Fringe benefits. We’ve all heard the term and know basically what they are: things above and beyond basic compensation from an employer. It can be an extensive list that includes paid time off, health insurance, profit sharing and retirement plans, to name just a few.
Where’s this heading, you may be wondering. I’m glad you asked!
I was reading from the Gospel of Mark earlier, and came upon this passage describing Jesus in his travels: And wherever he went, into villages, or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56 NRSV)
There you have it! The benefit of touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment. People had heard the stories of miraculous healings being done by this Jesus and in their desperation were hoping to just touch what he was wearing that they might experience a miracle too. And the gospel accounts tells us of many such folks who received healing from Jesus. He sometimes laid a hand on the sick or at other times and over a distance simply spoke a word and healing happened.
As wonderful as these accounts are, they truly represent only the fringe of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He healed because of his compassion toward the hurting. Yet the driving force behind any of the miracles attributed to Jesus was to point people toward God. Physical healings are great, but to the best of my knowledge everyone restored by Jesus still eventually died a natural death.
None of what I’ve said is meant to minimize the wonder of Jesus’ actions, both then and now. My point is this: supernatural healing is a fringe benefit; of having faith.
If you have faith, you have already received the greatest healing you can ever get: You know the love of God! And the news gets even better: Faith is not something you and I have to develop, it is the gift of God! We are not given faith as a result of our good efforts or stiving for perfection. Rather, God knows we need it and that we are incapable of truly developing it on our own.
Enter Jesus, the Great(est) Physician! No matter how far modern medicine progresses, it will never attain the ability to cure us on an eternal level. And that’s ok, because Jesus has already seen to that for everyone. In so doing, our Savior has provided the vehicle of faith for us to grab on to. And we don’t have to reach for the edge of the Savior’s garment because through the blessing and activity of the Holy Spirit we have 24/7 access to the Lord.
So don’t be satisfied with touching just the fringe, but wrap yourself up from head to toe in the love of God; a love that is for all, always, forever and ever! Amen.
Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).
But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.
What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.
The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.
So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!
Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.
Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.
Do you remember playing musical chairs as a youngster? That supposedly fun game that had you march around a circle of chairs only to try to sit down in one when the music stopped. The object, of course, was to sit before everyone else because there were less chairs than people. The number of chairs would then be reduced and the music started again. The process continued until there were two kids and one chair with the winner being the last one to sit. It was plenty of fun for the winner, but I can recall feeling pretty lousy at not making it to the end.
I can also remember that sinking feeling of being the last one chosen to play baseball and off to right field I would go. There was also the pain in the pit of the stomach sensation when I had been excluded from a gathering of the other kids in the neighborhood.
It’s not my purpose to dredge up old feelings of being left out this Christmas, actually quite the opposite. Instead I would point your attention to the miraculous fact that the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, came to the world as the infant whose birth we celebrate today. An infant, it turns out, that wants all people everywhere to feel included by the love of God.
The King as an infant! What a radical way to set a salvation plan into motion! As a father of two children, I can recall the total and complete dependence of my kids when we first brought them home. There was nothing (well maybe one thing) they could do without adult help. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Yet, the bible tells as that the Son of God spent his early hours wrapped in rags and lying in a barn or cave inside a feeding trough! Hardly an A-list reception.
Pondering this momentous occasion again, I can see the love and logic in the divine plan. Jesus, so the theologians tell us, had to be both fully divine and fully human in order to perfectly carry out the plan of salvation for all humankind. Though I’d be lying if I said I fully understand this, I take it on faith because God has proved totally faithful in all things.
The great comfort that comes to me today is the fact that Jesus, growing up from that baby to pre-teen to teen and finally adult, experienced all the feelings and emotions that I did and do. All those left out feelings I mentioned, the Lord felt them too! And what is even more wonderful than simply knowing that Jesus can relate is the fact that if I bring my pain and hurts to Him, He will minister to my heart in a way tailor made for me and all the while assuring me/us of the love of God that will care for us now and forevermore!
