A Message from Pastor Dave
It can be exciting to think about what we would do if we won the lottery, the jackpot Powerball or the lotto, even for those—like me—who don’t play any of those. An old lotto slogan was, “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” I used to wonder who had the bigger dreams. Was it those who really didn’t need the money but would use it for fun – kind of like celebrities playing Wheel of Fortune and their winnings going to a charity of their choice; OR, were the bigger dreams from those who could barely afford the ticket to play?
I was just reading again Psalm 126 - (it is printed below this devotional). Psalm 126 is assigned for this coming Sunday. About 10 years ago I preached on this particular one of the “psalms of ascent” during Lent on six different Wednesdays at six different churches. The fortunes the people of ancient Israel were dreaming about and praying for in this psalm were far greater than any lottery winnings. They were in exile. They longed for their land and homes; longed for their freedom and to practice their faith. They longed to be known again as God’s people chosen to be a blessing to the world. And eventually, after a long while, their prayers were answered, they did get to “come home with shouts of joy!”
It is quite possible that COVID has brought a similar sense of loss and longing to you. Separated from family, friends, and worship of God, we dream of what once was. But we know we cannot go backwards in time; we can only go forward. I invite you to come home to St. Mark’s. I invite you, in God’s love and grace, to march on together with the Lord. Praying. Serving. Ascending. There we find healing, laughter and joy.
As I was writing this, Caroline Tyree was in the sanctuary playing the piano. It was music to my ears and melody for my prayers as she played the hymn tune “Be Thou My Vision.” Let us pray: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art: thou my best thought both by day and by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”
In the name of our Triune God. Amen. (Text: Irish, 8th cent)
P.S. If you do win the lottery, after thanking God, also remember St. Mark’s, even our church’s new “endowment” fund.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
A Message from Pastor Vern
For the past two days one of the hymns from the WOV (Hymn 783, to be exact) that I remember singing as an anthem in the children’s choir at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Newberry has played on repeat in my head. It’s based off of the Matthew 7 “Ask, Seek, Knock” text. The hymn reads, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Al-le-lu, al-le-lu-ia. Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you. Al-le-lu, Al-le-lu-ia.”
Thinking about this text, Jesus challenged those who heard him live and in stereo, and Jesus challenges us today to “activate” faith. Ask, seek, knock - these are all action words. And if three actions words in a row isn’t direct enough, Jesus follows this statement in the Gospel of Matthew with another action word - “Do.” If the Bible you use has subtitles, it would be titled The Golden Rule - “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Last night we had an important Council meeting at St. Mark’s. Council started articulating its vision for ministry next year, specifically through financial planning. 2022 will be here before we know it, friends. And in the closing weeks of 2021, maybe this text from Matthew 7 is helpful to hear again.
Now is a good time to ask, “What is the Spirit inviting us into through our ministry together?” “What goals do we seek to accomplish in the coming year?” “What barriers are God calling us to knock down, or new doors to open?” What other action words is Jesus calling us to see; to be; to do as St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mooresville, NC and in our greater mission as the body of Christ in the world?
One more note about the “Seek Ye First” hymn. Each verse concludes with the same phrase, “Al-le-lu, Al-le-lu-ia.” Alleluia means “Give thanks/ give praise to God.” I pray that in all of our words, and in all of our actions, that we think, we say, we do, from a place of giving thanks to God for the ways that we are continually and abundantly blessed to participate in sharing and being signs of God’s love.
A Message from Pastor Dave
We share our mutual woes,
our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
and sin we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign
through all eternity.
(by John Fawcett, 1782. ELW 656, Verses 3-4)
These concluding verses are from the last hymn we sang Sunday, Oct. 3.
We speak of God as a God of relationship. (See Psalm 8 from Sunday too).
We are formed in creation for community. And God uses our community – our church, our family, our friendship circles – to witness to the best of God’s love and care for creation and for one another.
In the best cases:
God’s people share their mutual woes in order to help support one another and edify the community as a whole.
God’s people share their mutual burdens in order to lighten their loads together.
God’s people share their griefs in order to cry together.
One of the saddest things I’ve known are congregations that cannot model the reality of a loving community. And some of my most blessed moments have been the expressions of love in faith-filled congregations.
What woes do you need support for today? What burdens can we help one another lessen? For what griefs can we share a sympathizing tear or ear?
Care and compassion is the work of our Lutheran Christian community.
Can you help with that today for someone else? How? Who?
Let us together look forward to the final freedom from sorrow, toil, pain, and sin, - when perfect love and friendship will reign through all eternity - by the grace of God, who unites us all in Jesus’ name.
Let us pray.
God of Community, make us living witnesses to your heavenly reality. Today we include in prayers your creation, and those in our community including Guil, Jim, Ken, Wendy, Carol, Herb, Dovie, Janet, Martha, and all those we now name aloud or silently.
A Message from Pastor Dave
For five Sundays in worship, we read from the New Testament letter of James. We concluded September 26 with James 5:13-20, about prayer, suffering, confession, and even unanswered prayer.
Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” has this refrain:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
Today I read an email from the organization called Science for the Church.
A sentence stood out to me that reminded me of James 5:15-16 about prayer, confession, forgiveness and healing. The author of “Science” wrote “some science, like that of learned helplessness or forgiveness, can even tell us how God through Christ has worked out freedom from bondage and offers hope for a world where everyone can flourish and find joy.” It linked the word of “forgiveness” with a previous article that I found really helpful, insightful: “God Says to Forgive. So Does Science.”
OK. Let’s talk with the man upstairs: Heavenly Father, You have created us for companionship and have re-created us for fellowship in our Lord Jesus Christ. I confess I often disrupt fellowship by thoughtlessness and selfishness. I pray for forgiveness. Destroy in me the vanity that keeps me from liking others. Help me overcome the timidity that makes me fearful of others. Keep me from the urge to take advantage of others, but discourage in me the feeling that I cannot call on others. Help to find friendship among those who know the constant love and mercy of Your Son. Enable me to be kind, generous, and forgiving. I pray in the name of Jesus, who brought me into the fellowship of the church.
(Lutheran Book of Prayer, p. 194. 1970 Concordia Publishing House)
A Message from Pastor Vern
Have you ever heard the saying up above in the title of this message? I have to admit, growing up in the Carolinas, there are some interesting sayings that my ears have heard. There is of course the infamous “Bless your heart” which can either be one of the most compassionate responses your steeped-in-the-South neighbor might say to you, or the politest way that someone might curse you. And then there’s some other conversational jewels such as: “They ain’t got the good sense God gave a rock,” or someone being “madder than a wet hen,” or maybe you’re “happier than a pig in mud.” The list of these sayings could go on and on.
One saying that I remember hearing many times was referring to someone (or yourself) in a situation being “low man on the totem pole.” What that saying refers to is acknowledging an order of importance. This past week’s gospel says something about acknowledging the importance of one another. Jesus had just told the disciples that he was going to be betrayed, crucified, and rise from the dead. You would think that would’ve been the center of conversation among the disciples for the rest of the day. Alas, the only thing the disciples could seem to talk about (actually more like argue about) was which one of them was the greatest. They got into a debate with each other about who was “high or low man on the totem pole.”
I love Jesus’ response to the disciples quarreling. After they reached Capernaum, and while they were gathered together, Jesus singled out and called children who were gathered with them to come near. WHAT?! Why a child?! If there ever was an easy answer as to who was “low man on the totem pole” in Israel, it was children. Children had little if any social status. They had no voice. They were work hands in the family trade. To some cultures around the Israelites, children were even seen as forms of payment (look up Molech, a deity of the Canaanites).
So as the disciples quarreled among each other, Jesus called upon the children in their midst while saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and servant of all.” Jesus continued, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me.”
I have to pause for a moment and brag. I’m so thankful for the young people in our midst at St. Mark’s; for their personalities, for their wisdom, and for the ways that they model what it means to be the body of Christ. I recall the words of the 8th Psalm, “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Out of the mouths of young ones and infants you have laid a foundation…”
I want to invite all of us into a time to really ponder the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and servant of all.” Jesus invites us to intentionally make sure that our neighbors know that they aren’t the “low man on the totem pole.” Rather Jesus invites us into being intentionally welcoming and into seeking out the folks around us who feel like they aren’t important. Because when we intentionally build relationships, when we seek out the person who feels like they aren’t worthy in the eyes of anyone, when we love and serve without priority, that is loving and serving like Jesus.