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

Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 13, 2015

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

Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
Before he begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, Luke describes the work of John the Baptist, who proclaimed the good news in startling images. Radical generosity and faithfulness in vocation are among the fruits of repentance John identifies.

{7} John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? {8} Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. {9} Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” {10} And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” {11} In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” {12} Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” {13} He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” {14} Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” {15} As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, {16} John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. {17} His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” {18} So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

John the Baptist has always been something of an anathema to be, but one thing he isn’t is subtle in his use of language. There is nothing mysterious about what he is saying. Even the crowds following him clearly hear what he’s talking about as they ask what it is they can do about what he says with their lives and repentance.

In a very simplistic way John’s call is a call that invites us to change what we are doing and head in a new direction. We can repent all we want and admit our sins and shortcomings and be very, very clear regarding where we’ve missed the mark but….unless we make some changes we’ve, well, missed the mark! That’s what repentance is all about, isn’t it?

Repentance is not delegated to a specific group or collective of people, it’s for everyone. Note John’s response to the ‘what shall we do’ question. He covers, it would seem, the occupation of
all those present; the crowd, soldiers and even tax collectors! This includes you and me, it would seem, wouldn’t it?

And, as he calls us to repent and turn toward those things that are holy and good and just, he suggests what this is really about is generosity with others and satisfaction with what we’ve been given. Two coats? Give one away? Collecting money? Don’t take more than is legal. Be satisfied with your wages.

In a very real sense isn’t John calling us to a simpler life that is filled with less and less in order to create more space for God within? More God, less me? More God, less worry. More God, less chance to claim that title myself?

Advent is a time for waiting, for wondering and for wandering through the wilderness. It offers times and days for us to stop and rethink our priorities, our hopes and dreams. It brings opportunities to focus on what is truly needed in our lives and world, namely the One who will come again to bring peace and hope and light.

In the meantime, we’ve got that job and it is especially crucial during these days of hateful speech, labeling of entire groups of people and rejection of all because of few. This Jesus reached out to those rejected by society and claimed them as his own. Can we do any less?

It is time to put an end to marginalizing, separating and rejecting out of hand those who are not like us. Our calling is to unite, not divide. To reach out, not to push aside. To speak with love and hope not hate. To lift up the lowly and bring light into the darkness of this world.

It is time, people of God, to get busy!

Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 6, 2015

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

Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Luke takes care to place John in secular history. Yet John’s arrival also heralds a new age of salvation. John refers to the words of the prophets, but with vigorous immediacy; Now is the time to prepare for Christ through a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
{1} In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, {2} during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. {3} He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, {4} as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. {5} Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; {6} and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

John has always been an odd ball character to me. If one reads through the first chapter of Luke and the song of Zechariah which brings it to a close, one discovers that after Zech is done singing, John disappears into the wilderness and “he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Was he alone? What was he doing? Did he have any physical contact with anyone? How many years did he spend there? All questions without answers.

But then he arrives on the scene, in the same wilderness, and begins to proclaim a baptism of repentance; a turning away from sin and turning toward God. We’ll hear more from him next week and his language will become a bit, well, abrasive and more personally focused. And therein lies my concern, he seems to be speaking directly to me. In fact, he seems to know me a bit too well! Maybe he doesn’t know my sins specifically, but it’s pretty clear that he knows I’m a sinner and in that, I am convicted.

When I was growing up, Advent was purple in color and penitential in nature. Sometime, long ago, it seems, it shifted in color and somewhat in nature but not completely; there is still that call to repentance that reminds me who I am and what I have done as John calls me back to the recognition that I am, plain and simple, a sinner in need of changing. And then I realize I cannot do that alone, by myself, left to my own devices.

Which is when the hope and promise of the season arise and arrive as I realize that I can’t do it on my own but, the Dawn from on High that breaks upon us can! John is preparing a way for the Coming One by preparing our hearts to recognize that we are desperately in need of this One promised long, long ago. And in that moment of recognition, forgiveness, mercy and hope flood into the darkness of life and bring with it the brightness of a new light and the hope we so desperately need.

John is still a bit odd in my mind but then again, it often takes ‘odd’ to get me to recognize what is right before my eyes-the need for this Savior and his love and life. Prepare the way!