So take please take a moment as you unwrap those beautifully done up gifts today, to consider the absolutely most awesome gift ever given once again, Jesus Christ; the life giving present that did not come to us in a perfectly prepared package, but instead was wrapped in old rags, lying in a manger. And as you do, allow the love of God to minister to all the old hurts you might have so that you can more fully rejoice this day (and always) in the love that was given to us all in Jesus Christ.
This person is obviously smiling at the most recent test result released involving the wearing of the mask on your chin. This highly scientific finding reveals that wearing your mask over your chin provides 100% protection from any and all air-borne pathogens, including any variation of Covid-19
A closer examination of these findings, however, tells us that only a minuscule number of people on the planet breathe through their chin and because of this, they recommend that the rest of us WEAR YOUR MASK OVER YOUR MOUTH AND NOSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The following is a sermon I wrote for seminary this semester to be shared with the church I am now serving at.
We are the Church
A Sermon based on Acts 2:37-47
Presented by Vicar Chuck Copps
Greetings my siblings in Christ. Please take a moment to look around at those gathered here today. Familiar faces for the most part, I can safely assume. Now please close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see the church. Thanks.
Hopefully the pictures in your mind of church consisted of many of the faces you looked at a moment ago, for that is the church. Let’s define church this way: It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel (Augsburg Confession; VII, p. 42, paragraph 1).
Now what if asked how you got here today? Motor vehicle would be one correct response. But for the purposes of our time together this morning, please consider another equally correct answer to that question:
We are brought to church, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, 3rd Article of the Creed (Book of Concord, p. 435) by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to the community of faith and places us in the lap of the church as he was fond of saying. The Holy Spirit then, working through the proclaimed Word of God and the sacraments, teaches us about God’s undying love as evidenced through the forgiveness of our sins. Presented with God’s love in this way, the Spirit pours into us the gift of faith by which we come to understand that God has redeemed and renewed us.
To sum up, the church is made up in and by the hearts of the faithful. To be clear, the church welcomes everyone in regardless of where they may be in their journey. There is no ‘heart monitor’ prior to coming through the doors!
Next let’s consider the example of the growing church we just heard about in our reading from the Book of Acts to see how we might deepen our own ideas about church, our place and purpose in it, and how our faith plays a role in all of this.
We, as the body of Christ, operate on a level playing field. There is no hierarchy of power. We as individuals are called to different vocations, and because of this we all bring something of value to the assembly. Of great blessing to this gathering of the faithful is Pastor Hannah. Because she is called to be our pastor, she is in a position of leadership and guidance for this assembly, not because she is a super-spiritual or an otherwise special recipient of God’s blessings. We are all the recipients of God’s grace as individuals but as a church we do not mediate this grace. Grace is a pure gift of God, given only by God to us through the means of the sacraments and proclaimed Word as the Holy Spirit works through them.
If this brief description of what the church, do these facts apply to the church we read about in Acts earlier? Here’s the short answer: Yes! Let’s review the activities of the Acts church to discover how this is true.
Those first members of that faith community had heard the Word of God proclaimed to them as Peter spoke. As they listened, the Holy Spirit moved in them in such a way that they received this gift, repented of their sins and were baptized and the church, as we defined above, was born! I am sure many of them then thought, “This is wonderful but what is next?
Our text gives the answer: They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. It should be easy to see the similarities between then and now. We have gathered to pray, to hear the teaching of the gospel, the sharing of the communion meal and fellowship. Of these features, it is safe to assume that the teaching uses different examples and analogies now than it did then, but the pure gospel is still proclaimed here as it was then. Likewise, our prayers our different and certainly the time of fellowship would have many differences. Can you imagine a fellowship time without coffee?
Please note, however, that the breaking of bread would essentially be the same. Both the early church and we remember what Christ has done for all humankind as we share the bread and wine at his table. We are aware, as the first church was, that Jesus is present in this meal and by partaking of it, our spirits are nourished and our souls comforted as we remember again what the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus as gained for us all.
Our text tells us that those who received God’s forgiveness that day were then baptized. Obviously, those mentioned in Acts were adults. Why do we baptize infants then? An excellent question that deserves to be answered.
