GREAT EXPECTATIONS

By Pastor Wes Poole

Advent is the season of waiting and expectation. How many times have I said or written something to that effect? Well, I would hazard a guess that I’ve said that pretty much every Advent since I was ordained…which is starting to add up to a respectable number of years!!! Still, it’s true. During this season of preparation, we hear the great chronicles of our faith; leading up to the truly epic story of Our Lord’s Nativity, the Incarnation of God Almighty as a little child in a manger. A story of that magnitude deserves a bit of dramatic build-up don’t you think? However, Advent is not just about sitting around waiting for a story to unfold. Why?  Because the story continues to this very day…and we are some of the major characters!

Yes, that’s right, we’re a part of the story of Our Lord’s Nativity…and all the incredible events that happened afterward.  You see Christmas changed everything.  Christ’s Nativity showed the world that ours is a God of action, a God of involvement, a God who is a part of the lives of His children.  What’s more, Immanuel¸ God who is with us, comes among us for a reason…to show us, by example, how he wants us to live and act and exist as His Holy People and His called co-workers in the faith. We are major players in the great unfolding story of new life in Jesus Christ.

What does this have to do with Advent? Everything.  Advent focuses us on the story while reminding us never to forget that we are all still moving the plot forward. Waiting and expectation do not excuse God’s faithful people from attending to the tasks to which He has set us. The breathless wonder of the Godchild in the manger with the Star shining brilliantly in the East merely shine the light on the great, transcendent truth of our Christian faith…Immanuel is alive and at work in our lives and in the lives of all people! That does not, will not, and indeed cannot change…ever.

As we get caught up in the wondrous spirit of the season…and by all means, let’s get caught up in it, let us also strive to keep our day to day ministry in the forefront of our thoughts. The Word still needs proclaiming, the poor and hungry need feeding, the despairing need to hear the amazing, transformative Story of Life that we have to tell. Immanuel is shown most clearly in the words and actions of God’s people. As we gather in wonder during this Holy Season, let us all make the commitment to be Immanuel to all those who need him.

May the blessings of Immanuel, the Incarnate God made visible, move us to carry the Story ever forward!

Let us pray…

God who is with us always, bless this holy season of waiting we are about to embark upon together as a family of faith. Keep us ever mindful that the Story of your Incarnation continues to this day, and that we each have a truly vital role to play in it. May we bring the blessings of the Christ child to all who are in need. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.

Your Partner in Christ,

Pastor Wes †

THANKSGIVING

By Pastor Wes Poole

Psalm 9:1
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. NRSV

Thanksgiving. What is it all about? Well certainly we Americans think of Thanksgiving as a national holiday celebrated by many different people of many different creeds…or no creed at all. Prosperity, plenty, food on the table, personal freedoms, political stability; all these things and many more could be listed, quite justifiably, as things for which we, as Americans, can be thankful. For many of us, Thanksgiving simply means being grateful for our homes and our enlightened system of government that allows us to achieve such an opulent lifestyle…for it is indeed opulent by world standards. This year, our beloved national holiday is taking on a new and different tone, or rather rediscovering an old one. Many of us are paying closer attention to the deeper blessings God has given us. The reasons for this are obvious. Even though COVID may have kept us at home more than we have been used to in the past, there has been a renewed focus on families pulling together and relying on each other. The celebration of Thanksgiving is really all about home, family, and faith, even during trying times. We’ve also seen people across the country coming together to share the burdens these trying times have created for all of us. Difficult times still can bring out the best in people. For me, that is one of the most compelling reasons to give thanks this year.
For the Christian, giving thanks also means looking past the secular aspect of Thanksgiving and acknowledging God as the author and source of all that is good in our lives. Family, friends, home, and livelihood; all of these things oblige us, as believers, to give God the wholehearted thanks the psalmist illustrates for us above. When we name the Name of the Most High God in prayer, praise, or celebration, we offer all that we are and have to be used as God’s instruments of peace in His Creation. As we approach, once again, our national day of Thanksgiving, I pray that we will continue to place our thanks in the hands of the One to whom it truly belongs. God is the author of all goodness, and there are good times yet to come. Not even COVID can stop that. Let us recommit to giving thanks for what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do!
May the power of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inspire us all to give thanks for God’s blessings by being a blessing to all our brothers and sisters everywhere.

Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, we offer you our most heartfelt thanks for all that you have given us. As we pause, as a nation, to give thanks for our manifold blessings, help us, as the modern day disciples of Jesus, to continue to do good works in our communities. May our lives give others even more reason to be thankful. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe, and be thankful!
Your partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes †

HOPEFUL HEARTS AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

By Pastor Wes Poole

Romans 5:5
“…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.” NRSV

It’s hard to believe that we’re already pondering Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and beyond! How could it have only been about nine months since I accepted your call to ministry here in the Good Shepherd family. I remember being excited and filled with hope for the future. In the past year, I think it is safe to say that we have been dealt one surprise after another. There is no disputing that. Regardless, hope has not disappointed us here at Good Shepherd. The Holy Spirit has infused us with energy, power, and enthusiasm; the strength to meet the challenges we will surely face as we carry out Our Lord’s ministry. We will continue to celebrate our blessings while allowing growth and change to enrich us. For the moment, our ministry looks and sounds different, but we will continue to focus on what we can do, and keep striving to do those things well! Here, as 2020 starts to draw to a close, I call upon all of us to renew our commitment to this family of faith, and to finding and relevant ways to reach out to our neighbors.
Because, or frankly despite the best efforts of many, growth and change are still going on around us, in the worldwide church, in this congregation, and in our communities. Anyone paying attention to the news outlets in this county last week would surely have to agree! Diversity is the watchword for the time, now more than ever. Cultural relevance, inclusivity, sensitivity to the differing needs of the individual; these are all high priorities in an ever increasingly connected world. Unity through diversity, strength through celebrating our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of race, creed, gender, or life’s situation; what do these things mean to the individual congregation struggling to cope and remain viable in a world that seems to change shape every five minutes? How do we come together with all of the different elements of society and even right here within the walls of Good Shepherd and speak a language that effectively tells the Story we have been charged with telling? These are hard questions, without quick or easy answers, but they are good questions, questions that the Christian church in all of its denominations is dealing with as we look to move past COVID, contentious elections, financial difficulties, and the myriad challenges of these “interesting times”.
Well, first and foremost, we are the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. This identifies us as followers of and believers in the Triune God. What this means for us as a church family is that we do and say things that do not always jibe with that which may be dominating the news outlets of this time, even when they manage to agree! Regardless of the aforementioned challenges, we have a Story to tell, songs to sing, and people to whom we are called to minister. From visiting our own sick and shut-in, to helping build houses for the poor, to supporting our Synod and greater church, we have a multitude of tasks which make up the ministry of Good Shepherd. We can’t do all of those things right now, at least not in the way to which are accustomed, but we will be able to again! Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later, but we will continue to focus on what we can do, and still be ready to resume our “normal” modes of ministry. Gathered together in worship around the Word and the Sacraments, we still reemerge refreshed and strengthened into a world that needs us…through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit, that Third Person of the Trinity about whom we Lutherans often forget. It is the Spirit that fans the flames of our faith and provides us with the Divine strength necessary to carry out our ministry. The amazing thing about working for God is that He never leaves us solely to our own devices. God, through His Holy Spirit, gives us the backbone to stand up to what the world throws at us, while freeing us from the fear of change. The Holy Spirit is the One who motivates us and energizes us in all things. The Spirit frees us from fear and anxiety, and turns us loose as Our Lord’s agents on Earth. God is always doing new things. He is the same God of Creation who made all that is, and His creative genius is still here among us at work. The Holy Spirit is the very active spirit of life and growth and change. The Spirit is the One who rallies us all as a family around the one, universal truth which cannot change…God, in Jesus Christ, has loved our imperfections away and has restored us to our God and Father.
As we look forward to 2021 and beyond, we will constantly be facing new changes and challenges because we are a dynamic, Spirit filled community. As these challenges present themselves, may we find the strength and the wisdom to say together, “Amen, come Holy Spirit!”

