of hearing a Word from God we are often surprised by that Word. We would also do well to pray for the one called to proclaim the Word. Faithful preaching is not an easy task and your prayers for the pastor as they prepare and preach will help in their responsibility.

Finally, the Word properly proclaimed will at time give us great comfort and at other times challenge us deeply. We should give thanks to God for both, the Word as a comfort to our troubled soul and the Word that moves us out of our comfort zones to a deeper life in Christ. This is not always easy for us, but once moved by the Spirit, we discover an even richer life in our Lord.

Facing the Dark Beast

Greetings in Christ,

‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you.’   1 Peter 5.6-7

Anxiety is a dark beast that stalks many, if not all of us.  It is the rare person who is free from that lurking dread that is anxiety.  Most can cope with the fears that it brings as it seeks to draw us into despair and unbelief. They are able to live their lives and keep the effects of anxiety at bay.

There are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ for whom anxiety is the daily background of their lives.  It is not what they want and would send away if they could.  But it will not leave them nor will it give them peace of heart and mind.  Theirs is a struggle that few of us can imagine nor understand.  It is a struggle that often isolates the person in a personal hell, making the simplest daily task a challenge to accomplish

We have made great progress in helping  people carrying the burden of anxiety, but we can always do more.  We may not have the expertise that allows us to diagnose and treat anxiety and its related disorders, but we can all become more compassionate toward one another.  We can help one another remember that not only are we members of a common humanity, but we are all beloved children of God.  We can encourage one another to cast all our anxieties on God as the writers of the psalms often do.  In so doing, we are helping those who struggle with anxiety to voice before God and others the pain they know in their lives.

We will not all be fully healed in this life.  Our perfect healing of anxiety and all other diseases of body, mind and spirit will come when our Lord’s Kingdom comes in its fullness.  Until then we can help one another by listening with Christ like love, helping one another to lay all our anxieties on the Lord, for he does indeed care for us.

Thou Hast Known Me

Greetings in Christ,

 

Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them the days that were formed for me,when as yet there was none of them.

 

370,000, that’s how many people are born each day.  It is a number that isn’t real until one of that number is your child or grandchild.  On Wednesday, our newest grandchild will be one of 370,000 babies born that day.  Months and weeks of prayers for a safe pregnancy and delivery will transform into a lifetime of prayers for her life, that it would be a life filled with God’s blessings and joys.

 

Of course, we have no idea of how this Wee One’s life will go, what joys she may know, what sorrows she may experience.  We do not know if her life will be long and full, or if it will be brief and sorrowful.  These things are hidden from us.  Yet they are all known to God who formed her in her mother’s womb.

 

The psalmist, speaking by the Holy Spirit, gives us insight into the nature and mystery of God.  What to our hearts and minds is unknown and unknowable, is as bright and clear as a sunny Iowa morning.  The whole of history from the beginning of all things to the ending of time is laid out before God and known by Him.

 

More wondrously, each moment of each life is known to God.  Long before this newest grandchild was conceived, her life was known to God and she was loved by Him.  As St. Paul reminds us, that before the foundation of universe the love of God was present for us all.

 

It is in that eternal love and mercy that we live our lives, knowing that each day is His blessing to us as each life is precious to Him. May you, and all the generations yet to be born, know this love.

Bright Monday

Greetings in Christ,

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Monday following Easter is called ‘Bright Monday’.  It is intended to be a day of continued celebration of our Risen Lord and a day of personal renewal in the faith.  it is a wonderful tradition that helps to keep alive the joy and celebration of Easter as well as taking the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection out into our Monday world.

We are an Easter People, that is our lives are all lived in the light of the Resurrection and there are no days are not touched by this truth.  It is an ongoing challenge for us to live in the Light of the Risen Lord in an increasingly secular world, but the challenge should not trouble us.  Living fully in Christ has always been the daily task of the Church and the individual Christian.  

I hope you can look for ways to live out the Easter joy on this Bright Monday as well as all the other days of the week, even until the Lord comes again.

