St. Mark’s goes live today — in the sanctuary and online!

Open doors

We have waited and prayed and longed for this day! For the first time in almost six months, the sanctuary at St. Mark’s will have worshippers in attendance! Church doors open at 9:45 a.m. and you will see many changes, as you know already if you have watched our “Reopening Day” video.

That’s not to say we have not been worshiping together throughout this long building closure, which was done in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We have been together — online!

And thanks to the work of John Lasher and our Worship Committee, that online option will continue for all who are unable to join us in the sanctuary for any reason. See John’s guide to the new “livestreaming” broadcast that starts today at 9:55 a.m.

Many thanks to Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for producing the weekly prerecorded worship services that have helped us stay connected as much as possible during this time of extended separation.

Thanks, too, to the musicians and the virtual choir, the worship assistants and all who have continued to support the ongoing ministry of St. Mark’s with your prayers, gifts, mask-making, fundraising, notes of encouragement and other assistance. Thanks to Council President Kitty Dombroski and all who serve with her on the Leadership Council and its Worship Committee. Thanks to Office Manager Cheryl Denneny and Sexton Rick Johnson and all who have given their time and talents during this unexpected interruption of life together.

Now some of us are returning to in-person worship, but many will continue to wait until the virus is brought under control or a vaccine is available. We trust you to make the best decision for you and your family and we want you to be comfortable and connected in the way that suits you best.

We will continue to provide online access to our worship services. They will be broadcast live on our YouTube Channel and then will be archived there for future viewing. You can participate at any time, wherever you have an internet connection.

Thank you for your patience as we continue to develop and refine the tools we use for these broadcasts. We are amazed at the ways God has provided — and we hope to fill you in on some of the stories behind the scenes in the not-too-distant future.

Click on the image below to link to our YouTube livestream. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon for today is also available below.

Altar and stained glass window at St. Mark's

“That Which Cannot Be Overstated” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I believe most of you by now realize how important the righteous acts of Christians are to me. It is never exclusively or even primarily our personal salvation and spiritual well-being. We carry in our redeemed hearts and minds, the compassion, healing impulses and genuine concern for others of Christ.

The story was told decades ago about a certain lighthouse, the obvious purpose of which was to keep ships in the channel and not aground at night. Volunteers showed up regularly to clean, repair and manage the lighthouse so that it continued to fulfill its purpose. But the volunteers started gathering, having parties and neglecting the lighthouse in favor of activities more fun but less noble and necessary. It no longer fulfilled its purpose!

Jesus warns against putting our lights under a bushel basket (Matthew 5:15). The Church, which is not a building but a community of believers, has as its purpose to “let your light so shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) When we move in on ourselves and fail to shine for the sake of others, we lose our purpose and reduce Christ’s suffering and death to meaninglessness.

At the very core of the Christian faith, however, is something even more important in a practical way. Without this core, we are not Christians at all for this core is also at the center of the nature of God. I am speaking of forgiveness!

David, in Psalm 103, professes the following: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…. He does not deal with us according to our sins … as far as the east is from the west so far he removes our transgressions from us.” (portion of 8-12)

Remove or ignore this core essence of God to forgive and we lose. Other gods may demand appeasement, sacrifices, rigid rituals, but God invites faith in who He is, and regarding us, what He does in Christ.

Matthew 18:15-20, our Gospel for today, is a powerful if really simple process about our learning to forgive. It is also perhaps one of the most abused portions of the Christian Scriptures, which has been used by Popes and other pious  persons to manipulate kings and other leaders. It has been used all too often as a threat: “if you do not do what I/we want, you will be excommunicated.”

Clearly, this passage has been rightly called “Church Discipline.” At the end of the process “if an offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The Amish in our day and certain churches in the past have called this “shunning!”

