A Message from Pastor Vern
Of all the things to think about as we approach the new year, roads are taking up a considerable amount of my headspace. For several weeks, I’ve been enjoying my Christmas Spotify playlist which includes a carol about roads, the infamous “over the river and through the woods.” TV commercials are flooded with “end of year” car sale commercials and Chevrolet must be on a mission to try and flip me from being a proud Ford driver because it seems like every time a show goes to commercial, I hear the “find new roads” Chevrolet catch phrase.
Mandy and I traveled several roads on Saturday and Sunday to enjoy Christmas celebrations with her family over the weekend. We will travel several more roads this week. On Thursday, we’ll travel to Charlotte for a bowl game of the “Carolinas” (Of course, to pull for the Carolina of the garnet and black persuasion). And this coming weekend, we’ll travel roads to South Carolina for Christmas celebrations with my family.
While putting some miles on my tires this week, I’ve thought about the transition of a dawning new year this weekend, about roads, and how it ties in nicely with another transition that is soon taking place in the story of the church year. This Sunday (Jan. 2) is still considered the season of Christmas; however, right on its heels is the season of Epiphany. Maybe some of you who have nativity scenes in your homes almost ceremoniously move the wise men into the scene for the season of Epiphany. A quick side note: if that is a part of the tradition in your home, kudos to you! The wise men were not present at the manger that first Christmas night!
The story of the wise men does include something about roads in it. Not only did they travel afar to see Jesus, but after witnessing this wondrous child, “They returned to their homes by a new (or different) road.” Thinking about this verse and thinking about the new year that is quickly approaching, I’ve thought about the new year in a new or different way this time around. Rather than coming up with goals that I may or may not accomplish, I’m asking myself, what new or different roads will 2022 present for me to travel down? What new adventures can I embark on? What opportunities will be revealed in this dawning new year?
I offer those same questions for you and for us to think about as a congregation, as people of God in the dawning new year. What new opportunities will 2022 present for St. Mark’s? What new roads can we travel together? Who can we meet along the way? What adventures in ministry will we have the ability to participate in together? As we travel these new or different roads, may we also, like the wise men, carry with us the good news of the Savior with us.
Friends in Christ, I wish you all a Happy New Year! If you are traveling this weekend, may your travels be safe and you return home filled with joy.
May God bless us as we venture on together down new and different roads as St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in 2022!
The Peace of Christ be with y’all!
A Message from Pastor Dave
One of the things I love this time of year is seeing the nativity scenes, the creche sets. There is one in St. Mark’s narthex and another one underneath the Chrismon Tree. The manger scenes come in all shapes and sizes, from the little ones that sit on an end table – so little Devon can get her hands on the donkey with missing ears – or the stained glass ones that are on my windowsill courtesy of my Rudisill mom.
I’ve seen big “scenes” too – outside homes and churches, sometimes even with the mix-match stories of shepherds (Luke) and wisemen (Matthew) and Santa (culture) and Scrooge (Dickens). Many of these are old and comforting images and reminders - where the creche came from, how long it has been part of your life or family history, the joy of seeing children experience the story of Jesus through the nativity sets, and more. Where did your manger scene come from? Which person/s or animal/s in the creche set do you identify with the most? Which one/s give you a sense of hope, peace, love or joy?
The manger scenes also remind me of family:
+ The family of Kecks and Cunninghams that I know and love so much, and of some of our deceased relatives;
+ Family households of church members and friends that I’ve seen creches in over the years – some of kept them up year-round;
+ The holy family of Mary, Joseph and the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths – surrounded by extended family of outcast shepherds, foreign wise men, extraterrestrial angel/s, manger animals of sheep, cow, ox, lamb, camel, donkey too – maybe even a bird or cat, dog or fish; (not so much Santa or Scrooge); and even in the creche sets – earthly elements of straw, pine, star, and flower.
These characters and items in the creche all represent a kind of kinship – togetherness – a family.
+ A family of God being formed and called together by the Spirit to share in the joy, peace, love, and hope that Jesus, the Christ ushers in;
+ The family that we are baptized into through grace of God; through the love of a Savior being born for us, living and dying for us and our salvation; and through the Spirit, the breath of heaven;
+ A family that reminds us that we are not alone, that we need one another;
+ A family that shares this journey of life and faith with us, in heaven and on earth.