Let us pray…
God of growth and change, instill in us, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to meet the ongoing challenges of ministry in the coming year in beyond. We know that in Christ, all things are possible. Grant us open minds and dynamic imaginations as we seek out new and innovative ways to reach people with the Great Story of Your Love. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe…and be of good hope!

Blessings,
Pastor Wes †

THE VOICE OF CALM

By Pastor Wes Poole

My apologies, friends. I spent yesterday (Tuesday) glued to the TV and let time get away from me completely. Wonder why?? 😉

1 Kings 19:11-13
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” NRSV

The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.” (source unknown)

Political humor seemed appropriate somehow! In all seriousness, our nation has been stressed and anxious for most of this year. COVID was bad enough! Couple that with a vitriolic, contentious election cycle, and we’ve seen a perfect storm of chaos and cacophony that would have challenged even Elijah’s listening skills. As I write this, I am still following the returns. Do I have a preference? You bet I do! Will I share it? Nope. Not a chance. Not in a forum like this, and NEVER from the pulpit! It is not my place as a clergyperson to make such public, political pronouncements, and I take major issue with anyone in my profession who does so. One official though, commenting on the ongoing drama, cautioned the listeners that whichever side wins, both sides must learn to listen to what the other is trying to say. Amen to that! You know, it’s been said that listening is not simply waiting for your turn to reply. That is so profoundly true. Often, the voice of the one crying for help is a still, small one; overlooked or marginalized by society. That voice is truly the Voice of God, just as surely as the One Elijah heard so long ago. As followers of Jesus in these discordant times, we have a unique opportunity to model the caring and kindness that allows us not just to hear each others’ voices, but to listen with our hearts. That is exactly the life Jesus showed us how to live. Regardless of who ends up in the White House, our Christian vocation is always about showing others the Way Jesus taught us; kindness, love, generosity, and welcoming the stranger in our midst. These things will always be at the core of who we are as people of faith. “What are you doing here, [Christians]??” What indeed?! May we open our hearts to the “others” in our midst…and listen to them.

Let us pray…
God of mercy and truth, open our hearts to be able to listen to each other. Help us sow understanding in the midst of strife. Help us to be the calm amidst the storms of life; that we may more effectively show the Way your Son modeled for us so perfectly. For it is in his name that we pray. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe…and be calm.
Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

INTERESTING TIMES

By Pastor Wes Poole

May you live in interesting times!
supposed ancient Chinese curse
real origin unknown

OK, so it’s not my usual Scriptural beginning to the mid-week devotion, but it’s kind of where my thoughts are as I begin this week’s offering. If living in interesting times is supposed to be a curse…then I say curse away! Life around here for the last few months certainly has been interesting, seldom boring, and filled with an endless array of joys, irritations, and challenges. Just another year of ministry!! Seriously though, 2020, so far, has been an interesting time. We started the year just fine. A new call and new opportunities for ministry. The family and I went to Disney! Then…bam…COVID…lockdown…the world changed overnight. Zoom meetings, virtual worship, masks, social distancing, Purell, Purell, and more Purell!!
So what, pastor! You might say. Old news! Why are you still even talking about it. We just want to get through this thing and move on. Stop restating the obvious!! Frankly, I got this far in writing and asked myself the same question. Why indeed?! Because of the saints. That’s right, the saints. Not Paul, Peter, Michael, John, or Mary, but all of you; all of the saints still striving mightily to labor in the proverbial Vineyard of the Lord during these “interesting times”.