In the Lutheran Church, we believe baptism to be a divine action by God. The use of water, with the proclaimed Word of God is how we receive the gift of faith. As with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the water is a material means by which the Holy Spirit imparts faith to us. We baptize infants then not only to have this gift poured into them early in life, but also a sign to the community of faith of God at work. As a person grows in faith, he or she becomes aware of their shortcomings. At the same time, that gift of faith poured into the person at Baptism continues to bring comfort as it brings to mind that we are renewed and redeemed by God.
This all sound good, but does it mean that we, as Lutherans, have the inside track to God? Of course not. Other churches and other denominations can be seen as ‘different flavors’, if you will. As long as the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are properly administered, the format of worship or the type of songs that are sung can vary significantly. The point to remember when looking at other Christian faith communities is this: Those things that are commanded by God are necessary for worship; traditions placed by humans, so long as they do not detract from what God decrees, are acceptable, though they be different from what we practice.
For example think about fasting. The giving up of food for a period of time may well be a valuable spiritual discipline for some, but the act itself has no bearing on our salvation. Hence, one church may practice fasting while another does not. Doing so does not make one community holier or closer to God, it is merely a practice that one group chooses to follow.
The preaching in the church today should be recognizable as similar to what was preached in the early church. Salvation is from God to us made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. As we gather to worship God, we are reminded of God’s grace as we hear the gospel explained. The early church eagerly sought this teaching and God blessed them by growing them in numbers. We would do well to anticipate God moving likewise in this gathering should we digest the gospel message as first church goers did.
Concluding thoughts: It is my hope that during this time together we have developed a deeper understanding of what the church truly is. Simply put, church is a state of mind, not a destination. Although a well-kept building and fine trimmed lawn is appealing to the eye, it is when the church is seen in the hearts of the faithful that God’s message of hope is spread.
As I’ve said, the church exists in each of our hearts, as it did in the hearts of those in the Acts church. God has put the same call in our hearts that was put into theirs all the centuries ago: We are sent into the world to proclaim and live out God’s justification of us through Jesus Christ.
As the Holy Spirit guided those folks in Acts to gather for worship, teaching and fellowship, so too are we to express God’s love to others as we do the same.
We can do this in confidence because we see the evidence of God’s love here in the Word and Sacrament. Through these God has initiated trust in our hearts. We know therefore, as the first church did, that salvation comes only from God. We play no active part, it is purely God’s gift to all. As the Holy Spirit works in us, both individually and as a church, we are transformed more and more into God’s likeness in order that we can better share this Good News with others, regardless of our personal vocation.
The passage we read from Acts Chapter 2 ended on a very encouraging note after describing the life and activities of that early church: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (V. 47b NRSV)
As much as I would like to tell you that the same will happen here if we all truly embrace the idea that the church is made up within us. However, I’m just not privy to God’s plans.
I can make several informed opinions if we do though. First, God will bless us with increased faith as we more fully grasp what the church is to be and that we all have a part, or function, in its growth. I believe that we will grow in our trust of God as we take to heart the things that make up a vibrant church.
Although I cannot say that God will add to our numbers on a daily basis, I am confident in the Almighty’s plan to deepen the faith of all of us and that as we come to trust the promises of God with greater certainty, each of us will grow in our love of God and our willingness to share that love with all the world around us. Amen.
While working on a sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mind wandered back to early grade school times and the lessons we were taught about that first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, we were told, gathered to have a dinner of thanksgiving, though by today’s standards the amount of food was paltry. That first Thanksgiving was more about being thankful for being alive as opposed to being grateful for an abundance of food.
As I continued to ponder the differences between now and then, I began to feel convicted about taking the blessings of God for granted. How often or how deeply do I reflect on the fact that my every day needs are met. I am faced daily with deciding what to eat, not wonder if I will.
With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I wanted to be more intentional and genuine in my thoughts, words and deeds with regard to being grateful. The idea struck me, as I continued to contemplate the first Thanksgiving, to put thanksgiving first.
As you who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while might guess, I found the inspiration to do this in the Scriptures.
The Bible is full of passages that encourage the reader to be thankful. Here are just a few from the New International Version:
1 Thessalonians 5:18:give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 107:1:Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Psalm 100:4:Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise
I could go on, but you get the idea; being thankful to God encompasses all of the human experience. Realizing this, I still was not sure if my being grateful for the blessings I receive does not sometimes get delayed because I am distracted by this or that.
To help me with this issue, I came across the solution in another favorite passage of Scripture of mine: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
Did you catch it? We are first told to pray instead of worrying. And then we pray with thanksgiving as we are making our requests of God. Don’t wait for an answer, instead be thankful as you pray. This is how we keep God in the forefront of our hearts and minds. Basically, we thank God for being God. And if I might add, the request we might make most often is that the Almighty increase our trust in Him.
The wonder of the promise here in being a thanksgiving first people is that we are promised the peace of God. Let that sink in a moment. The peace of God. It is given to guard our hearts and our minds according to this verse from the Letter to the Philippians. In my opinion, the primary role of God’s peace is guarding our hearts and minds from worry.
I pray for all of us that we become willing to be thanksgiving first people and that as we do, the Holy Spirit will draw us to a place of deeper trust in God. As this trust continues to grow, we will experience more and more of God’s promised peace as our tendency to worry becomes less pronounced.
So not only a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, but also one that grows you and me in our love and trust of God as we give thanks for all God has done for us and as we do, pray that God keeps our eyes open for the opportunities to share these abundant blessings with the world around us.
I have had the honor of being a hospice volunteer for 20 years, the last 5 giving pastoral care to patients and their families at their request. Sharing this part of life with these dear people has provided some of the most rewarding moments in ministry to me.
Oswego County Hospice provides most excellent care for the families they serve. In what is usually the most trying of times for a family, the administration, care providers and volunteers of our hospice organization treat them all with the dignity and respect they deserve, providing emotional and practical help to each one.
Once a year, Oswego County Hospice holds a memorial service for all of their patients from the previous year. This touching ceremony allows us to say good bye to those who have passed as well as letting their families know that they are remembered as well.
Due to the on-going restrictions in place because of Covid-19, the memorial service was help virtually again this year. I’ve included a link to it should you care to share in this experience with us. Also included is Betsy and my presentation of “On Eagles Wings.” We sing it to honor those who have passed and as an encouragement to those left with holes in their heart.
I wasn’t sure if any of this was ever going to make it to the blog but when the Holy Spirit prompts I’m understanding it’s probably a wise choice to follow suit…
The beginning of September I felt a lump in my armpit area and wasted zero time having it checked out. The nurse practitioner I saw was on top of things and ordered blood tests and a mammogram which led to an ultrasound and biopsy.
When the results came back the next week I was asked to come into the clinic so they could go over them with me. In my typical-quirky-impatient-Alicia manner this was my response, “Oh man! Isn’t that not a good thing when you call me to come in and discuss results!? Can’t you just tell me over the phone first?”
A clear but gentle “no” followed, and within 20 minutes I learned (in person) the…
The encounter known as Jesus and the Woman at the Well, found in Chapter 4 of John’s gospel has long been a motivator for me in ministry. If you are at all familiar with the meaningful interaction between Jesus and this woman, you know that she was ostracized from society because she was currently living with a man outside of marriage.
Jesus, caring little for social niceties, breaks a rule by engaging in conversation with this woman as he sat at the well outside of her village. Remember, in those days men and women who weren’t family would not have had this casual conversation. In fact, a male would never have asked a question of a female as Jesus had in public.
Jesus’ example or throwing social constraints aside is very encouraging to me. He met that woman right where she was, not only physically, but also spiritually. He carried no pre-set conditions or barriers to insulate himself. The Lord merely, and simply, starting talking with her.
At Lakeside Christian Ministries, we have attempted to take this same approach in all that we do. After all, if it was right and proper for Jesus, we must be on the right track!
Our ability to minister in some of the more difficult places in our community, be they racked with deep poverty, substance abuse or any of the other common maladies folks deal with in these times, has been blessed on many occasions. The simple, heartfelt approach of meeting people as and where they are has opened many doors and hearts to us.
