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.

The Midweek Extra for July 15

Interim Pastor David Mueller

He called for questions — and you are sending them!

This week’s “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — an informal, half-hour video hosted by Interim Pastor David Mueller and produced by John Lasher — focuses on the social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination St. Mark’s is part of, and what it means to be a congregation in the ELCA.

Pastor also talks about Christian sexuality in an increasingly permissive society.

If you have questions of your own, feel free to send an email to the church office.

Here’s the video:

 

St. Mark’s Midweek Extra starts today!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Here’s your chance to ask those questions that have been bugging you and  listen in as Interim Pastor David Mueller tackles them and shares his perspective on the past, observations on current events and ideas about the future.

We’re calling it “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — a half-hour-ish video hosted by Pastor Mueller and posted on Wednesday mornings. This week, Pastor Mueller will discuss “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” explain what led him to accept the Interim Pastorate at St. Mark’s and share some observations about the future of the Church in general and St. Mark’s in particular.

Check it out by clicking the link below. Then send an email to the St. Mark’s office. with questions you’d like Pastor to address in future encounters.

Sunday mornings change for St. Mark’s

St. Mark's music director John Lasher

St. Mark’s is changing the way we present our Sunday morning worship service videos on YouTube in preparation for the day we reopen the building.

As the world slowly gets back to normal, discussions are underway about the best time and manner in which to reopen our building and worship together, in person. Once we reopen, our Sunday morning services will be streamed live. To prepare us all for that (hopefully imminent) time, we’re changing the way in which the prerecorded service videos will become available on Sunday mornings.

Rather than simply appearing, as they have been, each video will now “premiere” at 10 a.m. on Sunday. A notice of the premiere will appear on our YouTube channel sometime on Saturday evening and our YouTube subscribers should receive a notification at that time, too. Clicking on the link will take you to a “waiting room” where a countdown will indicate how much time remains before the video goes live.

To ensure everyone can find the video link in time for the start of the premiere, it will also appear on the St. Mark’s website in advance and the link will arrive by email, too. These links will also direct to the “waiting room,” and at 10 a.m. the video will begin playing automatically, synchronized on all screens and/or devices on which it appears at that time.

Once the video has premiered, it will be archived so that anyone who is unable to watch during the 10 a.m. premiere may view it later. During the premiere hour, those who tune in late can also rewind to the beginning and catch up on anything they missed.

In this way, we can all worship together at the same time, though still separate in location, and it will help us all to re-form the habit of worshiping at a set time on Sunday mornings.

— John Lasher, Director of Music and Worship Arts  

Pastor Mueller’s message: “There are a few troubling matters remaining”

Interim Pastor David Mueller in the sanctuary

As we continue to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, we again have a pre-recorded worship service for Sunday, May 10. The link is below, along with the text of Interim Pastor David E. Mueller’s message.

Thanks to those who have assisted this week, including John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, Cheryl Powell, worship assistant, and this week’s virtual choir: Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner, along with vocalists Fred and Jan Meckley.Interim Pastor David E. Mueller with Lenny and Leroy the lions

And don’t miss the continuing saga of Leroy the Lion and Larry the Lamb, today with a new friend: Lenny.

Here is today’s service:

 

“There Are a Few Troubling Matters Remaining”

John 14:1-14 & 1 Peter 2:9 & 10

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller 

Our appointed Gospel lesson for today from John 14 is a favorite to many. The statement by Jesus “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” is one of those holy hints about eternal glory. Jesus also said “I go to prepare a place for you,” giving his promise a personal sense. We may have heard elements of this section of John at funerals previously. We need this sort of biblically grounded hope during difficult and dangerous times like right now.

A few weeks back I mentioned the familiar phrase: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I attempted in a simple way to interpret the original Greek so as to give further understanding of “way, truth, and life.” Immediately following this “I am” of Jesus (there are seven of those “I ams” in John’s Gospel), we read: “No one comes to the Father except through me!” I am not troubled by this last statement, but I am troubled in the extreme by how it is often interpreted, that is, to exclude others who may not believe in Jesus as we do.

