News and Resources from the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 26, 2014

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 26, 2014
Reformation Sunday

This week’s reflection comes from John S. Macholz, Bishop

Reflecting and Dwelling in the Word


On this day we celebrate the heart of our faith: the gospel of Christ-the good news-that makes us free! Though we give thanks for the events of the sixteenth-century Reformation that brought renewal to the church of that time, we pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to unite the church today in its proclamation and witness to the world. In the waters of baptism we are made one body; we pray for the day that all Christians will also be one at the Lord’s table.

Philipp Nicolai, died 1608; Johann Heermann, died 1647; Paul Gerhardt, died 1676; hymnwriters
These great hymnwriters all worked in seventeenth-century Germany in times of war and plague. Nicolai, a pastor, lost 1,300 parishioners to plague, 170 in one week. He wrote “O Morning Star, how fair and bright” and “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” Heermann’s hymns, including “Ah, holy Jesus,” often express the emotions of faith. Gerhardt, perhaps the greatest Lutheran hymnwriter, was a pastor in Berlin.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel, and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel John 8:31-36

Jesus speaks of truth and freedom as spiritual realities known through his word. He reveals the truth that sets people free from sin.

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.


Ah, Holy Jesus

1 Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

2 Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

3 Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
for our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
God interceded.

4 For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

5 Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee;
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

Text: Johann Heermann, 1585-1647; tr. Robert Bridges, 1844-1930, alt.

You’re thinking ‘cop out!’, he copped out from writing anything and is just giving us a hymn. That’s possible but I’m not giving you just a hymn, I’m giving you one of my favorite hymns in the world. And, I’m giving it to you because I believe it speaks to the essence of this Reformation and its message and purpose.

Reformation is not about us, it’s about God and what God has done for us and continues to do for us despite our best efforts to the contrary. I think the hymn speaks that (or is it sings that?) loudly and clearly.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation, mortal sorrow, life’s oblation, thy death of anguish, bitter passion. What for? My salvation.

I cannot buy that or pay Jesus for it, it is a gift, free and clear and I know I don’t deserve it, not at all! Yet it is a gift to me from a God who loves me, loves you, despite the fact that I reject, walk away from, sometimes don’t fully receive this gift, this grace and yet…. And yet God offers it again and again and again.

This Sunday is not about celebrating a break from a church or celebrating a sense of triumph on our part or nailing theses to a door; it’s about God and God’s utter, total and unbelievable gift of grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s everything, that’s the only thing!


“Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his…”
Martin Luther
(“The Freedom of a Christian,” 287)

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 19, 2014

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 19, 2014
Lectionary 29
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This week’s reflection comes from John S. Macholz, Bishop

Reflecting and Dwelling in the Word

In today’s first reading God uses the Gentile ruler Cyrus to accomplish divine purposes. When the Pharisees try to trap Jesus, he tells them to give the emperor what belongs to him and to God what belongs to God. To gather for worship reminds us that our ultimate allegiance is to God rather than to any earthly authority. Created in the image of God, we offer our entire selves in the service of God and for the sake of the world.

Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
After Jesus begins teaching in the temple, religious leaders try to trap him with questions. First they ask if God’s people should pay taxes to an earthly tyrant like Caesar.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Ever been asked a question that you felt was a trap and wondered how you were going to answer it without offending anyone and walking away with your integrity? That is a difficult place to be. For Jesus, it seemed to have happened with great regularity but he also had a knack for responding in a way that left folks shaking their heads and walking away.

‘Who owns what’ perhaps simplifies the question of this Gospel but it gets at the point. The question is raised around the issue of taxes; an issue that brings joy to all of our hearts doesn’t it? Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not? Jesus is swift on the uptake; he asks whose face is on it and then instructs them to send their forms and checks to the appropriate place.

Yet I think the issue is deeper than that, isn’t it? Going back to the ‘who owns what’ issue. Stewardship is rooted in understanding that all that we have and all that we are comes from God. Often we get caught up in the understanding that I worked hard for what I have, it belongs to me. That’s not the case though, is it? Scripture is clear, as is our understanding of it; everything that we ‘own’ comes from the hand of a loving God who cares for us deeply and provides for our needs. So, the real question revolves around the ‘so what’?

So what drives us to the point of recognizing that reality and, in so doing, giving thanks for what has been, what is and what will be. Moving from there we give out of joy and thanksgiving from the abundance that is ours, rather, has come from God. Thanksgiving is thanks-living. Living in thankfulness and giving to others what we have first received from God.

Does that mean we give up everything? I think not. But it does mean we understand clearly the gift and the Giver and then, out of thankfulness and wonder, give in return. My parents told me time and time again, “John, you can’t out give God!” I didn’t understand that in my early years but I came to see clearly what that meant along the way.

Take stock of what possesses you, what possessions you own or rather, what possessions own you, and give thanks. Then live thanks freely, wildly and hopefully with great joy and wonder, knowing that God will continue to provide and give and supply. After all, God gave his only Son. Is there a greater gift than that? The quick answer? No!

Let Us Pray

For those who live in fear
That those who seek healing might discover it in God’s presence
For this church, that we might be open to the voice and direction of the Spirit and step out boldly in faith to follow
For persons who struggle with mental illness
That we might find our way forward toward civility in conversations and life.


“A checkbook is a theological document; it will tell you who and what you worship.”
Billy Graham

“People go through three conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.”
Martin Luther

“Never measure your generosity by what you give, but rather by what you have left.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Roman Catholic bishop

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 12, 2014

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 12, 2014
Lectionary 28
Proper 23
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This week’s reflection comes from John S. Macholz, Bishop

Reflecting and Dwelling in the Word

Prayer of the Day

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples and poured out your life with abundance. Call us again to your banquet. Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus tells a parable indicating that the blessings of God’s kingdom are available to all, but the invitation is not to be taken lightly.

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”


Having done some reading among different writers and web sites it is clear that this parable is neither simple nor easily understood in all its complexity. Having said that what is clear, at least to me, is that it is about two things; an invitation and a response to that invitation. In other words, what do we do once we’ve said yes to the invite? How do we live out that response?

Operating with some latitude within the interpretation of this parable, I think it is safe to say that for us this day the question may be something like this: “How do we live out our baptismal life?” The answer may seem simple, the follow through a bit more challenging for us.

Does this border on the movement from Justification to Sanctification? Perhaps! Although some might argue that we do not have the lead in either category we do have a responsibility once we have said yes to live out of that reality; to live in the forgiveness freely given to us and share that with others. Maybe it’s about remembering that God has not judged us but remembered our sins no longer and we are called to do the same with others. Could it be that as our lives are flooded with grace despite our total lack of deserving such a gift we are called to live into that grace with others and the world? I think the answer to quite clear.

Left to our own devices we fail miserably once we’ve said yes. Placing ourselves into the care and keeping of the One who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light and living as forgiven, grace-filled children of God in positive response to all we’ve been given drives us into the banquet of life with hope and promise.

In Baptism the invitation to participate in the kingdom is extended, how will we respond this day and in the days to come? By the power of the Spirit hopefully it will be a response in keeping with God’s response to us. And even when it is not, we know that we can turn back to the One whose patience, forgiveness and love for us is never-ending and life-giving. Thanks be to God!

Let Us Pray

For this church, that it might be faithful to the God who calls it into the world to be grace and hope

That those who seek healing may be granted it in God’s good time and way

For political refugees who seek safety

For those who struggle with mental illness

That our hearts might be filled with thanksgivings for all that we have been given.


“Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes”
Martin Luther

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 5, 2014

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 5, 2014
Lectionary 27
Proper 22
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

This week’s reflection comes from John S. Macholz, Bishop

Reflecting and Dwelling in the Word

An Introduction

MacholzColorSmallWelcome to a new devotional resource from the Upstate New York Synod; Midweek Musings. These will be sent out each Tuesday and include the Gospel for the coming Sunday, the Prayer of the Day, a Reflection, Prayer Focal Points and a Quote. Beginning with this week’s they will be written in monthly increments, starting with Bishop Macholz for the month of October and the Deans will each write for a month, taking us through May. After that, assuming it’s found helpful, we’ll move beyond the Deans and on to the Rostered Leaders as well as others as suggested.

The intent is to offer some insight into the coming Sunday’s Gospel so that you might reflect upon it for the days preceding and dwell in the Word a bit from the perspective of individual leaders in the synod. I hope you will find it helpful in the coming months. Please refer all concerns, complaints and compliments to me.

Let us pray.
John S. Macholz, Bishop

Gospel Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus tells a parable to the religious leaders who are plotting his death, revealing that their plans will, ironically, bring about the fulfillment of scripture.

Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Prayer of the Day

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


As I write this reflection I stand convicted as do the Chief Priests and Pharisees who recognized, in retrospect, that Jesus was speaking of them; he didn’t even mention their names!

This morning’s devotional from Christ in Our Home reminded me that God is the one who judges, I am not called to do that. Reminder number one. On the way to the office in Fairport I heard a piece on NPR about Happy Street Signs that will be put up in Newark, NJ to try to enlighten people as well as lighten them up. The signs will say things like “Honk Less, Love More” and “Less Drugs, More Hugs” and “Follow Dreams, Not Crowds.” The purpose of these are to lessen every day stress as, it has been discovered, stress can shorten one’s life. This applies to many areas of life but also to driving; this was the point at which I was convicted! Reminder number two!

How often in life do we quickly point the finger at others only to remember that old adage, ‘when you’re point a finger at me, three more are pointing back at you.’ Happens to me daily.

But thanks be to God that I am not in charge, God is. Thanks be to God that I don’t have to do it on my own, God has done it for me. Thanks be to God that God’s love overwhelms and overcomes my finger pointing, my judging and my anger toward others when I come before God’s throne of grace and seek the forgiveness that I so desperately need to receive each and every day, sometimes each and every moment.

This day may we be less judgmental, point fewer fingers and know in our hearts and minds that God is not pointing back at us in accusation, rather extending arms once lifted on a cross to envelope us in love and grace and hope. Thanks be to God!

Let Us Pray

For healing for those in need

For our Bishop Elizabeth, that she might be given the wisdom, strength and courage necessary

For our congregations, that we might be open to the Spirit’s intrusions and direction

For a way to peace in this world.


“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.”
Jesse Jackson

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Proclaiming Hope

This mission magazine tells the stories of just a few of the many ways lives are being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of the Upstate New York Synod. We hope you will be inspired by te work we do together in Jesus' name.

Questions Regarding Mission
New Mission
Lutheran Disaster Response
Social Ministry
Outreach with Young Adults
Congregational Renewal
Congregational Redevelopment
Growing Disciples
Companion Synods
Missionary Support
Theological Education
Outdoor Ministry
Campus Ministry

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