Seeking and meeting people in this way has become our normal mode of operation and because of this, we are becoming better equipped as to how to respond to verbal and other clues. Experience is teaching us, and we are becoming more attuned to the folks we get the privilege to minister to. I feel we are following the example Jesus set by his meeting with the woman found in John Chapter 4.
We are certainly not alone in our efforts. Many people, be they of faith or not, are successfully reaching into communities as they supply many types of practical help and moral support. I thank God for every agency, ministry and individual that takes their concern for people and puts it into positive action.
But (you had to know by now, Dear Reader, that a but was coming!), I had pause to wonder how well I/we are doing with this example of Jesus when the need of someone is a little less obvious than that of the woman at the well. What I mean to say is that we may be good at seeing the need in poverty and springing into action with no judgment, but what about at other times and places.
For example, what if the person at the well is transgender? I am confident that this would not have made the slightest difference in Jesus’ approach. He simply met, interacted and always loved. The Lord would have engaged in conversation with this person for the simple reason that they were loved by him. No judgment, no condemnation, simply love.
Can you and I make this same claim when we are face to face with someone of the LBGTQ community? Do we look with compassion to see if there is a need we might help with? Or are our first thoughts more confused or worse yet judgmentally accusatory.
I for one have never found a response from Jesus described as these. Sure, he was appropriately stern or pointed when dealing with the hypocritical of his day, never mincing words when he was attempting to get their attention.
Yet on the other hand, Jesus always led with love, no matter what the issues in front of him might be. Consider those afflicted with leprosy back then. They could not be where other, ‘clean,’ folks were and if they were in their vicinity, they had to announce their own presence by yelling out, “Unclean, unclean, stay away!” The gospel records several instances where Jesus, paying no attention to any of that, actually laid his hands on some lepers to heal them!
We all need to pay closer attention to the wonderful example Jesus has left us. We are to follow his command to “Love one another.” Period. No questions as to who might deserve our love and certainly no judging someone that we feel doesn’t. We are to simply love. We can do this as Jesus modeled. We can listen. We can be willing to have open and honest dialogue with someone who is experiencing life in way that we might not be familiar with.
I encourage us all, in whatever way this little article may have touched you, to simply love one another (that’s everyone, btw) a little more deeply; a little more considerately, a little bit more honestly, etc.
Let love rule your heart, not judgment. Let the example of Jesus lead you, for he will never lead you in a way that is contrary to his love.
Hello again Faithful Reader! If the old saying is true that times flies when you are having fun, then I must be having a blast!
It has been a month already since I began the next part of my journey at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. I am serving on staff there as Vicar (a fancy word for saying intern!)
I wrote the following for the October newsletter they put out. I hope it serves as an update for you all.
Also, I was given the honor of preaching for the first time there on September 24th. I’ve included the link to the ‘studio’ version of that sermon should you want to give a listen to my take on the inclusiveness that Jesus modeled.
From the newsletter:
Feels Like Home
Growing up in Oswego, my house was the place we all my friends would gather. As I look back, it is easy to see why. My parents went out of their way to make my buddies feel welcome and never letting any of them leave hungry. The homemade dinners and fresh baked desserts were prepared with the expectation of extra plates being needed, and they often were!
Betsy and I made it a point to have our home be like that as well. Our two kids knew that their friends were always welcome. The numerous sleepovers and meals shared let us know the kids were as comfortable around us as we were with them.
The wonderful welcome Betsy and I have received at St. Marks has reminded me of the times I just mentioned. Even behind the masks, the light in your eyes and the joy on your faces is easy to see. Part of me feels like my friends must have at my homestead as my parents made sure their needs were met in a caring way.
At no time have we felt like outsiders trying to make our way in. Instead, invitations have been extended to join in ministries or to simply share a little of ourselves with you in conversation.
As you may know, part of the ministry I have been involved with in recent years has afforded me opportunities to be in any number of different churches as a guest preacher, providing music with Betsy or leading bible studies. We believe each of these churches are doing their best to honor God in all that they do.
I find this true at St. Marks as well, but as a body of believers you stand apart from these others. I believe that is because of your humble devotion to serving Christ as you reach out throughout the Baldwinsville (and beyond) area. Betsy and I are honored and humbled to serve with you as together we extend the love of God to the world around us.