The Sanctity of Suffering: Pastor’s message for May 24

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Editor’s note: On this Memorial Day weekend, we thank God for those who have served our country and given the ultimate sacrifice. We pray for those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. And we gather once again — together in spirit, yet from afar — to worship by way of this pre-recorded video during this time of Coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks to Interim Pastor David E. Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Barbara Sheridan, worship assistant, who lead us today. Also participating are members of 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. Our pre-recorded service is linked below, with the text of Pastor’s message included here if you wish to follow along.

 

“The Sanctity of Suffering” (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

The Easter Season is about to end and next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, that Festival of Empowerment occurring 50 days after Easter. I have spoken previously of the number 50, which in Biblical numerology means “Jubilee.” Jubilee is an opportunity to start over again, cleansed and redeemed from the past. Read Leviticus 25 for the origins of Jubilee.

The Gospel lesson for today (John 17:1-11) is a portion of Christ’s “High Priestly” Prayer, one of only two times we to get to listen in on the very prayers of Jesus. The other is in the Garden of Gethsemane following the Last Supper and just prior to His arrest. The prayer here is about the relationship between the Heavenly Father and Jesus, that of complete “oneness.” Jesus prays that those who believe in Him, His disciples throughout history, might be “one as He and the Father are one.” Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Christian history is that the Church remains as divided as we do. Christ’s own prayer has not been answered.

I am opting to use as my text today the second lesson from the first letter of Peter. Before we jump into Peter’s words, I believe it best that we first pray:

Heavenly Father, good, glorious and gracious God, we thank You for allowing us still to meet during this viral crisis, even if we do so removed physically from each other. Enable us, however, to be spiritually one, united and knowing the bond of peace, willing and increasingly able to represent You in positive, loving and uplifting ways to the world brought low by all kinds of forces, including right now, a virus. May our words to others and — if possible — our deeds bring healing, helpfulness and hope. We ask as we have been taught and invited to ask, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As I have shared on previous occasions, there are various forms of suffering we can experience:

1) Standing for what is right and just (if anything, there is not enough of this);

2) Suffering for Christ (probably not much of that either);

3) Suffering because we live on a fallen planet. Of this we tend to think there is far too much. In living on planet earth, we can suffer from either consequence or coincidence. It must be said that if you go out in public without a mask and don’t keep social distance, you could get COVID-19 or give it to someone else. That is consequence. If you happen unknowingly to get the virus even when taking appropriate and necessary precautions, that is coincidence.

The suffering Peter speaks of, however, is purely because of Christ.

We often incorrectly think of persecution as a common risk for early Christians everywhere. This was not true. Only during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (late 3rd and early 4thcenturies) was persecution universal within the Empire. Prior to that era, persecutions were regional and sporadic. Peter was writing at a time when persecutions could happen. It sounds as if, indeed, they were.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) On Sunday mornings we are in the midst of a study on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor as are recorded in Revelation 2 & 3. Frequently in most of those congregations, refusal to venerate the Emperor in some way, thought by Christians to be idolatry, guaranteed serious sanction.

I must admit to becoming particularly upset with those who believe that saying “Merry Christmas” became forbidden with those saying it anyway being persecuted. I never stopped saying it even as I also have said “Good Hanukkah” to my Jewish friends. Rabbi Grumbacher says “Merry Christmas” to me and my family. Jesus warned us about straining for gnats and swallowing camels. (Matthew 23:24). This is a perfect example of such and hardly persecutory.

There were precious few Christians in Nazi Germany and their occupied countries who took the risk of saving Jews from not just persecution but annihilation. The greater masses of “Christians” in those territories either didn’t care or were too afraid to act. Claiming they didn’t know what was going on was pure nonsense. There are eras in Christian history when the Christians were the persecutors, as also in the Spanish Inquisition. This is as sad as it gets!

In our own day, literally right now, we are learning that COVID-19 is having proportionately far greater incidence and impact among people of color and the poor. What is an appropriate and effective manner for Christians to speak out about and act to mitigate this reality? Regardless of government action or inaction, are Christians, in America and elsewhere, willing to risk some form of sanction or persecution precisely because Christ mandated us to care for the vulnerable ones? It is a greater problem with us when we become indirectly persecutors. Ignoring this reality is a deadly sin of omission.

We “rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings … if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory … is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14) Paul wrote the same thing in effect when he also invited Roman Christians to rejoice or boast in their sufferings, speaking specifically about suffering for Christ right there in the capital city. (Romans 5:3-5)

While not seeking to suffer, which would be a genuine sickness of spirit, there is something sacred about suffering, especially suffering for Christ and (or) suffering for what is right and just according to Christ.

Perhaps the sanctity of suffering is most revealed in Peter’s invitation to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Humility is the first of the seven saving virtues. Especially Luke the Evangelist employs these reversals like those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted; the first shall be last and the last first. There is that timing issue again in Christian understanding of God, namely, that suffering, injustice and the like may be the norm now, but the promise patiently trusted is coming when the Lord decides.

“Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves … resist him (the devil) … and after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, support, strengthen and establish you.”

We are not in Christian teaching promised immunity from anything difficult, dangerous, diseased, etc. What we are promised is that in the midst of any of those, we are loved, cared about and promised ultimate relief. In the meantime and in the midst of whatever suffering we incur, especially for Christ, we are to rejoice.

There is something holy in such suffering. There is sanctity in suffering. We do not and, indeed, must not, go looking for suffering in order to know sanctity, because as we are living for Christ and what is right and just, suffering will come on its own. The “world” cannot stand true righteousness and justice and all too often will not accept true love and care. Our purpose and our prayer is that the people of the world may come to see the sanctity of our suffering and rejoice with us in the Christ who suffered for everyone everywhere. Amen!

Hold On: A message from our Council President

Photo of Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, taken by Liza Agsalud. Used under CC2.0

I’ve been listening to music over the past few months while stuck in the house. I always feel better when I listen to songs I love and I tend to get them stuck in my head. YouTube is nice, it’s free and a bit of a time waster. Perfect.

I started with Bonnie Raitt singing “Angel from Montgomery,” but then John Prine died of COVID-19 and I was bummed. The world lost a beautiful writer. I don’t care how old he was.

The April “Lion” arrived and after reading Rev Mueller’s Musings I had Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wailing “Ohio” for days. The distrust resonated with me.

Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Exodus” came next. Not exactly Lutheran theology, but I like being one of Jah people — even if just for a few minutes.

And now — Alabama Shakes. “Hold On.” I can’t get it out of my head. If you haven’t heard it (and you like loud, rock, Janis Joplin-type music) find it on YouTube. It’s addictive. Brittany Howard mentions somebody up above a few times in the lyrics so God’s in there too. At least I believe he is. It’s my kind of prayer — especially when she wails “I don’t wanna wait.” It feels like a cry from one of the Psalms.

St Mark’s Council met on May 17. It was a long meeting — three hours. We had a lot to discuss. Fortunately, before I wrote this letter, the Governor sent guidelines for opening churches. And then we heard from the ELCA and then the Synod. We are getting a lot of advice. But, to be clear, no one is sure. We have a lot of information and common sense to sift through. Members of the congregation have had some great ideas too.

And now we have to buy stuff that may take awhile to get here. We need to be clean and safe. We are still working on a tentative date and we’ll get those specifics out when we have them. We have to be safe. But I want you to know we are working on a plan.

Council formed a Building Safety Committee to come up with suggestions for opening the building for a service. The Worship and Music Committee is working on how to have a safe service. We may not know exactly when we will be together but we will do our best to be safe. Council will meet again on May 31 via Zoom for more discussion.

A few other things:

  • We applied and were approved for a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan. The money has been deposited in our account.
  • The Great Room is finished – waiting for us to return.
  • We have changed the locks on the outside doors. Inside door locks remain the same. We are going to be careful about distributing keys. There were way too many keys out there and this was a good time to get that under control. Let me know if you need to get in the church and I will arrange for you to get in. Council will decide on May 31 how many and who to give keys to. The church building remains closed at least through May 31.

Hold On.

Jesus is Coming Soon (it’s on YouTube, too).

 

Kitty Dombroski

President, St. Mark’s Leadership Council

Photo of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard by Liza Agsalud of Los Angeles, Calif. / CC BY 2.0

“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.

A legacy gift blesses St. Mark’s and its music ministry

Robe dedication

Music and worship were a big part of Angeline Myers’ life, a life that stretched for almost 100 years. Her love of lyric and harmony lives on at St. Mark’s, where our choir now has 25 new sapphire blue robes because of her gift.

Sandy Pierson and Nancy Myers, daughters of Angie, directed the gift to St. Mark’s music program. Sandy has been a soprano in St. Mark’s choir for about 30 years. Nancy serves as one of our liturgists.

Angie learned to play piano as a child and her four children all played instruments, too, Sandy said. Angie was a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wilmington, playing the piano for its Sunday School and a small singing group called “Christian Endeavor,” which met in her home. When Holy Trinity closed, Angie joined St. Mark’s.

Choir in the loft“Angie left her family a legacy of music appreciation,” Sandy said. “I feel music is extremely important to the enrichment of our worship at St. Mark’s. I love being a member of this dedicated group that feels like family. We are worshiping together when we sing. Singing fills me up with joy.”

The new robes are lighter in weight, washable and wrinkle-resistant, according to Nancy Wilkerson, Council member and choir member, who coordinated the project. They replace a well-worn collection that has served the choir for more than 40 years. The legacy robes were laundered and donated to the Mount Pleasant High School drama department.

Robes carry a significant message in the church, according to John Lasher, Director of Music and Worship Arts.

“Robes are meant to serve as an equalizer,” he said. “Whatever we may wear beneath the choir robe, whatever our worldly “status” (so to speak), we are equal in God’s eyes. By removing the distraction of what each choir member might be wearing (that is, by covering it up), robes also help to take the focus off of the messengers, that it might be directed to the message.”

Twelfth Night Concert

Wilmington Handbell Ensemble

Our friends and neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant are hosting the Wilmington Handbell Ensemble for a “Twelfth Night” concert.

According to WHE’s website, the ensemble is celebrating its 19th season. It has performed at Longwood Gardens, First Night Wilmington, Christmas in Old New Castle, Christmas Open Houses in Salem and Woodstown, N.J., Brandywine River Museum and the Delaware Art Museum. The ensemble also has been featured with the Newark Symphony, the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware and the Wilmington Madrigal Singers.

All are welcome. A $15 donation is suggested.

PCOC is at 503 Duncan Road, just across Villa Place from St. Mark’s.