Merry Christmas to all!
“To YOU is born this day a Savior.” Luke 2:11
A Message from Pastor Vern
Seeing the title of this devotion your thought might be, “What in heaven and earth is that word?!” We are one week and two days away from Christmas Eve folks! Christmas is juuuuust around the corner!
The word “theotokos” is a Greek word: theo (meaning God) and tokos (meaning bearer). This word, “theotokos” is a name attributed to Mary the mother of Jesus, by many Christians (especially our orthodox friends) around the world. Mary is revered as the God-bearer who delivers God’s love in the world.
The image accompanied with this week’s devotion is of an icon - an artistic expression commonly used in many Christian expressions, that depicts significant stories or people in the Christian tradition. This image, the “Theotokos,” depicts Mary holding in her hands and within her being, Jesus, the Savior that she bears to the world.
We don’t have many icons around the campus of St. Mark’s, but we do have a lot of God-bearers around at St. Mark’s! Martin Luther has several ideas that I think relate to this idea of being a God-bearer. Luther wrote extensively on the idea of Christian vocation. Part of how we understand that is through the words of Ephesians (4:1-5) which say, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
In Luther’s understanding of vocation, we all have a calling in life (Paul writes about vocation and the marks of a true Christian in the words of Romans 12). For some, that is to teach; some to preach; some to practice medicine; some to engineer; some to share various expressions of art; some to advocate for others; the list of vocations is infinite. In Luther’s understanding, our vocation, our calling, is part of how we live out the very essence of who we are created to be: “Made in the image of God and created for and to be in relationship with God and one another” (from Genesis 1).
In short, you are a “God bearer.” While you didn’t carry in your being the Savior Jesus, like Mary, you carry the image of Jesus in the gifts, unique abilities, and passions that make you who you are. Through your personal and professional vocations, you bear the hope, peace, joy, and love (the elements of the Advent candles) of Christ in the world.
As a congregation, we are also “God-bearers” in our ministry together. In a council devotion Monday night, I talked about the recurrence of the word “proclaim” throughout the Advent and Christmas narrative. I asked the question, “What do we want the message to be both that we (St. Mark’s) proclaim in our community? And what do we want the message to be that our community proclaims about us?”
Think about that in a similar way this week: How can we bear or reveal God to our neighbors, to our communities, to the world, and how can we open ourselves up to seeing God revealed to us by our neighbors and the community around us?
Friends, the peace of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, be with you now and in the days of preparation and celebration that are just around the corner!
A Message from Pastor Dave
“Okay campers, rise, and shine, and don't forget your booties ‘cause it’s cold out there… it’s cold out there every day.” – Groundhog Day
December 8 is listed on my calendar as National “Pretend to be Time Traveler” Day AND National Brownie Day! Fun!
Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day suggests wearing clothes from the past (no, not your underwear from yesterday); and it invites people to be appropriately confused by certain technology. Like technology from the stone age – oh cool!, a Paleolithic hand axe! Over the years I’ve read time travel books including A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (both books I read with a book club I was in); The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne (read with my kids); A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (read in high school). A lot of you think we read from a time travel book every Sunday in worship because of how ancient and out-of-touch-with-our-culture Jeremiah and John the Baptist and Jesus all seem. A lot of us have also enjoyed time-travel movies like “Groundhog Day,” “Back to the Future,” and “Star Wars”/ “Star Trek.” And maybe you’ve seen or been interested in seeing “Manifest” on Netflix which is being watched by David Wagoner’s Sunday school class. So while you’re pretending with me, while eating a brownie of course, where would you travel to? Back in time or forward in time? What is your favorite Time Traveler story or movie?
But let’s flip the script for a moment. Let’s reverse the directional arrow of our time travel. Let’s remember today, and these Advent days, that - while we look back (travel back?) to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and while we look ahead (travel forward) and prepare to celebrate Christ - mass 2021, and while we travel even further forward (we might hope) to look for Christ to “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed) – let’s remember that it is always God moving towards us, coming to us, coming to dwell with us (John 1, Revelation 21), coming to be God with us (Emmanuel).
