DISCIPLESHIP DURING TROUBLING TIMES

By Pastor Wes Poole

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

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. – Isaac Asimov, Foundation

If you hate a person, then you are defeated by them. – Confucius

Matthew 22:35–40  …a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – NRSV

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Like many of us, I have been transfixed in horror at the events of this past week. Last Wednesday we watched, in real time, a scenario which heretofore most of us would have only thought possible in the so-called Third World. We saw fellow Americans, motivated by anger and hatred, attempt to inflict violence on our elected officials, vandalize our Capitol Building, and attack other citizens. This violence caused the death of six people to date, and is fanning the flames of acrimony and division that we, as a nation already stressed out by pandemic fatigue and a contentious election, have been experiencing over the past year. I am not given to participating in partisan political debates in my official duties as a called and ordained pastor, and I will not do so now. However, this does not mean that we in the Church do not have something to say and demonstrate to our fellow Americans as we go forward.

An author for Reader’s Digest writes how he studied the Amish people in preparation for an article on them. In his observation at the school yard, he noted that the children never screamed or yelled. This amazed him. He spoke to the schoolmaster. He remarked how he had not once heard an Amish child yell, and asked why the schoolmaster thought that was so. The schoolmaster replied, “Well, have you ever heard an Amish adult yell?” 

I think we, as Christians at this fraught time in history, have something to learn from those Amish parents. Actions, particularly in the form of good examples, truly speak louder than words. It’s not that we in the Church can’t have deeply or passionately held political convictions. I certainly do! The way we relate to people who may not share our opinions though…that we can use as a powerful witness to a world that needs to experience the love and kindness that Jesus expects of his Church. Anger is an unavoidable emotion. Sometimes, that anger may even be considered righteous or justified. One thing is certain though, Jesus taught us that it is never OK to hate our neighbor! In the congregation, it can be as simple as being slow to criticize one another when something or someone may not meet with our approval or live up to our own arbitrary expectations. “Out there”, it means modeling those “fruits of the spirit” St. Paul lifted up for us in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Just think about how different last week would have looked had those fruits been operative! To be sure, we Christians have our work cut out for us in this often troubled world, but that is exactly why Jesus has commissioned us as ministers in his Holy Church, and set us loose on said troubled world. I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, but maybe we could all, as a family of faith, commit ourselves in the coming year to be kinder, more loving, and more Christ like in our relationships, in or out of the church. The results are transformative…and as Jesus said, everything depends on it!

Let us pray…

God of all goodness, we come to you at this difficult time in the life of our nation, and ask that you make of us ever kinder and more patient. May we be slow to judge and quick to try to understand. As Your Son has shown us, loving You and each other are the two most important tasks of a disciple. Help us to be a people committed to this principle in all of our relationships. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings,

Pastor Wes †

TO EPIPHANY…AND BEYOND!

By Pastor Wes Poole

2 Corinthians 4:6-7   For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. NRSV

As is usual this time of the year, I find myself looking to the months ahead. There is a certain rhythm to congregational life; a consistency and predictability that is familiar and comfortable. Of course, we all know now just how quickly such notions of normalcy can be irrevocably changed. As I write this, it is the very last day of Christmas. Tomorrow, when you are hopefully reading this, is the traditional celebration of the Epiphany. Easter isn’t until early April, so we have these important weeks after the Epiphany to continue to ponder God’s gift of Himself as the Light of the World. This year, in just about a week actually, my son Ian will turn 18. Looking back across those 18 years, I remember so clearly how those images of Epiphany, light, hope, and the possibilities of new life, resonated for me then. Perhaps this year, as we look to move past the difficulties of 2020 and the real hope that 2021 brings, taking extra time to focus on the transcendence of God’s Light piercing the darkness will prove to be even more beneficial.

Yes, the images of God’s Light shining in the darkness of our lives are quite powerful. They offer us a great insight into God and ourselves. In some of his most poignant writing, St. Paul gives us a beautiful discourse on God’s Light and how it is reflected in all our lives. God has “shone in our hearts” that we might catch a glimpse of His true glory. God’s light outshines any darkness. We have only to turn its beam in the right direction to watch what happens as the power of God overcomes all that sin would produce.