It reminds me of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven. By the age of 5, Beethoven was playing the violin under the tutelage of his father, who was also an accomplished musician. By the time he was 13, Beethoven was a concert organist. In his 20s he was already studying under the very watchful eyes of Haydn and Mozart. In fact, Mozart spoke prophetic words when he declared that Beethoven would give the world something worth listening to by the time his life ended. As Beethoven began to develop his skills, he became a prolific composer. During his lifetime, he wrote nine masterful symphonies and five piano concertos, not to mention numerous pieces of chamber music. He also wrote sonatas and pieces for violin and piano. He has thrilled us with the masterful works of unique harmony that broke with the traditions of his times. The man was a genius. Beethoven was not, however, a stranger to difficulties. During his twenties, he began to lose his hearing. His fingers “became thick,” he said on one occasion. He couldn’t feel the music as he once had. His hearing problem haunted him in the middle years of his life, but he kept it a well-guarded secret. When he reached his fifties, Beethoven was completely deaf. Three years later he made a tragic attempt to conduct an orchestra and failed miserably. He was deaf, yet still a magnificent musician who kept working regardless. On one occasion, Beethoven was overheard shouting at the top of his voice as he slammed both fists on the keyboard, “I will take life by the throat!” Amen to that, brother!

OK, I’ll grant you that’s not exactly standard “churchy” vocabulary, but Beethoven’s point is well taken. The life we have been gifted in Jesus Christ is still there for us to live, regardless of the challenges we may face. COVID notwithstanding, the mission of Christ’s Church has not essentially changed. The days are flying by, as usual, as we prepare for Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and beyond! Like always, this is a busy time as we move towards one of the most important and joyful celebrations in our lives as Christians. We are still, as a congregation, finding our way through these often crazy days! I realized, as I pondered that so-called ancient “curse”, that “interesting times” are the norm for the Christian in a worshipping and ministering community. Interesting times are what we’re all about! The Good News of Jesus Christ is interesting. Finding new ways to tell the Story is interesting. The people who make up this Family of Faith we call Good Shepherd are interesting. God Himself, who is never boring and is always doing a new thing, is the very source of all that is good and fruitful and stimulating. He has blessed all our times, past, present, and future. God has called us to be the ones to spread the Gospel, which is a never ending task filled with variety and new challenges.

The “Holiday Season” is upon us. Christmas is around the proverbial corner. As we lift our voices in praise to God for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, let us also take a moment to thank Him for the gift of His Holy Church and all of the saints who comprise it. May we, and our fellow saints, keep inspiring, encouraging, and building one another up into lives of faithful service. We do live in interesting times! With Jesus walking with us, we are equal to the tasks at hand. Hallelujah and thanks be to God!

Let us pray…
Almighty God, you have called us all to sainthood in your Holy Church. Keep us steadfast in your Word as we make our way in these “interesting times”. We know from hearing your Word that we can do all things with the strength Christ provides us. Help us never to forget that and to embrace the creative genius you have shared with us. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.
With much affection for you all, I am
Your Partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes Poole †

REFORMATION, CREATION, AND IMAGINATION

By Pastor Wes Poole

Jeremiah 31:31
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. NRSV
John 8:31-32
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.” NRSV

This coming Sunday, we will read both of the above passages and more as we celebrate Reformation Sunday. For the Lutheran Church, and many other Protestant denominations, this is the day when we focus on our heritage; on the things that we have brought to the table of Christianity, and of course on Martin Luther. Normally, on this Sunday, most every Lutheran around the world would be belting out Luther’s greatest hit, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Perhaps not this year, but the sentiment and spirit will certainly still be there. All of this is quite good, as we have a great deal to be proud of as Lutheran Christians. The energy, insight, and devotion to the Gospel that Luther both possessed and acted upon has changed the world for the better. Indeed, some 20 or so years ago, Time Magazine listed the Lutheran Reformation as one of the top 5 important events of the last Millennium. This was no small accomplishment for one rather insignificant monk in 16th Century Saxony. For Luther, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so important, so all encompassing and transcendent of earthly authority that he risked his own life, and some would say mortal soul, to bring about the changes in the Church that needed to happen. Luther, though flawed and sinful like any of us, was a man of vision and imagination. He imagined a world made better by a more grace filled and inclusive church. His vision remains at the heart of our church’s mission to this day.

However, the Reformation really isn’t just about Luther; otherwise we might call it “Martin Luther Day”. There is more at work in this celebration than simply a history lesson or the remembrance of an important historical figure. The Reformation was about change….and more than that…the Reformation is about change. Many of us know that Luther did not want this church to bear his name. He preferred the term “evangelical” meaning basically “of or pertaining to the Gospel/Good News”, although that term gets misused a bit these days. Fortunately or not, as the poet said, “You can’t always get what you want!” and so our church bears his name proudly to this day. Still, Luther’s point resonates across these past 500 years. An evangelical church, a church firmly rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning, is not a static institution that is rigid and unyielding. Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ is a living, growing, entity that is constantly finding new ways of expressing itself in different, or as is certainly the case these days, difficult times.

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant…” The words of the prophet Jeremiah tell us of a God who is not content to “leave well enough alone” and have everything remain the same. This same God, who created all that is and who has never stopped creating, sees fit to work new wonders in this world He brought into being. That is what the Reformation is all about. That is the spirit of fearlessness and creativity that Luther set into motion some 500 odd years ago and still survives to the present.

That is indeed the spirit we are called upon to embrace on this most Lutheran of celebrations. If we are to remain faithful bearers of the Good News to this world which has a profound need to hear it, we must be willing to take a step back; to be able to effect and accept change. Sometimes it’s a personal change; a change of behavior or direction or heart. Sometimes, it’s a corporate change; a community of faith willing to take a leap of faith, grind up those proverbial “sacred cows”, and proceed in a new or unexpected direction. Regardless, there is no need for fear or hesitation. This same God who promises to do new things is also the God who has written His law on our hearts and set us free with the truth his Son brought us. With a God like that, fear has no foothold and there are no limits to what can be achieved. Remember the proverbial “battle cry” of the Reformation, Sempre Ecclesia Reformanda…the Church always reforming. That is the very essence of the way in which the Christian Church is to operate. That is yet another part of the Truth that will, as John tells us, set us free. It is a truth that is bigger than we are; a timeless truth that will still be when perhaps people have forgotten about Luther and his Reformation. Still, the Church of Christ will live on, transforming lives and telling that great Story. Our Good Shepherd family is a part of that story. May we continue to embrace that bold and dynamic spirit of growth!

Let us pray…
God of creation and creativity, grant us open hearts and minds as we celebrate the Reformation. Help us always to be willing to embrace newness and innovation; employing the imagination that is one of your great gifts to us. As always, in whatever we do or attempt, may we continue to put our trust in you and the promises you have made to us in Jesus Christ, for it is in his name that we pray. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE

By Pastor Wes Poole

Proverbs 15:1
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. NRSV
James 1:19-20
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. NRSV
Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. NRSV
2nd Corinthians 12:9
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. NRSV

A New York family bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name. “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying-W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.” “But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked. “Well”, the would be cattleman sheepishly replied, “None survived the branding!”
There is no denying right now that we live in fractious times; the pandemic, the election cycle, financial stresses, international unrest and the conflicts that ensue. Anxiety, unfortunately, abounds…and everyone has their own opinions about what is wrong with the world. Like many folks these days, one of the first things I do every morning when I wake up is look at my phone. Do I check my email first? Do I look at the news to see what’s happening in the world? Maybe I should check social media and see what my friends are up to. (Hopefully not arguing politics!) Any of these choices bring with them their own share of stress and angst. Strife, contentiousness, arrogance, self-righteousness, Xenophobia; those unfortunate and destructive elements of human nature that Scripture tries to help us guard against, they always seem to find their way back into the light. No one and nothing seems to be immune, up to and including the Church. How do we, as modern day believers and disciples of Jesus, do our part to bring peace and hope to a world that sometimes seems averse to those very things?

Well, if we take the witness of Scripture seriously, (and of course we should!) the first thing we must try to do is to make our very best effort to let go of the one thing we convince ourselves we need the most…control! What?! You mean I don’t know everything!? You mean I’m not in charge?! You mean I can’t force my truth on others?! Oy vey! Whatever should I do?! Whatever indeed. When we open our Bibles, we see almost immediately what we need: kinder words, more listening, less “righteous” anger, peacemaking, and most of all…reliance on God’s grace. God has given us all that we have. This amazing world, its diversity of people, and the resources it provides are gifts to the humanity God loves so fiercely. St. Paul reminded those early Christians at the church in Corinth that God’s grace is sufficient for all of the troubles of this life. When we manage to relinquish control, and the closely held belief that we always know what is best, we start to see the strength in weakness of which Paul was speaking. To be fair, it’s one of the most difficult things we’re called to do. We in the West are born into a culture that values self-reliance and self-determination. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much focus on the self can blind us to the perspective and needs of the other. The “weakness” Paul lifts up for us isn’t about relinquishing power over our lives, but rather gaining the infinitely greater power of God to address the challenges we face. Yeah, the world sometimes seems like it’s spinning out of control, but make no mistake, God is still God. He is in control, and His grace is sufficient! Hallelujah for that!!

