Join us for an outdoor St. Mark’s hymn sing!

John Lasher's portable keyboard and a hymn book. Photo by John Lasher

UPDATE: Because of rain this morning, John Lasher has postponed this. We will try again on Sunday, April 18.

Music will always be a big part of life at St. Mark’s. We love the time-honored hymns of our faith, we love the choruses and the new music our worship band brings. We love our choirs, our special vocalists and our concerts. We just love to worship our Lord with song!

The pandemic punched a hole in a lot of our singing over the past year, but all was not lost. John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and the Worship & Music Committee have worked hard to provide music each week that was both meaningful and accessible. Our faithful “virtual choir” and other musicians led us in worship and many of us sang along with gusto at home as we participated by way of YouTube.

Sunday we get to sing together again as St. Mark’s hosts an outdoor hymn sing, starting at 1 p.m. in the parking lot.

This will be good medicine for all of us and you’ll be part of something that has been part of our Christian tradition for centuries.

“There are hundreds of Bible verses about singing,” said John Lasher, who has a degree in music composition from Cairn University. “We are commanded in Psalm 98, ‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!'”

God loves the praises of his people! And he deserves to hear them!

“One thing the Protestant Reformation accomplished was the re-establishment of congregational singing as a central part of Christian worship, after it had been banned in the Catholic church,” John said. “Our denomination’s namesake, Martin Luther, wrote many hymns himself. We are even told in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn at the Last Supper. So, outside and socially distanced, we will once again engage in this vital form of worship.”

John has prepared a booklet with the songs we will sing. Almost 40 hymns were requested — too many to fit into this one event — so John says there may be a sequel! All hymns requested by more than one person have been included in the booklet.

You’re welcome to sing in your car or sit outside (bring a chair, if you want one).

If the weather gets cranky, we’ll move it back a week.

We hope you’ll join in! We think you’ll be glad you did!

Easter-season hymn sing!

Outdoor Hymn Sing with sheet music illustration

We have missed singing together during these days of pandemic. But take heart! John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, has a plan for a new and wonderful way to rejoice this Easter season!

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 11 (the week after Easter Sunday), St. Mark’s will host an outdoor hymn sing in our parking lot.

All are invited to submit their requests for hymns or contemporary worship songs to John via email, phone call or text message. He will make the selections and assemble a music packet for distribution.

If the weather goes south, the event will move to Sunday, April 18.

Get ready to sing your heart out!

Christmas Eve

Poinsettias at the altar

Christmas Eve at St. Mark’s will be quite different this year, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

We are planning ONE 7:30 p.m. service. Attendance is limited to 45 worshippers.

For those who have reservations, a reminder that we will follow all safety precautions and ask that you arrive 15-30 minutes before the service begins to allow for the check-in process, social distancing, retrieving your communion packet and finding your seat.

The service will be livestreamed on our YouTube channel for those preferring to worship from home. The link to our Christmas Eve service is below, for your convenience.

Thank you!

St. Mark’s Worship and Music Committee

 

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!

Today’s message: Paul’s instructions for Christians

Interim Pastor David Mueller

In today’s prerecorded worship service, Interim Pastor David Mueller explores Paul’s instructions to Christian believers and urges us to consider the implications for our lives and our community.

“Be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers.” Who of us would argue against any of that litany of goodness? Who would not want to be a member of a family like this?

Also participating in today’s service are John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Brian Schmidt, worship assistant. This week’s virtual choir includes Dave Herrmann, Allen and Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner.

Today’s prerecorded service may be the last as St. Mark’s aims to reopen on Sunday, Sept. 6, with the doors opening at 9:45 a.m. The service will also be streamed live online. More details to come. Be sure to check out the “reopening” video to see how things will work.

You can access today’s service below using the link to our YouTube channel. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon is also included here.

“What is the Point?” (Romans 12:9-21)
Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I confess that Romans 12:9-21, today’s appointed second lesson, is one of my favorite sections in the Christian Scriptures. This is not because I believe myself to be an example of its fulfillment. It simply challenges me in a major way.

Leviticus 19 is known as “The Holiness Code” for the Hebrew people. It is a summary of sorts of the other 600 or so laws commanded in the Pentateuch. We would most likely agree with most of it with a few exceptions like: “Nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials,” or “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.” That tattoo prohibition would get a whole lot of folk in trouble now.

Romans 12:9-21 in a similar way summarizes expected behavior of Christian believers. It might be an interesting exercise for each of us to look over these prescriptions to see if there are any we think are outdated, incredibly difficult to perform, or not of interest to us. Let’s look together today, mindful that almost any passage herein is a sermon or a study on its own.

We pray: Lord God, gracious and merciful Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, empower us by the Holy Spirit to understand Your Word for us written by Your servant St. Paul, and by the same Spirit lead us to living out these precious instructions for Your faithful people. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

One of my three grandsons came to me about six years ago and asked me if I would pick his Confirmation verse. I recommended Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” He liked it!

We begin with this verse. Sometimes, it is not possible; that must be said. There are many people in the world who do not want to live in peace and will not accept peace if offered to them. They seem to be so accustomed to violence or conflict that they do not know how to live without it. That is a real shame but it can be true in families, in communities, in countries, and most unfortunately in churches. The end of the verse stands, however, that there are no exceptions. If possible, live peaceably with ALL!

At the beginning of this portion of Romans, Paul writes: “Let love be genuine!” Here is “agape” again, unconditional love, which exists in the subject and requires nothing of the object. It is to exist in us authentically whether others accept it or not. It is impossible to fake agape. It is the love with which God loves us and the love we are expected to offer others, even if our expressions of it are less than perfect; only God’s love is without blemish.

It starts within the Christian community: “Love one another with mutual affection.” Here the word for love changes to “phileo,” familial love. Being in a relationship with each other of unconditional love allows familial love to develop. Just look at what also follows in a flowing and growing way: “Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers.” Who of us would argue against any of that litany of goodness? Who would not want to be a member of a family like this?

There is still more. “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” Like I said previously, there is a sermon or a truly lengthy study in each of these expressions. But guess what? None of it will work, certainly not without love but also not without discernment. I believe this may be more necessary these days than ever.

“Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” The Greek for devil is “diabolos,” meaning “deceiver.” Distinguishing between good and evil is difficult to say the least. Evil is sometimes obvious, but more often is masked, presenting itself as good, valuable, worthwhile, etc. One gets sucked in and in short order is captured with no escape. Is it any wonder that we are to pray: “Deliver us from evil?”

When one considers feeding, giving drink and expressing care toward enemies, which means by implication that helping friends is already happening, then the absence of these expressions toward friends and enemies alike is at best wrong and at worst evil! Do not repay evil for evil; it never helps! If we have discerned what is evil and hated it, and are holding fast, “cleaving” to good, that is, “what is noble in the sight of all,” then we are being God’s and not the devil’s servants.

One can take almost any modern invention or technological capacity and use it for the good of others and not just self; or, the same can be used for evil and the detriment of all. Social media is shown to be quite detrimental to teens who overuse it, and to adults who seek political truth and are led into all kinds of falsehoods and half-truths. We must learn as Christians to discern, to scrutinize from a Godly perspective what is good and true and what is evil and wrong.

We might just be served by looking at current reality and asking whether it is good or evil. It can be as simple as that! Is it good or evil that a black man was shot in the back seven times by the police? Are almost 180,000 deaths due to COVID good or evil? Is political division filled with animus good or evil? Is a major evangelical figure preaching family values and living opposite good or evil? The litany could continue ad infinitum. Ask the question of issues concerning you.

At the same time, ask of yourselves: are we rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep? The matter invites intimacy and genuine empathy. Are you overcome by evil or overcoming evil with good? The reason I appreciate this section of Scripture is — as stated — not because I am good at it but am challenged by it. I am challenged by this biblical assessment and not some other.

Peter, in the Gospel for today, took physical as well as spiritual issue with Jesus having to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Ironically, this is immediately after Peter gave his simple confession that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Interestingly, we have learned long ago to refer to the day on which the suffering and dying took place as “Good” and not “Evil” Friday. Let that sink in.

A hymn which comes to mind, a favorite of mine, is “Lift High the Cross, the Love of Christ Proclaim.” It was written in England by George Kitchin in 1887, but was not published in America until 1974. At first wash, we, like Peter, may have resistance about Jesus having to suffer and die. What a way for God to go! Yet it is the love of Christ that is proclaimed on it.

The Cross of Christ is both what covers our sins of falling short of God’s glory and motivates us to faithfully live into Scriptural mandates to love and care ourselves. In this, Christ’s suffering and death is good and not evil.

As in any era, we Christians have some significant discerning to do!

Amen.

Today’s message: ‘Who will proclaim him?’

Microphone and digital audio image

We have come through major storms this week in the Delaware area and they arrive in the midst of a year of upheaval, with losses and griefs on so many levels.

It’s important to remember that Jesus has Good News for us all. But is it getting through — to us and to others? Interim Pastor David Mueller talks about this in today’s sermon “Who Will Proclaim Him?”

Join us again for a prerecorded worship service, which allows us to gather virtually during this time of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when our building remains closed. Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship, for preparing these videos — especially this week when he was faced with loss of power and other storm-related challenges.

Also participating today are Brian Schmidt, worship assistant, and this week’s virtual choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner. Allen Kirk brings special music.

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

“Who will Proclaim Him?” (Romans 10:5-15)

Interim Pastor David Mueller

If one were to get down to basics and seek the very heart of Lutheran teaching, what I believe we would find is the extreme importance of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law, we believe, instructs us as what to do and not to do. We also believe that we fail, sometimes miserably, to do the right and avoid the wrong. The Gospel, we believe, is about what God has done in Christ, and invites us to believe in Christ and the forgiveness of our sin.

In our second lesson, Paul wrote: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul went on to assure his readers: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” The only qualification remaining is that we grasp — we don’t just believe — that Jesus existed and did what we are told about him, but that we take him to heart, literally inside of ourselves, resulting in confidence.

The Reformation produced three “solas” or “only:” sola scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide. We do not get our truths from vivid imaginations but from Scripture, where we learn that we are saved only by God’s grace, which we apply to ourselves only by faith. Ideally, we cherish and live by these solas.

A question we must go on to address is once saved by grace through faith, what does the Law mean to us? The Law is what David the Psalmist invites us to meditate upon day and night (Psalm 1:2). The Law is that basic guidance we learn to rely on living in keeping with God’s purpose. We learn to keep — not for fear of punishment, not in order to obtain God’s favor, which we already have in Christ, not to impress people around us with how righteous we are, but with joy to behave as God’s redeemed people.

“Love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself” remains a summary of the commandments or Law; it is the “Great Commandment.” We must never use our freedom in Christ as license to do whatever we please, but what pleases God and helps rather than hurts others.

In my travels in circles where Christians and Jews are learning to appreciate rather than denigrate each other, one of the phrases or practical statements of belief on the Jewish side is “deeds and not creeds.”

If we Christians confess our creeds but do not follow up with deeds, we are not only violating our calling, but presenting ourselves hypocritically to others. Please understand that I cannot speak for Jews as to what the equivalent of creeds may be for them. I must speak for Christians, not only about what we believe but about what our beliefs invite us to do. I know without doubt that our faith teaches us nowhere (in Scripture) to hate Jews or for that matter anyone else. It is never: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, love yourself and hate your neighbor.

I get idealistic at times or perhaps guilty of very high expectations of myself and other Christians when especially it comes to fulfilling our mandate to love all. I must say at this point that genuinely loving others, especially unlovable others, is as hard as it gets. It is utterly impossible for us to conjure up enough stuff within ourselves to pull off “in-spite-of” unconditional love, so here again we depend upon, have faith in and seek empowerment from God’s Holy Spirit.

No one can ever in this life get to the point of saying, “I made it; I am fully righteous, I do everything I am supposed to do and do it well, I have no further growing to do. If only the rest of the world is like me.” We live in a constant state of grace, that is, in falling short of God’s glory but having still his love and forgiveness.Interim Pastor David Mueller

Now here is the real problem: if we are not in constant relationship and communication with God, we very quickly slip into bad habits, former faults, secret sins and spiritual malnourishment. I have real concerns for people, young and old, who have left the Church. What are they feeding on?

As we feed on God’s will and word both in our private and corporate lives, as we gather for worship together (again sometime soon we hope), our faith remains and our capacity to care about others grows. What about those no longer among us?

I am at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church as Interim Pastor for now. As all of you know, I am far from perfect, make mistakes, get tired, wish I could do more and the like. Thank God I am a “temporary shepherd.” You need a new, different and younger pastor. WHO will proclaim Jesus among you? WHEN will she or he be named, installed and able and willing to minister with you?

There is much to do and the doing of it effectively is far more difficult and complex than it used to be. People are no longer flocking to churches. Going out after them must be done with great sensitivity and sincere love and care.

Support and encouragement for the now “mystery pastor” will be absolutely essential, ministering WITH the person is what will need to occur if growth in depth of existing members and breadth of new members is to happen. Actually, we must all consider ourselves not just members but disciples-in-process.

“How are they to call on one [Jesus] in whom they have not believed?” All the people out there are the new mission field, must hear the name and possibly come to believe in Jesus.

“How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” One of the real issues these days, unlike times past, is that so many people once knew and loved the name of Jesus but opted to hear of him no more. New approaches, new but faithful language, new creative ways of touching the world around us must be found, but always while speaking the name “Jesus.”

“How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” Your Pastor will minister with you, proclaiming the good news to you and through you. The proclaiming of the Pastor must result in the proclaiming of the people.

“How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” Dear Lord, real and righteous God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, send soon to us your choice of our new shepherd. Use us in this meantime to prayerfully consider all that goes into finding and welcoming a new pastor and knowing in faith who it is that You wish for us. Whoever she or he is, may we know and celebrate “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Amen.

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  

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.