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

Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings for Sunday, March 27, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Mr. Fred Risser
Synod Treasurer
and Member of Synod Council

God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with whom they told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Christ is risen, we are risen, hallelujah. The well known Easter story begins at dawn at his tomb where his followers assume that Jesus is dead. They are prepared to anoint the body with spices and the discovery of the empty tomb is confusing and frightening. It is very difficult to believe that the dead can rise. The dead are supposed to remain dead. Angels inform the women that Jesus is not dead but has risen. The women meet the resurrection through this message as they are told that Jesus has risen. We have the word of the resurrection which is contrary to our perception of truth. Nonbelief and skepticism are the only rational conclusions to the finality of death. The women spread the resurrection message to others and it is called “an idle tale.”

The Easter message challenges our belief that death always wins and that all eventually expire. This message states that death is real but it is not final. In Jesus, life eternal gets the final word. Christians are called from their old belief in death to a new belief in life. The wild claim that the crucified Jesus has risen seems ridiculous. One has to question and ask, what if this is true? What if death is real but not final? Is Jesus simply not past but also present? What would life be like if we were to meet Jesus face to face?

God continues to challenge the finality of death with the promise of new life. The Lord affirms that death is not absolute and through the living Jesus God gives us the gift of eternal life. These are powerful words. A new day has begun with the risen Lord and the promise of abundant life.

O god, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, so that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

May you all have a Blessed Easter Sunday

Midweek Musings for Sunday, March 20th, 2016 Passion/ Palm Sunday

This week’s reflection comes from
Mr. Fred Risser
Synod Treasurer
and Member of Synod Council

O God of mercy and might, in the mystery of the passion of your son you offer your infinite life to the world. Gather us around the cross of Christ, and preserve us until the resurrection, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

HOLY GOSPEL LUKE 22: 14-23:56
And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this.

Luke’s Passion narrative is a very long passage with several themes pertaining to the persecution and death of Jesus. I have only reprinted the opening verses which are the familiar words of institution for the sacrament of Holy Communion. Luke’s story is a contest of wills. The powerful Judean temple leaders conspire with the Roman officials to destroy Jesus who presents a threat to the business as usual manipulations perpetrated by the religious and Imperial Roman systems. It is also a message of how Jesus gives himself to his Father’s will and embraces his fate as written in the Gospels. Luke and the other Gospels also reflect on the responsibility for the crucifixion and attempt to assign blame. The execution of Jesus was caused by willful opposition and yet his ugly death was both understandable and purposeful. In the end, God’s will is accomplished by manipulating other powers and human society. God’s will triumphed over the corrupt and self serving human forces. Luke’s political drama is where truth and justice are overwhelmed by the will of the Judean hierarchy and a Roman governor seeking political gain. Luke’s theological drama is also achieved as God’s will is attained by human misunderstanding and political contrivance.

The passion story represents the rejection of God’s special prophet and also the route that this Savior must take for his resurrection and glory. The rejection is chaotic, improbable and fearful. God accomplished God’s design through the passion of Jesus. The Passion Story causes all believers to ask difficult questions about God and his ways. Accepting the mystery of God allows us to offer praise in response to his saving will. God cares too much about salvation to leave it in mortal hands. Salvation requires God’s intervention into all aspects of human existence. We have much for which to be thankful.

Almighty God, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take our flesh upon him and to suffer death upon the cross. Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Midweek Musings for Sunday, March 13, 2016 Fifth Sunday in Lent

This week’s reflection comes from
Mr. Fred Risser
Synod Treasurer
and Member of Synod Council

Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

This is the second week of my Lenten writing journey. Preparation of this segment has been less difficult than the first week. I certainly admire Pastors and others who make this task appear so effortless and trust that my gentle readers will continue to bear with me.

Passover is near and so too is the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. A stark contrast is made between Mary the believer in Jesus as the resurrection and the life and the stinginess of the unbelieving Judas with his greedy and self serving concerns. Jesus speaks of his burial which foreshadows his approaching death but the presence of Lazarus at Passover confirms that death is not final. Mary has anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive oil which also foretells the last supper when the Lord will wash the feet of his own disciples. Mary’s anointment is a beautiful and loving act.

Judas attempts to use poverty as a weapon when he reduces economic justice to philanthropy for the poor as have many current politicians, wealthy individuals and public charities. “The poor will always be with you.” Poverty is not God’s will and Jesus was a supporter of the poor. In the community of believers no one is in need. Jesus does not simply minimalize poverty but eradicates poverty. Extreme poverty exists because it is side by side with extreme wealth. Jesus is thinking of his farewell and his imminent death. Believers should act promptly and willingly serve others. Our churches should be filled with Mary’s blessed fragrance and abundant love.

This passage speaks to me about poverty, income inequality, World Hunger and the many people who have been marginalized by our contemporary society. Poverty and “the poor” have always been with us and continue to command our attention. Jesus does not diminish the serious nature of poverty nor the necessity for charity and generosity. Income and wealth disparity has been a strong focus of this presidential election year. All Christian believers need to concentrate on sharing our abundance with the impoverished and treating them with dignity and respect rather than viewing them as objects of pity to soothe our guilty consciousness.

Lord Jesus, thank you for covering my sins and leading me into the extravagant gift of new life. Amen.