On Numbness to Sin

Greetings in Christ,

The temperature is hovering just under -9 degrees as I write this week’s email.  I can see the smoke rising from the homes around the parsonage as the furnaces work against the cold that seeks to invade these dwellings, but is kept at bay by the warmth those furnaces provide.  The cold at these levels is life threatening and most of us would find ourselves in serious trouble with only few minutes exposure to this cold.  Even dressed warmly, we would begin to notice the creeping effects of the cold on our bodies in just a few minutes.  Should the cold remain at this level and we remain out in it, it could take our lives from us.  Once the shock of the cold had passed, our bodies would begin to shut down and we would be lulled to sluggishness, then a sleep from which we would not awaken.  

The effect of sin in our lives is similar to such cold.  At first we would be shocked by sin, even afraid of it and its power to damage and destroy our lives.  Then, over time, we would notice it less and less until our spirits are numb to it and its effects on our life in Christ.  Eventually, unrepented sin would lead us into the sleep of spiritual death from which we would not awaken.  

If we are to combat the effects of extreme cold, we must first recognize the danger it presents and take measures to warm our bodies back to life.  So too with the effects of sin, we much recognize the danger, the subtle danger of sin and turn to the warming mercy of God who by His forgiveness leads us out of the sleep of death sin seeks to impose on our lives. Just as we first begin to see the dangers and effect of severe cold on our physical bodies and begin to act to keep ourselves warm, so to we need to see the beginning effect sin has on our lives and begin to seek the grace that Christ gives to those who have received and live in His Spirit.  We find this life giving warmth in God’s Word and His Holy Sacraments which overflowing with God’s grace and mercy keep us in the warmth of Christ.

God's Saints

Greetings in Christ,

Each year for Christmas Jackie gets me new calendar for my study.  For several years now it has been a calendar of Orthodox Christian icons, this year’s being a commemoration of American Orthodox saints.  I love icons and what they can teach the believer about the faith through the lives of those who have been faithful witnesses to Christ.  Each day of the year on this calendar is given over to the live or lives of particular saints. 

In all honesty, I have to look up most of the saints listed as so many of them are unknown to me.  And that is as it should be, the vast majority of the saints of God are always going to be unknown to the larger world.  They labor for the Lord and the love of His Kingdom without any regard for the world’s notice of what they are doing.  It is not a pretense of humility rather it is an act of love being returned to God for all His grace and mercy.  

When I consider the names of the saints on my office calendar I am also reminded that there are uncounted millions of saints who will never be listed in any public way but whose efforts of love are known to God.  We see them every day, though we may know them as a saint as their works of love are directed away from themselves toward the Father and others around them.  

It is the devoted and Christ centered work of these myriads of unknown saints that presents the living Gospel of God’s love to the world and for them we give thanks for the love of God they live in their daily lives.

On Families

Greetings in Christ,

My Mom’s birthday is December 21 and many years I am not able to be with her to celebrate as it is so close to  Christmas and there is much to do in the parish.  This year she turned 85 and all her kids were able to be with her to celebrate the day. We don’t all get together often due to distance and work schedules.  It was wonderful to have us all together for a happy celebration.

A family is something we all have.  It may be a large, boisterous, delightful group.  It may be a small, close knit circle.  It may be always fun to be together.  It may be difficult and trying to be as family.  There is no perfect family that only knows harmony and bliss.  Each family faces times of great challenge that may not always be successfully managed.  There may be families that are so broken that being together is just too painful.  A family is something we all have.

Jesus was born into a family.  Joseph and Mary were not His only relatives, there may have been literally dozens of others in and around Nazareth as Jesus grew.  They may have been a wonderful gathering of people or they may have been a challenge.  They probably fell somewhere in between, just like most of ours do.  It is unlikely that His family was any more perfect than any of ours.  

This is part of the joy of the Christmas message, that God comes among us not as we should be but as we are.  As John writes in his gospel, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’  Jesus comes to us as we are in order to redeem and renew us from our brokenness.  We have in Jesus the One who brings forgiveness to us and leads us toward that day when all the imperfections of human life will be no more and we will all know the joy of God’s family.

Until that day, may the One who came among us so fill our lives with His love and mercy that we catch a glimpse of what will one day be ours.

