Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“But the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Sometimes we just don’t get it! We try to be clever or out-think the next person. We get caught up in issues that really don’t matter. But for the long haul—and I mean the really long haul, Eternity—there is only one thing that matters. It is the power of God as shown to us by Jesus on the cross. In our limited human scope, we can scarcely comprehend that God sent his Son to share our humanity, that he sacrificed him on a cross for us, that he creates us and saves us every day. So we need to stop indulging in foolish thoughts and pursuits, and focus on the message of the cross. Then we truly get it. And what we get is everlasting salvation.

Prayer: Heavenly Father—Give us ears and hearts to hear the one thing that matters. Let us focus on the message of the cross so that we understand your power in the world and in our lives. Amen.

Suzanne Hayes

Monday, April 10, 2017

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” – Psalm 36:7

In these trying times, where change is happening all around us at a rapid pace, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and even frightened. What is right or wrong? What is true or false? It feels at times than hate has taken over, pushing love and acceptance aside. When we face times of pain, fear, confusion, and grief in our personal life, when we have sinned and need forgiveness, where can we go? God promises us his steadfast love, never ending. God provides shelter under the shadow of his wing, a place where we can take refuge, finding shelter. God provides mercy and comfort under his wings. There is room for all people under his wings, no one is excluded!

As a Hospice social worker I work with families at a most difficult time in their lives- as a loved one is in the final days of their life here on earth. I witness patients and families that have a strong faith in God, gather strength from his promise, pulling closer under the shadow of his wings, rather than pushing away or withdrawing, during their grief. Praise God, for his loving kindness is larger than life.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for always being there for us, providing us with your steadfast love, and a refuge when needed. Be with us as we go about our day, helping us to show others your loving kindness. Amen.

Sandy Weaver

Saturday, April, 8, 2017

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this? The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”  – Matthew 21:10-11

“Who is this?” I imagine many asked that same question 500 years ago when Martin Luther hung a paper on the Catholic Church door, a piece of paper that began the Protestant Reformation.  Luther’s two main points were that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may obtain salvation only by their faith and not by deeds.  Luther was going against the norm, he proposed a different view- the nerve of him!  Change?    Even 500 years later we still cringe when someone suggest change.  We are creatures of habit.  Like or not, it’s true.  So now what?  Just as Jesus taught of love & kindness to all, he was riding to his death.  He knew what would happen a few days later, he would be crucified upon the cross – for our sins.

Every year when I have been asked to write a reflection, I seriously attempt to finish it before it’s due.  I read and re-read the verse, I read the verses prior and after.  I will become so engrossed with reading and looking between the lines for the hidden message that I become, as my family calls me, “Side Track Sally.”  I just go into many directions and do not stay on task.  Before I know it, the due date is today!  This year is especially difficult.   My husband, my children’s dad, suffered a massive heart attack and died on route to the hospital, the day before Easter ten years ago.  Perhaps you are thinking, yes it’s sad, but it’s been ten years -get over it! Change.  I know that many of you asked why we came to church the next day. FAITH. It is because of our faith in Jesus.  Just as Luther said, only by our faith we are saved.  It was our faith and the people of St. John’s who walked that journey and are still walking with us.  Each day, each year it is faith that sustains.

It is the one thing that never leaves us.  Believe me, there have been times when I have said enough, I am done.  Then I remember that Jesus never gave up on me and my children.  So I get out of bed and give it another try.  It’s the same for coming to worship each week.  One of these days it will sink in and I will get it!  It is faith that saves me & sustains me.  So on this Palm Sunday, as my family roles into church, slamming car doors shut, stomping off mumbling under their breath and questioning how did you get dressed today- we won’t have to ask who is this riding into Jerusalem. We know it was Jesus.  He came to save us.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son Jesus into Jerusalem and our hearts.  As we celebrate Easter, may we lift up the names of those like Martin Luther who weren’t afraid to question the “usual” and taught us by their examples of faith. May we never doubt the power of our faith. Amen.

Lisa Startzman

Friday, April 7, 2017

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even on a cross.” – Philippians 2: 7-8

Remembering this is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, I looked for Martin Luther’s interpretation of Philippians 2:8 and found it in one of his Palm Sunday sermons:

“Being made in the likeness of men.” Born of Mary, Christ’s nature became human. But even in that humanity he might have exalted himself above all men and served none. But he forbore and became as other men. And by “likeness of men” we must understand just ordinary humanity without special privilege whatever. Now, without special privilege there is no disparity among men. Understand, then, Paul says in effect: Christ was made as any other man who has neither riches, honor, power nor advantage above his fellows; for many inherit power, honor and property by birth. So lowly did Christ become, and with such humility did he conduct himself, that no mortal is too lowly to be his equal, even servants and the poor. At the same time, Christ was sound, without bodily infirmities, as man in his natural condition might be expected to be.

“And being found in fashion as a man.” That is, he followed the customs and habits of men, eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, walking and standing, hungering and thirsting, enduring cold and heat, knowing labor and weariness, needing clothing and shelter, feeling the necessity of prayer, and having the same experience as any other man in his relation to God and the world. He had power to avoid these conditions; as God he might have demeaned and borne himself quite differently. But in becoming man, as above stated, he fared as a human being, and be accepted the necessities of ordinary mortals while all the time he manifested the divine form which expressed his true self.

“He humbled himself,” or debased himself. In addition to manifesting his servant form in becoming man and faring as an ordinary human being, he went farther and made himself lower than any man. He abased himself to serve all men with the supreme service — the gift of his life in our behalf.

He not only made himself subject to men, but also to sin, death and the devil, and bore it all for us. He accepted the most ignominious death, the death on the cross, dying not as a man but as a worm; yes, as an arch-knave, a knave above all knaves, in that he lost even what favor, recognition and honor were due to the assumed servant form in which he had revealed himself, and perished altogether.

All this Christ surely did not do because we were worthy of it. Who could be worthy such service from such a one? Obedience to the Father moved him. Here Paul with one word unlocks heaven and permits us to look into the unfathomable abyss of divine majesty and to behold the ineffable love of the Fatherly heart toward us — his gracious will for us. He shows us how from eternity it has been God’s pleasure that Christ, the glorious one who has wrought all this, should do it for us.   -Luther

So how to apply this passage in our own faith life?  One timely and well provided answer was given by Pope Francis in a May 2016 homily on service:  “A disciple of Jesus cannot take a road other than that of the Master. If he wants to proclaim him, he must imitate him. Like Paul, he must strive to become a servant. In other words, if evangelizing is the mission entrusted at baptism to each Christian, serving is the way that mission is carried out. It is the only way to be a disciple of Jesus. His witnesses are those who do as he did: those who serve their brothers and sisters, never tiring of following Christ in his humility, never wearing of the Christian life, which is a life of service.”  Pope Francis then goes on to say we become good and faithful servants when we first learn to be available, to learn detachment from doing everything our own way and living our lives as we would.  Each morning, as Christ did, we should train ourselves to be generous with our lives and to realize that the rest of the day will not be our own, but given over to others. A servant knows that his time is not his own, but a gift from God which is then offered back to him. Only in this way will it bear fruit.

We know (as God most certainly knows) we will always fall short in our imitation and proclamation of Jesus but we can only begin to follow his command to love one another when we imitate his chosen path of the servant emptied of self.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, please give us insight into your time on Earth as a man and a servant in complete obedience to God.  We ask for your help in following you in humility.  As we go about our day, let the Holy Spirit open our eyes, ears, and hands for ways to serve others as you would have us do.  

Kathy Poole

Thursday, April 6, 2017

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” – Matthew 11:5

Oh, how glorious would it have been to witness Jesus healing during the time he walked on earth! How would we have reacted? Would we have believed then, without seeing? We have the Bible to teach us about all his wondrous miracles now. But what about back then? John the Baptist came before Jesus to pave the way, to spread the word of what was to come. Was it enough to believe without seeing, hearing, or feeling his presence? Probably not for most. Jesus knew it would take these miracles to follow him. The prophesies were fulfilled when Jesus performed act after act of restoring sight, curing diseases, healing the lame, returning hearing and life to the dead!

In present times, I believe this verse brings on another meaning. If you believe in Christ, your eyes will be open to clearly see his gloriousness, his grace. You will hear him talk to you. You will feel alive. You will be cleansed of evil ways, you will walk with the Lord, and you will spread the Good News to all!

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving us and allowing us to love you. Help us to keep our eyes and ears on you. May we always walk toward you and sing your praises. Amen.

Diane Ballentine

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

“You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you.” – Psalm 40:5a

Psalm 40 is one of the beautiful Old Testament accounts written to the choirmaster and is one of the Psalms of David … In this 500th year since Martin Luther nailed his 95 proclamations to the castle door at Wittenberg, we remember not only a great theologian who followed his conscience, but a composer who gave us “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and other hymns, and a maverick who defied the Catholic Church by insisting that salvation is simply by faith alone. During his time scriptures were translated into the language of the common man, then German. We have Martin Luther to thank for birthing the concept of congregational singing, at the core of every one of our services here at St. John’s. So don’t wait for Reformation Sunday, October 29, to sing out – start right now!

In reflection (and this is not at all about me but it IS about how God can come into your life through the Holy Spirit, if you will accept HIM and listen to his plan for your life) – I have been singing at St. John’s off and on since I was 4. Mrs. Dysert put me up on the stage in the education building and I sang 4 stanzas of “God is Love” acapella to all of the Sunday School classes. Fast forward I sang in grade school, junior high school (as it was then called), and senior high concert choruses, and was a part-time accompanist. I had opened up to God and his game plan even though I did not fully understand the calling at the time. God’s “wondrous deeds” manifest through us and our commitment to serve.

Growing up here under Mr. Asher Edelman’s tutelage both for junior choir and piano lessons was quite the challenge. He knew right away if I had practiced or not. But I loved to belong and loved music. When we moved to Miami the piano lessons and church choir continued and somehow my 5th grade teacher learned that I had tagged along with my aunt around Hershey PA in the summer months and sang “The Lord’s Prayer” to her infirmed and homebound friends. She knew everyone.

Next thing I knew I was asked to stand in front of the 5th grade class and sing “The Lord’s Prayer” every morning. Back in the day we also pledged allegiance to the flag with our hands over our hearts.

Time passed and 12th grade concert chorus at Gables High won state competition. I stopped taking piano lessons at the University of Miami to attend college in GA. There I took pipe organ lessons and sang in Macon’s Episcopal Church choir. I rode the bus to both and to practice sessions.

My junior year I transferred colleges and majors, leaving Sociology and Psychology behind for English at Lebanon Valley College. While there I joined All Saints Episcopal in Hershey, PA. More choir. Many more years flew by and wherever I was I sang in a choir.

Now I have been home for 10 years and love singing in our senior choir… Psalm 40 does speak to me and relays a story parallel to my own. “I waited patiently for the Lord…, He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”

I have, indeed, put my trust in God and have come full circle with the knowledge that God is so good and he has multiplied his good works – nothing can compare to the bounty of “wondrous deeds” we receive every day … if we only stop to observe and to listen … phones off, ear buds out, focusing. Let God into your life, put him in your agenda and allow him to help in your decision making. “There is no way the goodness multiplied by God can be measured because it is just too great to be counted.” He always has our back. But that does not ever mean that we don’t have to do our part, because we do.

So when our choir sings, we sing anthems from our hearts because we can’t wait to share God’s story through song. We unite in one voice whether we have a solo or a blend in the background or a hum. And we continue to receive “a new song” – to practice, to learn, to share, to use for praise; and in so doing, to thank God for his ultimate sacrifice for us. Hanging in our choir room is a framed embroidered sampler that reads: “For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech. 1983” Have you allowed God to enter your daily life and listen to what he has in mind for you as a talent, a calling? Do you let God shine through you to serve Him? Does he have YOUR back?

Prayer: Dearest Heavenly Father – Please continue to give us “a new song” to sing and make us ever mindful of the wondrous deeds you bestow on us and your loving thoughts for us every day. Let us use our God-given talents, whatever they may be, to grow our voice and be delighted to serve your will wherever we go, whatever our talent. Thank you for calling us to be stewards of your word. And thank you for Martin Luther! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lois Weil Kaufman