Midweek Musings for Sunday, March 6, 2016 Fourth Sunday in Lent

This week’s reflection comes from
Mr. Fred Risser
Synod Treasurer
and Member of Synod Council

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothes us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

HOLY GOSPEL LUKE 15:1-3, 11B-32
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me’. And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, but I perish here with hunger!’ I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to his, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ And he said to him, ‘Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”

Today I begin this Lenten Journey of preparing the Midweek Musings for March 2016. Devotional writing is an unfamiliar trip for me and I hope my gentle readers will be patient with my reflections as we approach Easter Sunday.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son speaks to me very persuasively. It is a familiar and comforting passage about God’s redemptive grace, mercy, unconditional love and forgiveness. In this parable of Jesus, the father of the prodigal son rushed to greet him as he returned home, and immediately began to provide food and clothing. The homecoming celebration began by directly addressing his urgent needs. The prodigal could not return to a garden of Eden but he was welcomed and reinstated as a son. This wayward son’s radical transformation from grief and guilt to forgiveness and restoration expresses the resurrection from the dead and a rebirth to a new life from spiritual death. The father who had been abused was forgiving. But, the older brother, who had not been wronged was full of pride and contempt. His resentment caused his isolation and separation from the community of forgiven sinners. This parable gives a clear picture of God and what God is like. He meets the needs of all who return home with repentant hearts. God forgives sin and offers the gift of the Holy Spirit to grant courage and peace. God is truly kind and rejoices in finding the lost and leading them home. May we trust this good news and actively support others when they return home to build a life free from sin.

Haven’t we all been “prodigal sons or daughters” at some point in our lives? Whether we have felt uncomfortable with an unfortunate situation with a parent, spouse, child or other associate, we have all transgressed and abused our trust and relationships. Perhaps these incidents have been character building, especially when we were younger. Remember our relief and joy when the compassionate injured party granted us unconditional forgiveness and acceptance. This experience is similar to the scriptural prodigal who returns with nothing to offer yet his father receives him with joy and thanksgiving. The son was in desperate need with feelings of remorse and unworthiness. His father grants him grace and mercy. He tells the older son “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Lord, may I never doubt your love nor take for granted the mercy you have shown to me. Fill me with your transforming love that I may be merciful as you are merciful.

Midweek Musings for Sunday, February 28, 2016

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Imani N. Dodley
Pastor at Reformation, Rochester
and Member of Synod Council

Luke 13:1-9
“At the very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

I’ve always been a little “scary” about things. I was scared of the dark. I was scared of water (well this is still a little true). I was scared of riding amusement park rides. And those where just things when I was a little girl named Kim! (some of you will catch that) I remember as I was growing up that my family, who didn’t seem to have those same fears, at some point and time would invite me to face them. To look closely at those things that frightened me and see them for what they really was about. False Evidence Appearing Real. FEAR. The coat in the closet that looked like a man in the dark. False Evidence Appearing Real. The sea monster in the water that was going to swallow me whole. False Evidence Appearing Real. And in regards to the amusement park rides, I had a FEAR that I would be injured in some way, or it would spin out of control. Yes it happens but there was no evidence that it would happen to me. So my brother Mark (other siblings) went with me to a carnival and introduced me slowly to different rides. And as he did, just like in the above picture, I kept my eye on him. You see, my other siblings, would get so frustrated with me because one of them would have to sit on the bench with me when we would go to any amusement park, because of my fear. I was dead weight of sorts.

But as my brother guided me and I rode that “speed racer” of a car, I remember feeling as if I was free. But not at first. It was a slow gradual build. At first, I felt anxious and unsure about what was to come as the motor of the ride geared up. At second glance, I felt “set up” because I was the only one on this ride and what was going to happen. I remember the fear building up and I remember my brother saying to me, “your good, Joy” (his nickname for me). So I just rode along and began to fell the grip of fear dripping off of me as my brother practiced patience with me through each ride. My brothers love for me wanting me to not be gripped with FEAR has always been a memory of healing for me.

Barbara Brown Taylor from her book, Home by Another Way, says this,
“…It is not a bad thing for them to count their breaths in the dark, not if it makes them turn toward the light. It is that turning he wants for them, which is why he tweaks their fear. Don’t worry about Pilate and all the other things that can come crashing down on your heads, he tells them. Terrible things happen, and you are not always to blame. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you are doing. That torn place your fear has opened inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not that kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life.”

The Luke 13 text is one of those moments of FEAR that opens up to grace. The landowner who thinks that the unproductive fig tree is worthless and taking up space thinks that it just needs to go away while the caretaker asks for just one more year to see what will produce. The caretaker asks for patience. I like what it says in working preacher about what the Apostle Paul says, “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Now, I know that God wasn’t trying to lead me to repent from an amusement ride. But it did teach me about looking at those “torn places (my) fear had opened up inside of me.” It taught me to feel those moments and look around while anytime that I am gripped with that fear. To ask myself why and realize each of those moments never lead to death but a new life. Because today, with my brothers love, I love amusement rides.

What about our Church and how it deals with the issue of racism? Maybe it is a good thing to have our fear tweaked so that we can truly face a reality that has plagued our country. Yes, that may not have been a direct result of “what we have done” but that shouldn’t stop us from facing that FEAR that has gripped our church for far too long. You see, those torn places that has stopped us short of feeling the freedom of a great amusement park ride are truly holy places. After my brothers patient “care-taking” my brother and sisters didn’t quite mind me tagging along. They saw my unique “tree-shaped” form that was a little late blooming as a gift. They realized that they had to look at how they treated me and why. This years synod assembly, In Christ, One New Humanity, is an opportunity for us to look at the torn place of racism and what it has done to so many and not look at it as shaming or blaming but rather an opportunity to turn towards the light, for that is what God want’s from us. That is why God is the patient caretaker allowing us all to be renewed and at peace while taking us on one heck of a ride!

Love and Light
Rev. Imani N. Dodley

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

Download a PDF file of the entire magazine.