Reflections by Vicar Mark

An ongoing series of informational entries

September 2017

Note: this article was written August 19th and reflects my feelings, emotions and response to the events of August 12th - 19th.

This has been a tough week.  First, the fallout from Charlottesville, VA continues to weigh heavily on me.  The comments by Trump are appalling and beyond belief.  Congress has criticized and condemned the actions of the alt-right and the words of the president.

I watched the video of the Friday night march at University of Virginia. I watched the video of the car driven by Jame Fields into a crowd of people killing Heather Heyer and injuring many more.  I saw the KKK, Neo-Nazis, supremacists, and others spouting an ideology that saw millions of innocent people killed and for which thousands of British, French, Canadian and American soldiers gave their lives to stop.  One man was interviewed said he had no problem being violent.  These are people who profess to be Christians and that this is their understanding of the Christian way of life.  They profess violence instead of compassion, hate instead of healing, and the eradication of people unlike themselves instead of nurture and support for the least of the creation.

Then there is the pain of a mother and father saying goodbye to a daughter in the prime of her life.  Heather Heyer gave her life standing up to racism, hatred, and bigotry and doing so peacefully.  I cannot imagine having to go through that if that was my child.  My heart aches for them.  I admire the courage of Susan Bro to find light in her daughter's death with one for her final comments, "Equality is when you see a person not a label."

I am angry; angry that those who espouse hate and bigotry feel the have the right to marginalize people unlike them.  I am in disbelief that our president does not have a moral compass to repudiate without question their actions and behavior.  I feel depressed by the lack of empathy by our political leaders for those who were hurt and for Heather Heyer's family; I hear words but not action.  I am ashamed; ashamed at how those I know outside the United State must think of us.  Lastly, I am ashamed because I find it more comfortable to watch others protest this evil than to stand in solidarity, arm-in-arm with them on that line.

I am deeply troubled on many fronts.  One front is the lack of a forceful response by our political leadership to these people who promulgate these ideologies of hate, division, and white supremacy.  A second is the indifference and ambivalence that I have seen display by people with whom I am in contact.  One such person said of the people in Boston, MA on Saturday afternoon who were marching in the streets of Boston against these alt-right groups and their message, "Don't they have something else better to do?  How can they just take off to do this?  Don't they have jobs?"

Lastly, I am troubled by my response, or better put, non-response.  I am forced with the question: "What sacrifice have I made in this fight to end hate, racism and division of ethnicity and race in the United States?"  Where and how have I taken a stand?  The disciples dropped everything, work, family and friends, to follow Jesus and many if not all of them paid the ultimate price of death at the hands of the Roman government for their faithful discipleship.  Perfect and without sin, no, but faithful followers to the end, yes.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, I am convicted of the need for me to do two things.  

First, I have signed the statement of Lutheran Clergy and leaders rejecting White Supremacy, Terrorism and Violence.  A copy is posted on the bulletin board on the first floor.  

Second, I am planning on participating in the National March for Racial Justice on September 30th.  If anyone would like to join me, I am signing up through the Lancaster YWCA which is planning to take a bus to the event.  I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I travel to Washington DC.  Too often, I have stayed where it is safe, in the spectator stands watching others.  Like Luther before the Council of Trent, I am compelled to take a stand and be a voice for those without.

October 2017

Matthew 25:31-46 is a challenging passage as one thinks about standing before Jesus on the day of Judgement.  How do each of us measure up?   Will we be put in with the sheep or in with the goats? Origen, an early church father who lived from 185-245 AD, worried that people would interpret this passage to mean that salvation was only achievable through charitable works.  Scholars are divided on how to look at this passage.  One way is to interpret this passage as describing the final judgment of all people, Jews, Christians, and non-Christians and the criterion for judgment is love and compassion to the “least of these.”  A second interpretation has this passage referring to the treatment of Christians to the “least of these” fellow Christians.  A third avenue for interpretation is that this passage looks at how individuals and nations have treated Jews during times of tribulation. An example of this is how did people and nations treat Jews during the Holocaust.  A final view is how did non-Christian nations and people treat disciples/missionaries as they spread the Gospel.

I will confess that I am not one who sees himself as one of the “least of these.”  I can, thank you, take care of myself.  Asking for help is far from the easiest thing for me to do.  In the week since I was hospitalized, I have been drawn to this passage and what does it mean to minister and render aid and assistance to the “least of these.”  As a patient in the hospital, I am now one of the “least of these.”  To be perfectly honest, I DID NOT enjoy being one of the “least of these.” It was a humbling experience.  I needed a nurse to tend to my IV and administer the antibiotics, I needed someone else to tend to the cleanliness of my room.   It was the responsibility of a nurse’s aide to change the linen and make my bed every day.  Most often, it was the nurse’s aide who emptied the urinal that I frequently filled since my liquid intake and output was measured.   Someone cooked my food and a dietary aide delivered and removed my tray.  I went from being “Needed” to being “Needy” when I was admitted to Ephrata Community Hospital.

As I have contemplated my stay at ECH and my recovery the week of September 11-17, God has revealed several truths from this experience to me.  First, it is okay to “need.”  I had a condition that could not be solved except by an outside intervention.  No matter what I did, my condition would not improve without outside intervention.  That outside intervention came not just from the care rendered by those employed by the hospital.   Outside intervention came in the visits I received from a whole host of people, the prayers that were lifted up, the cards that I received, and the meals that were cooked for me after I was discharged.  I needed all of that and more to return to health.

Second, outside intervention came from God; with God, all things are possible and with God, my healing became possible.  This was a grace experience; My hospitalization was a grace experience in that I was reminded that salvation comes from God alone through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I NEED God.  I NEED Christ on the cross. I can’t achieve eternal life by anything I do. 

On Sunday, September 17th, I went to see the musical, Oratorio Luther, The project of a Thousand Voices.  The producer of the show reminded those of us in attendance that the Good News of the Gospel can be summed up in four words: Jesus instead of us.  In short, I cannot heal myself.  I NEED the cross.  You NEED the cross.  Everyone everywhere NEEDS the cross.  All of humanity is NEEDY, in need of the cross.

Third, healing is not just physical and mental; healing involves the spiritual.  I have heard this any number of times from chaplains but to experience it is entirely something extra special.  I felt a warmth inside me knowing that people from many places were praying for me to return to good health.  God was divinely active in this process.

I am truly blessed to be a part of St. John Center Lutheran Church.  All of you have a special place in my heart.

October 29, 2017

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”    

Revelation 7:9-10

On October 31, the Christian community marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.  On this important occasion, we are reminded that Martin Luther’s challenge to the church in his day was to proclaim a word of grace for ALL people. God’s word is that Creation and all God’s creatures matter.  This word stands in distinct contrast to much of the divisive and bigoted stances embraced by many in our world today.  Those who would dismiss the Reformation as an event of history past are so terribly wrong!  They are so terribly wrong because the same Gospel word of grace of Martin Luther’s day challenges so many of today’s cultural ills. 

I believe that God’s grace is for all “tribes, and peoples and languages.”  We are all children of God!!  There are NO distinctions between people whatsoever!!  In Christ, all lines in faith, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or sexuality are blurred to nothing.  Moreover, WE are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-37, Leviticus 19:18).  That means we, each

one of us, are to work for the well-being of ALL people.

December 3, 2017

Today is New Year’s Day for the Church.  Another church year has passed: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday.

Time has flown by.  Time marches on.  It is hard to believe but I have been serving here at St.John Center Lutheran Church for five months. Where has the time gone?  I was looking at my schedule for December and it is packed.  Christmas seems like it will be here in a finger snap.

So much to do in so little time. 

Themes of Advent are preparation not only to remember the Incarnate Christ who took on flesh and lived and participated in the world but also to anticipate and wait for Christ’s return.  Our Gospel lesson for today is in the genre of apocalyptic writing. Often, we associate apocalyptic writing with the “end times.”  Perhaps we would be better served in thinking of apocalyptic literature as expecting the revelation of God’s reign in our time. 

One of my favorite songs is by Twila Paris, "God is in Control."  Love the song.  It is a good reminder that God is in control of all time.  In this setting of “time”, God is reminding us that God transforms time and that God is directing time toward all that is good and perfect and true.

December 10, 2017

If I say “McDonald's”, many of you would immediately think of the golden arches logo of the fast food chain and their thousands of restaurants that dot our country.  We can put an immediate picture in our minds that quantifies the products, the ideals, and the values for which we think McDonald's stands. The same goes for Wal-Mart, Sheetz, Yoder’s Country Market, Eastern Lancaster County School District. James’ middle school baseball coach asked the players,

“What is your brand? If someone says your name to another, what picture of you comes to that person’s mind?”  His point to the team is that a person’s values, ideals and morals do matter.

How we live the values, ideals, and morals that we hold dear to us paint a picture of who we are to other people and they will judge accordingly.  Are we on the inside what people see of us on the outside?  Gets to one of the points of the Gospel lesson for this Sunday: What is the truth about who Jesus Christ is? What is the brand of Jesus Christ?  The writer of the Gospel of Mark gets right to it that Jesus is the Son of God.  But where is this revealed to us? Is it in Mark 1:1?

NO!!!! It is revealed to us by an outsider, the centurion at foot of the cross on which Jesus is hanging and his proclamation, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39).  The true picture of who Jesus is found in his death on a cross and resurrection from the dead three days later.