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 ...
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.
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.
The 2017-2018 Ministry Magazine is available in print at Lord of Life or by downloading the file below!
What a weekend! This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were loaded with congregational goodness and you were part of it!
Friday night, busy teens took time out of their late-August days for a Sr. High Lock-in. Twenty of us spent the night playing wacky games, studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), worshipping around the campfire, and snacking and munching our way through the night. What an excellent way to kick off the Fall!
Saturday morning brought set-up crews for Summerfest and the continuing work of preparing the Preschool classrooms that will soon be bustling with children and their families – 104 kids at last count are signed up for the 2017-2018 school year! Wow!
When Sunday came around, we gathered for one celebratory worship together with our seminarian Corey Wagonfield, who shared snacks with everyone during the Children’s message preached. Little Annabelle Potter had a bundle of family to surround her for her baptism and welcome her as a child of God.
Following worship, we shared a massive potluck of BBQ pork (thanks to Phil Panning and John Morrell for providing the meat), macaroni and cheese, side dishes, salads, and sweet treats, before enjoying an afternoon of field games and bingo, colorful face painting, target practice with the dunk tank, and creativity at the tie dye table.
Big thanks to all who planned, set up, cleaned up, led, and participated in any of these events. You can view photos from these events on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LordofLifeWestChester) and in our upcoming printed Lifeline newsletter.
Our theme for this year of worship, learning, and serving moments is “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We are blessed when God meets us in times of worship, education, and fellowship. God uses us to be a blessing as we are sent into our neighborhoods for living, school, work, recreation, and service. Our dollars and other gifts are a blessing as God uses them to impact churches and communities around the globe.
We want to hear your stories. Tell us how you’ve seen this in your life or the lives of others. How have you witnessed God blessing the world through Lord of Life?
“Blessings in the Bug.”
For the next month, a 1974 yellow VW Bug will be our mobile recording studio, ready to capture your reflections.
It’s as easy as 1,2,3:
1. Think of a Blessing.
“How have you been blessed by Lord of Life?”
“How have you seen Lord of Life be a blessing?”
2. Climb in the VW Bug.
3. Record your blessing.
You can also record elsewhere and send it to us.
Psalm 71:15 says, “I will tell of your goodness; all day long I will speak of your salvation, though it is more than I can understand.” Thanks for helping us name and celebrate how “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We’ll let you know in the coming weeks how we’ll share these encouraging stories of faith and hope.
Wishing you peace.
Last week, I attended the inaugural ELCA Rostered Minister’s Gathering in Atlanta, where 900 pastors and deacons assembled for a week of worship, lectures, workshops, service projects, and fellowship. There were congregational leaders, military, hospital, and prison chaplains, campus pastors and seminary professors, and interim and retired ministers, as well as regional and churchwide staff. The event was promoted as a time to be encouraged, challenged, and renewed as leaders in the church, and did not disappoint.
Each day, I had opportunities to reconnect with friends from around the country and meet new friends and colleagues as we shared the joys and struggles of ministry. Bible study leaders led us into the rich story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), with comparisons to this chaotic season filled with death and resurrection moments. Our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton confronted the rumors that Christianity is dying, with a bold response, “The Church of Jesus Christ is not dying, but changing!” She continued by sharing stories of how God is using people, congregations, and ministry organizations in new and creative ways to share hope with the world. God is doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19).
There were many good moments of challenge, too. Presiding Bishop Eaton, in her opening remarks, reminded us, that ministry can be overwhelming and we can lose focus. “As leaders, you need to love Jesus because Jesus loves you... then, you need to love your people!”
Rev. Ronald Bonner, in his workshop Racism and the Church: No Bigotry Allowed, argued, “If you can fix the heart, you can fix the other part... Racism will end when white people stop accepting racism as normative.” As we spoke candidly about our own biases and histories, none of us could have imagined the events that would unfold in Charlottesville by the end of the week.
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church and professor at Union Theological Seminary (both in New York City), preached on Romans 12, saying, “the invitation to offer our lives as living sacrifices is not a graveyard death, but an invitation to die to our priorities, die to our selfish agendas, die to our fear, and say ‘My life is in your hands, Lord.’”
Just before we went on our separate directions, popular speaker and writer, Rachel Held Evans, spoke pointedly about the ways we beat ourselves up as people of faith for not being and doing enough for the sake of Christ. She said, “Our insufficiencies are the point. Death is something empires worry about, not resurrection people. We need to let [things] die! We win with surrender. We have a God who knows the way out of the grave.” Although Easter is a long way off, promises of resurrection fuel us, today.
I was also renewed by being part of the musical team for worship and other events throughout the week.
Thank you for valuing continuing education and professional development. This gathering was a tremendous boost. The introductory words proclaimed, “We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together. Together, we can achieve things on a scale and scope we could never do otherwise. As we continue to deepen our ecumenical partnerships, confront racism and boldly respond to the needs of the world, this gathering provides the opportunity for leaders to gather and explore what God has in store for us.”
Always being renewed,
For more about this event and to view a photo gallery, https://www.livinglutheran.org/2017/08/25087/
“Mom, I think I have a problem with alcohol.” That was ten years ago. Those life-changing words confirmed why our family had been thrown into a condition of insanity and hopelessness. Our first-born child had become a victim of a disease over which we, as parents, had absolutely no control.
Our journey of faith and hope crystallized one October night at the Al-Anon meeting in the library at Lord of Life and our daughter’s miracle of sobriety began seven years ago at AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) in the fellowship hall. Al-Anon is a gathering where friends and families of problem drinkers find understanding and support. Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who want to do something about their drinking problem. This past Sunday, our daughter and her husband celebrated their first wedding anniversary! God is good! I shared that miracle with Pastor Lowell as I left church and it hung on his heart. He wondered if I’d share a bit of my journey of faith at LOL – “Why Lord of Life?”
I struggled with my faith through my teen years. Life and family circumstances sometimes made it difficult to trust that God loved me. I “walked away” from God and the church where I’d been baptized and confirmed in my teens after my dad took his own life due to depression aggravated by tinnitus. “How could the God my parents and I worshipped, trusted, and loved become so heartless?”
I subsequently played the devil’s advocate throughout much of my late teens and early twenties, arguing against God and his love. God stayed with me, despite my chosen estrangement from him.
You’ve heard the phrase before. This three-word admonition is shared as soothing balm following a tense or difficult moment, but often has the opposite effect. Rather than offering comfort, it stirs up irritation. When my car has run out of gas, when I have bounced a check, or missed an important appointment, please don’t demean me by suggesting that out of the trials of unpredictable or irresponsible living there may come a nugget of wisdom. “Live and learn” often lands on our ears as a reprimand of sorts with a silver lining.
But what if we hear it as something else? What if we embrace living and learning as a declaration of a vibrant Christian life? It isn’t an admonition, but a sustained promise of who and how we hope to be.
We live and learn when we pause to listen to the joys and sorrows of a child.
We live and learn when we look for the lonely and isolated.
We live and learn when we engage in Bible reading and study with others.
We live and learn when we meet one another in worship moments.
We live and learn when we serve our neighbors in need.
We live and learn when we wrestle with complicated issues of race and culture.
We live and learn when we respond with gratitude.
We can’t help but live and learn as people of faith. It is who we were created to be.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
From the earliest pages of Scripture, God’s people were instructed to put their faith into action, as a way of sharing God’s goodness with the world. “Listen, obey, talk, and write. At home and beyond, love God with your whole being.” Ours is not a stagnant faith, but one that is always growing as we live and learn the ways of Christ.
Lord of Life takes this command seriously by making life-long learning a priority. That’s right. Preschool kids, children, youth, teenagers, college students, newlyweds, mid-lifers, retired folks, and centenarians are all active learners at Lord of Life.