On Responding to Evil

Greetings in Christ,

 

    What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.    Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)

    The writer of the book Ecclesiastes does not have a very high opinion of human nature.  And, given what has taken place in our world in recent days, one would be tempted to say he is pretty much spot on.  We are shocked by the violence done to innocent people in Paris last week and by the senseless violence in our own community.  We are shocked but not terribly surprised.  Human nature has not changed since the Garden when Adam and Eve rebelled against God.  The violence of Cain against his brother, Abel, foreshadows human relationships since that time to this. And, as the writer of Ecclesiastes bemoans, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’

    Our first impulse is to do something against those who did this great evil.  It is right to bring those who do evil to account for what they do, but we must take care as we seek those who are responsible.  We may be tempted to act in such a sweeping way that we may give evil to others who are innocent of any crime, but who look like those we think are responsible.  It is the nature of evil, and of its father the devil, to incite us to ever greater evil in our desire to hold accountable those who are responsible.    If we bomb a village in Syria because it may harbor terrorists and kill dozens of innocent civilians, we have descended to the level of those who have done these crimes.  If we lash out at a neighbor because they appear to be from the Middle East, we have let the evil of those who have murdered the innocents dictate our actions.

    Our Lord teaches not to return evil for evil, rather to return the evil of others with the goodness of Christ.  Yes, hold them accountable for what they have done.  Yes, prevent them from doing further harm.  Yes, if we must, fight them to prevent them from greater evils, but we must not let the evil, the hatred of life, that drives their mad actions to infect us as well.  As we hold those who have done this evil accountable, we will also show them the mercy of Christ who can lead even the most wretched sinner out of sin, death and the power of the devil.  May Our Lord through His Holy Spirit transform their hearts as He has transformed ours.

Living in God's Presence

Greetings in Christ,

Today, November 9, is Sofie Davis’ 101st birthday. Sofie is a member of First and we gave God thanks for her many years in worship yesterday and pray, if it pleases God, that she may have more years of blessings among us.  As we celebrate Sofie’s birthday we are reminded of our own birthday. Each year as we observe the day on which we were born, let us be reminded of the gift of life that is given to us by our heavenly Father.

It is the purpose of God that we all know we are created in His image and are intended to be known and loved by Him.  Our Father keeps His purpose for us in that His love never ends for us and He knows us perfectly in all aspects of our lives.  For so great a love and mercy, we give God thanks, yet we know that not all lives are filled with the blessings God our Father desires for us.  Nearly everyone faces some challenges to joy in their lives, some seem to have no end of pain, loss and sorrow.  

It is easy to ask if we have a loving God as our Father, why do so many of His beloved children know pain and suffering?  There are answers that attempt to explain why this is so, sadly most fall short of giving the peace and understanding we seek.  As I live with the reality that our world still groans under the weight of sin and death, and that many, far too many, know the pain of sorrow and loss, I must remind myself that God our Father has promised that one day all this will not even be a memory, that the beauty and joy of His Kingdom will come in it’s fullness, and we shall all know the unending love of His presence.

Until that day, I hold close the words of the 23rd Psalm, fourth verse: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou are with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”  

The presence of our loving Father be with you all today.

The Beauty of Worship

Greetings in Christ,

‘Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;’ Psalm 96.9

My son, Matt, teases me at Sunday dinner, at least I think he is teasing me, about how the pastor went on and on during worship.  It is funny how we look at time.  Last Saturday night Matt and I went to the Iowa State game against Texas.  The game started at 6:00 pm and ended at about 9:30 pm.  Neither of us complained a bit that it was taking too long, in fact we probably would have enjoyed even more time watching the Clones win.  We enjoyed the time at the game because our hearts saw the beauty of the game.

If we regard worship as an obligation to be fulfilled, then worship will not be beautiful for us.  If it is not beautiful to our hearts, then the minutes will drag and an hour given to worship will seem unending.  How does worship become beautiful?  How can it be transformed from something to be endured to something in which our souls rejoice?

We discover the beauty of worship by heeding the Psalm, the beauty of worship is in the beauty of the Lord.  Whenever someone says to me that worship is boring or uninteresting, I remind them that we encounter the living God in worship.  Such an encounter is never boring.  Worship, our encounter with God, may be poorly led, badly planned by those who lead it, but coming into God’s presence is never boring.

There are a few things we can do so that we may discover the beauty of the Lord in any worship service.  The first is our attitude.  If we come expecting that we will meet our Lord in worship we will find our spirits open to His presence in even a poorly planned or led worship.  Secondly, we should give some time to learning what each part of worship is about and what it means.  The more fully we understand what we are doing, the more fully we become involved in the worship.  Thirdly, we should be in prayer for those leading worship.  The vast majority of pastors want to lead worship in a holy and useful manner.  Some are more gifted than others, but most are doing the best they can with the talents they have.  Our prayers will go a long way sustaining them as they lead as well as preparing our hearts to worship.  Lastly, if the worship is not showing us the beauty of the Lord, then we should talk with those who are given the responsibility to lead worship. It may be that together any deficiencies in our worship can be discovered and improvements made.

Worship is at the heart of our relationship with God our Father.  Let us seek to discover the beauty of Lord in holy worship.

All Saints Day

Greetings in Christ,

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, as is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’  Hebrews 12.1-2

This coming Sunday is All Saints, the day in which we remember those who have died in the year past. We also remember those who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Our baptism into Christ is also our entry into His triumph over death so that as we come to All Saints Day we need not be overwhelmed by the fear of death.

Death is a reality that no human being can ignore nor escape.  We are fortunate that we live in a land where death is held at bay by modern medicine and most folk enjoy long lives with relatively few health concerns.  Still, even we must face our final day’s approach in the knowledge that we cannot prevent its coming. 

We face this reality in the confidence that comes from Christ’s having already confronted death and conquered it. By Jesus’ rising from the dead on Easter, we need no longer see death as the end, rather as the beginning, the door by which the child of God is ushered into the new life of God’s Kingdom.  As St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his hymn, ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’ 

    And you, most kind and gentle death,

    Waiting to hush our final breath,

    Oh, praise Him! Alleluia!

    You lead to heaven the child of God,

    Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.

In the glory of our Risen Lord, even death itself becomes the servant of God.  For what death seeks to take from us God gives back in our rising in Christ.  

Let us give thanks this All Saints Day for those baptized into Christ and for those at rest in Him as we all await the day of our resurrection.

On the Eighth Commandment.

Our parish website is up and running.  You can find it at wwwfirststpaul.net  We live in a marvelous time when it comes to communication.  We have news 24 hours a day through TV, radio, and the internet.  One can find out information on any subject with a simple web search.  We are better informed than any previous age and that is a good thing.

However, the same speed and widespread nature of information that is a blessing to us can also be a source of terrible misinformation.  Not everything you see is alway 100% accurate, is incomplete or just flat out wrong.  Last week there was a news story about a woman who sued her 12 year old nephew for injuries she received at his birthday party when he hugged her.  The initial news story made her out to be the worst aunt ever and everyone was upset about how she could do such a thing.  A day later it came out that her injury required surgeries and her insurance company insisted that the homeowners insurance of her nephew’s parents pay for it.  Apparently under the laws of the state in which they lived, the insurance company couldn’t be listed as the defendant, so the 12 year old nephew had to be named.  Nobody wanted to do it, but to get her medical bills paid that is what had to be done.

The lesson we learn is what we learn from our Catechism in Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment, ‘You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.’  Luther reminds us: ‘We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.’  

As Christians we always seek the truth about others so that we may speak of them in the kindest way.  As St. Paul reminds us, we are to speak the truth in love, regarding those about whom we speak as someone worthy of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

On Prayer and Song

I have a needlepoint on my bookshelf that was given to me many years ago with a quote that is attributed to St. Augustine - “He who sings prays twice.”  It is a sentiment that is borne out by our worship life in the Church.  So much of what we do in worship grows out of singing.  There is something about singing that draws the heart of the believer in to a deeper appreciation of God’s Word that merely speaking the words cannot do.  Each of us has a favorite hymn or part of the liturgy that resonates in our hearts like nothing else is able to do.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, instructed his followers to sing and not worry about how harmonious they might be as the act of singing helps the faith to grow.

Luther also saw that music could encourage and teach the faith in a way that nothing else could do.  He wrote several hymns and encouraged Lutherans to sing in worship, a tradition that we still follow today and for which we can give God thanks and praise for voices lifted to Him in song.