5 Good Reasons to Try Church Again This Christmas

IMG_4576                  (St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Old Saybrook, CT                                                                             Christmas Eve worship services @ 5:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.)

WE INVITE YOU TO JOIN US THIS CHRISTMAS!

Here are 5 good reasons why you should try church again:

1. This world is really hurting. (You knew this already.)

2. Singing Christmas Carols in a group is fun. (You probably know a few!)

3. Christmas is probably a story you know – baby Jesus in the manger. Churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day talk about what that means to our lives today.     (Actually, this is what churches do every week – read, pray, listen, respond, sing –          and then try to apply it to the rest of our lives.)

4. Whatever hurt or bad feeling caused by some church you once attended, or how some leader was negative to you in the past, or portrayals of Christians you have seen or heard as harsh, judgmental, bigoted people – the majority of Christians are kind and loving.             (We seek a lot of the same things you do too: meaning, purpose, hope, acceptance, forgiveness, inspiration, and a place to contribute to the good. Church is a community to practice each of these things – together.)

5. Like wise men and women from afar and shepherds from the fields, Christmas is about welcoming new people to meet the Christ child, and see the world differently because of it. (Wouldn’t that be a great gift to the world to share?)

We invite you to join us this Christmas. 

This is an invitation without judgment or qualifications. Maybe you have never been to church, or perhaps it has been a long time since you have. That doesn’t matter. Know that the churches in your community have open doors, waiting to welcome you.

“God loves you very much.”  That message to the world is what Christmas is all about.

Look for the churches in your community this Christmas.

Below is information for the congregation I serve. We hope to see you soon!

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church                 56 Great Hammock Road                  Old Saybrook, CT 06475

http://www.stpaul-elca.org

12/24 – Christmas Eve:                                     Services  at 5:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Sundays  throughout the year:                           Services at 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.

MERRY CHRISTMAS! – PGS

(Revised from my original post on 12/20/2012: https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/5-reasons-you-should-try-church-again-this-christmas/

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Faith, Hope and Love – Part 3: Love – an Advent Reflection on 1 John 4:7-21 (two years after Sandy Hook)

We may not want to admit it, but it feels like there is a deficit of love in this world.

sandy.hook.teddy.3The news  seems to be only getting worse and worse. Since Sunday there have been hostages taken in Australia, a horrible school shooting and killing over one-hundred-thirty children and teachers in Pakistan; protests continue to cry out            “I can’t breathe” across the U.S.  Are people listening?  Where is the love?

Sunday was also the second anniversary of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.  And these were just the headlines.

Two memories come to mind after the shooting at Sandy Hook  two years ago.

The first was that Tammie and I signed-up to be secret readers in Mia’s classroom that day. We had just seen the news and drove over to the school.  Although the administration and teachers knew what had happened – the kids weren’t told. We could see the duress in the teacher’s eyes, and the ignorant bliss in the children’s who were excited to hear a story. I remember looking into those kids’ eyes, including our daughter’s, and thinking of the parents who would not see that same sparkle in their child’s eyes again and my heart broke.

The second memory was of a recital we hosted at church that evening.  The teacher stood up to welcome the families and acknowledge the hard work of his students. He acknowledged the tragedy of the day, and while starting to cry but keeping his poise he said, “at times like this, we need to sing.”  There are times when we need to sing. His witness of love for those kids their families and of the power of music was something I hope I don’t ever forget.

We want to make a difference, we want to share the love, we want to believe in the goodness of people (and the goodness even in ourselves). We hope that love could be the story of our time and not so much heartbreak, but it is really difficult to see, if not believe.

I wish God would just swoop in and stop it. Don’t you?

I want God to declare, “ENOUGH!” with majesty, power, and might along with a sky illuminated with the whole company of angels that announce the coming of the Lord. Then all the world’s problems would just cease with fear and trembling.

But you know, just as I do, that is not God’s way. The way of love is not a display of power and might – it is revealed in weakness. The vulnerability of a child born in a stable invites us to expose our vulnerability. Jesus comes not to call the wealthy and influential but the unclean, forgotten, unforgivable and ostracized to follow him. In doing so he invites our compassion to the least of these. His death on a cross invites our sacrifice for the sake of others.

Power and might can’t offer those things. Self-giving love can.

Do you remember the teddy bears which lined the street in Newtown after the shooting at Sandy Hook? They kept coming and coming and coming.

Love does that.

Do you remember the Lutheran Comfort Dogs from Illinois? (http://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/send-in-the-luthreran-pooches/) I recently heard that Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown adopted its own Comfort Dog. (http://www.ctklutherannewtown.org/newtown-comfort.html)

Love does that.

Did you participate in a prayer vigil? In New Canaan the communities of faith came together with the First Selectman to stand outside on a cold December Evening and pray. Sometimes the only thing left to do is sing. We stood together and sang, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

Love does that.

I heard a story from Fergusson, MO this week about their library. It stayed open when the schools closed so children would have a safe place to meet; so parents and children could have a safe place to be together; and so teachers could keep meeting with their students. Love does that.  The Ferguson Library has been receiving donations.  They now have more new books than they have volunteers to shelve them, and they have received monetary gifts equal to about a year’s budget.

Love does that.

What terror never realizes is love will find a way to reach out to that school on Pakistan, and the people of Sydney, Australia and wherever people are mourning. Love weeps alongside others to lament with them, and sings when we need it most. Love does that.
Did you know that love abounds? This morning love filled the plates of close to eighty people at the Soup Kitchen at Grace Episcopal Church here in Old Saybrook by the hands of about a dozen of our people.  (http://www.shorelinesoupkitchens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=41&Itemid=40)

Love does that.

These acts of love didn’t bring about world peace.

They didn’t end our social woes or abolish violence.

They didn’t end world hunger. 

They made a very small difference against the weight of the world’s problems.

But to those individuals who were consoled, prayed for, connected with, and fed it made all the difference. Each of these examples (and so many other examples each of us participate in every day) point to the Light that is coming – especially in days of great darkness.

Love does that.

A week from now we will celebrate the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.      He will enter this world not with power and might so that all will tremble before him; but in the most vulnerable way possible – childbirth in a stable. God loves us like that so  we who love him, can offer ourselves with that same vulnerability to others.

Love does that.

There is not a deficit of love in the world.

To those you love in the name of Christ it is everything. Love boldly. Keep loving boldly. Christ is coming!

PGS

___

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;   for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.            (1 John 4:7-21)

A sermon after Sandy Hook, December 16, 2012:

https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/sermon-on-luke-315-18-filled-with-expectation-after-the-sandy-hook-shooting/

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“You are a witness to the Light” an Advent sermon on Genesis 1:1-5 and John 1:1-9

0 St.Paul.1412/14/2014
Advent 3
Sermon on Genesis 1:1-5 and John 1:1-9
“You are a witness to the Light”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Sermons, Camp / Outdoor Ministry, Church & Mission, John the Baptist, on Gospel of John, on the Old Testament, Sermons | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Faith, Hope, Love – Part 2: Hope – an Advent reflection on Romans 8:24-25 and Luke 1:46-55

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope.                   For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see,     we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)

—-

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It is becoming increasingly difficult in 21st century life to find hope. As we gather in a darkened church,  at the darkest time of the year, it is not too hard to see that we live in dark times.

We see the twenty-four hour news cycle for this reality, and what it shows us each and every single day.

We see technology continuously re-frame how we live, connect and isolate ourselves.

We see our thirst growing for ever more ridiculous entertainments – from gore to sex to idiocy; the outlandish and far-fetched  scenarios that pass as “reality TV.’  We can’t help but watch.

We see the evidence of a crumbling society around us, but don’t want to admit it. Sunday (12/07/2014) was the seventy-third anniversary of Pearl Harbor – I think of the society that generation built – taking down fascism in Europe – brutal expansion in Asia; rebuilding out of the ashes of the Great Depression and Second World War an economy unparalleled in history that defeated Soviet Communism, went to the moon and created an Interstate highway system that allowed commerce and the free movement of people like never before. These things defined the second half of 20th Century America.

