Midweek Extra: Chaplain Mindy Holland of Lutheran Campus Ministries

Chaplain Mindy Holland and Interim Pastor David Mueller

In today’s edition of the Midweek Extra, Interim Pastor David Mueller talks with special guest Mindy Holland, chaplain of Lutheran Campus Ministries at the University of Delaware, one of St. Mark’s ministry partners.

Chaplain Holland talks about her background in the ministry, how campus ministry connects with students’ lives and how things have changed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Students want to engage deeply with Scripture and to engage deeply with complex questions,” she said. “… They want to look at the hard stuff and say how does this relate to me and how do I then turn it around so it can bless others? It’s a rich gift to be with them as they engage these new questions.”

If you have questions you’d like Pastor Mueller to address in future weeks, feel free to call the church office or send an email.

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!

John Lasher’s guide to St. Mark’s new ‘livestream’ worship option

St. Mark's sanctuary

If you have shared in our prerecorded worship services, you have seen the technical prowess of John Lasher at work. John, who is the music and worship arts director at St. Mark’s, and Interim Pastor David Mueller, along with our Leadership Council, Worship Committee and many others, all have worked hard to keep our connections alive during the long separation made necessary by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A few weeks ago, John produced a video explaining the new procedures that will be in place for those who return to in-person worship in the sanctuary,

Now, he has information about how things will change for those who worship online and how to access our first “livestreamed” service, which begins at 9:55 a.m. on Sunday, September 6.

St. Mark’s is going live!

John Lasher, director of music and worship arts

 

John Lasher at the piano
While we were unable to meet in our sanctuary because of the coronavirus pandemic, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts at St. Mark’s, planned and performed music and produced the prerecorded worship service videos that helped us stay connected.

Sunday, September 6 is the day St. Mark’s will reopen the church building in a limited capacity to resume worshipping together in person. This will also change how our services are presented online, since they will no longer be prerecorded, but streamed live, in real time.

The link to our live stream will remain the same from week to week. This link — which you can easily find on the homepage of our website — will be used for Sunday services, Christmas Eve and other special services and possibly other events such as weddings or memorial services which take place in our sanctuary (though these latter two will depend on the wishes of the families). We are also tentatively planning a few special live episodes of our Midweek Extra series , which will also be streamed over this same link.

If you happen to visit the link at a time when we’re not streaming, you will either be directed to our YouTube channel page or to a livestream “placeholder” page with suggestions for other videos you may wish to watch (the top suggestion will be one of our most recent videos).

Our Sunday services will always be at the same time (10 a.m. initially, then back to 9 & 11 once things get back to normal), and any other livestream events will be announced well in advance, so you will know when to “tune in.” We will typically take the stream “live” with background music about five minutes before a service/event begins.

Our live streams will be archived on our YouTube channel, so those who are otherwise occupied during the 10 o’clock hour may still view the services later, as they have with the prerecorded services.

Printed copies of the sermons will still be distributed to those without internet access and DVD copies of the service videos are still available to these same members. Once we begin streaming live the DVDs will not be available until sometime after the service ends on Sunday.

In addition to allowing our own members to attend our services online, when unable to do so in person, live streaming is a wonderful means of outreach. Those in our community who may be unable to attend services in person for one reason or another can view our services online (live or archived), and newcomers to the area who may be seeking a new church family may choose to “look in” on St. Mark’s.

We hope you will join us for these live services, and look forward to the outreach potential afforded by this new ministry tool.

Today’s message: ‘God’s beautiful tenacity’

Rose blooming on a wire fence

When everything seems shaky, it is good to remember the steadfast love of the Lord — and that is the message Interim Pastor David Mueller brings today in our prerecorded worship service.

Join us for this sermon, Scripture readings, prayers and special music during this time of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Our building remains closed for a while longer, but our ministries and worship continue.

In addition to Pastor Mueller, the service is led by John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Jeannine Herrmann, worship assistant. Also participating is this week’s virtual choir, including: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.

The service also features a solo by John Lasher, singing a new setting of the Lord’s Prayer that he composed.

You can access our prerecorded service using the YouTube link below. The text of Pastor Mueller’s message is also available below.

 

“God’s Beautiful Tenacity!” (Romans 10:1-2a, 29-32)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

In the midst of any personal difficulties or needs of any kind as well as in the midst of difficulties or needs we are all experiencing, it is essential that we hold tight to the promises of God. We must acknowledge and learn to appreciate that God will fulfill his promises in his own way and at his own time. God is our Heavenly Father.

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11)

The relationship which has been established between God and a person or persons allows us to trust God, to believe God has our best interests in mind and heart, and will in his time and way, act. Try to relax and be patient.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust him, and he will act…. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:5 & 7a) As shared a few weeks ago, when speaking of prayer, based on Romans 8, we read in verse 28: “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God….”

It may take a good while, but the good will come. In the meantime, don’t stop loving God!

A word that has significance in both Testaments is “covenant.” There is the “Noatic” covenant in which God promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood. There is the “Abramic” covenant in which God promised to make Abraham the father of many nations. There is the “Davidic” covenant and others, each having God’s assurance of one promise or another.

In our Baptisms, God calls us by name, makes us his own in Jesus Christ and promises never to leave nor to forsake us. Baptism is such a wonderfully simple act with the basic substance of water and the spiritual promise of God’s Word. It is a sad reality that so many of the Baptized forget or forsake that rebirth.

Let’s pray: Lord, renew us in our appreciation of and belief in your promises, sealed in the blood of Jesus, serviced in the power of the Holy Spirit. Forgive us for in any way treating lightly or casually this eternal hope. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

On what basis are you a Christian? Hopefully we all know it is not on the basis of our imperfect behavior. Hopefully we all celebrate that becoming and remaining a Christian is purely on account of God’s amazing grace. Hopefully deep within our hearts, we have faith — that is, confidence —in God precisely because of Jesus.

On what basis was an Israelite an Israelite? Did a bunch of tribal people out of the blue in the desert one day decide to call upon God to save them? Hardly! God decided to call them and mold them into His chosen people, as resistant, hesitant and intransigent as they tended to be all along the way. The “covenant” was sealed for the male children in the act of circumcision. The male children were only 8 days old, not quite yet of an age of personal decision. God decided!

Somewhere along the line, did God decide to forsake his promises to the Israelites, later, the Jews? Had God finally had it with them, after sending prophet after prophet and blessing after blessing? Perhaps it was not until most of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah? Unbelievably, there are those who count the Holocaust as punishment for killing the Christ. Articulating this nauseates me.

The point is that we human beings — Jews and Gentiles alike — forsake our part of the covenant God has in some form or another made with us, but God never forsakes his part. If God does, we are all in very deep trouble.

Romans 11:29: “FOR THE GIFTS AND THE CALL OF GOD ARE IRREVOCABLE.”

Earlier, before writing this incredible statement, Paul about his Israelite family wrote this: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (11:2)

If God is given to breaking promises, what do we have left in our relationship with God? If God had finally had it with the Jews for whatever reason, what is to keep God from forsaking us when we so consistently fail in doing our part?

When I read the Hebrew Scriptures, I am invariably struck by the vivid contrast between the unfaithful behavior of the Jews and the constant grace of God.

Listen to Isaiah (63:7): “I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

Listen to David the Psalmist (92:1-2): “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing your praises, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night.” There are dozens of Psalm verses which say the same.

Listen to Jeremiah in Lamentations, a book seldom quoted (3:22): “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

In Romans 11:30-31, Paul makes a fascinating claim, namely, that the disobedience of the Jews occasions the broadening of God’s mercy to include us. It is as if to say that had the Jews done their righteous and obedient part, we might not have gained access to God’s grace, mercy and love.

Anyone, however, Jew or Gentile, then or now or in between, who takes God’s grace and twists, abuses or uses it as an excuse to behave as we please has not known the depth, breadth and height of God’s grace to begin with. Just because God is as God is, that is, tenacious in his love of humanity, does not give humanity an excuse to hate, hurt and harm others because we will be forgiven anyway.

At the same time, when we fail and fall short of God’s glory, what we trust is not our capacity to make amends, but God’s promise to forgive in Christ. In my ministry, there have been times when the only resource I had was God’s grace toward me and toward whoever I was ministering to, especially in the midst of great tragedy or grievous sin. God is so gracious, tenacious, loving, merciful and good that what we can and must do is depend upon God and rejoice in His Name.

Especially in our day, there remains a profound issue which is extremely important to me: the condition and fate of the Palestinian people. Just as Paul did not trade hates when he became a Christian, so also I need not cross borders and take a side as I have become committed to justice for the Palestinian people. Technically, the Delaware Churches for

Signpost in Israel

Middle Eastern Peace and its national counterpart, stand as neutral in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I participate in and support that organization.

There are all sorts and kinds of tensions and conflicts the world over, at least 40 skirmishes going on at any given time. Some are relatively minor, others are major and deadly. None is seemingly as complex and significant as in Israel.

It tends to be that as things go in the Middle East, so goes the world. I have often said that when someone in Israel/Palestine eats garlic, the world burps. It is a geopolitical nightmare, for which there is no easy solution.

I once heard in a national Jewish-Christian conference from a Jewish scholar and rabbi that if Jews, here and over there, disagree, sometimes profoundly, about the policies of the government of Israel, we Americans and others are free to disagree as well. It would be difficult to avoid calling Israeli policies toward the Palestinian people as anything other than oppressive. While I have political concerns herein, there is an even greater issue for me.

The Christian population between 1948 and the establishment of the modern state of Israel and the present has nose-dived from 17% to less than 1%. I genuinely and passionately believe that there must remain as strong a Christian witness there as anywhere else on earth.

Mrs. Mueller and I have two goddaughters there, who with their parents are Arab Israelis, that is, Arab citizens in the Jewish State. They matter to us as do other Palestinians we know and care about, even as we know and care about Jews there as well.

I could go on and on about this, but allow me to finish by suggesting that a resolution to this problem is as “God-sized” an issue as any other on earth. If you believe that, then please with me remember the Jews and Palestinians in your prayers, pay attention to our own American political positions toward peace there, and allow the Lord to use you in whatever way as agents of peace. That is, I so very strongly believe, as Jesus would have it. Amen.

Midweek Extra: Jewish-Christian relations, with Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

Rabbi Peter Grumbacher and Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has a very special guest for today’s St. Mark’s Midweek Extra — longtime friend Rabbi Peter Grumbacher.

Rabbi Peter Grumbacher
Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

The men met years ago while serving next-door congregations in Wilmington — Mueller at Concordia Lutheran Church, Grumbacher at Congregation Beth Emeth — and their friendship has grown and produced many fascinating conversations and encounters for Jews and Christians over the years.

Interim Pastor David Mueller
Pastor David Mueller

 Some at St. Mark’s will know Rabbi Grumbacher from the 2018 trip to Israel he co-hosted with Pastor Mueller. Others will know him from the class the two men have co-taught on interfaith relations with Sister Jeanne Cashman at the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Wilmington, where they were affectionately known as “The God Squad.” You can read about that collaboration in this 2017 News Journal article.

In this informal-but-substantive conversation, these two men, who have invested their lives in faithful service to others, discuss Jewish-Christian relations, Israel, the United States and the need for education and respectful dialogue.

You can watch their exchange on our YouTube channel here:

 

 

 

 

Midweek Extra topics: Creative ministry, Christian nationalism

Camera lens view of Interim Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has invited St Mark’s members and friends to send him topics, issues and questions for him to address during these Midweek Extra videos. And the ideas and questions keep on coming!

Today’s topics include:

  • Creative ways of developing Christian service during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Christian nationalism

If you have questions you’d like him to tackle, call or email the church office.

Here’s today’s session:

 

Tentative reopening date: Sunday, Sept. 6

St. Mark's altar

Here’s the date we’ve all been waiting for: Sunday, September 6! That’s our tentative reopening date, as outlined by St. Mark’s leadership.

Details were included in a letter sent to members and friends by the Worship Committee last week.

As part of the planning process, the Worship Committee distributed a survey, asking respondents their preferences about returning to in-person worship. St. Mark’s building has been closed since mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Seventeen people are ready to return as soon as possible. Sixty prefer to wait until Delaware enters “Phase Three” status — or later.

The plan now is to re-open St. Mark’s for a single 10 a.m. service. The plan is tentative and will follow state guidelines, with proper safety measures and volunteers in place in our worship area.

The following recommendations were made by the Worship Committee:

  • Greeters will ensure that names are gathered, temperatures taken and will distribute homemade face masks, if needed
  • Ushers will distribute communion items from a table prior to entering the sanctuary and provide guidance as people move to pews and leave the service.
  • The congregation will not sing or speak during the service.
  • Communion will be consumed in the pews
  • The offering will be collected in a basket at the rear of the church

Several volunteer roles are essential for us to re-open. If you are planning to attend when the building is first opened, we ask you to prayerfully consider filling one of these roles during this time of transition:

  • Greeters – take temperatures, gather names, hand out face masks, if needed
  • Ushers – monitor communion table elements, guide worshippers to their pew, count the number of worshippers in attendance, dismiss worshippers at the end of service, take offering to the church office.
  • Liturgist/worship leader – Read the prayers and scripture
  • Sound board – operate sound board and livestreaming equipment

In order to familiarize you with these recommendations and roles, a video will be produced to illustrate the manner in which worshippers enter, attend and exit the church.

We hope that you prayerfully consider volunteering for one of these roles and that you will attend church at St. Mark’s when you feel it is safe for you to do so according to your personal needs. Services will be livestreamed for those continuing to worship from home.

Our prayer is that you be blessed by our worship service wherever it finds you!

Please indicate your willingness to serve by filling out this form by August 14 so that we may prepare for returning to Sunday worship on September 6.

Returning to worship services at St. Mark's
Help us plan for reopening St. Mark's building by telling us if you plan to return and, if so, whether you are willing to serve in one of the volunteer roles.

Have you loved a weed today?

Wheat field

If you’ve been gardening during this time of Coronavirus pandemic, you may have strong feelings about weeds these days. Interim Pastor David Mueller has a weed-related challenge for us in his message today.

Join us as we worship by way of a prerecorded video, produced by our Director of Music and Worship Arts, John Lasher, who has worked with Pastor to provide these online services each week.

Also participating today are Cheryl Powell, worship assistant and soloist, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.

The link below will take you to the video on our YouTube channel. The video goes “live” at 10 a.m. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon  is also included below.

“Have You Loved a Weed Today?” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) 

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

In a class at Princeton years ago, a professor claimed that many parables of Jesus were intentionally designed to confuse his listeners. Confusion is a state of affairs most people cannot tolerate, which compels them to work their way out of the confusion, to think through all angles until it begins to make some sense.

The perfect example is the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). “Which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

Any shepherd, as well as anyone else for that matter, would find this absolutely insane. One cuts his loss of one sheep and continues to watch out for the 99. What on earth was Jesus saying?

With today’s parable, even though Jesus explains it, listeners are left with incredible questions and concerns. I am no botanist, but I have enough yard to know that if weeds are allowed to grow, they take over quickly. Explaining this by speaking of people instead of plants makes thing worse and not better. Evil in the midst of us tends to thrive even as we suffer difficulties at least.

Haven’t many or most of us at one time or another, perhaps more often, asked why God doesn’t do something about certain people, groups or forces that tend to be so effective at causing problems? Why can’t basically good people be left alone to accomplish good things? Why are we constantly confronted by resistance?

Yet again with incredible energy, we are faced with the evil of racism raising its ugly head ironically in the north and not just the south, perhaps in our very midst here at St. Mark’s? How can some people be so cruel, insensitive and selfish as to fight for not wearing a mask when all the research strongly supports wearing one is a main mitigation against the virus?

Is this mere misguidance or is it evil? Where is God in any of this? Must the devil so often prevail so it seems?

Jesus, as a Jew, got much of his teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures. I turn to the book of Ecclesiastes of the Wisdom Literature to seek some assistance. There are at least a few hints herein.

Solomon, traditionally believed to have been the author, says in 7:15: “In my vain life, I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.”

Ain’t it the truth!

Similarly in 8:14, Solomon says: “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous.”

God, this is just not right!

Both Solomon writes and Jesus says that in the end, the righteous will prevail and the wicked will fail miserably, but what a hell of a meantime this is.

Have you heard about the lawsuits against the poison Roundup? It kills weeds for sure, but evidently has caused many cancers in those who use it frequently. That sort of risk Jesus raises — namely, that we do not want to harm the wheat or good folk as we poison, cut, or in some way kill the weeds. I get that!

In Romans 12,9, we note: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” We are not told here to hate evildoers, but the evil they do.

There are children and families still stuck in cages at our southern border. I hate that! It does no one any good to hate the perpetrators!

There are tens of thousands of good police personnel without whom life and crime would be worse. What of those police who cause unnecessary harm, even death? That is a question for us all these days.

What of those white guys who wave foreign and domestic enemy flags, shout racial slurs, make violent threats, and — all too often — are violent? I hate that!

What of politicians and government officials who fail in their duty to keep Americans safe and secure, physically, financially and otherwise? I hate that!

Speaking of police, Gigi and I were in Venice, Italy, on what we called our “There is Life after Tuition Trip.” After dinner one evening, we walked what there is of streets amidst the canals. We came upon a very drunken Gondolier who was surrounded by six policemen. There were several Carabinieri, military police, and an equal number of Polizia di Stato, civilian police, being incredibly patient with this young man. They spoke softly to him, encouraged him to stop shouting and making a fuss, and seemed prepared to take whatever time it took to wait him out or wear him down. There were no threats, no gestures of force, no drawing of weapons. That has stood in contrast to all too many scenes here in America. I realize that we are not frequently exposed to our police being patient and kind.

There is almost nothing in the words of Jesus that could be interpreted as “do nothing!” If then, weeds or evil people are so near us, what do we do? Hating, killing or harming them in any way is not the Christian way. What then? Love them! How? Allow them to get away with their evil ways? Not really. Come on, Mueller, you are suggesting this, so what do we do?

Love is misinterpreted sometimes. There is absolutely nothing mushy about love here. It is not a weak gesture. It is not passive but active. It seeks to express care for sure, care they probably have not known in their lives or they might not be the people they have become.

“Pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6:28) Offer them an example which is their moral opposite! Pray for them! Be Jesus to them, forgive them, show them mercy and grace. Pray for them! Be the redeemed person you are and they are not!

“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Let them see the rejoicing we do in what is good, true and positive. Let us refuse to rejoice in their evil ways. Pray for them! Praying cannot hurt. It can keep us engaged!

Back in seminary with a student body of approximately 400 or so (oh, to have that many today!), there were about a dozen of us who were not satisfied with what we were being taught about certain matters or about important matters about which nothing was being taught.

We set up what was an “inner seminary.” We had retreats, discussion sessions, prayer times. What really kept the seminary administration’s bowels in an uproar, was when we planned a weekend retreat with special guests or held an evening symposium.

We invited Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party to come and speak to us. In the late Sixties, one of their stated desires, not goals but desires, was to get 13 states in the South for themselves. I remember moving from the back of the room right up front where Fred was sitting with several of his companions. When given the chance, I asked if after getting their 13 states, might some small percentage of their own people start to exploit them? His answer was “perhaps, but at least they would be our own people.”

Sadly, two weeks later, he and another Panther were shot and killed by the Chicago police in a raid.

There were then and there are now those white folks who would think of the Black Panthers as a terrorist organization. They did have a violent streak in what could better be called riots and not just protests back then. But we engaged them, sought to understand them, did not have to agree with them on anything. How Fred Hampton thought of a bunch of German Lutherans inviting him to dialogue we will never know.

As Christians, washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven and freed, loved forever, we cannot allow ourselves to merely become victims of the evils around us. Engaging evil in a careful, caring, intelligent, faithful and prayerful manner is far less risky and potentially far more effective than doing nothing. Jesus engaged the devil and those throughout his ministry who were less than righteous.

Have you loved a weed today? If not, give it a shot! You might just discover a new and possibly righteous part of your Christian self.

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!

Rejoice anyway!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Please note the new 10 a.m. Sunday service start time!

Editor’s Note: This is the 14th Sunday since we worshiped together in our sanctuary! But worship continues — every day in so many different ways. Today, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, is taking a small, virtual step toward regaining that togetherness, setting 10 a.m. as the time he will make our prerecorded worship service “live” on the St. Mark’s YouTube Channel. As he noted in a message published earlier this week, this is an effort to move us all back to a common time of worship, which — you may recall — we shared either at our 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. service. Now, at 10 a.m. on Sundays, we can “gather” again at a common time. Of course, if you can’t make it at 10, you can tune in later and join in the prerecorded worship.

The goal in the not-so-distant future, when the church has reopened, is to broadcast the service live on the Internet — “livestreaming” it — so that those who cannot be present can join in worship with those who are present in real-time.

For a little while longer, we savor these prerecorded connection points, provided by John Lasher and his team. In addition to John, this week’s leaders include Interim Pastor David Mueller and worship assistant Jeannine Herrmann. Also participating are this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann,  Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell. Additional voices on “The Lord’s Prayer” include: Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley and Teresa Stebner.

You can see the pre-recorded service, starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, on the St. Mark’s YouTube channel at the link below. If you subscribe, you’ll also get weekly notices of the upcoming broadcast.

Also below is the text of Pastor’s sermon, if you’d like to read along.

 

“Rejoice Anyway” (Romans 5:1-8)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

 My strong hunch is that none of us would desire or accept a joyless Christianity.

Most of us fully realize that Christmas and Easter are more joyful than Lent. We are aware that there are circumstances in our environment which can, and, in some cases, should mitigate our joy. There is nothing joyful about a deadly virus. While we may support protests of certain kinds, they are seldom joyful.

Clearly, in the midst of such conditions, there are experiences of a positive kind about which we can be joyful, as when neighbors care for the family of a patient with COVID-19 or one sees video of a policeman and a protester kneeling together. Most people want to be happy. We live in a country which celebrates the “pursuit of happiness.” As human beings we need some joy anyway!

PRAY WITH ME PLEASE:

O Lord God, Heavenly and loving Father, we believe in You; we have our Savior in the person of Jesus, Your son, and in Him we know grace and forgiveness; we believe that we need and have Spiritual power to live in the world. Sometimes, Lord, the world can be an ugly and dangerous place to live. Other times, we appreciate the beauty around us and the people in our lives close to us. We rejoice in the beauty of the earth and most of the people inhabiting it. Please Lord, allow us to know joy these days, for we know that no matter how dark the night, joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

To be a Christian living in Rome was for the better part of three centuries, a potentially difficult and, at times, dangerous place to be. At one point, the citizens believed that Christians were cannibals because they heard that they were eating body and drinking blood. There was one Emperor who felt that the Christians were making the Roman government look bad because of how much the Christians cared for the poor. There were periods of persecution toward Christians, especially when a scapegoat was needed for government impotence or incompetence. Interestingly, persecuting a religious minority tends to assure their growth.

I personally believe that a person could get along fine in the faith if the only resources they had were one of the Gospels and the Roman letter. Paul’s letter to the Roman congregation is jam-packed with theological and practical significance.

In our second lesson appointed for today from Romans 5:1-8, Paul starts by reiterating how we are made right with God, that is, through faith in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have peace with God. In a similar reading from Philippians 4:4-7, Paul reminded the Philippian Church to “rejoice in the Lord, always … do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Interestingly, they and we are not promised answers to the prayers on our terms and timetable, but rather: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s way of saying that being at peace with God is primary and essential and that whatever else is going on cannot violate, victimize or in any way damage that peace.

In Romans 5:2, 3, Paul invites us to boast (other translations: “rejoice”) not only in our hope of sharing the glory of God, but also in our sufferings. The Christian faith, in this case, as in some other circumstances, could not be any bolder.

Always pay close attention to the prepositions. We are told to boast or rejoice IN our sufferings and not because of them. In the midst of whatever sort of difficulties, dangers or disasters one might be in, boast, rejoice!

Paul goes on to delineate the process: “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.” If then we desire hope in the midst of suffering, boast, rejoice!

Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It is all here: Holy Spirit and love. The love, like the cup in Psalm 23, is poured and running over. We are filled up with and spilling over with God’s love even and especially if we also are dripping with blood due to persecution and pain.

All this, by the way, is love shown us “while we still were sinners” for whom Christ had to die! Perfection or near perfection is not a prerequisite for mercy and forgiving love. It is called grace!

I have found in my pastoral ministry that I could never run into a suffering situation and cry out “Rejoice! Rejoice!” or “Boast! Boast!” We hear a great deal these days about empathy, which is to enter a painful situation close enough emotionally to feel at least some of the pain being experienced by someone else. Sympathy stays at a distance and says “Isn’t it awful!” Empathy moves into the awfulness. Obviously, this is not easy and involves some risks.

While on staff at the University of Virginia Medical Center back in 1976, I was beeped in the middle of the night to come to the Pediatric Clinic. When I got there, everyone, including two physicians, was hysterical. I first insisted that the physicians leave. I learned quickly that a grandmother was in a room with her deceased 18-month-old granddaughter and would simply not give the child up.

I went into the room, introduced myself, and got down and leaned with her against the wall. We talked for a half hour, during which I learned that this was the second grandchild she had lost within a year. She brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart. She finally calmed down some, gave the baby over to me, the family crowd calmed and the physicians came back with this look on their faces as if to say: “It’s a miracle!” No! It was just a little genuine empathy.

We live in complex and troubling times for a host of reasons, but also divided times. Perhaps our greatest temptation is not so much to learn to rejoice or boast in our own sufferings, but not to rejoice in the suffering of others!

There is a Jewish “Midrash” — not a biblical but later interpretive imperative —  that the Hebrews were not to relish or rejoice in the deaths of Pharaoh’s army when the Red Sea came on them after the Hebrews got through on dry land. It teaches as if to say: “Who do you think you are to relish the tragic deaths of others, even enemies?”

There have been people, some for decent reasons, others for silly ones, who have not worn masks in the face of COVID-19. There will most likely be consequences, but please, do not boast that you were smart and caring enough to wear yours and now those others get what is coming to them. Never boast of yourself or rejoice when others suffer even if they brought suffering upon themselves. Always be glad when justice is served, but not when the one it is served on suffers the consequences of their own acts. Four Minneapolis Police officers are in a whole lot of trouble. Let justice prevail but do not rejoice.

All of this falls into a very different place than we tend to think. What we are to boast about, usually quietly I suspect, is our hope of sharing the glory of God who know that Christ died for us not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.

Might we be so bold as to love even those who would persecute us?