Let us pray…
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen – attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Be well, be kind, be safe, and trust in God always!
Blessings,
Pastor Wes †

THE WORK OF BELIEVING

By Pastor Wes Poole

Galatians 2:16
(St. Paul writes)…yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. NRSV (emphasis added)

James 2:14-17
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. NRSV (emphasis added)

So who is right, St. Paul or St. James? Is it faith that makes us right with God and neighbor, or is it the good works we (hopefully) practice every day? These are age old questions that have sparked theological discussion, and disagreement, for centuries. For the last few weeks in worship, we have read several accounts of Jesus telling parables underscoring the need for the faithful believer to put his or her faith into demonstrable action, AKA Good Works. This proverbial double edged sword was a source of great pain and anguish for Luther, who early in life never felt like he could do enough to earn God’s love and favor. Luther was also quite right, none of us can, but he hadn’t yet seen and grasped the whole picture. His angst and pain continued for years, until in the course of his studies he finally came to understand St. Paul’s assurance that nothing we could ever DO would make us worthy of a perfect God; Christ has already done that for us. Believing in him and the promises he has made to us frees us for a life of service; knowing we can always call upon God to forgive us when we fall short. It is commonly understood that Luther was tempted to leave the Book of James out of his Bible translation, as he thought James’ emphasis on good works negated God’s grace. In the end, he was wise enough to see that each one needed the other. A faithful life is demonstrated by the good we can do in it.

To put in another, more practical way…
A young boy, on an errand for his mother, had just bought a dozen eggs. Walking out of the store, he tripped and dropped the sack. All the eggs broke, and the sidewalk was a mess. The boy tried not to cry. A few people gathered to see if he was OK and to tell him how sorry they were. In the midst of this outpouring of pity, one man handed the boy a quarter. Then he turned to the group and said, “I care 25 cents worth. How much do the rest of you care?” James points out that words don’t mean much if we have the ability to do more.

So how much do we care about our neighbor in need, or the marginalized and discriminated against in our society, or simply the person who is different from us in some way? These are questions we believers must ask ourselves every day as we live, work, and have our being. Jesus modeled for us the life into which he calls us. It is a life of active kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and care for others…all others. In the story above, I would posit that all of the people in it experienced three things that are ever present in the life of the believer: frustration at life’s difficulties and the associated feelings of helplessness, guilt or the feeling of being convicted at our lack of adequate response, and the joy of God’s grace that happens when we receive, or show it to others. Yes…St. Paul, St. James, Jesus Himself, and many others in the witness of scripture are like the man with the quarter. Again, the question persists, how much do we care about our neighbor, our communities, our own church family, or someone far away whose circumstances may not affect us at all? Can we put a number or a price on that care? These are questions we can only answer for ourselves, with God’s help of course. During these admittedly difficult times, when the cares and woes of society can seem too big to be addressed, let us remember that God values even the smallest of our efforts. When we reach out in kindness to others, in any way, we are living out the grace that God has given us in Jesus Christ. No work of love, no matter how small, is ever in vain. As Luther himself wrote, “Good works do not make a good [person], but a good [person] does good works.” This is, again in Luther’s own words, most certainly true! May we strive always to live that truth actively and joyfully.

Let us pray…
God of all goodness, help us to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. Wherever we see need in this world, may our faith compel us to meet that need with the grace and generosity You have shown us in Christ Jesus, for it is in his name that we pray. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe, and be ready to serve!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

HOLY HUMOR

By Pastor Wes Poole

“Humor is by far the most significant activity of the human brain.” – Edward De Bono

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not;
a sense of humor to console him for what he is.” -Francis Bacon

“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” -Dr. Seuss

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” -Psalm 126:2

It’s so easy to get caught up in the troubles and travails of life. Here is a bit of “churchy” humor…and wisdom. We will surely deal with “weightier” matters later. For now, I hope these lighten your heart, as they did mine!

Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited until you try to sit in their pews.
Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisors.
It is easier to preach ten sermons that to live one! (Yea, verily to that one!)
The Good Lord didn’t create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.
When you get to your wit’s end, you’ll find God lives there.
People are funny; they want the front of the bus, the middle of the road, and the back of the church.
Quit griping about your church; if it were perfect, you couldn’t belong!
If the church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has.
God Himself does not propose to judge a person until he or she is dead…why should you?!
(Double AMEN to that one!!)
Peace starts with a smile.
Why do people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?!
We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.
God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.
God loves everyone, but probably prefers “fruits of the spirit” over “religious nuts!”
God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.
The one who angers you, controls you!
If God is your co-pilot…swap seats!!
Don’t give God instructions…just report for duty.
The tasks ahead of us are never as great as the Power behind us. (Another heartfelt AMEN!)
The Will of God never takes you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.
We don’t change the message, the message changes us.
++And with apologies to bishops everywhere…forgive us, Lord, for we have synod!++
Sources unknown.

Let us pray…
God of all happiness and comfort, lighten our hearts with laughter when times grow difficult and joy seems elusive. You have always been a God who promises to turn mourning into dancing and sorrow to rejoicing. Help us to see past the troubles or concerns of any given moment, and put our trust always in You; for we ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

I’ll return next Wednesday with my usual treasure trove of “deep and relevant wisdom”!

Be well, be kind, be safe, and find some time to laugh!

Blessings,
Pastor Wes†

Autumnal Grace

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

No Spring nor Summer beauty hath such grace,
As I have seen in one Autumnal face.
John Donne – The Autumnal

Autumn is, hands down, my favorite time of the year! The grace and beauty of God’s Creation as this season comes upon us is quite inspirational to me. As I feel the weather start to turn colder, and anticipate the leaves beginning to change, I cannot help being caught up in the spirit of the season. From the sights and sounds of children (and many adults!) at Halloween, to the thought of the table loaded with turkey and trimmings at Thanksgiving, to the coming celebrations of Advent and Christmas, I am constantly reminded of how richly God has blessed us. Yes, the pandemic is still with us, with all of its anxiety. Regardless, this is a season of change; a time to step back and take in the wonder of this world God has given us. It is a time to offer to the LORD our thanks and praise for His wondrous Creation.
I find that I have many changes for which to be thankful this autumn: a wonderful new place to worship God, new friends in a caring family of faith, and a future ripe with possibility. In short, I am talking about a new home. A home, simply put, is a place where one belongs. Home stands at the beginning and at the end of our journeys. It is a place of refreshment and rejuvenation. This autumn, after a spring and summer that were, admittedly, not optimal, I find that I am being strengthened and revitalized as Christine, the kids, and I finally begin to live into this next chapter of our lives in such a kind and caring new home. Trusting in God, I am focusing on allowing the Holy Spirit to help me look past the COVID fears, and to appreciate what autumn is showing us this year.
As the season changes, each of our homes represents a special place of warmth and security. Of course, sheltering at home has made that even more significant this year. The kindness and friendship we have received from the good people here have made us feel that Good Shepherd is indeed our new faith home. We may have had a slow start, but I remain hopeful for the future. As the weather keeps growing colder, let us give thanks for the warmth of the spirit of our family of faith. Ours is a spirit that can make Christ known throughout our community and the world. Let us embrace the change that this season represents and keep striving to make a difference in the lives of all people in the name of Jesus Christ. Our Lord is always offering us opportunities for ministry. Let us recommit ourselves to the important work to which Christ has called us.

May the Blessings of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit warm our hearts and guide our steps with the wonder of this season.

Be well, be kind, and be safe, friends!

Your partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes †