Return to The Lord

Our theme this year for Lent will be ‘Return to the Lord’. This is a refrain that comes up throughout Scripture to describe repentance. Inherent in the theme is the fact that we were once God’s. We once lived lives according to His will. Sin, however, separates us from Him. Lent is a time to repent. Lent is a time to leave our sins and return to God our Father. Because of the new life Jesus gives us, our return is celebrated by the LORD.

This year we will be doing something a little different. Some of the other pastors in our circuit will travel to Good Shepherd to lead that day’s service while I travel to one of their churches to do the same. We will still have a morning and evening service and both will be led by the same pastor. For instance, on March 11th Pastor Griffin from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lockwood will come here to preach both the 11:00 am and 7:00 pm services (and I will go to Lockwood to preach at their 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm services). This kind of a setup (often referred to as a “round robin”) gives pastors the opportunity to focus on fewer sermons and hearers the opportunity to experience a variety of faithful pastors. God’s blessing to you as we return to the Lord this Lent.

Ash WednesdayReturn to the Lord in ServanthoodPastor Mehl
March 4Return to the Lord in WitnessPastor Mehl
March 11Return to the Lord in ObediencePastor Griffin
(from Lockwood)
March 18Return to the Lord in PeacePastor Backs
(from Stockton)
March 25Return to the Lord in Godly FearPastor Mehl
April 1Return to the Lord in Carrying the CrossPastor Griffin
April 9 ( Holy Thursday)Return to the Lord in Christian UnityPastor Mehl
April 10 (Good Friday)Return to the Lord with Renewed FaithPastor Schnackenberg
April 12 (Easter Sunrise)Return to the Lord in Confident HopePastor Mehl

The Presentation

On February 2nd there will be a rather significant presentation. It will be something that many people have waited a long time for, generations even. And yet it is something that happens every year. I write, of course, about the presentation of our Lord which the church observes on February 2nd every year. It is the time when “[Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22) This is what God had commanded His people to do back in the Old Testament. The idea was that the first-born son of a family would be dedicated to the Lord. Now this did not mean that the kid would then be destined for church work necessarily. It meant that the child needed to be redeemed from the Lord by a sacrifice. Luke tells us that the sacrifice was two turtledoves or two pigeons.

This is interesting in Jesus’ case because He is God and the redemption aspect of His presentation in the temple gets murky. What can be said with confidence is that Jesus was following the rules. He was following the rules that God had set down for His people to follow years ago. As Jesus Himself says, He came not to abolish the Law and prophets but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

This makes sense when we think about salvation through the lens of Jesus paying the price of our sins    on the cross. He paid with a perfect life, a life that followed all the rules. At first glance, it seems like the presentation of Jesus would be Him being presented to us. While there is an aspect of that in this presentation, the act of presenting a child to God (the Father) is really what the law was about.

You may not think much about Jesus’ presentation in the temple as a month-old baby. But now you are, and it is a good time to think about how Jesus has given His perfect life in exchange for your own. It is also a good time to think about your own presentation to the Lord. You may or may not be a first-born son but you are still the Lord’s. He has claimed you and made you His own through baptism and His word of salvation.

Jesus presented God with a perfect life. That debt has been paid and it a good thing because we couldn’t pay it ourselves. But what about now? Now that you have already been given salvation, what will you present to God? What gifts has God given you? What are you good at? What do you do that can be helpful for other people? How can you show God’s love?

It’s something to think about at all times; before, during, and after the presentation on February 2nd.

~ Pastor Mehl

The Visitation

This painting is “The Visitation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner. It depicts Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth while both are miraculously pregnant with Jesus and John the Baptist, respectively. We are used to depictions of biblical   figures, especially Jesus’ mother, where the subject is outstanding in some way. Plenty of artists depicting biblical scenes will give Jesus or other prominent figures (such as “saints”) a halo or some such thing in order to distinguish them from other, more common, folk. Occasionally, someone like Mary will be engaged in some very pious activity like studying scripture or praying. I guess it would not do to have Gabriel visit her while she is eating or tending a fire or sitting there doing nothing. While it makes for an interesting piece of art, I think it also puts a bit of distance between us and the biblical character when we see them as somehow holier or more pious than we are or could ever be. We see the picture and think that that person must live a life that is completely different than mine and I cannot relate to it at all.

In “The Visitation,” we have a scene that depicts clothing and architecture that we may be unfamiliar with but everything else seems relatable enough. Elizabeth looks like she is sitting down to a meal or a snack or something (she’s 6 months pregnant so maybe Zechariah just got back from the store with those oranges and pickled beets Liz was craving). In comes cousin Mary to greet Elizabeth and the scene we have is the expression on her face. Luke records it this way, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)

Tanner was born in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800s so, he’s not painting this from memory. This is his depiction of what things might have looked like when an extraordinary set of circumstances come upon otherwise normal people. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls Mary’s child her Lord and unborn John leaps for joy in His presence. This is the first time Jesus, God in the flesh, is called ‘Lord’ by mankind and is worshiped as such.

There is a lot going on this time of year. As I write this it is the eve of Christmas. Soon it will be the start of a new year. We may pause to think about the gifts God has given us in the past year and the gifts God has given us through His Son. Mary and Elizabeth, I’m sure, paused to reflect on the things that God had given them and what God was going to do in the future. Yet, all the while, they had no choice but to do these things as normal everyday people who had to eat and sleep and live their lives.

As you live your life, as you eat and sleep and do whatever you do, you may think of yourself as an ordinary person. When you see pictures of yourself there may not be a halo around your head but just the same, God has given you extraordinary gifts. He has and is doing extraordinary things to you, and through you. Those pictures of you without a halo do not mean that you are not filled with the Holy Spirit. You are. God is with you when you sit down to eat, when you lay down to sleep and when you open your mouth to give Him praise. This coming year, live your ordinary looking life with the knowledge that God has made you extraordinary by giving his Son and His Spirit to Mary, to Elizabeth and to you. Happy New Year.

~ Pastor Mehl

All Saints

November 1st is All Saints day. That works out well when the first falls on a Sunday but it is an important enough holiday in the Church that we observe it on the Sunday following November 1st when that day is not a Sunday. Often the takeaway for Christians like you and me is that there are people in the past who lived good (though still sinful) lives and that we have something to learn from the good they did. Also, a particularly Lutheran perspective would be that all Christians are saints because they have been redeemed by Christ. This thinking follows the line that a saint is someone who is perfect and you and I are prefect because Jesus has redeemed us by His blood, therefore we are saints.

Another facet of this jewel that I would like to talk about with you briefly is the fact that all saints are different people and yet are one in Christ. This is a reality that is captured by the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed; ‘communion of saints’. This does not mean that we somehow benefit when the saints up in heaven take communion or something. It refers to the unity of the saints, the unity of all believers. Of course, there are more saints who are dead than are alive. We are clearly not united with past believers in life but we are still united with them in faith. This is something that happens any time we have faith which, I trust, is pretty much all the time for you. But this communion of saints is even more poignant during the sacrament of the altar.

The ‘Preface’, which is that paragraph I read right after the start of the Service of the Sacrament, ends with this sentence; “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying…”. That “all the company of heaven” part really encompasses a lot of people, including angels even. Though angels are not saints. When we take communion, it is not just a sign of unity with those who are taking communion with us it is sign of unity with those who have ever taken communion. It is a sign of unity with Christ Himself, and by extension all believers in Christ.

So, in a Law sense, we should make sure that we are right with not just the people communing at the rail with us but with all people, now and in the past, who have ever communed at any altar. (And by ‘right’ I mean you have forgiven them and do not hold a grudge against them or something.) From more of a gospel perspective, we get to be united with our believing friends and family who have passed away when we take communion. This happens every time we take communion, not just on All Saints day.

It is hard for me to imagine so large a group of people who are so united in any other way outside of the Church. There are large groups of people out there for sure. There are large countries and large movements encompassing large ideologies out there but they often fall apart because people are so different and are able to find an infinite number of things about which to disagree. That is one of the more surprising and wonderful parts of the ‘communion of saints’. All saints are saints because of what Christ has done for us. Though we are very different people who have lived in very different times and places, though we have different views and preferences, we are all saints. We are all united because Christ unites us. He makes us all saints.

~ Pastor Mehl