Arise, shine, for your light has come… Is. 60:1a
Rise and shine! Have there ever been more hated words? You’re all snuggled in and comfy, ready to burrow in for another round of sleep, and then some cheery, peppy person not only wants to drag you out of your warm bed but expects you to have a sunny attitude about it. Nevertheless, we Christians, at the beginning of a new day, a new year, and semester, will arise and shine. We arise like plants in spring, not by our own power but in response to the warmth and light of the sun. We will shine like ornaments on a Christmas tree, not by our own light but by the power of the light that shines on us. It is what we are called and empowered to do by God’s Word.
This week our staff will be “planning” for the coming year. I put planning in scare quotes because in reality everything will remain very tentative. But there are some good aspects to our situation if we reflect on the light that has come. We have opportunities we did not have in the past.
This verse from Isaiah begins the OT reading on Epiphany. You might have already noticed we didn’t do Epiphany this year. It is technically January 6, but many churches celebrate it on the closest Sunday. This year, however, Epiphany is on a Wednesday, so not really very close to any Sunday. So we decided not to move it but to go with Christmas 2 yesterday and Jesus in the temple, and to the first Sunday of the Epiphany season this coming Sunday, which is the baptism of Jesus. Does that mean we are skipping Epiphany itself? By no means!
Wednesdays we have school chapel. And we can livestream and record those services. So we’re going to celebrate Epiphany on the actual day of Epiphany. We’ll use the Epiphany readings for chapel and invite the whole congregation to participate in the service on Wednesday evening. Wednesday evening zoom Bible study will not resume on Epiphany, but will resume the next week.
The power of God’s Word makes a profound difference even to sluggish, sleepy souls. The Christ whose mission was to save you isn’t content to ignore you or be ignored by you. Please utilize every opportunity that comes your way to be in the Word this week. The hated words, “Rise and shine,” become the best Good News when He opens our eyes to the glory of God in action.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17
The day after Labor Day used to be a smaller version of New Year’s Day, at least in terms of the cultural calendar. It marked a distinct change from one season to another. Traditionally it is/was the first day of the school year. It marked the end of “the season” in touristy and resort areas. It was the day after which fashionable people no longer wore white and changed over to their earth-toned, autumn wardrobe.
Of course, some of those traditions no longer apply. We start school in August. We tend to vacation earlier in the summer, and wear whatever colors we want. There is no right or wrong to these traditions and our observance of them or lack thereof. But we ought to know why we do what we do. And this shows how there can be spiritual, Christian significance to a perfectly secular holiday like Labor Day.
Labor Day got started in the late 19th Century as a celebration promoted by the labor movement, which was behind the unionizing of the labor force in the aftermath of last stages of the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, when we think of it in deeper terms than a three day weekend and chance to barbecue, we usually think of it in terms of blue collar labor particularly. And in secular terms the holiday does focus on large scale manual labor in factories. But what we Christians can celebrate, should we choose, is better understood as our vocations. Our labor is whatever God has given us to do—as individuals, family members, church members, employers and employees. Maybe we should call it Vocation Day.
Most of your vocations get covered in the Table of Duties in your catechism. That is, what does the Bible say about how you should be clergy or laity, a husband or wife, parent of child, government official and/or citizen, employers or employee, neighbor, and so forth? It references various verses that talk about how to fulfill those roles in God-pleasing ways. But I really like the catch-all phrase from Colossians—“whatever you do.”
God doesn’t send you a daily to-do list, at least not with any specificity to it. We all have different jobs, interests, and obligations. But whatever we do, we are to do in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t cheat people, insult them, belittle them, take advantage of them, ignore their needs, or anything like that in the name in the Jesus. Whatever your job is, and whomever you interact with, you are to speak and act as though you are sent to bring Christ to the situation. You’re doing it for Him, in His Name.
As you head into a new season and year (sort of, in a way) celebrate the work God has given you to do. Give thanks for the opportunity to serve. Look at even the most boring or mundane parts of your routine as a means of serving the Lord. We have a holiday called Labor Day, the real labor of being Christians takes no holidays; it is the thing the holidays celebrate.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matt. 7:24
You probably noticed that Pastor Stock was doing the church service by himself this past weekend. I was up in Northern Wisconsin for our annual “work weekend” at my uncle’s island, now inherited by my cousins. It is an old fisherman’s retreat (really old—the one log cabin dates to the late 19th Century) with a lodge and cabins on it. We take a family vacation there every year in July, but it takes a tremendous amount of upkeep to make those vacations possible. Maintaining buildings in the harsh weather of the North Woods, and doing so without any road access makes for a constant challenge. Therefore, many years ago we added the mid-June, pre-vacation season work weekend to keep the island available for all the people whose memories and traditions depend on being able to visit each year.
The buildings are beautiful, and two of them in particular, the rec house (dock house) and the boat house have become iconic landmarks of the scenery for people out on the big lake. The problem is that they are in a literal sense partially built on sand. The islands and shorelines up there are mostly made out of Great Lakes fieldstones, some clay, and sand with a stringy web of stubborn tree roots holding it all together. The lake level goes up and down, the piling posts rot, the ice pushes against the shore and into every crevice, the tree roots force their way in every direction, rocks shift, and the old buildings settle in ever more catawampus positions, with window and doorframes groaning futilely to keep their corners square. Our strategies for keeping walls up up involve an endless array of jacks, cinderblocks, fieldstones, lumber shims, and hope.
The yearly effort is a great object lesson about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount because we actually get to observe the futility of building on sand. But we love those buildings. We try to keep them up, but we know we are working against time and the elements, which are both relentless adversaries. In a deeper sense we also see how so often some of the major building blocks of our own lives lack solid foundations. What we think we know—about ourselves, our past, our relationships, our future—can turn out to be tentative at best when our hopes are in this world. It is okay to love the things of this world as long as we’re willing to let go of them. Your body, your loved ones, your house—they can all be a labor of love as long as you remember that love is about letting go, too. None of them can bear up under being the foundation of your life.
The only Rock that never shifts is Christ. God’s love for us in Him, the forgiveness we have, the place in His family, the assurance of His presence, are all things no health situation, job situation, or relationship situation can take away. At St. Paul’s we build everything we are and do as the family of God in this place on that solid rock. For that reason, we never fear the vagaries of time and the changeable cultural moods that beat against our faith in Christ. We know nothing can do anything to Him, and He is faithful.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matt. 28:19-20
Even though it moves around on the calendar from year to year, I join many other pastors in thinking of the day of Trinity Sunday as the official start of summer. Other people go by Memorial Day or the end of the school year, but this is when all the big festivals marking Christ’s life and ministry are done and we move from the Christ half to the Church half of the year. The paraments in church turn green and stay that way for the most part all the way until Advent.
It is also a good time to focus on what we do here and why St. Paul’s exists. We baptize and teach. Always have, always will. Some of the external may change. The pastors and teachers come and go. The building undergoes modifications and changes. The format of how we do what we do adapts to suit the circumstances. But it is still always going to be the church gathered around Christ, who is with us always in Word and Sacrament. And by always, He specifies that this is the way He will be with us “to the end of the age.” Eventually He will come again and inaugurate the new, eternal age to come visibly, which we participate in now only by faith.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve got to be betting close to the end of the age. And who knows? Maybe we are. But Christians have always felt that way. The key is to view the time we have as a gift. We get the chance to keep baptizing, preaching and teaching Christ in the presence of Christ. It is up to God when to finally call it.
Sometimes the long, green half of the church year seems less inspiring than the festival-filled half. The temptation is to lose our zeal because things seem the same week after week and the themes seem less dramatic. But this is the Christian life. Every day won’t be your baptism, confirmation, or some holiday. The point of all those things is living your baptized life on regular, ordinary days like this one.
Some things can really deepen our faith in the this “ordinary time.” One of them is a ministry we support called Issues, Etc. which offers podcasts on a whole variety of topics. Yesterday we did the Athanasian Creed in church, which we do once a year on Trinity Sunday. It has some challenging truths in it. You can deepen your learning by going to this podcast.
Work while it is day. The flip side to baptizing and teaching is living baptized lives and learning. In that way Christ is with you to the end of the age.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. Ps. 46:6
Injustice. Anger. Unrest. Collateral damage. What a terrible series of events just as we were beginning to reopen from the lock-down.
I suppose if you had a time machine you could go back six months and it would seem like taking a vacation in a strange wonderland where there just weren’t a lot of pressing problems. Record employment levels and wage growth, no wars going on (foreign or domestic), no pandemic or rules about distancing. People came to church and stood around chatting over coffee and donuts afterwards. The news talked endlessly about who had lied to whom about whose dealing with Russia, because, hey, you have to talk about something to keep a 24 hour news cycle going.
On one hand, fantasizing about such a trip in a time machine should make us realize how blind we typically are to the good things in life. We didn’t think of it as a wonderland six months ago, and probably weren’t as grateful then as we would be now to experience it. But on the other hand, having such a time machine would make us realize that today isn’t all that unusual.
Suppose you went back to 1919. Mangled WWI veterans were everywhere, and demanding benefits the government had promised them but not delivered on. The Spanish Flu, a pandemic far worse than Covid was ravaging the country and the world. Race riots that dwarf anything we’ve seen this year rocked New York City and many other urban centers. Organized crime was gearing up to make hay of the impending Prohibition, which was being finalized to go into effect the next year.
Or fast forward to, say, 1933. Persistent, inexplicable, record high temperatures were rendering much of the country into the Dust Bowl. Fascists and Communists were fighting for control of Europe. Domestically, migrations of people looking for work caused constant social strife. The economy was in tatters and unemployment was at record high levels. Groups of people all over the country were reduced to living in tent cities outside of towns.
1942? 1968? We sometimes forget how frightening such times may have been to live through because we see how they worked out. The point is not to downplay the problems we face today, but to look to the one constant—the raging of the nations, and the fact that God is with us still.
If we took our time machine forward instead of back, we might find ourselves in a strange wonderland in terms of technology but in a dystopian wasteland in some other ways, and it might make us think of today as an unappreciated gem of a day. Who knows? But it is a safe bet that the nations will be raging and the God of Jacob will be our fortress. Thankfully, we don’t have a time machine. Thus, we get to take one day at a time, experiencing the passing good things with gratitude and the particular challenges without fear.
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. John 9:4
Rhythms define our life in this world. Waking and sleeping, working and resting, sowing and reaping all take on a regular pattern. Every day has a rhythm, as does every week, every month, and every year. Nothing is so unsettling as having your rhythm thrown off. Sports announcers will describe a struggling team as unable to find their rhythm, and when our patterns get disrupted the same thing happens. You stay up all night and your sleep pattern gets messed up. You’re late for work and your whole day is out of rhythm. Or this week, you start the week on Tuesday instead of Monday and everything seems off.
In the rhythm of the liturgical year, this week coming up is a big high point—the feast of Pentecost. In the secular calendar, this week marks the traditional start of summer even though the school year calendar is a bit behind and the actual solstice marking the actual start of summer is a bit further behind. This past Sunday heading into next Sunday would normally be the start of summer lull in church attendance and participation as people vacation or travel on the weekends. But everything is different this year. We’re off our rhythm, and the summer lull in church attendance is one of the rhythms that we’re better off without anyway. Now is our chance to get back into a better rhythm than the one we might have been comfortable in before we got thrown off.
This Sunday we’re going to live-stream the whole service for the first time rather than cut out before the Service of the Sacrament. Viewers at home will not be observing the people receiving communion, but will have the hymns displayed and the sound of the distribution going on. The intent is not to focus on any kind of exclusion but to restore all of our hope in the constancy of God’s good gifts.
One reminder. When livestreaming, please participate in the whole service. The electronic format makes skipping over the parts you don’t like as easy as a click, I know. But remember, worship primarily is God working on you, not you observing or offering your prayers and praise. Let all the parts of the service, even the ones you don’t enjoy, have their way with your “hearts and minds and voices.” You are the one begin transformed through that process whether you see and feel it immediately or not.
With our rhythm thrown off here at St. Paul’s, we have a really exciting, busy week ahead of us, with closing school chapel, a wedding rehearsal and wedding, confirmation practice and confirmation, normal church services, and school graduation. In whatever rhythm God sends us, the whole St. Paul’s family can keep working while it is day.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana