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Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings for Sunday, October 4, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from Rev. Mary Johnson
Assistant to the Bishop for Candidacy

Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel of the Day: Mark 10:2-16
2Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Reflection
In recent months the institution of marriage has been in the news a lot. In June, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage a constitutional right for couples of the same sex. In July a website to match up married people seeking to cheat on their spouses hit the headlines when hackers stole and released the names of the Ashley Madison customers. In September a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to issue marriage licenses, due to her religious objection to marriage between partners of the same gender. As these events play out in the courts and the media, we often hear people quoting the Bible, including this passage from Mark. Such verses have been used to oppose divorces, as well as marriages, too often without the compassion and concern Christ himself showed in this reading towards both women and children.

As we have been hearing each week in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus consistently and persistently showed forth God’s grace and mercy to those who were vulnerable, suffering or marginalized, over against laws and traditions that kept God’s people from living the abundant life God willed for them. In this teaching about marriage and divorce, Jesus was calling his followers to lives and relationships of love and faithfulness that surpass the demands of the law. The law might have allowed one to discharge a spouse to marry another, leaving women, in particular, without status or support in the community, but Jesus upheld God’s intention for marriage to preserve the bond of mutual care within the community of God’s people.

As we read these verses, let partners who are being abused or demeaned in their marriages hear that Christ does not condemn them to remain in danger or shame. Let those who would cast off their spouses as disposable or replaceable commodities, know that this is what Christ rejected. Jesus here holds up marriage not so much as a legal contract but as a sacred covenant and holy calling of God’s own creation. It is in these – and all our relationships – that we are called to live out our faithfulness to God, by loving the other as Christ has loved us. Whatever the nature of our most intimate relationships, we are called to love and serve God by loving and serving our neighbors. And, as each of us falls short of this, we each must come humbly in repentance to our merciful God. For all who need hope, healing and forgiveness, these verses are Good News, as Christ offers this abundant mercy and grace of God to all who would come to him.

Midweek Musings for Sunday, September 27, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from Rev. David Preisinger
Assistant to the Bishop
and
Pastor to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Albany

Prayer of the day
“Merciful God, we seek out of your grace and goodness the power to be delivered from those things that come between us and You. And deliver us from those things that come between our neighbor and ourselves. Enable us, O God, to direct our lives toward those things that You have commissioned us to do. Through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, within our world today. Amen. “

Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42″If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49″For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Reflection
We live in a world that loves to draw lines and separate people. We seek always to be better than the next guy, or to be part of something that makes us better than the other group. Our country has become politically polarized, which makes it more and more difficult for congress to pass any kind of legislation because neither party wants to be associated with the other party or anything for which it stands. Racism is alive and well and rears its ugly head with segregation and stereotypes putting people in categories. “They’re not like us, so they can’t be any good.” And we separate ourselves from one another. Sin is defined as: separation from God, that which separates us from God and from each other. Jesus came to remove the barriers that separate, to remove death and all that separates us from life.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples not to stop folks who act in Jesus name, just because they aren’t part of the elite group of disciples. Jesus warns against putting a stumbling block in front of those who believe in him, suggesting that “it would better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

The following story about Mahatma Gandhi is from a booklet by Rev. Fredrick L. Pattison. I’ve seen the same story in other places:

Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned leader of the people of India, in seeking to overthrow British colonial rule of his native land, was an avid reader. Although a Hindu, in his quest for freedom, he read the four Christian Gospels. He wanted to know more about Jesus of Nazareth. In his reading of the Gospels, Gandhi was impressed with this man whom Christians worship and follow. Where could he find out more about this Jesus whom Christians refer to as “the Christ – the Messiah?”

One Sunday morning Gandhi decided that he would visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. Upon seeking entrance to the church sanctuary, he was stopped at the door by the ushers. The ushers told him that he was not welcome, nor would he be permitted to attend this particular church as it was for ‘high caste’ Indians and ‘whites’ only. He was neither ‘high caste’, nor was he British. Because of the rejection by this church, ‘the Mahatma’ turned his back on Christianity. With this act, Gandhi rejected the Christian faith, never again to consider the claims of Christ! He was ‘turned-off’ by the sin of segregation that was practiced by the church. Gandhi later declared, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians!”

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus came for everyone. He died for everyone. He sends us to proclaim the good news of forgiveness, love, life to everyone. What message do we proclaim in our churches and with our actions?

Midweek Musings for Sunday, September 20, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from Rev. David Preisinger
Assistant to the Bishop
and
Pastor to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Albany

Prayer of the Day
O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel:Mark 9:30-37
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”
34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37″Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Reflection
This lesson begins with the second of three predictions by Jesus of the passion. There is a pattern in all three predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). There is evidence of misunderstanding and avoidance on the part of the disciples after each prediction (8:22-23; 9:33-34; a0:35-41). This is followed by teaching on the nature of discipleship (8:34-38; 9:35-37; 10:42-45). It was difficult for the disciples to understand Jesus fate, and therefore difficult to understand what following Jesus meant.

Jesus must prepare his disciples for the future that awaits him and them. The preparation takes the form of telling them exactly what to expect once they reach Jerusalem. The disciples obviously don’t get it. They are afraid to ask, and somehow jump to a debate among themselves as to who is the greatest. They may have heard the resurrection part and assumed a happy ending. They anticipated the beginning of the reign of Jesus and imagined their roles in the new age.

It is impossible to understand the resurrection and the reign of God prior to the crucifixion. Resurrection without crucifixion is nonsensical, because without death there is nothing from which to resurrect. In the Upstate New York Synod we have claimed to be resurrection people. What are the deaths, the endings from which we have risen?

In order to teach the disciples and us about greatness Jesus brings a child among them (In those days children were unimportant and were not to be seen or heard). By introducing the child and telling the disciples that when they welcome the child they welcome him. Jesus is saying, “Take the insignificant, the seemingly unimportant and here you will discover me. In this child you can find God. Quit looking for God in the great things, or looking to please God with your great feats. You won’t find God there. God is in the small, the insignificant. God is in the pain and the suffering. The disciples may have wanted to skip to the resurrection, the great ending. But we truly come to know God through the death, the suffering followed by the resurrection. There can be no resurrection without the crucifixion.

“Just as Jesus enacts his words about greatness by embracing one who is least, so he will enact his words about the cross by embracing that as well. Jesus himself thus becomes the enactment of the stance he desires from his disciples: A stance of willingly giving oneself in the service of those who need it most, a stance of serving rather than being served, a stance of giving rather than getting.” (Paul Achtmeier, Lectionary Homelitics – September 1991)

Midweek Musings for Sunday, September 13, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from Rev. David Preisinger
Assistant to the Bishop
and
Pastor to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Albany

Prayer of the day
O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel: Mark 8:27-35 (NRSV)
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Reflection
Who is Jesus? Who do people say that he is? Who do you say he is? Jesus asks these questions of the disciples, but we can ask them of ourselves as well. Peter makes his confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus commends Peter for his confession of faith, but Jesus also wants to be clear about who the Messiah is. Peter, and we too, are to see the Messiah through the cross.
Immediately following Peter’s confession Jesus tells the disciples what he must do, but it doesn’t make sense to them. A cross? Dying? How can a dead leader be the Messiah the Savior? However, to truly know the Messiah, to know the love of Jesus, we have to see him through the cross. The gospel of Mark keeps pointing us to the cross. Professor Rick Carlson says, ” Mark wants us to see Jesus cross-eyed”, that is, through the eyes of the cross.
At first that doesn’t make sense. In the gospel, Peter challenges the plan Jesus lays out, and Jesus reprimands Peter. “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” When we see the world through human eyes; we see it with a “me first” attitude. The world functions on a “get all I can get”, “me first” attitude. But when we live life, see life through the cross, with the power of love modeled for us on the cross, there is a whole different outcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot defeat hate only love can do that.” On the cross love wins, death loses. A “cross-eyed” world is a world of love, hope, forgiveness.
Jesus models for us the power of love. When the powers that be are challenged by the gospel message, they seek to silence and destroy it. They seek to use power, fear and threats to life to maintain control. And, at first glance, it would appear that the powers that be win. Jesus dies on the cross. Death on the cross demonstrates the extent to which Jesus was willing to go to show us his love. The cross is not the final word, however. The resurrection is! It is God’s victory over death. Fear and death are not the ultimate power. Love is! Death is defeated. Through the cross, sin and death are destroyed. Through the eyes of the cross, we can see the love of God at work, bringing hope and renewal to all the world.

Midweek Musings for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Midweek Musings for Sunday, August 30, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from Patsy Glista, Associate in Ministry
Assistant to the Bishop for Operations

Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, your word of peace stills the storms that rage in
our world. Bring hope to all persons and places living in devastation, war and other perils. Bring comfort to those who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones and property. Let your love be known through those who work to bring order out of chaos, justice and peace. Fill our hearts with your love and grace that we might shoulder the burdens of suffering and be bearers of hope and your light brightly shining into the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,[a] thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;[b] and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.[c]) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live[d] according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

      ‘This people honors me with their lips,
          but their hearts are far from me;
      7 
in vain do they worship me,
          teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”[f]
21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  
23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

REFLECTION

As a child I was taught that actions speak louder than words.  Through their actions my parents were daily examples of how they wanted my brothers and me to live our lives – helping neighbors, donating their time and resources each and every day in some way at church and in our community.  I never heard them speak poorly of anyone or anything; they always searched for the good.  In this week’s gospel Jesus reminds us that it is what is in our hearts that is important, not just visible actions of following the rules.  He calls on us to search our souls and consider if it is indeed the love of Jesus that causes us to share with the world God’s love.
Four years ago this week Hurricane Irene flooded many parts of Upstate New York.  This Sunday, August 30 the people of Schoharie County will gather to worship and share a meal together in remembrance of this devastating disaster and in celebration of the considerable recovery work they have accomplished in rebuilding their communities.  Like Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, Irene’s impact and the floods of 2013 just two years after was devastating leaving desolation and tears in its wake.  The work that has been done in that area over the last four years came from people’s hearts.  It involved thousands of volunteers giving thousands of hours of labor.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to help with rebuilding costs.   It is work that has been accomplished because of God’s faithful people from all across Upstate New York, from neighboring states and across the country.  It was hard work and very dirty work.  It is work that came, not from the evil of the world or from anyone wanting to see their name in lights, but from the goodness in people’s hearts, the love of neighbor and God’s call to us to walk humbly and do justice.  It was work that came from people not just saying they were church members but actually going out into the messy world and showing they were God’s faithful people.
Yes, Lord, we believe 
That You are the Christ, 
The Son of God 
Who has come 
Into the world. 
 
And I will raise him up, 
And I will raise him up, 
And I will raise him up on the last day. (ELW #485)

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.