I will never understand picky eaters! Growing up in my family, the rule was “no dessert until you finish your plate.” I remember the hours my sister spent playing with her food while eyeing the cheesecake on the kitchen counter. She was never allowed to enjoy it until her meal was completely gobbled up. Just to torment her, I always made sure to eat my piece of cake in the chair directly across the table and I would take my sweet time enjoying the strawberry drizzled goodness.
I have always been a good eater. In fact, so good, that over time the cheesecake began to feel less and less like a reward. The certainty of dessert was too expected to be special. Meanwhile, my sister longed for that cake. Although I never understood why it was difficult for her to eat the meal that our parents prepared, her struggle was no joke. It took her hours to eat dinner, taking another bite every five minutes. Eventually, she powered through the meal and was finally able to enjoy the dessert that she so desperately wanted.
In a nutshell, this is the story of Holy Week. Some Christians want to skip the torment and discomfort of the Cross and go directly into Easter. Like me, they want to get through the main course as quickly as they can and get to the good stuff, the dessert. The messiness of the Cross and the reality of death are not things we want to dwell on, but they are central components of our faith. Maybe my sister was on to something? It may have taken her forever to eat her dinner, but the prize idea of dessert never grew numb. The longer we stay fixed on the Cross, the more satisfying Easter morning is. We need to hear the story of Jesus’ death before we can celebrate the resurrection.
Beginning with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, this Sunday we start our journey of following Jesus to the Cross. On Thursday, we will feel Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, hear Jesus’ new commandment to love, and taste the first Lord’s Supper. This will lead us to Friday, where Jesus is placed on the Cross for all to see. Hope sustains us, propels us forward through Maundy Thursday into Good Friday. Hope is what carries us through until we finally get our delicious treat of sugary splendidness. Hope is the defining characteristic that makes us followers of Christ. As people of hope, we remain confident in the arrival of Easter. No matter how long Holy Week seems to last, dessert is on its way. Soon, we will be feasting on the Good News of the empty tomb!
Come, savor the meal!
Hand-me-downs are some of my favorite items. I have jazz records from my mom’s college years, theology books with my dad’s notes in the margins from his time in seminary, and drafting tools from my grandfather’s thirty-five plus years drawing and designing for Goodyear.
I have a set of six bass steel drums that were gifted to me after a late-night jam session in the basement of the college music building. I wear hats and T-shirts that were gifts from good friends to mark key moments in our lives. I currently drive a car that was a hand-me-down from my in-laws following the demise of my Corolla.
Our Yakima bike rack, scuffed and scratched from years of use by someone else, was spotted in the back corner of a D.A.V. Thrift Shop in Wichita for a mere $25! A drummer friend of mine left me a giant Paiste ride cymbal in her will. I have a stunning black and white picture of the Oregon coast that was a farewell gift at the end of my pastoral internship. That’s right, it came right off the wall of someone’s home and into ours.
One of my favorite stoles, the colorful fabric that drapes over my shoulders for traditional worship, was a gift from Shirley Wuchter on my ordination day. Her husband, Rev. Michael Wuchter, was one of my campus pastors at Wittenberg University and died suddenly while on a goodwill mission trip in Namibia. I remember seeing Michael wear the Guatemalan created garment on Easter each year. His sweat still stains the part that brushes against my neck when I wear it.
But I’m not only on the receiving end. Some of my childhood books and toys have made their way onto the shelves of my own children. Holiday recipes and traditions have been handed down from our generation to the next. Every time we gather with extended family in Northeast Ohio, we pass down clothes and other kid stuff to my nieces, whose children are a few years behind our own. It is like Christmas as they open the bags full of dresses, hoodies, pants, and shoes, alongside bins of stuffed critters, books, and toys. It is so fun to give those things away.
The contagious joy of hand-me-downs revolves around sharing. People share with you and you share with others. This ebb and flow isn’t driven by keeping score, but is activated by generosity.
Faith is a hand-me-down, too. Our hearts and minds have been shaped by traditions, words, music, and ritual that come to us as a gift from others. The gospel of Luke begins saying that the author is writing to pass along the stories of Jesus, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2 NIV). How we think about God, care for creation, wrestle with issues of faith, and seek to serve one another are all legacy gifts, which have been shared with us by countless faithful followers from the past, as well as those who surround and encourage us now.
In a few weeks, we’ll be launching the Share the Light capital campaign. Share the Light is about handing down and passing along the hope that comes through Jesus. This invitation to share asks us to recognize and respond to all that God gives to us and the ways that make our lives better. It doesn’t come from compulsion, but grows out of faith, hope, and love.
Share the Light!
Mouthwatering baby back rips, oozing deep-dish pizza, and screaming hot homemade chili. My dad is a wizard in the kitchen. Professionally, and somewhat ironically, my dad is a High School health teacher, but every day when that last bell rings he begins his true craft. After school, he makes his daily run to Kroger, collecting all the ingredients for the masterpiece to be created that evening.
Growing up with a parent that loves to cook was a pretty sweet setup. Every evening, just a few minutes before dinner was actually done, he would shout to the top of his lungs, “Dinnnnner!” My mom was typically running my siblings around to either practice or a friend’s house. But still, even if my dad knew I was the only other person home, he would still shout with all he had, “Dinnnnner!” It was so loud that it would have been no surprise to see the neighbors come over for some tasty grub. However, as a bratty teen, I found this shouting to be so annoying. I would mutter under my breath every time, “Dad, I am right here!” It’s only until now that I realize the beauty behind calling people in for a meal.