Midweek Musings for Sunday, November 29, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Norma Malfatti
Director for Evangelical Mission/Assistant to the Bishop

Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Gospel: Jeremiah 33:14-16
14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Advent is just about here! For some the beginning of the season will feel like it really starts on Thursday morning when Santa comes down 6th Avenue at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. For others it will be when their Christmas tree goes up on Friday or Saturday. Still others it will be when that first of four candles is lit on Sunday morning. Perhaps for pastors Advent started two months ago when Advent and Christmas worship was planned. Whenever Advent feels like it begins for you, you will have entered the season of waiting, hoping and expectation.

Last week as we marked Christ the King Sunday, the Scripture centered on a message of hope and assurance urging congregations to stay faithful in terrifying times. This week as we move into Advent we hear from the prophet Jeremiah at a point when he was to give a message of hope and assurance in the midst of impending disaster in Jerusalem – the destruction of the Temple and the razing of the city.

As with most prophets, Jeremiah was in prison because the people in power did not want to hear, nor did they like, what he or God had to say about their faithfulness, or lack thereof. Prior to this Sunday’s reading Jeremiah, Jeremiah had been strongly reminding the political and religious powers-that-be of his time what faithful leadership was supposed to look like, what walking in the ways of God looked like, and how they were not meeting those criteria. The political and religious leaders had forgotten their God given responsibilities to lead with justice and compassion. We could say that not much has changed over the last few thousand years.

Two weeks ago people were convinced that not drinking coffee out of a particular red cup was how to be a faithful Christian. Last week people were devastated by bombings in Paris but did not know that the same thing happened in several other major cities around the globe. Now this week the world seems hell bent on denying refugees safety, calling children and mothers who have fled those bombed cities terrorists just because they call on the name of Allah. Fear and anxiety seems to be ruling our actions and conversations.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord… I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Jeremiah reminded the people who were running for the lives, hiding in fear and being carted off to Babylon that God’s desire is for all people to live in safety and experience the flourishing of life, not the squelching of it. God knows that in the midst of despair we need to hear a word of hope, we need to know that there is an end in sight to our suffering, alongside the call to faithfulness. However, if we feel, or actually are, alone it is not always easy to hang on to God’s promises of life. Hope is born of trust in the midst of fear; it is believing in, and being committed to, God’s future in times of despair. As Paul tells us in Romans, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

What tangible signs of God’s hope does the Church show today when so many in our communities and the world are marginalized and misunderstood? Are we proclaiming Christ born, crucified and resurrected? Are we embodying the longing for our Emmanuel to come again?

As we begin this new church year how will we live out our prophetic call as the church to be a witness to our active hope in the coming of Jesus, our messiah, in the world?

Midweek Musings for Sunday, November 22, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Norma Malfatti
Director for Evangelical Mission/Assistant to the Bishop

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gospel: John 18:33-37
33Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

“We made it! We made it through another year as the church, another year serving our neighbor, caring for one another and proclaiming Jesus as our God and king!”

Each year as Christ the King Sunday arrives these are often the thoughts that run through my head. However, this week’s texts challenge those thoughts. They challenge the idea that survival (we made it!) is what our goal should be. Instead, they provoke us to really reflect on how well we’ve done, as individuals and as congregations, in living our call to serve our neighbor and each other, and living our lives in a way that truly reflects that Jesus is our God and King.

Pilate asks Jesus, “are you the king of the Jews?” The opening verses of Revelation speak about the one who is seated on the throne and Jesus being the ruler of the kings of the earth. This Sunday is all about Jesus being a King. Yet, this is in sharp contrast to Jesus’ emphasis on being a servant and a life of servanthood, just a few chapters before his encounter with Pilate he knelt at the feet of the disciples and washed their feet! Perhaps even more surprising than this focus on kingship is that Jesus is called the faithful witness in Revelation and tells Pilate that he came into the world to testify. Aren’t we the ones who are called to be faithful witnesses to Jesus? Certainly John thought that he was to be a testifier to the light who is Jesus.

What is this faithful witness that Revelation and Jesus speak of? Living the way of God’s kingdom in words and actions; living life among and for others. Revelation declares that Jesus made us to be a kingdom, not individual lords and serfs, but that together we are a kingdom of witnesses. The author of Revelation reminds us that we do not operate as individuals alone, the Church is fundamentally communal in nature: we need each other for encouragement as we face the challenges to faithfulness that life throws at us. While we may resist equating the church with a kingdom, particularly in light of the ways the church has abused its power in the past, and instead speak of a community called to proclaim and live out the values of God’s reign in the world. Either way, this is who Jesus has made us to be.