This stubborn, insistent, tenacious time-traveling God incarnate, is the Light of the world that keeps overcoming darkness, is the joy in the morning following a night of weeping. It’s the resilience of God’s kingdom rushing toward you, toward me, toward the whole world in love. It’s persistent perseverance and pursuit is fueled by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Take hold of it again this day, this December 8, this “day that the LORD has made; rejoice and be glad in it,” for this kingdom has no end! It is never down for the count, never hopelessly stuck, never without resurrection.
So - Happy “Pretend to be a Time Traveler” Day! Godspeed in your travels. And, if you are Barb Glauer or Cooper Hatch - Happy Birthday today! Maybe you’ll receive a DeLorean time capsule (from Amazon) filled with baby photos and a recording of your first coos and cries; and a brownie with a candle on top. An Advent candle. Let your light shine as you travel back and/or forward with the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the power of the Spirit!
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law.
A Message from Pastor Vern
Happy first day of December!
Can you believe that we are in the last month of 2021 already?!
This past week (like most, if not all of y’all) I celebrated Thanksgiving with part of my family through sharing a big meal together. Turkey, gravy, beans, sweet potato casserole (3 or 4 different casseroles to be correct), deviled eggs, mac n’ cheese, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, blueberry “fluff,” all the fixings were there! Before that meal was shared though, there was an important step in the process. All that delicious food had to be “prepared.”
About a year ago now, Mandy and I moved to Mooresville. Into our first home: a house and plot of land that had our names attached to it. Moving to Mooresville was exciting. With the excitement of a new adventure and call to Mooresville, I wish I could say that all of our stuff just magically appeared in the new house. That just wasn’t the case. There was a lot of work to “prepare” before moving: packing and labeling boxes, deciding what to keep and what not to keep, holy conversations to have with folks that we had met and that had been influential in our lives while we were in Davidson County, there were movers to line up (twice actually), and of course all the fun phone calls to the post office, the utility companies, and other providers to let them know “Hey, we’re moving.” Not to mention, before the move there was also painting to be done in the new house, appliances to be procured, more of the “fun” of moving. All that “preparing” paid off and we made it all in one piece to Mooresville, thank you God!
To brag on my better half for a moment, Mandy this past year began her career in pediatric occupational therapy. However, before she could begin practicing her calling with her kiddos, she had to do a lot of work to “prepare” for her career: commuting back and forth to school, classes, exams, internships, more classes, more exams, board examinations, interviews, and onboarding at an employer.
On June 15, 2018 in Grace Chapel at Lenoir-Rhyne University, I was ordained as a rostered minister of word and sacrament in the ELCA. There was A LOT of “preparing” that preceded that ordination, that public affirmation of my calling to love and lead God’s people. From the summer of 2014, beginning “summer Greek,” my first seminary class, to approval by the faculty of LTSS and the SC synod of the ELCA, there were years of academic learning, spiritual discernment, and experiential learning that helped “prepare” me for ministry.
Last week, after that Thanksgiving meal was prepared, love and food were shared by all who ate that meal. Every day since the moving vans left and boxes began to be unpacked, love has been a cornerstone of the Kinard home. In the learning and adapting to various activities of daily living, Mandy shares her love and compassion with her pediatric clients and their families. And thanks be to God that the Spirit continues to move, allowing me opportunities to love and serve with you all
at St. Mark’s!
There is a common denominator to all of these stories… From a season of “preparation,” comes a season for love to be seen, felt, and known.
And that, my friends, is the story of Advent!
Advent is a season of preparing and anticipating the joy of Christmas. In this season we are preparing and anticipating the celebration of God’s love for us that takes on our humanity and is revealed in Jesus. The wonder of Christmas is again returning to the barn in Bethlehem where we hear and see how deep God’s love for us is; a love so deep that it takes on the fullness of our human experience (eventually even death), wrapped in bands of cloth, and laid in a manger, so that with hope that we might know that in our experience (in our life and in our death) God is with us. And like the bands of cloth that surrounded the baby Jesus, God’s love surrounds and embraces us.
So, my friends, for the next 24 days how are you preparing for the anticipated celebration of Christmas? How are you sharing or experiencing the gift of love this Advent? And how might God be calling all of us at St. Mark’s to proclaim the gift of love that we celebrate in 24 days into the world now, next year, and for years to come?
O come, O come, Emmanuel.