Please do not go to the end of the process too quickly. As Christians forgiven, it is both our duty and our delight to be forgivers. This could not be any more serious or special. If we don’t forgive, we are not forgiven. In the prayer our Lord taught us, God the Father does the feeding, the avoiding and the deliverance. The only thing we pray for and do is to be forgiven AS we forgive those who sin against us. The forgiveness petition is the pivot around which the whole prayer matters and the Christian life centers. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:7), Jesus shared “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”The word 'forgiveness' written in sand

Travel with me to the beginning of this process. If someone in the Church sins against you, “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” The Eighth Commandment as we number them is about not bearing false witness. Luther went so far as to say that if we tell the truth about someone for malicious reasons, we are violating this commandment. Bearing false witness implies blabbing about someone else all over the place. The prescription in Matthew 18 begins with keeping the issue, whatever the sin is, contained. But it is more: “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” The purpose is not to judge the other but to hopefully embrace the other, to hold again the other in positive regard.

If that does not work, “take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This mandate of two or three and not just one other witness is found in Deuteronomy 19:15 and thus has biblical precedent. Once again the purpose is to reconcile and restore the relationship and not to judge. The others are to witness to your behavior and not just to confirm the intransigence of the perpetrator.

If that does not work, “tell it to the church.” Only after several truly righteous attempts to straighten out the mess does it become potentially a public embarrassment and sanction. If even that does not work, then the person is to be shamed and shunned.

As antiquated as this process may seem and as abused throughout history as it has been, there are very practical advantages, especially to the forgiver whether the forgivee is moved to acknowledgment or not.

My favorite account in the Hebrew scriptures is the story of Joseph which takes up a significant amount of biblical space, Genesis 37-50. Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery. They were forced to come to Egypt to obtain grain due to a drought in Palestine 25 years later. They did not recognize Joseph and after Joseph’s own ruse — holding the youngest brother Benjamin responsible for a theft — he revealed himself to them. They all moved to Egypt, where the Hebrews would spend 435 years. Seventeen years after moving to Egypt, their father Jacob died. The brothers freaked out, believing now the axe of Joseph’s wrath was surely going to fall. What Joseph said to them in Genesis 50:15-21 is as beautiful as it gets. The deepest weeping comes from the forgiver. The brothers did not get their due! They had spent 42 years in guilt, shame and fear.

This is often true of anyone who has been in some way violated and yet has an opportunity to forgive. The one who forgives or is willing to forgive even if the other refuses to accept it, is free of the burden. When as Christians we are in a constant state of being forgiven and forgiving, we are far freer to be about the more positive aspects and privileges of our faith. Forgive us AS we forgive!

There is more. First of all, you do not have to and cannot forgive someone who sinned against someone else. As the Fallwell scandal has surfaced, Becki has been quoted as saying: “I wish Christians were as forgiving as Christ.” She didn’t violate or harm me. Perhaps the students, faculty and administration at Liberty University need to forgive her and her husband but not me. I cannot forgive someone for murdering another. It is noticeable how many of those affected by such a crime, are freed of a lifetime of anger and anxiety when they forgive the perpetrator even if they also get justice in imprisonment.

Secondly, no Christian community including St. Mark’s can or will survive the presence of animus and the absence of forgiveness in its midst. Jesus, still in the Sermon on the Mount says: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go, be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23, 24) This is often associated with Holy Communion. It is first “Holy” because the meal was established by Christ. It is also “common unity” with those partaking with you. You might have heard someone say along the way, at the altar, Holy Communion is between me and God. No it isn’t! God is NOT present when chronic conflict or animosity exists between God’s people. God affirms the reality of His people: if they are forgiving, so is He; if they are not, neither is He!

I believe that we need steady reminders of the power and absolute necessity of forgiving grace all over the place within Christian community. Without it, there is not just something missing, but someone missing. Without God we lose! With God we forgive and win!

Go and sin no more!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s Note: Happy Father’s Day! We join together again at a common time — 10 a.m. — with hopes of doing so in person soon. If you have arrived here later than that, the link to the prerecorded service on our YouTube channel will still work.

We are thankful to Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for their faithful delivery of these services that have kept us connected even while our building is closed during this Coronavirus pandemic.

Also participating in this service are worship assistant Beth Miller and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.


“Go and Sin No More!” (Romans 6:1b-11)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

Bishop [William] Gohl was to have been with us virtually today, but he prefers to wait until he can visit with us physically, which all of us hope is sooner than later, even if we are prepared to wait until the disease diminishes.