So, how are we doing? How are we as the Church living as though God has made us a kingdom? Are we a kingdom of radical welcome? Are we working for God’s justice and the flourishing of life for all creation? As we mourn with France and struggle with the Syrian refugee crisis, are we calling on leaders to work for peace and open borders? Are we engaged with that work ourselves?

By his own admission in the Gospel of John, Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth. To quote Paul, Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7). The God who was, and is and is to come, is a God who comes to us to engage with us and relate to us with a love that liberates. This is what Jesus testified to and it is knowing this, seeing and hearing Jesus’ witness to this in his life, death, resurrection and ascension that can give us the courage to be a part of God’s work and God’s kingdom.

As we mark the end of the church year, how have you been aware of God throughout the year? How have you testified and been a faithful witness to God? How might you be called to change that witness in the year to come?

Midweek Musings for Sunday, November 15, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Rev. Norma Malfatti
Director for Evangelical Mission/Assistant to the Bishop

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
1As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4″Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

I love apocalyptic literature. My favorite book of the Bible is Revelation, followed closely behind by Daniel and Ezekiel. This love of all things apocalyptic may also be why I have a special love for the Gospel of Mark, because contained within this oldest Gospel account are little apocalypses, brief nuggets of Jesus’ talking about the end times.

Now, my fascination with this kind of Scripture isn’t about my hope that Jesus’ return is imminent, though it certainly could be. Nor is it about my love for action and suspense, though that’s usually the kind of movie you’ll find me watching. Instead, it’s about how the world responds to apocalyptic thinking – the Left Behind series, rapture theology, people selling all their possessions because they are convinced the world will end on December 13 or whatever the latest date is.

These reactions to apocalypse completely defy what we learn in Scripture and what apocalypse is really all about. When it comes down to it, this is what defines apocalyptic writing in Scripture:
God has made not one world but two and this world is essentially unfixable so God has set a limit to it and it will come to an end.
No matter how chaotic things appear, God is in control and what God wills to be will be and God’s will is that there will be a new creation.
The transition from this world to God’s new creation won’t be a simple evolution, as Paul writes, “the whole cosmos is in labor pains trying to give birth to the new creation.”
These first two parts of apocalyptic writing are things we know – that we are in “bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” but through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ we, and all of creation, are bound up together and will be made new in the resurrection.

Part three is where anxiety and chaos helps us forget these basic tenets of Christianity. We start thinking that we can control outcomes, that we can determine what God is going to do and when God is going to do it. In reality, the only thing we can do in the midst of chaos (or any other situation we find ourselves in) is to be faithful; be faithful to God and God’s ways. That’s easier said than done, of course. Chaos leads to fear and, in the immortal words of Yoda, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.” Once we head down that path it is hard to remember, really remember, that God is God and we are not, that God is in control, not us, and that God’s will is for all people to experience the flourishing of life.

Instead, we do the exact opposite, we make determinations about who’s in and who’s out, who is deserving and who’s not, who God favors and who God doesn’t, and perhaps the most scandalous, where God is and where God isn’t.

If you have been connected anywhere to social media or watched the morning news this week you’ll see that a “war on Christmas” has been waged because Starbucks changed how it gives us those Biblically depicted peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes. Gone are the snowflakes and reindeer and now it’s just all red. God has been kicked out of Starbucks, that plain red cup is a sign that God is no longer active in the world and that Jesus is being hidden away from the world. Never mind the fact that a nativity scene was never featured on the red cup, Jesus has been affronted. In these times of coffee chaos what are we to do?

Whether we’re talking about the true chaos of the world – war and rumors of war – or the imaginary chaos created by media hype, as God’s people we are called to do one thing: be faithful. Be faithful to God by being people of the Great Commission (go, baptize teach) and Great Commandment (love God, love neighbor); be faithful to bearing God’s redeeming love to all the world; be faithful to remembering that God is more powerful than red cups and media hype, more powerful than presidential candidates vying for who’s the greatest, and more powerful than people who tell us that Jesus has disappeared from Christmas. Christ will always be present because he promised he would be.

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.