As you begin to fill your calendar with Fall activities, I encourage you to make room to continue living and learning in the faith. Consider stepping into a teaching role with Sunday School. Be a mentor with our teens. Plug into a Bible study. Pray for all in need. Commit to being generous with your finances. Step up to serving. Show up for worship. Jesus will meet you.
Living and learning in hope,
A few years ago, I spent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with my family at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati. It was our first visit to this monument and museum which “celebrates the heroes who created the secret network through which the enslaved could escape to freedom, the Underground Railroad... [and encourages] everyone to take part in the ongoing struggles for freedom.”
As we watched the films and heard the stories from both sides of the Ohio River, I was reminded that there were many secret codes associated with the Underground Railroad, including special words, distinct door knocks, laundry on the clothesline flapping in the wind, and lights in the windows, each signaling others that you were a safe place or a “friend of a friend.”
Jesus talks about our visibility as Christians being a signal of hope to others. We are salt and light. Salt bringing flavor to the world and light bringing vision and clarity in the darkness. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
More than twenty-five years ago, I visited Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich. I have never experienced such an overwhelming barrage of sorrow and fear as I did that day. Arriving by car, I entered the camp through the same gate that some 200,000 prisoners did as the box car delivered them against their will. I was greeted by the same promise of freedom that they were, “Arbeit macht frei.” This iron sign notified them, that their freedom could be found in their efforts, proclaiming “Work makes you free.”
We know, of course, that work did not provide their freedom. If anything, the harder they worked, the closer they moved to the grave. For many in the camp, nothing provided freedom except death or, finally, if they survived the war, liberation from an outside force. They were labeled Jew, gypsy, homosexual, rebel, traitor, or other perceived threat and condemned to face daily peril or extermination. “Arbeit macht frei.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Each time we look at the cross of Jesus, we are reminded that our work does not make us free. So, why do we continue to try to prove our worthiness by working our way to freedom? Daily, we strive to wriggle ourselves free of our shame and guilt. We wear ourselves out trying to escape the fears of our past. We work and work and work, trying to earn God’s love and favor. We expend our energies trying to please others, while fortifying our hearts and minds, disguising our fear and pride. We cower in dark corners hiding from the realities of weakness and sorrow.
Friday in German is Freitag – Free Day – the day of the week that marks the end of work and effort. It is that beginning of freedom. It is a period of relief and a cause for celebration. Each Spring, we gather on a Freitag, a Friday that we dare to call “Good,” and mark the beginning of our freedom in Christ. In the prisons of our own hearts and minds, God meets each of us and offers a word of relief. He says, “It is finished. Complete. I have accomplished the work.” The cross is a light of hope for us on a hill.
Jesus continues to come to us with liberation. Jesus comes with forgiveness and renewal. Into the dark places of our lives, the Light of God shines. The one crucified on a tree steps forward and meets us wherever we find ourselves and says, “You are free.”
Driving around Cincinnati on a dark night, you can still see many homes with lights in the windows, a signal of welcome and hope. By God’s power and promise, may our church and lives be such a place, a place of hospitality and welcome for all, and may we continue to shine light into the dark places.
Trying to shine,
This past Memorial Day, I had lunch with some of my extended family. Right at noon, we served up hot dogs with sauerkraut, bbq chips, watermelon, cookies, and glasses of milk, punch, and water. It was your typical Memorial Day picnic fare that could’ve been served in any backyard or under any park pavilion. It wasn’t anything big or fancy. What made this gathering different, though, was that it was in the basement of First Lutheran in Over the Rhine.
As we gathered from various locations for the community meal, small moments and gestures of joy were everywhere. There were smiles and handshakes. Conversations were laced with words of gratitude. Damp washclothes wiped down tables in between guests and one guest pushed his lunch aside for a few minutes while he played spirituals and gospel hymns on the piano in the corner. By themselves, each of these didn’t amount to much, but together, these little acts of kindness swirled in a beautiful expression of our shared humanity.
God has a habit of using little things to do big stuff.