Dear Partners in Ministry,
Of all the gifts you have either given or received, which have brought you the most joy and contentment? I believe that true happiness comes from giving, and this is the example given to us by our Father.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
If this is true, then what happens when I am timid in challenging you to give? Aren’t I really blocking you from knowing true happiness?
This last Sunday, November 20th, “Christ the King Sunday”, ended the church year for 2016. We heard the gospel reading retelling the conversation of the two thieves on their crosses beside Jesus at the Crucifixion on that first, “Good Friday.” The one railed at Jesus, “if you are the Christ then save yourself and us.” The other, literally breaking stride with his partner in crime, denounced him, restating Christ’s innocence and imploring Christ’s forgiveness. When we are reacquainted with this portion of scripture and connect these words to our lives, we might ask ourselves what are the significant events in our lives that challenge the choices we make; and in real life, if there were “take backs” or “replays”, what changes would we make?
We live in a video game culture where if you fail to succeed, you merely hit a button that returns you to a previous moment in the game where you can continue from that spot with no real consequences. It is like the undo button on our computers that painlessly removes our errors and returns us to an earlier moment. However, in real life, there is no return button and consequences do exist for our choices. One has to wonder if the thief that railed at Jesus in his final moments on this earth would have made a different choice knowing the consequences. For, as the following story articulates, it is through the learning process of our choices that defines who and what we are. An interesting perspective is contained in William Boggs book titled Sin Boldly: But Trust God More Boldly Still.
A seeker after truth came to a saint for guidance.
'Tell me please, wise one, how did you become holy?'
'And what are they, please?'
'And how does one learn to choose correctly?'
'May I know it, please?'
'How does one grow?'
'What are those words, pray tell me?'
This week marks the beginning of a new church year. If it were the secular New Year on December 31st, we would be talking about New Year’s resolutions, but I believe that it is much more significant if we talk about choices rather than resolutions. Do you know that you are needed here at (fill in your church _______________)? Your time and energy, your gifts and abilities, and your financial resources are needed. In other words, parts of your total being are needed for our ministry to grow and flourish; and this, from my experience, is when we as individuals are the happiest and most fulfilled.
In the days and weeks to come, you will hear the stories of the angels and shepherds singing and praising God, Mary praying and stars leading wise men as the mystery and majesty of Christmas unfolds. But are these the sounds of Christmas that will abound all around us -- in our homes, in our places of business, where we shop, and most everywhere we travel in recreation. We will hear and experience the clatter of Christmas. The media, through television, radio, junk mail, catalogs, even our computer pop-ups, will bombard us with temptations. The question is will they truly be the sounds of Christ’s birth or merely more distraction adding to the chaos of our already overwhelmed and fractured lives? There is a choice to be made. Like the thieves on the cross with Jesus, one gave way to the clamor and chaos happening around him, and the other chose to see the majesty of the moment and consequences of his choice.
That same choice is ours each day, and like the saint in the story above, we can learn from our previous “wrong choices” how to make “right choices.” Frequently, we need nudged and challenged.
Here is one for you to smile at. A while back, I heard of a church just north of Pittsburgh, offering a chance at a $1,000.00 shopping spree if they attended worship on this particular Sunday. Not bad, eh? Ironically, in a world where everyone is looking for a bargain, sale, or angle, this could be perceived as a good idea. Well, the world, with all of its colorful brochures and jingles, works very hard to get you to misrepresent the meaning of the season; but I can see Jesus nodding his head one more time saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In your preparation for Christmas, if you really want to give a gift that makes a difference, we welcome you to join us and share your walk of faith. Included within your newsletter are numerous opportunities where we will gather, planting and nurturing the seeds of faith that are growing within us, and our community, both for this season and for years to come. The choice is yours. Make this a very special Christmas and give the gift that really makes a difference.
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor John J. Gropp
P.S. In Closing, Pastors Beth, Melba, Dona, Elizabeth, Paul, John, and Vicar Karyn wish each of you and yours a very Blessed and Merry Christmas.
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773