The conversation happening here between Jesus and His disciples, two of whom are named (Thomas and Philip), is itself intimate and personal. Their hearts were troubled and in the face of their troubled hearts, Jesus draws them closer to himself. Jesus invites their belief in God and in him. He makes a clear association throughout this whole section of himself and the Father. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (14:11)

Precisely because of this eternal relationship of Jesus and the Father, Jesus makes promises, some extraordinary, that the disciples were to trust. If they had a problem with that or with the Father/Son relationship, Jesus simply invited them to review the “works” (miracles, healings, etc.) and conclude that no such things could possibly have happened were they not from God.

Earlier in his ministry, the disciples of John the Baptizer, came to Jesus on John’s behalf and asked, “Are you the one or should we look for another?” (See Matthew 11 & Luke 7) Jesus’ response was for them to look around to notice the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking and the like. Look at the “works.”   Notice well the product. Even the Pharisees on occasion acknowledged, if reluctantly, that only God could do that which Jesus did, especially in healing.

I operate with one fundamental assumption when it comes to reported miracles and healings of Jesus, namely, that I want and need a God who is bigger than me and larger and more powerful than any other force we might name. One might argue about a particular miracle or healing in the Christian scriptures, including those accomplished by various disciples AFTER Jesus had ascended, but what good does it do to argue the miraculous itself? Miracles — that is, events usually of a positive kind that defy science, reason and our limited imaginations — happen.

I have personally experienced several miracles. I am careful about sharing them and sensitive because I know of scores of human beings who have prayed and prayed for a healing of their own or a loved one’s illness or a miracle and it didn’t happen. I am no more worthy of God’s attention than any other human being. Many of you know however, that after five years apart, Gigi and I were remarried right here at St. Mark’s 35 years ago, a genuine miracle. Yet after even more prayer than ours, there are broken marriages that are never healed.

Here in our Gospel, Jesus assures the disciples that they have good reasons to not let their hearts be troubled any longer. In effect, “It will be OK as you trust me!”

The Gospel ends with what shouldn’t be but all too often is troubling. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these….” (14:12) Who me? Who us? Yep! The troubling aspect: where is our faith, faith strong enough to move mountains? This seems to strongly suggest that in faith, since I believe in Jesus, I need to believe in myself, not my unredeemed mired-in-sin self, but my loved and redeemed self. We learn elsewhere in Scripture that when loved and redeemed selves get together forming a loved and redeemed Church, all sorts and kinds of great healing, miraculous and caring things can happen.

Turn with me to our second lesson from 1 Peter 2:9-10.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

We are among those communities of believers in Christ, mercifully drawn to him in grace, and, as such, have a very special place in God’s heart. “I am the way, truth, and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Remember that this was said in a personal and private context by Jesus toward His disciples, who were troubled in heart. Now, as a chosen, royal and holy people, how can we stand before others, any others, and treat them with anything less than dignity and love? I am not chosen to judge others, not royal to lord it over others, not holy to condemn others, but God’s people are to proclaim to others God’s grace, mercy, and steadfast love for them as well.

In my decades of attending national Jewish-Christian conferences, nothing has stood out to me more than a workshop on “Chosen-ness.” It had to be 30 years ago in that workshop that the Jewish and Christian attendees were told by a Rabbinical scholar that “we should never use our chosen-ness to denigrate anyone.” My chosen-ness allows me and enables me to be about those “even greater works.” Denigrating or judging others is not among the greater works.

More than ever, perhaps especially in our own USA, we need to be touching people as Christ touched people, heal as He healed, help as he helped, feed as he fed, forgive as he has forgiven us, love as he has loved us, lead as he has led us! I believe this a time when more than ever we must proclaim the mighty acts of God. Unfortunately there are all too many who are proclaiming the judgment, condemnation and wrath of God.

If God is, indeed, larger and mightier than us, then God can do the judging, but in the meantime, we are charged with doing the loving. After all “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) It remains for us to understand, celebrate, and share the greater works. Oh, in case you are feeling inadequate about this, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it!” Amen.

Please allow me a brief postscript.  Today might be the fifth Sunday of the Easter Season, but it is also Mother’s Day and about that I would simply say: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you….” (Isaiah 66:13a) We have plenty of reasons for making a connection between good and loving parenting and a good and loving God! Enough said except again: Happy Mother’s Day!

The Good and Dirty Shepherd: Pastor Gordon Simmons’ message

The Rev. Gordon Simmons, director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Delaware and interim pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Dover, Delaware

[Editor’s note: We are thankful to The Rev. Gordon E. Simmons, interim pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Dover, for today’s message as we worship remotely during this Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to his pastoral duties, Pastor Simmons serves as director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Delaware. Thanks, too, to John Lasher, our director of music and worship arts, for putting this service together. Among the participants this week: Interim Pastor David E. Mueller and Nancy Myers, worship assistant. Our musicians include soloist Paige Stebner and the virtual choir, which includes Dave Herrmann, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. You will also hear Jan and Fred Meckley on “The Lord’s Prayer.”] 

Join our pre-recorded worship here and follow the text of Pastor Simmons’ message below.


“The Good and Dirty Shepherd”

The Rev. Gordon E. Simmons

John 10:11-18

INTRO  Those of you who have been hearing me preach for a while know that sometimes I like to preach a little differently. It’s not always the same.

THE PREACHER AS JOHN THE BAPTIST  One week I preached like John the Baptist.Gordon Simmons as John the Baptist

THE PREACHER AS BICYCLIST  One week I tried to illustrate the importance of daily prayer as a spiritual discipline by comparing it to getting dressed up in warm clothes to ride a bike in the winter. Daily prayer is for our protection. Just like warm clothes in the winter, daily prayer is something we really need.

THE PREACHER ON A LADDER  One week I preached my sermon from up on top of a ladder. It was the week when we had the story of Jesus going up on a mountain with a few of his disciples. I said that things look different when you are up on a mountain. We have our own mountaintop experiences when we come to worship.

Now today, we have our text from the 10th chapter of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” I was trying to think about what modern image we might have for a shepherd. There aren’t many shepherds around much anymore. Most of us aren’t really familiar with them. I’ve never seen a flock of sheep being herded down the street in front of my house. So I wondered: What’s a shepherd image in 2020?

THE PREACHER AS TRASH COLLECTOR  I thought about a trash collector. Someone who has to get down and dirty to do his job. I know, I know everyone has these sweet Biblical pictures of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding a cute little lamb. Jesus is always wearing a clean, pressed robe, and, of course, you would expect Jesus himself to be all cleaned up to have his picture taken.

But here’s the truth. Being a shepherd was a dirty job. How do you think you’d smell if you were sleeping with the sheep all the time? And if you’re following the sheep around every day, well, you’d better watch where you step. And your clothes? Hey, you’re living outside, in a desert. You think your clothes are going to stay clean when the wind is blowing the dirt and sand all over the place? When storms come up and you get soaked to the skin? I’m telling you, being a shepherd was a dirty job. Just like when you’re out picking up trash on the highway.

Gordon Simmons collecting highway trashThere are dangers for trash collectors. There are holes you can step in and rain-soaked grass you can slip on, and — I’ll tell you this from experience — most of the cars zipping along the road don’t pay much attention to you. You’re pretty vulnerable when you’re out picking up trash on the road.

Shepherds were vulnerable, too. There were wild animals out there who loved to get their teeth into one of your sheep. And if you’re a shepherd and you try to stand in the way, well, I guess the mountain lion or the wolf wouldn’t mind making a meal of you, too. You really think a shepherd’s staff is going to offer much protection against a wild animal who hasn’t eaten for a week?

So you can forget all these sweet little pictures of Jesus all dressed up as a cleaned-up, neat-looking shepherd. It was a dirty job. Somebody had to do it. I suppose that’s why John held up this story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus was good because he saw the dirty work and he was willing to do it.

In the passage we have for today, from the 10th chapter of John, Jesus says that a shepherd has to be willing to lay down his life for his sheep. If you aren’t, the Gospel lesson says, then the wolf will come and snatch the sheep away.

Sometimes when I’m out picking up trash, a dog will come running out of his house, barking like crazy, chasing me away from his yard. And that’s just a dog. If somebody told me there were wolves out there, I think I’d stay home.

Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” I’m telling you, this shepherding thing in the first century was dirty work. Somebody, though, somebody had to do it.

Of course Jesus wasn’t really a shepherd, but he was someone who laid down his life, someone who laid down his life for the whole world.

You know, it’s only the fourth Sunday of Easter, and here we are, again, already back to the crucifixion. I thought this was supposed to be the happy time. What’s with this “lay down his life” theme coming back again?

One of the great things about the Christian faith is that the joy that we rightly announce, on Easter, and, all the time really, is not a cheap joy. Christians don’t say, “Oh, let’s just be happy and try to forget about all the terrible things going on in the world.” Christians don’t believe that when you become a Christian all your problems will go away, or that everything will always be pleasant. Christians aren’t always wearing smiley faces. Christians understand that there is still a lot of dirty work to be done and that somebody has to do it. But we’re not overwhelmed by this dirty work. We know the victory has been won. Easter songs are always in season. Jesus laid down his life for us so that we can give of ourselves for others.  

Our first reading for today, from the book of Acts, gives us a little peek into what life was like for the very first Christians. It says they held all things in common. It says that they sold their possessions so they would have some liquid capital which they could then distribute to those in need. It says that they had glad and generous hearts.

When you read these verses, it makes being a Christian sound awfully sweet and pleasant. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be a part of such a loving, generous group? Ah, come on! Get real! Read between the lines! You think everybody was really happy about having to give up all their savings and all their property so that others would have enough? You think everybody who had a little extra was excited about giving it away? You think this was easy? No! It wasn’t easy. It was dirty work, but somebody had to do it. So the first Christians did. And many Christians have been doing it ever since.

It’s because we’re following the Good Shepherd, the one who was willing to, and who did, lay down his life for his sheep. We’re following the one who gave his life for us. And who won a victory while doing it.

So, as followers of Jesus, we’ve got some dirty work to do. And we’re out and about doing it. But it doesn’t overburden us, not really, not when we stop to think about it. This is still Easter! We have a lot to celebrate! So let the celebration begin.

THE PREACHER AS PARTY GOER  It’s time to party! This is still Easter! Come on now! It’s party time! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

“He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge:” Palm Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Palm Sunday banner

[Editor’s note: We thank Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for again recording this message and music for us during this season of Coronavirus pandemic when we are unable to meet together. You can follow the text below and listen to the audio by clicking on this link:]

 

Opening Hymn: Ride On, Ride On In Majesty (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Download hymn sheet music here

Words and sheet music for Ride On, Ride On in Majesty

Good morning, people of St. Mark’s.

It is Palm/Passion Sunday morning. Please imagine being in church at St. Mark’s this morning. We have read the Palm Sunday Gospel about Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem. One of the regal hymns appropriate to Palm Sunday is being sung. The crucifer is processing, followed by the choir. You have turned and faced the cross as it passes you and have placed your palms in the aisle.

This imagination and the memories from which it comes is what we have today. But worship on in a humble but hopefully faithful way we will.

Listen now to the passion, according to St. Matthew:

NARRATOR: Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him:

PILATE: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

NARRATOR: Jesus said,

JESUS: “You have said so!”

NARRATOR: But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him:

PILATE: “Do you not hear the many things they testify against you?”

NARRATOR: But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him:

PROCULA: “HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, FOR I HAVE SUFFERED MUCH OVER HIM TODAY IN A DREAM!” 

NARRATOR: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them:

PILATE: “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

NARRATOR: And they said:

CROWD: “BARABBAS!”

NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: They all said:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: And he (Pilate) said:

PILATE: “Why, what evil has He done?”

NARRATOR: But they shouted all the more:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washing his hands before the crowd, said:

PILATE: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”

NARRATOR: And all the people answered:

CROWD: “HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.”

NARRATOR: Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying:

SOLDIERS: “HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.

NARRATOR: As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read,

ALL: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one at the right and one at the left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying:

RIGHT SIDE: “YOU WHO WOULD DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, COME DOWN FROM THAT CROSS.”

NARRATOR: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked Him, saying,

LEFT SIDE: “HE SAVED OTHERS; HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF. HE IS THE KING OF ISRAEL; LET HIM COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM!”

ALL: “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD DELIVER HIM NOW, IF HE DESIRES HIM; FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”

NARRATOR: And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:

JESUS: “Eli, Eli lama sabach-thani?” [That is…] “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

NARRATOR: And some of the bystanders hearing it said,

RIGHT SIDE: “THIS MAN IS CALLING ELIJAH.”

NARRATOR: And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink. But others said:

LEFT SIDE: “WAIT, LET US SEE WHETHER ELIJAH WILL COME TO SAVE HIM.”

NARRATOR: And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.

NARRATOR: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said,

ALL: “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD!”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Words and sheet music for Ah, Holy Jesus

 

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. amen.

As the week we call “Holy” is about to begin, along with fellow Christians around the world, we are unable to worship together physically. We read in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Ours is an incarnational faith with Jesus having entered our history. It feels very non-incarnational to be away from each other in the flesh and for Christians to be “meeting” in some virtual manner. Better that, however, than to allow the Feast of the Resurrection and the events of the prior week to go utterly unacknowledged.

Please pray with me:

Oh God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the Holy Wind blow mightily among us and our Christian family the world over today and into the days ahead. Grant us wisdom for dealing with our reality, which unfortunately includes a deadly disease. May we remain trusting and caring in the midst of crisis, and in this precious season, may we be renewed in our hope. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

I have believed for a long time that a most significant scene in this Passion Drama is Jesus standing before Pilate. Freeze frame this image for a minute or two. Just stare at it: A Representative dignitary of the then most powerful Empire on the planet, sent to Palestine precisely because he was so good at dealing with crises, and The Son of God sent to this world precisely because God so loved the world, facing each other. Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.

“Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.”

Earlier, Pilate had asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus simply said:  “You say so!” Now, seconds later, in response to Pilate’s asking of Jesus about the accusations against him, Jesus “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge.” In Mark’s Gospel account of the same scene, “Jesus made no further reply.” (Mark 15:3). Luke also has Jesus saying only “you say so.”

John reports Jesus as having said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews…. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-38)

Without denying Divine inspiration, it seems to me that John simply couldn’t accept the quiet of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and couldn’t resist adding at least some qualifier in this his much later Gospel.

Generally, we are stuck with this quiet even poignant scene, the seeming helplessness of Jesus against this worldly “Goliath,” known as Pilate and everything he represented.

“For God’s sake, Jesus, say something!” “For Jesus’ sake, God, do something!”

This plea has come from countless people throughout history since Jesus’ time on earth, when injustice was occurring, when diseases were spreading, when Jews were dying in the camps, when Armenians were being slaughtered by the Turks, when illness or accident had taken a loved-one, when marriages were breaking up, when financial ruin was rampant, when, when when…. In the face of human tragedy, God seems so silent, so powerless, perhaps even so indifferent. DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Lord God, where are You when most we need You?

One of His disciples would betray Jesus, another would deny Him, the others  abandoned Him — and we? Clearly, we would surely have operated differently, better somehow, more faithfully! Yeah, right! The human condition is portrayed in living color here, with us like them — but what of the Divine position?

The very fact of Jesus having died FOR us reveals that God is still dying WITH us, at least for now. Ours is a faith of apparent defeat, of cross-centeredness, not yet one of triumph and victory. The victory can be hoped for and believed in but not experienced just yet. The Kingdom is not of this world! We may not rule here. We may not get our way here! We may not insist that others share our perspective on anything here! And we will need to die rather than kill, bear our crosses before we wear our crowns.

And that is what takes so much faith, gobs of grace, mounds of mercy, loads of love and pounds of patience. The Kingdom has not yet been fully realized and we must continue to pray: “Your Kingdom come” and in the meantime: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

In our rather quiet way this year, we will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the victory it was for Jesus and one day will be for us! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.