One of the other potent insights Paul gives us in this familiar passage is a picture of our humanity and how that is used by the God who created and cherishes us.  As God’s faithful ministers and co-workers, we are charged with the task of bearing His light; illuminating the dark corners of sin and death and bringing hope in the face of despair. Yet Paul says “that we have this treasure in clay jars”; not golden chests or jewel encrusted bowls, but common, breakable clay. We are like the clay jars. Through the cracks that appear in us, the light, which is the love of God, shines through; proving once again that some of God’s greatest works are done with the most ordinary parts of His Creation. That is Good News for us and for anyone else who sees the light shining through us. God accepts us, cracks and all, and allows us to take part in His Plan for all of Creation. As we move through these next few months and once again look towards the more somber season of Lent, let us remember that we are still God’s instruments of light and love; shining beacons of hope for a world that could use a bit more illumination. Shine the light and show others the way to the Father!

May the brightness of Almighty God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit allow us continually to turn darkness to light and sin into new life.

Let us pray…

God of Epiphany light, we realize that we, like the times we live in, do not always live up to potential or expectations. Help us acknowledge the cracks in ourselves, and offer them to you. As Paul reminds us, Your Light shines even through our own sin and imperfections. Keep us ever mindful You always value our efforts, and continually provide us the forgiveness and strength we need to carry on. We ask these things in the Name of Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Epiphany Blessings,

Pastor Wes †

NEW YEAR, NEW CHALLENGES, NEW EXPECTATIONS

By Pastor Wes Poole

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. NRSV

Happy New Year! Of course that’s the traditional greeting for this time of year and it is truly an appropriate one.  2021 is facing some serious expectations from all of us! 2020, has been tough. There’s no sense in trying to claim otherwise. Still, hope abides for the New Year. As is always the case, the old makes way for the new. Past experiences, both good and bad, are put aside as we ponder yet another year in ministry together. We should be happy about it! We’ve just celebrated one of the holiest and most festive times of the year. To be sure, it looked and sounded a bit different this year, but the glory of Christmas is still that one small life, born in a stable in Bethlehem; that one small life that banished darkness and sin forever. We bask in the reflected light of God’s love in Jesus Christ. The coming season of Epiphany is all about light; true, physical light that illuminates the season and the light of new understanding that comes with the knowledge of our salvation.`

The New Year will no doubt bring with it many joys and sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. That will be no different for us as a family of faith. The people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church will experience all of the highs and lows that life has to offer as we minister to God’s people in yet another New Year. What I pray we can remember is that the wonder of Christmas, the wonder of that little child, Emmanuel, God with us will not diminish as the year moves on. God love is not seasonal. He does not come to us at Christmas only to abandon us for the remainder of the year. God is always there, through Word and Water, Bread and Wine, Community and Fellowship. The Holy Spirit is blowing through and around us, constantly inspiring us to new and greater deeds in Jesus’ Name. In short, there is still plenty to do as we seek to live faithfully…and all of it helps to make the New Year a truly happy one. May we look fearlessly to our future and embrace the challenges God sets before us. We have but to trust in Him to see the miraculous happen!!

May Almighty God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continue to show us the joy of service in the coming year.

Let us pray…

Once again, you have shown how your light shines in the darkness. As we turn from celebrating the wonder of your Incarnation to pondering the needs and challenges of the coming year, help us to continue being Christ in the World; serving our neighbors and reflecting your love around us. Anywhere we see need, merciful Lord, give us the strength and vision to meet it. We pray these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.

Blessings Always,

Pastor Wes †

LOOKING AHEAD

By Pastor Wes Poole

Ecclesiastes 3:1 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”  NRSV

…and it may seem as though our favorite festive season has blown right by us yet another year. As I write this, Christmas is three days away. Soon the Christmas Trees will, for the most part, be taken down; the ornaments and decorations stored for the year. The bright paper and ribbons will have made their way to the trash. The kids’ toys will likely already be half broken and all we’ll have to look forward to is the “boring” month of January and holiday bills coming due! “So, what’s your problem, pastor!?!” you might say.  “Are you trying to induce early post holiday depression!?!?”