Our second lesson from Romans 6 is one most of us are familiar with if only because it is traditionally read at all baptisms.

Before moving on, we pray:

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, help us this day to remember and be renewed in our baptisms. This “rebirth” — like birth itself  need not be and cannot be remembered as usual. We did not choose our rebirth any more than we chose to be born to begin with. Just help us, O Lord, to know that You called us by name, made us Your own and promised never to leave nor to forsake us because of Jesus Christ. In His Name we pray and say “Amen!’”

The first insight I need to share with you is about prepositions and their importance in Scripture. In Paul’s letter, Chapter 6, it is especially important to note them.

Notice the preposition “into!” We are baptized INTO Christ Jesus and INTO His death.

Notice also “with.” “We were buried WITH him by baptism into death” and “if we have been united WITH him in a death like his, we will certainly be united WITH him in a resurrection like his.” The language here is intimate. “We know that our old self was crucified WITH him.”

In other words, in baptism we are drawn back to Christ’s death and, as we shall see, Christ is drawn forward to our lives now. It is all an extremely close encounter of the spiritual kind.

The question this occasions is: “How then shall we live?” If we are WITH Christ and were baptized INTO His death, what does this mean in this life and the next?

There are those in history and now who would answer this question in a behavioral way. Being IN Christ, we behave differently and better than we would otherwise. To some extent we should genuinely hope that is true. I would certainly like to think that not only in whom I believe but how I behave is vastly influenced by being IN Christ. That, however, has its limits and its downside.

Werner Elert, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and ethicist, after World War II, wrote that we Christians lift up an ethic to which we cannot possibly attain. We can never come close to being or behaving like Jesus. Martin Luther is often quoted for having said: “Sin boldly!” Before we experiment with that one, please note that he was speaking to those who felt they did not sin boldly and about how important grace and forgiveness are in the face of our sinfulness. Paul, a little later in this letter (7:19) wrote: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” While in a way that may sound like double talk, Paul is serious about openly sharing his reality.

If on the one hand Paul invites us not to continue in sin but goes on to admit that he continues in sin, even if he does not want to, what does this mean for us?

Sin most typically is understood as either bad behavior (commission) or as good behavior avoided (omission). Once again, we must stress that to some extent our behavior is influenced by being “en Christo” (in Christ). But is behavior what Paul is referring to here, and —if not — what in God’s name is he talking about?

I believe and many theologians are with me on this that Paul is here speaking of condition of relationship. Sin is brokenness with God and others. We are not to live in a broken but in a forgiven state. In Christ, our broken relationship with God is healed. God remains God and I, with all of my faults and sins, remain who I am. I am still not near perfect in anything, especially my behavior. With the relationship healed, God’s grace constantly flows with forgiveness toward and into me, having me live not in sin but forgiveness.

Maybe a pertinent metaphor would help.

It is Fathers’ Day! I love our children and they love me. I trust my bad behavior is at an absolute minimum especially as it regards my flesh and blood. I would never intentionally harm any of the three of them. I have sought nothing but their good even during those times I had to be firm. You might best be served by asking them about my imperfections. I could share with you about theirs.

But our love for each other is because of the relationship and not just the behavior. Our love is not just familial (phileo) but unconditional (agape). It can be damaged by bad behavior just as it can be affirmed by better behavior, but only in extreme instances can it be damaged, leaving permanent scars.

God is my Heavenly Father, my utterly perfect Heavenly Father. I am far from being His perfect son, who is Jesus and not me! But God still loves me because of the relationship, and with the relationship healed in Christ, I have the benefit of receiving and knowing God’s unconditional eternal love.

When Jesus encountered the adulterous woman in John 8 — followed by a crowd of Pharisees and others with stoning on their minds and hearts — He spoke of the one in the crowd having no sin getting to cast the first stone. By their own silence, not one of them stood the test. Jesus said to the woman: “Go and sin no more!” There are those who act as if Jesus said: “You are forgiven; go and sin some more!” Obviously, what Jesus actually said with “sin no more” had implications about her lifestyle or what we might more accurately call her “deathstyle.”

We are not forgiven so that we can misbehave, but are forgiven because we know where forgiveness can be found when we do misbehave. In the meantime, who among us would argue about good behavior like loving God with all of our hearts, souls, strengths and mind and our neighbors as ourselves? Go and sin no more!

Virtual meetings, real connections

Two new online classes launch next week

By now, you probably know a lot about Zoom — the online video meeting platform that allows people to “meet” remotely by computer during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe much of your work requires such meetings, maybe your family and friends are catching up that way or maybe you’ve just heard a lot of Zoom jokes.

Some St. Mark’s members have been meeting by Zoom to carry on church business and to study. Among them are: the Leadership Council, the Transition Team, the Worship and Music Committee, the Wednesday Morning Bible Study and the Modern-Day Theologians group.

Now two new studies are forming — one studying Martin Luther, led by Gregory and Lynne Landrey, and one studying the seven churches of Asia Minor, led by Interim Pastor David Mueller. Details are below.

Both require a computer and Internet access. Both are limited to 20 participants. If you have not used Zoom before, we’ll help you get up to speed.

Registration information is listed below, depending on which class you wish to join. If you have any questions, call the church office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

CLASS DETAILS

WEDNESDAY EVENINGS:

Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World

Video and discussion

On October 31, 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 debate topics denouncing the corruption of the medieval world’s largest and most power institution to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act set into motion a series of events that would change the world in ways he could never have imagined.

The PBS documentary “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World” was produced in 2017 to celebrate the 500thanniversary of this remarkable event.

During this six-session class, we will be viewing the movie in its entirety. Each session will consist of watching approximately 15 minutes of the movie, reviewing it, making scriptural connections and discussing how it applies to our lives today.

WHEN: 7 to 8:15 p.m., Wednesdays, from May 6 through June 10

LEADERS: Gregory and Lynne Landrey

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom

TO REGISTER: Send an email to lhlslp@comcast.net

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 4

NOTE:  When signing up, please provide First/Last Name and email contact information. Also, kindly indicate if you are familiar with using the Zoom format or would like to participate in a brief tutorial.

SUNDAY MORNINGS:

The Seven Churches of Asia Minor

(Revelation 2 & 3)

The last book listed in the Christian “canon” has been the subject of abuse by some and neglect by most of us. “Apocalyptic” literature is utterly unfamiliar to us. Apocalyptic literature is characterized by the use of numbers and word pictures employed to assist in giving the best possible understanding of otherwise complex and seemingly cryptic matters.

Revelation can simply be viewed as a series of seven sevens. Do the math and one gets 49. The next number is 50, which in Biblical presentation is “Jubilee” or “The chance to start over again in a fresh manner.” This makes Revelation hopeful even if after some frightening images throughout.

The first “seven” has to do with the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. These are foundational to the rest of the book. Since seven means “complete,” this is a complete commentary by Christ of the Church, today as then.

WHEN: 9 to 10:15 a.m., Sundays, beginning May 10 through June 21

LEADER: Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom. Written copies of each session will be provided via email, each Monday after the session.

TO REGISTER: Call the office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 8

We love you — stay home!

St. Mark’s Church BUILDING is Closed

I can’t believe I am writing this. In the course of two weeks the way we do church has changed dramatically — at least for now. New words and ideas are now part of my daily life —pandemic, social distancing, Coronavirus, CDC, stay safe. Maybe stay safe should always be there! It’s happened fast and for many of us it’s a little hard to keep up. Watching the news makes me crazy. Not watching the news makes me uninformed. It’s hard to know what to do. I know my sons want me to turn it off.

St Mark’s Leadership Council had an emergency meeting on March 17 to discuss the Delaware State of Emergency and the best course of action. We want to do the right thing — for the larger community, for St Mark’s and for each other. We decided that we had to close the church building. It’s the right thing to do. We are sad, but we don’t want to get each other sick. It’s really that simple. STAY HOME. It only takes one person with no symptoms. We decided to re-evaluate the decision on April 19. Council will meet remotely via a web call. If that sounds very techie to you — it does to most of us, too. It is new for us but it is the right thing to do. I am grateful for technology right now. This will pass. In the meantime – STAY HOME. We will be communicating with you.

IN THE MEANTIME:

  • A brief sermon and music will go out with a link in an email each Sunday afternoon. The website will also be updated.
  • Each day from 6 p.m. through 6:10 p.m., we ask members to be praying for each other, the church, and the world.
  • We will update and send out emails as needed. Please be sure to check the website daily and check your email spam (or junk) folder. We know that not everyone has email. Call the office and let us know if you need USPS mail.
  • We are trying to creatively establish ways to keep our spirits up during this crisis. Be patient, please, as we learn together what is most effective.
  • The Transition Team is still meeting! Please mail your Green Sheets including the first one, if you did not already do so. This is absolutely essential – especially now!
  • Help us help you! Let us know if you need anything including Pastoral Care. The office will remain open (Cheryl is answering the phone during office hours even if she is working remotely sometimes.) The office number is (302) 764-7488.

We love you!  Stay home! Stay Safe!

Kitty Dombroski, president, Leadership Council

The Rev David Mueller, interim pastor

Lenten Wednesdays at St. Mark’s

St. Mark's altar during Lent

Join us for a special series of Wednesday evening gatherings through the Lenten season, a time of reflection, contemplation, repentance and preparation for the coming celebration of Easter.

At 6 p.m., we’ll share a soup and salad supper in the Great Room.

At 6:45 p.m., we’ll gather in the sanctuary for a brief evensong service, about 30 minutes in length, with prayer, Scripture and music.

Service of Lessons & Carols

Christmas star

Gather with us at 10 a.m. Sunday as we join our neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant for a joint Service of Lessons and Carols.

Savor the readings, the special music and the fellowship we have in Christ.

PCOC is at 503 Duncan Road, Wilmington 19809.

Thanksgiving Service

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!

We all have many reasons to give thanks and it is especially wonderful to give thanks together! Join us and four other congregations in our area for a special Thanksgiving Service, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 26.

The service will be hosted by our next-door neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, 503 Duncan Road. Three other congregations will join us, including Calvary Episcopal Church, Hillcrest-Bellefonte United Methodist Church and St. Helena’s Catholic Church.

Our Interim Pastor David E. Mueller will bring the message. Combined choirs will provide special music.

As an offering, we are invited to bring canned goods to help stock St. Helena’s Food Closet.

We’re excited about this! Join us!

Mardi Gras Potluck Festival

Mardi Gras items

Put on a Mardi Gras mask and come join the fun at St. Mark’s Mardi Gras Potluck Festival!

We’ll have a potluck dinner, so bring a dish or dessert to share.

And get a team together (five people on each team) for the Family Feud Tournament! We’re all one big family so ANYONE can be on your team.

Bring the kids! Bring family! Bring friends!

Connecting with EDGE for Tomorrow

Ginny Jones

Ginny Jones, executive director of EDGE For Tomorrow will be with us during the Adult Forum hour to bring us up to date on that ministry of our neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.

Founded in 2009, EDGE For Tomorrow provides services, support and advocacy for social justice, education and empowerment for those living below the poverty level in our local communities.

The EDGE After-School program is almost 8 years old and now provides free after-school care for about 30 children four days each week. It touches the lives of more than 100 families with programs that address illiteracy, poverty, parent education, family assistance and early childhood education.

Join us Sunday to learn more about this ministry and see how you might be involved.

Family Fun Night – Advent

Advent family

Did you know St. Mark’s is part of the Brandywine Collaborative Ministries Group? It is a group of area churches who have linked up to strengthen the community of faith in our area.

Specifically, this group gathers for monthly activities — Family Fun Nights. These events, typically on Friday nights, bring kids and adults together for dinner, followed by a brief worship service, crafts for the kids and a time of discussion for parents. Families are the focus of these gatherings, but singles and all ages are welcome to participate.

This month’s Family Fun Night will have an Advent theme and will be held at Calvary Hillcrest Episcopal Church at 304 Lore Ave. in Hillcrest, near Penny Hill.

There is no cost to attend. The evening typically goes from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

In addition to St. Mark’s and Calvary Episcopal, the collaborative includes Grace Episcopal Church, 4900 Concord Pike, and Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 3717 Philadelphia Pike.