As the church, of course it’s important to feed those inside its walls, both physically and spiritually, but our mission to love and serve others extends beyond the church. Our mission reaches out in to our community and to the world. I hope you have heard about the upcoming capital campaign “Share the Light.” For me, this begs the question, “who are we sharing the light with?” The answer: everyone! We are sharing the light with those in the church, those in our local community, and even the world. I love that our multi-purpose expansion space will be placed right out front on Tylersville Road. It is as though we are shouting to the community “Dinnnner!” This is a place where people come to be feed.
Even though my dad knew I was the only one home, even though he knew I was standing right beside him, still he shouted “Dinnnnner!” Back then, I didn’t understand that my dad wasn’t shouting for me. Instead, he was shouting to anyone who might be in ear shot. You simply never know who might hear you. Who actually makes it to dinner isn’t always the most important part about ministry. Its more about all people knowing that they are welcome. Living, sharing, and celebrating with all people is not negotiable or debatable. Rather, it defines us as followers of Christ.
Here at Lord at Life, people come to be fed and to be nourished, so that God can send us out to be agents of peace, hope, and love. As good as my dad’s cooking is, nothing compares to how we are fed through Christ. God calls us, God speaks to us, God feeds us, and God sends us out into the world.
Join me in the shout!
Several days each week, I wake early to drive a carpool of boys to the Freshman school. We leave with plenty of time to zip around, load up the car, and still arrive at the school by 6:45 am. For months, it has been so dark - pitch black. Even when I arrive back home and try to snuggle in for a few more winks, the sky still looks like it could be the middle of the night.
As I shuttle the boys around, various lights guide my way. Headlights on the car help me maneuver through the parked cars and twisty turns of the neighborhood. Streetlights and reflective signs lay out the path before me, as I jump onto some of the main area roads already bustling with morning traffic. Closer to the school, brightly painted road stripes and massive overhead lighting, as well as traffic signals, illuminate intersections and help create traffic patterns. I’m glad that everything is so well lit.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I like the nighttime. I enjoy darkness. An evening walk sometimes brings peace and clarity to my weary spirit. A darkened theater is better for viewing a concert or film. Sometimes, I even travel beyond the city lights in search for darkness for a better view of the stars. But the darkness in our lives, both literal and perceived, has the power to paralyze us with fear and anxiety about the unknown.
We have been spending time in the Gospel of John this Lenten season. One of the features of this gospel account is the presence of light imagery. Over and over, Jesus refers to himself as light and speaks to the realities that come with that brightness. He tells us that we won’t stumble, our vision will be transformed, and mobility will look different with the dominating light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life,” (John 8). The Lord of Light doesn’t say that the darkness is gone, but promises that darkness will not dominate the landscape of our lives. The Light of Christ shines into every shadowed corner and cranny.
Daniel Erlander describes it this way: “We do not find God. God finds us – in our darkness, our pain, our emptiness, our loneliness, our weakness... [For us, this] is a new way of seeing... It is here, on the cross, that God meets us. Here God makes Godself present: hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken, dying... As God meets us where we are, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the Cross is God’s embrace – the Cross is God’s victory!”
This line of thinking is called Theology of the Cross. In the cross of Jesus, we see forgiveness, reconciliation, power, hope, life, unconditional love, and triumph. In the cross of Jesus, we are reminded that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil. In the cross of Jesus, God declares that death does not have the final word.
In recent days, when dropping off my carload of boys at the school in the early hours, I have noticed a slight glow on the horizon. I still haven’t seen the sun, but the promise of dawn is on the horizon.
Looking to the light!
I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and every year during the season of Lent, conversation would swirl about what we were giving up. A lot of people gave up food items – chocolate, meat, soda. Adults might have given up things like alcohol or swearing.
As I grew in my faith education, I learned about giving up things that would help me make roomfor Christ in my life. I could give up an hour of television to study scripture or a book on a Christian topic. I could give up complaining and be a more positive person to be a better example of Christian love. These are still great ideas!
Now that I’ve been a church “professional” for several years, I’ve learned some history about our calendar and how the traditions of seasons like Lent and Advent came to be. Both Lent and Advent were seasons of fastingbefore major holidays. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, and Advent is the 40 days before - you guessed it - Epiphany. If someone reminds me in December, I’ll write another whole post about why it isn’t Christmas. Historically speaking, these 40 day fasts were meant to temper our “worldly desires.”
But we treat the seasons of Advent and Lent very differently. During Advent, we mark off our calendars; in some traditions we go as far as opening little doors to reveal daily treats. What a contrast to the idea of fasting we think of for Lent. We spend the season of Advent anticipating the joy of Christmas. The tradition of fasting, while it gives us opportunities to open ourselves to Christ, can sometimes have the unintended consequence of drawing our focus to our own suffering.
So what if we thought of Lent more like Advent? The eager anticipation. The joy of preparing ourselves, not for new birth, but new life in the resurrection. As we watch the flowers coming back to life, we can be grateful that Christ’s resurrection means we can stand before God, free of our sin. Yes, we can still make room for God in our lives, and we can do it out of the joy gratitude that we have already been saved through Grace, not by our own deeds and suffering.
Share the Light.
You’ve seen our plans for our next steps and might be wondering, “What’s up with the chapel?” You are not alone. There have been many questions about that space. “Why do we need a chapel?” “What would we do with a chapel?” “Chapel... Huh?”
“Hey! What’s up? How are you doing?”
All too often, we ask these questions out of habit more than out of genuine concern for someone. We lob the inquiry out there without any intention of hearing a response. If we pose the question to a stranger on the sidewalk or an elevator, we only do so as a kind gesture. If we ask a friend, we don’t expect a thoughtful answer that might draw us into the real-life drama and trauma of their lives. It is more of a formality in the greeting moment. Before the question is even completely out of our mouths, we’ve already mentally moved on to something or somewhere else.
A few weeks ago, we started our senior high event by hanging a few giant pieces of paper on the wall. Across the top of each page, we wrote, “I am...” and asked each youth to complete the sentence however they wished. The honesty and vulnerability astounded me.
I am... Anxious. Chocolatey. Confident. Confused. Content. Curious. Dead inside. Disappointed. Excited. Exhausted. Full. Happy. Hopeful. Joyful. Looking forward to something. Loved. Okay. Out of patience! Overwhelmed. Prepared. Pumped. Sore. Stressed. Taking deep breaths. Thinking about a lot of things. Tired. Unique. Excited. Worn Out. Weird. Wondering. Woman.
Right there in our Fellowship Hall, these teens were willing to scribble down the real-life answers to where they found themselves on a Sunday night, no matter whether they were chocolatey, looking forward to something, worn out, or dead inside. Imagine how many other feelings must have been swirling around in their hearts and spirits that they didn’t share with the community? If we listen after we initiate conversation, we can discover exuberant joys and deep sorrows. If we pay attention, others invite us into their lives and experiences.
This Lent, we’ll spend our Wednesday worship times exploring a series of “I am” statements which show up in the Gospel according to John. As Jesus reveals himself to others, he says, “I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Door. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life.” What is Jesus trying to tell everyone within earshot about who he is? What might Jesus be saying to us? How do these metaphors invite us into a greater understanding of how God interacts with us and embraces us with an everlasting love?
We have God’s full attention. God asks us how we are doing and sticks around to listen to our response. In our moments of thrill and celebration, as well as our despair and lament, the Creator of the Universe is attentive to the pleas of our voice and heart.
Living in hope,
Rain or shine, February or July, on any lazy Saturday morning, you could usually find my brother and I casting a line at the bottom of the spillway. There was a dam just down the road from where we lived. The spillway created a pool of water with a high concentration of fish. After their plummet down the spillway, the fish collected and began to pile up in the water on top of one another. Of course, this made for easy catch and release fishing, but at the time, my brother and I thought we were professional fishermen.
Oddly enough, the memories of the hours spent fishing at the spillway continued to go through my mind as I participated in a week-long intensive course at the Seminary called Theology in the City. We spent the majority of our time together visiting ministries that serve the most vulnerable of God’s children. We visited many homeless shelters, food pantries, and prisons, all of which were overcrowded and understaffed. One of the overarching themes that began to surface for me was how much I have taken my privacy for granted over the years. For the fish in the spillway, and for hard-living folks in our neighborhoods, privacy is an unfelt luxury.
The image of fish swimming on top of one another at the spillway was on replay as I observed the various ministries of the city. We visited places like J. Jireh Ministries, Van Buren Homeless Shelter, Columbus Dream Center, and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off for me about the church’s role of serving those in need. Most often, the church spends its efforts on meeting immediate needs, and providing short-term solutions. Of course, we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but what might it look like if we spent some time deconstructing the spillway that created the overwhelming need to begin with? If not the church, then who? Who will fix broken systems in place that work to perpetuate economic oppression?
God is certainly at work when we provide a meal, a home, or even a cup of water. But God is also present when we standup for equality and demand a change to the status quo. God is at work when we engage our local government and voice our cry for compassionate action. When we take a holistic approach to our call to serve, God is revealed in new and transformative ways. God has provided a lake large enough for all of us to swim comfortably. The issues that we face do not stem from a shortage problem, but a distribution problem. We live and serve knowing that God will provide all that we need.
I invite you to lean into the liberation that the gospel offers. Free yourself to give holistically to the precious concerns that we hold dear to our hearts. Through this freedom, others will experience the fullness of God’s love. Soon, and very soon, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). I will meet you at the spillway, and together, we will free the fish.
With a casted line,
There are many opportunities this Lent to wrestle with questions of faith and justice. Consider being part of one of the book studies (listed in on our Events page) or attending one of the seminars (listed in the current Lifeline on page 7).
This blog was written by our member Corey Wagonfield, who is in his second year of seminary.
Dear Lord of Life Lutheran Church,
Thank you so very much for supporting me through my seminary journey to become an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This is a call that I have felt since I was very young, but always made excuses as to why it wasn’t the right time. Often it was the fact that seminary costs about $20,000 per semester and I just didn’t have the available funds.
Your monetary gifts and prayers have helped me to live into my calling and allow me to focus on my seminary work instead of stressing about finances. I thank God for bringing you into my life and I pray nightly that God continues to shower blessings upon you.
I am entering my fourth semester at Trinity Seminary, which is now a part of Capital University, after a merger on January 1. I have completed 49 credit hours to date and am taking an additional 18 hours this semester. I will have two thirds of my credit hours completed at the end of this semester, the remaining third will be spread out over the next two years. For the last year, I have also been placed with Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, in Loveland, as a learning in context congregation. I have participated in worship there, preached once, led a confirmation class, taught adult Sunday School classes, and much more. I have one more semester with that congregation as part of my learning in context class and I hope to continue to learn more about preaching from their pastors.
In the Fall Semester, I took New Testament 1, Systematic Theology, Leadership in Context 2, Ministry of Preaching, Leading the Church’s Song, and Musical Leadership for Liturgy. This spring, I will be taking New Testament 2, Children in the Bible, Lutheran Confessions, Theology of Mission, Leadership in Context 3, The Care of Souls, and Being with the Poor. This past summer, I had the pleasure of serving as a Chaplain Intern at Trinity Community in Beavercreek, as part of a summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). It was a summer-long intensive that focuses on getting to know yourself, how you relate to people, how you relate to high-pressure situations, and much more. It was an amazing learning experience, but also extremely draining.
To most who meet him now, Davis Conrad is a typical 95-year-old man living at Bethany Lutheran Village in Dayton. For hundreds of people who worshiped with him, attended a concert at his church, or sang under his direction, he is a master of his trade; a member of an almost-lost generation of musicians who produced legendary music programs during a golden era of corporate worship. At Hope Lutheran Church, his retirement after decades of faithful service - coupled with changes to the surrounding neighborhood - led to the end of a once-storied music tradition.
It has been more than twenty years since he left. Through some Dayton friends I discovered that Hope was ready to part with its music library – hundreds of pieces of music that were sung joyfully on Sundays, Christmas, Easter, feast days, clergy installations, and bishop celebrations, including several that were commissioned especially for their esteemed choir. A gift to Lord of Life, if we would take it.
As I shared the news with some of our own choir members, I discovered connections to Hope Church that I never would have expected – Pastor Ed Williams spent a great deal of time at Hope when he was on the Synod staff; Pastor Bill Funk, who has been singing with us for two years, was an associate pastor at Hope for three years.
When I arrived to pick up the music, the secretary looked at my car and said, “you might have to make a few trips in that.” She wasn’t kidding. Seven filing cabinets, each with four drawers, full from front to back and a desk filled with music. What an amazing gift. Mr. Conrad’s notes on his copy of each piece – a lifetime of study, planning, practice, and teaching; a legacy from which to build.
I managed to empty six of the filing cabinets and the desk in one trip. I was so excited to bring it all home; I filled every nook and cranny. As I’ve gone through it all, I’m humbled to piece together the rich history contained among the pages. I’m sad there are so few people at Hope to share in that history, but it will live on through our own worship and offerings.
It will take me many weeks to sort through all of our new music. Once I have, I’ll invite anyone who would like to join us for a “sing through” – I’ll pick out some of my favorites and we’ll sing through them just to hear them for ourselves. Mark your calendars for Tuesday, April 10 at 7 pm!
Fingers are crossed, eyes are glued to the bottom of the screen during the evening news, and you have already eaten your packed lunch in the fridge because you’re so confident that tomorrow will be a Snow Day. How exciting is a whole day to goof around as snow falls outside? Days of playing games in the snow and then cozying up close to the fire are the kind of winter days I longed for as a kid. Snow Days were the best!
While in high school, I had an amazing job on the weekends and throughout the summer working as a counselor for an outdoor camp. At this camp, we often served the youth from the urban core of Cincinnati. While the kids were with us in the outdoors, nearly everything they got to do at camp was a first-time experience. It was so transformative for me to witness these children see a deer for the first time, or to finally be able to see the Big Dipper in the night sky, or to play in and around a large pond. Prior to working at this camp, I had no idea that there were kids so close to my home that never experienced these basic joys that I experienced nearly every day.
One morning, I was leading a group of campers through the woods to the cafeteria for breakfast, I asked “what is your favorite thing to do on a Snow Day?” They took turns sharing as we all nodded in agreement for each response. Eventually, the only person left to give a response was the little boy holding my hand as we walked. I said to him directly, “what’s your favorite thing about a Snow Day?” There was a long silence until he finally said “I don’t like Snow Days, because there is no school that day, and that means I don’t get to eat that day.” My heart sank, and suddenly, I never desired a Snow Day in the same way again.
As temperatures drop, God’s most precious children grow colder while they’re forced to live outside. As winter months settle in, social services grow more crowded and more of God’s children battle with hunger. This year, I witnessed the Holy Spirit hard at work through Lord of Life as our guests from Family Promise called this place home during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Family Promise is an inter-faith ministry that equips congregations to respond to local homelessness.
Our call to respond came during a week that most consider to be a “Snow Day.” In the midst of resting, playing games, and staying home, God filled our hearts and empowered us to serve others. Although play and rest are an important part of our lives, I am thankful that God is still at work on a Snow Day. God continues to show up day after day, season after season, snow fall after snow fall.
With a Serving Heart,
“The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12
I never understood this phrase. Singing hills and clapping trees? I’ve heard the passage in worship for years and read it occasionally in my own devotional life. I’ve savored the beauty of creation from expansive vistas and lush valleys, but I’ve never witnessed trees clapping their hands, except for the creepy scene in The Wizard of Oz when the trees cheer and jeer and toss apples at Dorothy and her traveling companions.
On Christmas Eve, we read some similar words from Psalm 96, which describes all of creation raising their voices at the coming of the Lord. The Psalm culminates with a rejoicing earth, roaring seas, and “all the trees of the forest singing for joy” (v.11 ff.). For some reason, on that holy night, the words of the psalm writer began to make sense.
Maybe they began to make sense because of the howling wind that blew snow and knocked around trees, as well as rustled Christmas Eve clothes and hair. Maybe understanding carved a path in the ringing hand bells and singing voices, the flickering candles and sparkling lights. Maybe, faith and understanding connected through spoken Scripture and sung refrains telling of the night that Christ was born. Maybe, clarity came in the hot chocolate and coffee which flowed freely and the warm greetings and hugs of reunions, as friends and family connected.
Thankfully, our “Jesus Christ is born!” declarations weren’t only contained within the walls of sanctuaries and worship spaces. Outside, all creation joined in the birthday announcement, too. The glistening trees, falling snow, whipping wind, and hush of bedtime led us into Christmas morning and beyond. Did I hear some trees of the field clapping their hands?
This side of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the rejoicing isn’t as easily found. The cleansing, white blanket of snow has turned to black slosh on roads and icy clumps clinging to our wheel wells. Garbage cans are overflowing, neighborhood curbside recyclers have extra cardboard packaging to pick-up, and the lifeless, naked Christmas trees are discarded as they wait to be hauled off. Inside, many of us have already packed up decorations and crammed lights and ornaments back into their nests for an 11-month nap. For some, the happy buzz of glad tidings have given way to the daily grind.
As we jump into the new year, creation won’t allow our exclamations to end. Christ is born and the world is changed! All creation, including us, is summoned to declare it. We continue to celebrate and look for renewal. We continue to cry out for justice and peace. We pray for those who are ill, lost, or alone. We work to care for the Earth and one another. Could it be that all creation cannot help but respond to the arrival of God coming among us?
The very end of the Psalms says as much: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).
Joy to the world!
As we reflect on 2017, our gratitude overflows for the many ways you have served and participated in life and ministry at Lord of Life throughout the past year. We thank God for each of you and the numerous ways that you generously share your lives for God’s mission here, in our community, and throughout the world.
As we enter our 30th year together as a community of faith, we pray that the Spirit of God will continue to bring us health, joy, and peace as we remain rooted in the promises of Jesus.
The Lord of Life staff
(l to r) Paula Drake, Bob Burnette, Intern Lucas McSurley, Pastor Lowell, Donna Harvey, John Johns, Cara Hasselbeck (not pictured Pastora Carmen Brown and Lori Krach)
It is my favorite moment in Christmas worship in every church I’ve gone to. The lights dim, the music starts, everyone gets quiet, and the fire from the Christ candle on the Advent wreath spreads through the church as we pass the flame from candle to candle. Silent Night ...
It was another kind of silence that brought this beloved hymn to life. In 1818 at a chapel near Salzburg, Austria, Christmas preparations were underway when organist Franz Gruber found that the organ had failed and wouldn’t work for Christmas. A young priest, Joseph Mohr, had written some lyrics a couple years earlier and asked Gruber to set them to a tune they could sing easily with guitar accompaniment to replace the organ.
People liked it, but they mostly forgot about it. When the organ was repaired several years later, the organ builder found the music laying with the organ pipes, had it published, and it was a hit!
We are full of expectations during the Christmas season. The perfect gifts. Perfect family time. Perfect music. We’ve spent the entire season of Advent working and waiting for everything to come together, for the wrapping to come off, for school to let out, and to finally light that fifth candle on the Advent wreath so we can share the light of Christmas with each other. Silent Night ... What a testament to the promise of Christmas that even when things don’t go according to plan, we still receive the gift of God’s love.
Celebrate Christmas with us this Sunday at 6, 8, and 11 pm – each of the services will include communion, candle-lighting, and a weepy music director trying to make his way through his favorite song ...
I have a confession to make... Until just last year, I had never heard of a poinsettia. This may let you in on how much I know about decorating, but I have always simply called them “Christmas flowers.” I’ll admit, there was an awkwardly long amount of time between when I heard the word “poinsettia” being tossed around in the church newsletter and when I finally discovered what in the world it meant.
After a quick search, I learned that poinsettia plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, who worked in the U.S. government as a diplomat under James Monroe. Joel R. Poinsett traveled to Mexico in 1828 and brought back a holiday tradition to the States. The tradition in Mexico was born out of a cultural legend. As the story goes, a young girl could not afford to provide a gift for Jesus' birthday. As she was feeling down, an angel appeared to her and told her to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Before she knew it, red blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias (www.history.com).
Many of our traditions, especially around the holidays, do have meaningful backstories that help make them relevant. Usually, we just have to do a little digging to discover what the meaning behind our traditions are. As it turns out, poinsettias do have a religious purpose and do make a theological claim in our worship space. So, this Christmas, as you see the sanctuaries, stores, and windows filled with beautiful flowers, I hope you are reminded of the girl who gifted weeds for Jesus’ birthday. Christmas is not about material things or unwrapping frivolous doohickeys, it’s about the gift of giving. All that the little girl brought to Jesus was flowerless weeds, but that was enough.
When you see poinsettias, know that they represent God’s unimaginable ability to create something out of nothing, to bring the dead to life, and to make beauty out of what we perceive to be worthless. Sprouting a bright scarlet flower from the weeds is what our Christian story is all about. God takes us, considered by some as worthless weeds and helpless sinners, and transforms us into agents for love and justice. The peace that we create and the love that we proclaim is God’s gift to the world.
I may know nothing about poinsettia placement or decorating for the season of Christmas, but thankfully, God is the one that does the important decorating. God places us together and puts us in the perfect arrangement that extends out from beneath any sized tree. God’s Christmas display expands far beyond any window sill. When God creates, God uses decorations far more beautiful than poinsettias, Christmas trees, and bright twinkling lights. We are what God decorates the world with during the holiday. Through us, God showers the world with joy, love, peace, and hope. This Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus is the centerpiece of God’s display. We are arranged, we are illuminated, and we are made beautiful by God’s wondrous hands.
With Sprouting Beauty,
You’ve seen it. If you tossed a rock in the air and celebrated the pluming splash of water, you were witness to the growing circumference radiating out in a ripple. When you paused to watch a boat carve its way up the Ohio River, your eyes may have followed the ripples as they wiggled all the way to the shoreline. Canoeing or kayaking on a placid lake, the point of entry for your paddle may have drawn your attention and mesmerized you at length.
Christmas is coming. For many of us, the rhythm of daily life has been disrupted by the splashing preparation of the Advent season. The normal surfaces in our homes have been taken over by evergreen sprigs, strings of lights, and nativity scenes, as we anticipate the coming of Christ. In a few weeks, we will celebrate God bursting onto the scene, but long after December 25 has come and gone the realities of Christmas will linger.
Canadian poet and musician, Bruce Cockburn, captures these lasting effects of Jesus' birth as he recounts the story of God in his Cry of a Tiny Babe <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRZxrr4P9FE>.
Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph gets upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the Holy Land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you have ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift that you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe
From Bruce Cockburn’s Nothing But A Burning Light ©1991
You might not see it or feel it, but that doesn’t mean that the promises of Jesus don’t ripple in and through our lives.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!
It has arrived! That time of year when calendars are full, stores are crowded, stockings are hung, and families are gathered. Growing up in my house, the month of December always meant that we were hosting family and friends. Snow days for most kids meant hot chocolate and sled rides, but for me and my siblings, cold winter days meant cleaning and chores. We spent our snow days sweeping the floors and dusting the counters. It felt like we were always preparing to entertain for that coming weekend.
Eventually, the hour would hit that were done preparing and cleaning and all that was left to do was wait patiently for our guests to arrive. All the work was finally done as we peeked our heads through the window looking for familiar cars to pull into our driveway so that we could shout “they’re here.” That shout was our family code for finding the coolest posture we could, one that indicated that we were not frantically throwing our toys in the closest just before the guests appeared. While we were frozen in that pose, we waited eagerly and patiently.
As Christians, we have worked tirelessly all year long, serving others, loving others, and fulfilling God’s mission in the world. Lord of Life has trained and equipped eight Stephen Ministers to listen effectively and passionately to those who are hurting. We have confirmed 8 students and baptized 11 of our youth. We have raised nearly 500,000 dollars for the mission of the Church. We have grown thousands of pounds of produce in our garden and prepared countless meals for those who are hungry. I could go on, but the point is clear, God has been hard at work in this place.
Now that Advent has arrived, although we should never let-up on doing God’s work, we are finally patiently awaiting the arrival of the long expected Jesus Christ. Although we may not be completely prepared, although the table may not be fully set, we are eagerly awaiting our guest to arrive and show us the way of peace, hope, and love. Let us wait for the Lord with that same kind of child-like giddiness we had when our faces were pressed against the window as the guests finally pulled into the driveway.
This Advent, I encourage to take a deep breath. Put your mops and brooms away and join the children at the window, who are waiting eagerly for the Christ-child to arrive. This year, I invite you to do your best not to be stressed about shopping, cleaning, and getting everything done on time. Because believe it or not, Christmas will come, Jesus will arrive, and all creation will rejoice at our Savior’s birth. Know that whether or not the house is exactly as we want it, God will arrive. God doesn’t care about whether or not our life is tidy. God shows up in our clutter and messiness. After all, Jesus showed up in a dingy manger surrounded by livestock. God doesn’t need impressing. When we cast aside our cares about superficial appearances, all of sudden, we become available to live into the presence of God. It is God that is coming down our driveway. It is God that enters into our homes this Christmas. It is God that fills our hearts and leads us to shout “Jesus is here!”
With faithful patience,
These last few weeks have been crammed full of celebrations. We’ve had three weddings in the Lord of Life community, two baptisms, celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and named forty-one of our beloved who died in the past year as part of All Saints worship. It has been a whirlwind of days!
Love has been at the center of each of these moments. Vows and rings were exchanged in love. Water splashed in love. “By grace through faith” was proclaimed and “A Mighty Fortress” was sung in love. Names of family and friends were spoken in love as the chime rang out. What a gift it is to love and be loved.
Each month, we gather on the floor in the sanctuary for preschool chapel times. Coordinating with the morning and afternoon schedules of these little ones, “Miss Paula,” Intern Lucas, and I sing, pray, and read, in an effort to reinforce faith for these children. Think of it as a twenty minute children’s sermon. Frequently, we close by singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We sing it for them, but often the simple words speak a reminder to the deepest part of me that there is a Friend and Savior, Jesus, who loves and cares for me with an everlasting love. What a gift it is to be loved.
Most days, we know this. We not only have an awareness that Jesus loves us, but we also recognize the caring and compassionate embrace of the community around us. What a gift it is to be loved. Other days, though, we feel disconnected, deserted, and even unlovable.
I don’t know what your plans are for this Thanksgiving week. Maybe there is a large gathering happening at your place and you are frantic with preparations. You may still have items on your shopping list and also need to finalize the seating chart and the minute by minute plan for food preparation. Perhaps, you are zipping out of town – or have already headed out – and will be celebrating somewhere else. Maybe this Turkey Day will be more low-key than some of your gatherings in past.
Wherever you are and however you spend this holiday, it is my prayer that you will have the occasion to remember that you are loved. Pause. Breathe deep. Recall those moments from this year for which you are grateful. Then, crank up your stereo, computer, or other music player and listen to “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.” First recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1964, and then by James Taylor and others, this is an anthem of gratitude in celebration of love. Think of it as your Hymn of Thanks this holiday.
How Sweet It is to Be Loved By You
I needed the shelter of someone's arms
And there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs
And there you were
With sweet love and devotion
Deeply touching my emotion
I want to stop and thank you, baby
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How Sweet It Is lyrics © 1964 Brian Holland/Edward Jr. Holland/Lamont Dozier
Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Barton Music Corporation
With thankfulness and joy!
In the Orthodox Church, icons (paintings of saints, often on gold backgrounds) are considered a window into the beauty of the kingdom of God. Craftspeople spend decades perfecting their art, learning to make pigments out of natural materials and techniques so their creations last for centuries. They dedicate their talent so the rest of us can step away from our ordinary lives and experience a glimpse of something sacred.
To sanctify something means to set it aside; to make it holy. We give it extra effort, we respect it, we don’t rush it. Sacred art – stained glass windows, fabric vestments on the altar, candles, flowers, statues, church buildings, and so many other offerings crafted by talented artists – draws our attention to scripture, prayer, and worship. We walk into a sacred space with sacred objects and we are inspired to see, hear, and act like the Christians we are called to be.
God is all around us all the time – in nature, at home, at work, in worship. We don’t need anything else to bring us closer to God. But symbols, artwork, and sacred spaces serve as reminders to step out of the secular nature of our lives and be holy. We set aside this space, along with a portion of our time, talents, and treasures, to be sacred.
As we move into the Advent season we'll have extra opportunities at Lord of Life to worship and enjoy our own sacred spaces; and to further lift them up as we decorate for the Christmas season. Watch the schedule for our Advent Adventure midweek worship, Pageant, Blue Christmas, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship opportunities.
Beauty... violence... beauty... violence... beauty! This was the pattern of our men’s retreat this past weekend as a group of us gathered at Hueston Woods Lodge. The Holy Spirit guided us through three heart-wrenching discussions about racial, sexual, and spiritual violence in the world today and in Scripture. Although these moments of learning were meaningful, thought-provoking, and honest, I learned the most about God between the lessons.
As a leader of the retreat, I carved out intentional time between the lessons for the men to literally “retreat.” I figured, in-between three intense discussions, they would want time for themselves to meditate, unwind, and reflect. I pictured them sitting alone on a bench by the lake, or hiking along a path in the woods alone. The environment at Hueston Woods was certainly conducive to sitting back and enjoying nature all by oneself. Although solitude is important, and God often speaks to us in when by ourselves, what actually happened at this retreat was fascinating.
What was meant to be meaningful moments of isolation, turned into beautiful experiences of community. It seemed that as the conversation about violence got more difficult, our desire to be in community got stronger. Suddenly, whatever we did during our breaks, we did together. We hiked together. We sat by the lake together. We even felt the need to experience silence together. Prior to this weekend, I had ever thought about the difference between silence and solitude. As we ended each session with a prayer, it was as if the word “Amen” was a light switch for joy, laugher, and togetherness.
This retreat taught me an important lesson about the violence that surrounds us every day. We must remain in community. Not only is being together important, but our coming together is one way to actively stand-up against the violence that surrounds us. Through our frustration, question asking, and doubt, God shows up in our lives in the form of relationship. If you hear the far too common stories of violence, and respond as I want to, it is easy to slip into isolation and despair. But, we must resist the temptation to give-up hope.
Being in life-giving relationship with others is what gives us the strength to make it through those moments when we feel alone. Just as darkness needs the light, as death needs the resurrection, our stories of violence need stories of communal joy. Sometimes it may feel like God is distant, but we are never alone. God will always be there through our cycle of hope and despair. As a church, we are here for one another. As children of God, we are never alone. In Scripture, we are reminded to “be strong and bold, to have no fear, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).
Together in Christ,
When I was kid, nothing was better than a good birthday party – especially if it was my birthday party. Wacky games and snacks, some kind of activity or craziness, cake and ice cream, and gifts, gifts, and more gifts all helped highlight my special day.
Some of the presents were predictable, purchased after I posted my suggested birthday list on the fridge with a magnet for the whole family to see. Other presents were grand surprises that seemingly came out of nowhere in just the right size, color, or shape. How fantastic!
It was, and still is, very easy to get excited when everything is about me. But that is an illusion, because life is not about me. Victorian era novelist, Mary Anne Evans, knew this and spoke the truth when she said,
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
When we step back into reality, we realize that each of our lives extend far beyond me, myself, and I.
In a previous congregation I served, I ran into young Henry on his way into church on a Sunday morning. His arms were loaded with bags of non-perishable items. His younger sister, Eva, not to be left out of the excitement, was close behind, arms full of even more food. What a joy to see these little ones coming to worship weighed down with cans and boxes of food that our faith community could pass along to the Methodist Open Door Food Bank.
When I offered a word of thanks for their donations, Henry’s face lit up as he explained, “All of this food was from my birthday party!” On Henry’s birthday invitations, he had made a unique request of his buddies:
for Henry’s party,
please consider bringing
a donation for the local food
pantry in lieu of gifts.
Guess what happened? Everybody did it.
Henry’s friends – and their parents – stepped beyond normal birthday protocol of “fill the kid’s room with a mountain of toys” and instead showed up ready to fill empty bellies and souls. Just a few simple words gave his friends permission to think of others.
Henry’s parents said that if you asked him why he was doing this, he might say, “It is important to help other people who don’t have as much food in their house as we do.” At age seven, Henry was already living a life of gratitude. He recognized that having food on the table is a gift and that others are in need.
One of God’s favorite activities is giving. Gift-giving is central to what God is up to in the world. God is constantly looking for ways to share skills and talents, joy and blessing, as well as love, peace, and comfort. Over and over again throughout the Bible we hear stories of God pouring out blessing on people and delivering hope in the most desperate situations. But gifts aren’t just stuff of the Bible.
We’ve been talking for months about how God blesses the world through Lord of Life. We are blessed when we share in worship, learning, and fellowship moments, and then God makes it possible for us to bless our neighbors, community, region, and beyond! God’s good gifts spill into our lives and then out into the world!
Take time to thank God for the many blessings we receive and consider how we might share our gifts with the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Henry, as an act of love and compassion, used his birthday as an opportunity to think beyond himself. Fill your arms and fall in line behind him. Ready to share. Ready to love.
By now, you’ve heard that this Reformation Sunday is a milestone. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther took his hammer and a list of 95 proposals to the front doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in hopes of reforming and correcting what he saw as errors in the Church. While this sounds bizarre to us, the doors were a central and prominent location for posting announcements and items for public discourse.
For this major anniversary, music settings and art pieces have been commissioned, hymn festivals have been organized, historical dramas have been staged, and special events and exhibitions of every kind have been pulled together. Wittenberg University, our closest Lutheran college, is currently hosting a display of Reformation era artifacts, including a first edition of The Book of Concord, a 1520 copy of Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity, an autographed letter from Luther, and a Koberger Bible from the late 1400s.
Around the globe, and here in our own community, Roman Catholics and Lutherans have come together – many for the first time – to share in moments of study and conversation, as well as moments of worship and prayer. Sadly, for hundreds of years, our church bodies have viewed each other as enemies, rather than as children in the same family of God. We have chosen to focus on what divides us, rather than celebrating that which unites us.
This anniversary is a good excuse for us to begin anew and refocus our efforts. It is time for a fresh start. As we glance back and celebrate Luther and so many others who were catalysts for renewal and change, we also need to look forward and ask the Spirit of God to open a door to the future.
Doors are powerful images. Doors are gateways to new adventures. Open doors are avenues to hospitality and discovery. We use them to welcome, explore, and learn. During one of his sermons, Jesus invited people to “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” Matthew 7:7-8.
Knocking on doors is big stuff. Little ones will be knocking on doors this week, hoping to generate a little candy treat. As we ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says that we’ll discover something much sweeter. We’ll receive freedom and joy. We’ll find peace and consolation. We’ll find an open door that offers unconditional forgiveness and radical hospitality. I pray that this season continues to reform and transform you.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
meme created by Daniel Scheurer
The first weekend of October, many women from Lord of Life gathered at Sisters of Charity Spirituality Center near Cincinnati for our fall retreat. Michelle Spahr, a speaker and discipleship trainer from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, led us in an exploration of 2 Timothy with the theme "Be an Everyday Hero." We discussed how the apostle Paul talked to Timothy and his words encourage us to persevere in our faith and likens our discipleship to everyday heroes. See the attached prayer that Michelle gave us. We enjoyed socializing, reading, and digging into Scripture, naps, walking the beautiful grounds, working on puzzles together, and putting a craft together that Terry Mingler set up for us.
The campus of the Spirituality Center is magnificent! Their website says, "The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is an apostolic Catholic community of women religious that exists to carry out the Gospel of Jesus Christ through service and prayer in the world... Since the Community was founded [in 1809], the Sisters of Charity have sponsored numerous schools, hospitals, orphanages and social service agencies... The Spirituality Center provides opportunities for spiritual enrichment to the community through a wide variety of programs [including] weekend/overnight retreats, private retreats, days of reflection, evening prayer programs, massage therapy, a labyrinth and individual spiritual direction for both men and women."
What a wonderful time of sharing and getting to know old friends and making new friends. It was a time of "pause" where we sat in community and alone with our self, where God could meet us as we listened. To be in community, sharing our faith with each other, is a time that is so valuable to our Christian life that can sustain us for our journey with God. We all agreed that it was a time of renewal.
Michelle, reflecting on the weekend mentioned, "It is so humbling to be invited to teach at a women's retreat and leave refreshed and renewed myself. What a beautiful place and a wonderful group of ladies!”
Don’t miss our Fall Men’s Retreat, Manhood and Violence, coming up on November 3-4. Join the Men of Lord of Life for an overnight retreat in Hueston Woods to experience God beside the water, surrounded by the trees, and among friends. Escape, recharge, learn, and have fun, as we explore the topic of Manhood and Violence in Scripture and our culture today. The schedule will allow plenty of time for fellowship, unwinding, and enjoying God’s great creation. $90/person covers housing and meals. Scholarships are available. Register online by this Sunday, October 22.
Singing, praying, learning, fellowship, and service – these are all things that bring us together each week within our community at Lord of Life. There shouldn’t be any surprise that the same things could bring together people from other communities, too. Our first REFORM event with Roman Catholics and Lutherans from West Chester and Mason exceeded our expectations of how powerful the experience would be.
We began with a worship moment led by musicians from St. Max, Christ the King, and Lord of Life (the next event will include leadership from St. John’s as well). Through common words and common songs, we infused the evening with a joyful prayer that continued into our conversations. We heard from Lutheran and Catholic clergy from St. Susannah Catholic (Mason), Prince of Peace Lutheran (Loveland), and Zion Lutheran (Middletown) who presented different views, but we heard even more common views. We listened to a biblical message that defined us all as part of the same vine. The same body. One faith, one hope, and one baptism.
I found myself at a table made up of Catholics from various parishes. We asked questions and discussed among ourselves how we each came to the body of Christ and what that means to us. About half the table had been born into the Catholic church. But one young woman shared how she found the church through an ecumenical sports team. An older gentleman started going to Methodist Sunday school after his mother died when he was nine, and then converted to Catholicism after years of seeing the positive impact the church had on his wife. We all had stories about how we saw people’s faith overflow in their actions.
The thread that kept weaving its way to the top was: “We need to do more of this.” We need to find ways to maintain the natural bond we have through Christ and the Spirit. We need to worship together and talk together and serve together. Our connection to each other is too powerful to let ourselves be kept apart.
As the clock forced the evening to a close, we put notes on a door describing how we wanted to move forward in our relationships. More combined worship. More dialogues. More learning. More outreach opportunities together. Singing, praying, learning, fellowship, and service.
Even though the next two REFORM events are self-contained – they are three separate events rather than one continued event, I suspect we’ll see some of the same faces coming again and again because we are so inspired to move forward as one body. Come be a part of the conversation on October 19 at 7 pm at Christ the King or October 21 at 10 am at St. Max.