No, I’m really not trying to depress anyone. I’m just recounting a common attitude that is prevalent during the post holiday months. It can seem almost like we have been let down; that the “high” of Advent and Christmas has simply been replaced by the same tired old routine of life. Well, it’s true that we can’t live at Christmas all of the time. Even the celebration of Christmas itself has had to be adjusted this year for the realities of the pandemic. Nevertheless, regardless of how they are experienced, all of life’s mountaintop experiences must end so we can put those experiences to good use. Advent and Christmas are no different. Through the celebration of our Lord’s Incarnation among us as a little child, we are put in a better position to face the coming year with the confidence and determination that comes from hearing that transcendent Good News. Accordingly, there is still work to be done! “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (That verse may well be one of the most useful in scripture!!!) The post holiday months need not be seen as uninteresting or lackluster. God has given us ministry to do and lives to live!  Our Lord is still calling to us all to place our very selves in His care and to continue the work He started with a baby in a manger so many centuries ago. There’s no time for boredom! The Lord and His Holy Church have need of us! As we approach the end of this admittedly difficult year and ponder the one ahead, I pray that we not lose sight of the ministry to which God called us. If you see your neighbor in need, and can help, please do so! If your financial situation permits, I would also ask that you remember your Good Shepherd family as well, as it has been a financially challenging time for the church at all levels. Regardless, God, in Jesus Christ has promised to be with us always; helping us through the “lows” of life and rejoicing with us in our successes. Is Christmas over all too soon? Well maybe, but there is plenty to keep us busy in the coming year. Let us strive to meet the opportunities God places before us with open hands and willing hearts.

May the power of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invigorate us and comfort us as we rise to answer God’s invitation to service.

Let us pray…

God of Joy and Light, we come to you during this blessed season to ask that you fan the flames of our faith and help us recommit to the challenges of the coming year. We know that through easy or difficult times, you never leave us alone to our own devices. Help us always to take the Light you bring and shine it into the dark places; bringing hope and peace wherever it is needed. We also raise up to you prayers for health, healing, and continued hope in the New Year. We pray these things in the Name of Jesus, God Incarnate. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.

Blessings Always,

Pastor Wes †

GOD’S GIFT OF SELF

By Pastor Wes Poole

John 1:14

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, 

the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. NRSV

The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding. 

Martin Luther, Table Talk.

From my illustration archives…

Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, “I am your king!” The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the coarse food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!”

God is willing to make most any accommodation to have fellowship with us. Even becoming human.

_______

God is willing to make most any accommodation for us. What an amazing truth! This God we worship simply will not tolerate a diminished relationship with His cherished children. With all that we celebrate during the “holiday season”, this is perhaps the most profound of God’s gifts. In the church, we call it the Incarnation, the “Word living among us” as John the Evangelist reminds us in that deeply theological first chapter. Of course, with the two millennia of hindsight we enjoy, we know the true breadth of that gift. What will culminate at Easter began in that stable in Bethlehem. I think it is also important that we take note of just how God chose to come among us. While the Son of God could have legitimately become incarnate with great fanfare and splendor, he chose poverty and the humblest of circumstances. Strength through weakness, power through humility and service; these were the hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the example he set for us all. While the need to serve our neighbor and relive the plight of the poor will always be at the heart of faithful, Christian ministry, 2020 has brought into extra high relief that perpetual need. Like the innkeeper who provided the Holy Family with what he was able, so do we look around us, see the needs of our brothers and sisters in our communities and beyond, and do what we can to meet those needs in the Name of Jesus. There is no greater witness to the eternal truth we celebrate at Christmas. God has given the gift of Himself. May we also continue to give of ourselves; making the glad tidings of Jesus and his love known to all people! 

Let us pray…

Incarnate God, you came among us to show us the way to live in service to you and our neighbor. Through your Incarnation, you showed us the truest examples of love and self-giving. As we celebrate your nativity at Christmas, help us never to lose sight of the plight of the poor and needy. The Holy Family depended on the kindness of others. May our lives and our good works show the world that all people can depend on us. We ask these things in the Name of Jesus, Our Lord Immanuel. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings,

Pastor Wes †

EXPECTO ADVENTUM

By Pastor Wes Poole

Luke 2: 10-11

 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. – NRSV

The seasons of Advent and Christmas are times I really cherish.  The warmth of a loving God, revealed to us in the birth of His son, is made all the clearer to us as we celebrate together in the brisk cold of our Northeastern Winter. The weeks prior to Christmas are filled with a living tension and expectancy. God is coming!! After this, everything will be different. Even the festive, secular, and often overly commercial side of the season merely seems to add to the wonder, the beauty, and the sheer magic of this most blessed of celebrations.  

I recently watched, for the umpteenth time, one of my favorite movies, based on one of my favorite book series’, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Now many of you may think that’s a strange place to go for inspiration in writing an Advent devotion. Perhaps, but one thing I always take away from the film, which was very close to the book, was the sense of wonder in the eyes of the main character. Young Harry’s entire world was changed practically overnight. The dreary, joyless life he had led heretofore was transformed into one of limitless possibility and continual amazement. The look of pure, unadulterated delight in Harry’s eyes as his new life unfolded was poignant and quite touching. This is the look that can be seen in the eyes of the believer when we realize that God, in the person of a helpless little child, has transformed our existence into something new and wonderful. Life as it was known before is no longer. Now we see everything in the context of our new life in Jesus Christ.  

As we travel together the journey of Advent towards the miracle of Christmas, I hope we can capture some of the breathless amazement at the blessings our God has given us. Yes, this will be a Christmas like no other. COVID, once again, is forcing us to do things differently to keep one another safe. Nevertheless, COVID cannot change the fact that we are a family of faith, united together in the great hope that was first realized in a stable in Bethlehem. God has come among us and has changed us. Sin’s attempts to enslave us have been rendered futile and we have been set free to tell God’s story to the world. Let us stir up in ourselves and in those around us the wonder that is Christmas. It is the most miraculous story ever told. May we always tell it with the delight and wonder of a child!

And may Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit grant us a truly blessed celebration of His Son’s Nativity.

Let us pray…

God of all wonder and joy, we come to you in this most blessed of seasons to give you thanks for the advent of Immanuel in our lives. Help us always to show others the way to joy of living life in the light of your grace; shown in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is in his name we pray. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe, and be joyful! Immanuel is coming!

Blessings always,

Pastor Wes †

HOLIDAY PERSPECTIVE

By Pastor Wes Poole

Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. NRSV

’Tis the Season!” once again!  Advent Hymns (sung in the silence of my heart!), gold tinsel, Christmas Shopping, Advent Calendars, houses decked out with lights and assorted finery, churches adorned with Chrismons and greenery, Christmas Carols (timely or no!), and the positively over the top festivity that is the “Holiday Season”!  With all the different activities going on this time of year, I suppose it would be easy for the season to develop a bit of an identity crisis…and I guess it does for many people. For me though, I just try to keep one thing in the center of it all…the Godchild, Immanuel, God who is with us being born among us…Jesus Christ the Savior of humanity and the ultimate hope for all people. That is the Spirit of Christmas. Nothing at all, neither pandemics nor purchasing pandemonium can change that. When we realize that and allow it to permeate the tone of this truly merry season, we don’t have to deplore or feel guilty about all of the secular trappings that come along for the ride. I love everything about Christmas…OK, so I’m not too crazy about over crowded malls and the hyper shopping that’s part of that…but that’s just my problem…and this year is all about online shopping anyway!! ☺ 

For the Christian, the period of transition starting with Advent and continuing through Christmas and Epiphany cannot be underestimated. Now is the time when we hear again and ponder the amazing beginnings of the Story of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Story of God coming among us and changing the way we see our place in Creation. Because of the One whose birth we will soon celebrate, we have been put right with God and set loose on a world whose people still need to hear the Story told over and over again. We’re the ones who are now charged with keeping the Story alive and proclaiming it to all of our brothers and sisters. It begins now, in this watchful season we call Advent and continues throughout the year as Story unfolds…birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. It is the Life Cycle of the church; the Life Cycle of our faith. In this most festive of times, let us rededicate ourselves to the ongoing journey that is our life of faith.  

May the blessed and joyous spirit of this holy season inspire us to serve faithfully all year long!

Let us pray…

God who is with us, we thank you for this time of celebration and preparation, as we look for the coming of the baby in the manger. During the festive nature of this season, grant us generous hearts and a renewed zeal for service in the coming year. May we see the radiant face of your Son in the faces of our brothers and sisters everywhere; that we might continue to reach out to others in his Name. For it is in the Name of Jesus the Immanuel that we pray. Amen.

Be well, be kind, be safe, and enjoy this blessed season!

Your Partner in Christ,

Pastor Wes†

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 †