“A Visit from St. Paul” Philippians 4:1-9

Advent 3 – Joy Sunday

Philippians 4:1-9
“A Visit from St. Paul”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT
Saul/Paul of Tarsus

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“Madame Mia’s Wax Museum” a Christmas Pageant


Christmas Pageant
“Madame Mia’s Wax Museum”

With a visit from the Apostle Paul
Philippians 4:1-9

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Sunday is Coming! “Fruit worthy of Repentance” Luke 3:7-18 Advent 3C

The crowd asked him,What then should we do?’” (Luke 3:10)

John is not one to mince words. He grabs the attention of his audience with judgment; calling for a change of heart and urging people to action. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7b-8).

Repentance’ means not to just say ‘sorry,’ hoping to be forgiven. The word ‘repent’ (metanoia) means to turn around – to see things in a new way, go a new direction, or change your mind. It is about life-change!

John’s intensity shines through his sense of urgency. He leaves us little wiggle room to escape, explain ourselves or justify our actions. Our credentials and heritage don’t matter. Our position doesn’t matter. Our sinfulness does. He warns that when Messiah comes – the ax is coming to cut down that which is rotten or unfruitful.

Yet, the people keep coming, and look who it is…

The crowd.

The tax collectors.

The soldiers.

All of them come to John looking for direction, asking, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10). He is no contemplative. John will not ponder these things in his heart as Mary does. He stands in the wilderness and proclaims an honest, direct and forceful call to action.

John tells the crowd that if you have two coats, give one away to someone who has none, and feed those who are hungry.  (Luke 3:11).

“Repentance” (life- change) for the crowd means to look beyond oneself. Be generous. Take care of one another. Be your neighbor’s keeper. We can all learn from this change of perspective. Look to God’s abundance with gratitude as you live with one another. Relate to people with that same generosity, compassion and love.

John tells the tax collectors not to collect more than is prescribed (Luke 3:13). In those days, tax collectors made their income by taking extra than the government asked them to collect. They were wealthy because they exploited people. Since they worked for Rome they were viewed as conspirators, traitors and betrayers of their people; unclean before God because of their wickedness.

“Repentance” (life- change) for the tax collector means to be honest, fair and just – which may cost personal gain. What motivates our work? We can all learn from this change of perspective. Martin Luther said of the commandments against stealing and coveting, “We are to fear and love God so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them improve and protect their property and income.” and “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property to try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.”  (Martin Luther, “Small Catechism (1529),” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1161.)

John tells the soldiers (the foreign Roman occupiers) not to extort money, threaten or falsely accuse people.

“Repentance” (life- change) for the soldier means being in positions of service, not just positions of power. We can all learn from this change of perspective. It means doing our best job in whatever it is we do; not just to serve ourselves, but with the best interest of others in mind, even in a hostile environment.

What might “repentance” look like for you? In your situation? Job? Status? Lifestyle? Relationships? Impact on those you may not know?

The heart of John’s message is life-change rooted in action. He calls his hearers to honesty, integrity, service and generosity (whatever their background) into a new life worthy of their calling and vocation. He doesn’t tell people to leave their jobs or life-situation, but challenges all who will listen with a new way of seeing, being and acting. While he speaks with authority; he proclaims that One is coming with more power than himself who will come with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, John’s appeal is good news:

A life that is worthy of repentance strives for the kingdom of God; but not as the pursuit of personal achievement or by somehow trying to earn God’s favor. Rather, it is bearing fruit (doing good) by responding to God’s undeserved mercy and grace; holding tight to the promise of Christ and sharing that hope, love and peace that surpasses understanding with others in concrete ways.

-Where could you use some life-change right now?

-What are some concrete ways you can share the hope, love and peace of Christ through the relationships you already have?

-How might those actions change you, and prepare the way for others?



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“Luke, John, Otto & You…” an Advent sermon on Luke 3:1-9

Advent 2

Sermon on Luke 3:1-9 (The MSG)
“Luke, John, Otto & You…”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Read more about the burial rite for Otto von Habsurg here, by Edmund Waldstein:

Watch it below:


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Sunday is coming! “John the Baptist: No random oddity” Advent 2C

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” (Luke 3:3)

What conditions may have produced this odd character?

Luke outlines rather carefully in his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1) what is happening on the world stage as John (and shortly Jesus) begin their local ministry. Tiberius is the Emperor of Rome. Pilate is the Governor of Judea having direct control over the Southern part of the country. Two brothers: Herod and Philip rule the local Northern regions but remain subordinate to Rome. Annas and Caiahphas serve as High Priests in the Temple. One could cross-reference the dates of these leaders to locate both John and Jesus in history. Luke has gone to great lengths to ensure that we (and Theophilus [Luke 1:4]) understand the context of the story that is about to unfold (Luke 3:-3).

Bishop and scholar N.T. Wright points put there is more going on than just historical precision:

Behind that list names and places is a story of oppression and misery that was building up to an explosion point…The old prophets had spoken of a time of renewal, through which God himself would come back to them. They had only a sketchy idea of what this would all look like, but when a fiery young prophet appeared in the Judean wilderness, going around towns and villages telling people the time had come, they were ready to listen. Baptism, plunging into the river Jordan was a powerful sign of renewal.” (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], pp. 32-33.)

The conditions were ripe for something new.

Luke wants the reader/hearer to know this is not a random fanatic who drew a crowd. Beginning in chapter 1, Luke provides a background narrative for both the coming of John and for Jesus. The first story that Luke (and only Luke of the four canonical gospels) tells – is the angel Gabriel visiting Zechariah to tell him that he and Elizabeth will have a child, and he is to be named John (God is gracious). “He will turn many of the people to the Lord their God. With the spirit and with power of Elijah he will before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).  God is orchestrating the redemption plan. The groundwork is being laid for John to set the stage for Jesus.

What is coming?

Looking back to Advent 1C, we heard warnings of destruction and judgment, yet Jesus promising “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28) “The kingdom of God is near” (Luke 3:31) and “My words not passing away” (Luke 21:33). These are tall orders in wake of the system of power in place, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in the recent memory of Luke’s hearers, and to the us all these centuries later – removed from the historical context, but still longing for hope and renewal in our own time and lives.

Prepare the Way

Our time and our lives are ripe for renewal just as they were in the time of John.  We look at the world and see the difference between the wealthy and the poor; the important and forgotten; the powerful and the oppressed; those who are high and those who are low; those who attempt to ensure their own safety and those surrounded by violence; those who are connected and disconnected; those who seem to get away with hate, abuse, injustice and greed and those who suffer for it. We are often left scratching our heads wondering,”How might we respond?” or “Can I do anything about it to change things?” or better yet, “Where is God in all this?” We feel the pinch of changing church participation and the strain it puts on our community, its leadership and shared resources and we fear the future. We wonder of our own lives matter or could make a difference. In a world full of noise we struggle to find our voice, and wonder if anyone is listening.

John reveals that sometimes what God is up to in our world comes to us in odd, unconventional ways; if we are but open to hear it, look for it, believe it and live it. John remains a key symbol of Advent because he represents a voice calling us out of our own wilderness into repentance (a life-change; new perspective; going a new direction); leading to hope, faith, joy and peace. He enters our story just when it feels darkest; not to be the Light, but to point to the Light that is coming (John 1:7-9). We are invited into that same calling us to “prepare the way” for Jesus to come in our lives, relationships and communities.

In the promise of our coming Christ, we are immersed into the way of love as fear is cast-aside and no longer has power over us. We are on the way.

What strange new things might God be doing in your life and/or community?

Look hard and carefully…Do you see them?

Are you odd enough to join-in?



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“Re-framing the Narrative: Thinking Backwards the Advent” a sermon on Luke 21:20-36

Advent 1

Sermon on Luke 21:20-36
“Re-framing the Narrative:
Thinking Backwards this Advent”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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“Most Excellent Theophilus” Rediscovering Advent with Luke


“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4)


As we enter Advent, we do not sit in the darkness. The Light does shine among us.

Christ is in our midst even as we anticipate the fullness of his coming. It is our calling to bear the Light in the darkness into the world around us – especially in these darkened days. Christ’s Light will come. It shines on you even as you doubt and tremble.

As we start this liturgical year, Luke the Evangelist will be our guide. His stories of Jesus will illumine our way from now until the end of next November, as we meet the Savior who comes to Israel, but is for the world, pushing always outward past where we feel comfortable; bringing healing to a sick world in need of a physician.

Luke is a well-written Gospel. As you have already read in the opening verses above, Luke wants to give an orderly and well researched account of who Jesus is, what he did, and what it means, both in the lives of the people in the stories – and for us who hear them.

Luke has some unique stories to tell that Matthew, Mark or John do not tell that might be familiar: “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son” are to two of them. Meals with Mary and Martha, the Tax Collector Zacchaeus, and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on that first Easter, are a few others. And of course, most famous stories of all in Luke’s Gospel is the Christmas story: with Angels, Shepherds, and no place for the holy family to stay in Bethlehem as the child is born.

Luke is the only Gospel writer to keep telling the story of the people well beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles, (Luke’s second volume) chronicles both the struggles and faithfulness of those first leaders and communities that took the good news message of hope, healing and freedom beyond the land of Judea and into the Roman world.

This whole story is dedicated to my “most excellent Theophilus,” but we can only speculate as to who this “Theophilus” might be.

  • Some say he was a wealthy patron who paid for the project.
  • Others say he  was a believer outside of Judea in need of encouragement.
  • Others suggest he may have been an official in the Roman court who was curious as to what all this fuss around Jesus of Nazareth is about.

I would like to think that Theophilus – is us – you and me – all these years later; longing for a good, orderly, faithful account of this Jesus of Nazareth, we call the Christ.

Luke delivers that message.

Names mean something in the Bible. So does the name Theophilus.

THEO – means “God”. You may recognize it from the word “theology” which means “study of God.”

PHILO – means “love,” the familiar, sibling kind of love. You might recognize it in the city name of Philadelphia.

THEO / PHILO – THEOPHILUS – literally translates:  God’s beloved friend.

Isn’t that who we are? Who you are? Yes! You are called into the love of God and fellowship through Jesus Christ. You are empowered by the Spirit to share that love and bear that name and that promise to the ends of the earth, just like those first apostles. Right now it begins, with you…here.

December often gets so cluttered-up:

  • With fun things and activities that load-up our calendars.
  • All the expectations and responsibilities we bear.
  • And for some of us the scars of pain of Holiday’s past.

Remember no matter where you are or what burdens you are carrying  –

You are Theophilus. You are God’s beloved friend.

This Advent my most excellent Theophilus – Jesus comes to you.


Without giving you “More to do” this Advent Season, I’d like to share some opportunities and resources for you as we move across this Advent together.

  1. Seasonal Devotional Click HERE for a devotional for families that runs Advent through Epiphany – please check out the “Overwhelmed” entry for Jan 5. I think you’ll like it. 🙂
  2. Reverse Advent Calendar. Rather than opening a slot on your calendar each day to receive a prize; get yourself a box and add a food item to that box each day. Then bring the box to church Christmas Eve! Practice generosity this Advent.
  3. Read a chapter a day. A friend reminded me that Luke has 24 chapters, and there are 24 days until Christmas. Reading a chapter of Luke each day will help you be in the Word this Advent – and will help you get further acquainted with this Gospel that we’ll be reading all year. Pastor Matt Staniz created an Advent calendar with art and each day’s reading HERE.
  4. Home Wreath / Candles. Light them each day to remind you to pause, pray, reflect, give thanks and carry that Light each day with you in the world as you interact with others.
  5. Invite a friend. Churches grow through word of mouth. That Word – my most excellent Theophilus – comes through you!

Christ is near. His Advent approaches. His light shines in you so that the world might see him through you. For you are God’s beloved friend.

Peace be with you,


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