From the Pastor's Desk:
Today is Pentecost, the day that Christians remember and celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus' disciples exactly fifty days after his Resurrection. Since our focus is on the Holy Spirit, I would like to begin by talking about "spirits" in general. There are many ways to talk about what we mean by the word "spirit," but to keep it simple, let's say that there are three basic categories of spirit.
First of all, there is the human spirit. The human spirit is what inspires art, literature and music. The human spirit unites families, communities and nations together. It also inspires human progress in learning, science, law, medicine, and industry. Beyond human spirit, there are "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places". (Ephesians 6:12) In the Bible, these forces are most often evident in the actions of demons and the devil, but they also include what are called "rulers", "authorities" and "powers". These forces of evil work through individuals, but also through human institutions of all kinds, from families to nations, to the whole human race.
The third category of spirit is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the one brooding over creation in Genesis 1. The Holy Spirit is the one who anointed Jesus at his baptism, and led him into the wilderness. Jesus was raised from the dead in the power of the Spirit. It is the same Holy Spirit who was poured out on the disciples on Pentecost. It is through the power of the Spirit that we are able to confess that Jesus is Lord and who gives us the power to cry, "Abba, Father."
The events of this past week were a stark reminder of the reality of evil in our world. I am speaking specifically of the death of George Floyd and of the riots that have erupted in Minneapolis and throughout the nation. If you have seen the video of Mr. Floyd's death or read reports about it, the most appropriate reaction is shock and horror. I am at a loss for words to describe it. As a result of his death, protests began in Minneapolis calling for justice and reform.
However, peaceful protests where quickly taken over by rioters who appeared bent on random destruction. Dozens of stores and even a police precinct were burned down. Both the depraved indifference to human life that resulted in a death and the gleeful destruction of private and public property can only be described as evil. (Again, I distinguish between protestors and the people looting, vandalism, and arson.) Our country has already been under a great deal of stress for the past three months because of the COVID-19 virus.
As I write this, it is not clear whether the violence we saw last week will continue to spread or not.
At a time like this, one of the most dangerous things is to deny the presence of evil in our world. Each one of us has evil within. Often times we are not conscious of it until it breaks out in certain kinds of behaviors. The Christian faith is realistic about this. The word we use for it is sin. Sin is not just imperfection, it is a willful rebellion against God's will. Since evil is a spiritual force, however, it doesn't just reside in individuals. It resides in groups of people. It is often evident in mob behavior, but even whole societies and cultures can be permeated by it. It was evident in Nazism and Communism, but it also hits closer to home. In America, this kind of spiritual evil has been most evident in racism.
There is good news for us, however. The first sermon Jesus ever preached consisted of one sentence, "Repent and believe the good news." First of all, we need to recognize that no one is immune to the power of evil. We are all capable of falling into the hands of the evil one. We do not commit grave evils like murder or wanton destruction, but we do have evil in our lives. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
Secondly, we need to believe and act on the good news. Jesus came to deliver us from evil. Before he began his ministry, he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. As soon as his ministry began, Jesus began not only to teach and heal, but to cast out evil spirits. On the cross he won a decisive victory against all the forces of evil. (Colossians 2:15) Finally, on Pentecost, he continued his work by sending the Holy Spirit.
One way to think about the work of the Holy Spirit, it to see it as driving the spiritual forces of evil out of people and out of the world. Where the Holy Spirit abides, evil cannot abide, and vice versa. Jesus told his disciples that after sending the Holy Spirit on them, they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. That work continues to this very day, and will continue until Jesus returns. Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit fills people with faith, hope and love. The Holy Spirit forgives sins and frees people from the power of death. The Holy Spirit creates a new humanity and a new community, breaking down dividing walls of hostility between people. The Church is meant to be a sign and an outpost of this new Spiritual Community in the world.
We live in very dangerous times. It is very easy these days to be overcome by despair, or to let anger and resentment turn into hatred. More and more we seem to be divided politically, socially, economically and racially. Every time we make a choice, we need to ask ourselves, "What kind of spirit am I inviting into my life?" Jesus has won the decisive battle over evil for us. He wants to fill us with his Holy Spirit. Will we let him? Will we let him drive evil out of our hearts and our lives? The first step is the same as it was on the first Pentecost when Peter said,
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. (Acts 2:38-39)
St. Paul's foreign missionary, Rev. Kristin Engstrom, has been caught up in the coronavirus pandemic. In February, she wrote St Paul to tell us that she would visit our church and school on the last Sunday of March. She planned to tell us about her missionary work for the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Missions. She would also tell us about Senegal, where she lived and worked, and her experiences and interactions with the people of Senegal. About two weeks before she was scheduled to come, she informed us that she could not come, she could not travel. In order to stop the coronavirus, nations had stopped all air travel, in hope that it would prevent the further spread of the virus. Pastor Kristin will have to remain in Senegal until the coronavirus plays out. It is probably not Senegal that restricted air travel. To return to the United States, Pastor Kristin would first have to go to Europe, and then fly to the USA. It is the USA and the European countries that placed the restrictions on air travel in and out of their countries. Pastor Kristin has not told us if there are cases of coronavirus in Senegal. Nor do the news outlets report on the virus in Africa. Since the virus is world-wide, it must also be in Africa. As African countries are not as well developed as the USA and Europe, the coronavirus can spread there more quickly. Let us pray for Pastor Kristin Engstrom and her missionary work in Senegal. Let us continue to support her with our gifts to Missionary Support.
Help the Chinese Christians
China is a large country with a population of over one billion. It has made great advances in production and technology during the past seventy years. China may soon surpass the United States in production. Although not as rapid as in previous years, China's gross national output is increasing. However, China's prosperity is not evenly distributed. The country's growth and prosperity has taken place mainly in the wealthier, populated, large coastal cities and provinces. China's rural, poor, interior provinces have had little growth. They have not shared in the new prosperity. With limited resources, the Chinese government has been able to do little to improve the interior providences. The Chinese government has realized that it cannot do everything for all citizens. The government has recognized that it needs help from others to improve the poor rural providences. They are asking and allowing Christian medical and service organizations to come to rural China and help the poor people. One such organization going to China is China Service Ventures. CSV's has programs that include sending English teachers to rural schools, providing milk supplements and medical help to school children, building student dormitories, organizing student summer camps, supplying medical teachers to nursing schools, and distributing Bibles and religious tracts. CSV is presently a legal Chinese company which gives it status in China. Let us pray for this Christian organization, China Service Ventures, as they bring Christian faith and help to the rural people of China. Let us help support this special ministry by giving our gifts to Mission Outreach.
LUTHERAN MEN In MISSION
The LMM monthly Bible Study and Breakfast will be Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 A. M. in the Parish Hall. We are continuing the Course on "Spirituality." This is the sixth and final session where we will be discussing the subject "Spiritual Basics: Becoming a Christian." The Bible study topic is "What Does It Cost? 'Pressing on toward the goal'" (Philippians 3:12-4:1). This Bible Study will follow Option 2: Advanced: Teaching with Margin Questions.
Philippians 3:12-4:1 (ESV): Straining Toward the Goal
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 4 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
In this Scripture passage, Paul is telling the Philippians (and us) that his relationship with Christ is not yet complete, not perfect. He recognizes that he doesn't "know Christ" the way he wants to. Since Paul has "not already obtained all this," his strategy is to: Press on! Paul recognizes his responsibility of pursuing greater personal, experiential knowledge of, intimacy with, and conformity to Christ- and holiness. Paul states that he does not look back, but rather "strains toward what is ahead." He is in pursuit of new goals in becoming more like Christ.
Paul exhorts the Philippians (and each of us) to walk as a Christian-live "a life worthy of the calling you have received." He also says, "follow my example." His encouragement is about following Christ and His truth-which he was following.
In Verse 4:1, because of the promise that we will be transformed to be like Jesus (Verse 3:21) Paul says we must stand firm in the Lord. This presents an interesting paradox -we can only "stand firm in the Lord" by "pressing on" to become more like Him. Christians not moving forward are really falling backward whether they realize it or not. It's impossible to stand still in the Lord.
Discussion will focus on what God expects of us -- to "press on" just like Paul. Our Christian life is not just about getting to heaven. It's all about the journey: persevering, and leading our lives aiming at the prize. Just like Paul, we should have one clearly defined goal: getting to know Christ better and better. How do we do that? Are we staying on track? If we stray from the path, how do we get back?
All men of the congregation are invited to attend.
The office will be open from 8:30AM - 1:00PM Monday-Friday. Laura and Patti have longer hours than that, but I want to keep the traffic limited in the office for the time being. Pastor intends to work hours in conjunction with the open hours. Laura will be there Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Patti will be there Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The office doors locked, so please call the office before you arrive to make sure someone is there to let you in.
New Way to Sign Up for Volunteering and Flowers on the Altar
There is a new way to volunteer for Worship Assistance and to sign up for Flowers on the Altar. Click the link below and check on the box for the activity you would like to sign up for. Once you've checked the box, you will be required to register. Here is the link to volunteer:
There are a few slots open in June and July if you would like to sign up for Flowers on the Altar. Click on the date you would like, register, and I've also requested an email be sent to the office so we can state who is donating the flowers and why. Here's the link do purchase flowers:
TATTERED AMERICAN FLAGS
If you have a worn out, tattered, or faded US flag you need to properly dispose of, you can bring it to the church and Don Cleveland will deliver it to his Veterans of Foreign Wars Post for a proper and respectful disposal.
Community Pastoral Counseling
A ministry of St. Paul Lutheran Church and School
Rev. Robert R. Lutz, PhD Diplomate
American Association of Pastoral Counselors
Call 850-843-3083 for Information or to make an appointment