Now we see our roads and bridges receiving failing grades for upkeep and safety. We watch our economy grow for some but not for many others. We notice our astronauts take only Russian rockets into space. We have seen the great promise of the Statue of Liberty’s motto “give me your tired, your poor and huddled masses”   become xenophobia and racial profiling, reinforced stereotypes and ongoing racism. We’ve seen our kids shooting each other and our police become militarized. We have seen our national conscious – which used to strive itself on being the force of good and a better kind of values for the  world – unveiled this week our torture practices since 9/11/2001.

Recently we have watched those protesting throughout our nation under the motto:               “I can’t breathe.” This statement speaks a much greater truth than people might realize. We live not just with unfulfilled dreams of equity and justice – it feels like all of us are suffocating under the collapse of a once promising future built on a brittle foundation. There is a lot to mourn and lament in 21st century America. None of us can breathe.         Can any of us have hope anymore?

We have seen so much disintegrate before our very eyes. We have not lived up to our potential and we have squandered opportunities. We have taken the easy path at times when we should have fought a little harder and a little longer until we got it right. We have cashed in on America while our value was high; forgetting we’d still have to live here and so would our kids. It is a scary prospect to look into the future not knowing how or if we’ll ever get it back.

There is plenty of blame to go around. We could blame our politicians; our divisions; our powerlessness – and we’d probably be right to justify doing so. We have seen too much. What we see keeps telling us to be afraid. Be very afraid.

Fear has infected every part of our being, and it is the primary story we have come to know and believe.

Fear dominates our lives – from what news we read and watch, what entertainments we crave, what investments we make, what jobs we take,  what friends we want, who we consider our neighbors, and even what we expect from our churches.

BUT ADVENT reveals a different story, and gives a different trajectory for our thinking and our living….

We gather around one of central images from this time of year:  Mary holding the child.

We see in her so much joy; so much love; so much hope to share. It is as if God’s dreams and humanity’s dreams have come together in a moment.  We can see it. It is right there!         You can even come up and touch it if you’d like.

We know the story and remind each other of it often.

Jesus born of Mary in that stable long ago.  Joseph is there too;  as are the shepherds,  angels and barn animals. Can’t you just see them?  Aren’t they all so cute?

But cuteness can’t overcome fear. It may take the sting away for a while – but soon it returns, and that joy we can almost grasp slips away. We need something deeper. Something we can hold onto with both hands even when we can’t see it; and that thing is hope.

Hope doesn’t have all the answers. Hope does not pretend to be in control. Hope can not see the future, but holds on to the future anyway.

I wonder if part of the problem with Christmas (or even Christianity as a whole) is we on the inside are all too familiar with it. We create a cute mental picture of it too easily. The Jesus story resolves so nicely as we tell it. We have lost the shock of who Jesus is and what he might mean to us and the world. We have made Jesus safe.

We see where the story of Jesus goes:

We see Jesus grow up and do amazing things.

We see Jesus heal people.

We see Jesus speak for God.

We see Jesus gather followers.

We see Jesus challenge authority.

We see Jesus reaches out beyond what is comfortable.

We see Jesus love and love and love. Even the unlovable he calls his own, and we cheer him on for it.

We see him die.

We see him die at the hand of the empire that would crush those who oppose their competing values (just as we see our culture crushing each of us).

But Jesus, even though he dies…. comes back. He lives. He is raised from the dead.             All is well.  All will be well.  Isn’t that the promise? Isn’t that our hope? Isn’t that enough? Can’t we see it?

We hope so. But we wonder. We have seen so many ignore him or shrug their shoulders and walk away.  We see that life continues to be hard. It is hard for us. It is hard for so many.  Cute won’t cut it. We gasp for a fleeting moment for something real, yet we still feel crushed, alone and abandoned.

mary.home.That’s where Mary has much to teach us still, if we can open ourselves and be patient enough to learn it.

Because in Advent, Mary still has no idea what is going to happen. She has no idea if the child will survive the trip to Bethlehem, or if she or her baby will survive the birth.   Or if any of them will survive the trip home. Or if God’s promise has any chance of surviving at all.

She cannot see what will happen tomorrow any better than you or I can see tomorrow.

All Mary has is a promise, and a song.

But in that hope she breathes deeply.

 Will you?

PGS

___

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,     for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;  for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.      He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.     He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;  he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

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“Get out of bed! Come on! Let’s go! It’s time!” an Advent sermon on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-8

john.baptist.candle12/07/2014
Advent 2
a sermon on Isaiah 40:1-5 and Mark 1:1-8
“Get out of bed! Come on! Let’s go! It’s time!”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Faith, Hope, Love – Part 1: Faith – An Advent Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-12:2

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”             (1 Corinthians 13:13)

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The author of the Hebrews tells us that “faith is the assurance for things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

That is a different definition than what we are told Faith is. We have been told that faith is subscribing to A particular doctrine without questioning it, inheriting A particular tradition without conversation with others and belonging to A particular fellowship without exploring other contexts (even our own). For example, I would say, “I am a Trinitarian Christian of the Lutheran tradition at St. Paul’s Church.” How about you?

While those things might be interesting facts to some and nice information to know for others – these particulars don’t seem to be what the author of Hebrews is talking about. It’s not subscription, identity, or membership. Faith is not a list of facts or measures or unquestioned assertions.

Rather, faith is “assurance” and “conviction” of things that cannot be proven by fact. Faith is lived through stories and relationships. Faith is expectation in where the story is going. Faith is trust in what has been promised and by who has done the promising. Faith is waiting earnestly for the fulfillment of that promised future.

The rest of chapter 11 of  Hebrews gives us a recap of salvation history – from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Joseph to Moses to David and those beyond. With one quick brush stroke Hebrews summarizes what we call the Old Testament – “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better…” (Hebrews 11:39-40a).

What is that something? Who is that someone? Jesus. The one we are waiting for to come. The pioneer and perfector of our faith. Who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…for you and me!… disregarding of shame, and is taking his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

What we do in Advent, is wait with the great cloud of witnesses. We wait with the likes of Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth and Mary. We wait with loved ones who have joined the company of all the saints in light. We wait alone in prayer and in communion with one another in companionship. We hold on earnestly and remind one another of  the fulfillment of God’s promises around us to come.

tideFaith expects. Faith holds on. Faith stands strong. Even if all the evidence seems contrary – we believe that if we can hold on with all our strength, God’s reign will come. (If we are honest we know that strength is not our own.)

On Tuesday I went for a walk. At Knollwood Beach here in Old Saybrook someone had tethered a Christmas tree out on a pier. It was a calm day, but it isn’t always like that. Just a week ago the wind was violent and the tide was higher than I had ever seen it before.

IMG_4388There it stood out in the open: against the wind; against the weather; against the unknown; against the tide – that tree stood defiantly. Will it hold when the wind returns? I have no idea, but faith defies the wind that threatens, and faith stands strong against the waves and storm that is coming. Faith is the tether that keeps us standing in defiance of the odds.

Faith is looking out the window, staring into the darkness of night, knowing the coldness of the winter air, longing for the light and the warmth to return, yet stepping outside and defiantly saying, “soon.”

Faith is hearing the diagnosis, living with estrangement, carrying guilt, witnessing death, losing everything, yet turning to God and holding on to that notion that one day all will be restored and defiantly saying, “soon.”

Faith is living in our world with all its a misguided priorities, its busyness, its distractions, its lies, its conflicts, its divisions, yet asking questions, once again seek the manger, and defiantly saying, “soon.”

IMG_4389

Hold on. The tether of faith has you. Stand strong. God’s reign is coming.

Let us defiantly say together… “Soon.”

PGS

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Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, ‘bowing in worship over the top of his staff.’ By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.

 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as thoughhe saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient,because she had received the spies in peace.

 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:1-12:2)

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“Keeping Awake with Ferguson” an Advent sermon on Isaiah 64:1-12 and Mark 13:29-37

ferguson.seasons.greetings.11/30/2014
Advent 1
Sermon on Isaiah 64:1-12 and Mark 13:29-37
“Keeping Awake with Ferguson”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Sermons, on Gospel of Mark, on the Old Testament, Sermons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment