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Letter for April 29

 

Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church

P. O. Box 961690
Riverdale, Georgia 30296
(770) 997-7117                                      (770) 997-3312

Jeffrey M. Halenza, Pastor                                                                                                                                 April 29, 2020

Dear Member,

      Sunday, May 24th, is the target date, the date on which we hope to resume our worship services and come together at last! Now I say “target date” and “hope to” because it all depends on whether the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase or begins to decline. That’s the problem: determining when and on what basis we can safely gather depends on what happens in the next week or two. As matters clarify, the Church Council will set a firm date and we will let you know immediately what it is. In the meantime, however, I wanted to let you know that it won’t be long now!

      Concerning the conference call we will do tonight, April 29, at 7:00 PM, I have attached the prayer I will pray at the conclusion of the call. As always, please refer to Pastor Flanigan’s email for the contact number and access code.

      May God continue to be our refuge and strength during this time and lift us in hope and gladness day after day,

                                                                                                          Pastor Halenza

JMH/nvn

PS: If you are in need of a mask, Judy Cable has offered to provide a handmade mask to anyone without one. Please contact the church office (770-997-7117) to place your mask request.

Prayer for April 29

 

A Prayer for a New Normal

                                             O Lord, once again it has taken a crisis
                                                                 for us to realize
                                                                          that there are many people in our land who are
                                                                                                                  truly
                                                                                                       kind and compassionate,
                                                                                          thoughtful and considerate,
                                                                                   generous and just plain nice,
                                                               people who value community,
                                                                                                                          helping one another,
                                                                                                               supporting one another.
                                                                                                                                                             And so,
                                                                                                    as businesses begin to re-open
                                                                           and we take the first steps in resuming our lives,
                                                                                                             let us not
                                                                                          go back to the old normal,
                                                               but go forward to a new normal,
                                                                                                                                 a new normal
                                                                                                      of people being their best.

                                                   O Lord, somehow over the years
                                                                                                                meanness and cruelty,
                                                                                             fear and prejudice,
                                                                         anger and rudeness and a lack of consideration
                                                                                                           for others,
                                                                                       has become all too normal,
                                                                    people being their worst has become all too normal,
                                                                             truth,
                                                                                    respect,
                                                                                           kindness,
                                                                                                 no longer normal at all,
                                                                                                                                               Forgive us
                                                                 and grace us with the strength of character,
                                                                                                                             the courage,
                                                                                                                      the resolve,
                                                                       not to return to the way things were
                                                                              but reinforce the way things
                                                                                                                should be.

                                                    And we ask too, O Lord, that you would give us
                                                                                     the good sense
                                                                        to continue acting responsibly
                                                                   as businesses begin operating again
                                                             and do what we need to do to protect others
                                                                                              and not just ourselves. 

                                                  And we continue to pray, O Lord, for all who are
                                                                                   battling the virus,
                                                                             and those who are at risk
                                                                       caring for them day after day.
                                                                                                                           And we remember
                                                               those who have succumbed to the virus
                                                         and those who grieve for them.
                                                                                                             And we pray for
                                                                                                all who risk themselves
                                                                                          to provide for our well-being,
                                                                                     and the unemployed,
                                                                            those who aren’t sure how they will be able
                                                                                                to put food on the table,
                                                               those who have had enough
                                                                                                                   and despair.
                                                        Heal them! Comfort them! Lift them in hope!
                                                                                         And move us
                                                                                    to be there for them
                                                                               in whatever way we can.

                                               O Lord, be our refuge and strength,
                                                             a very present help in the trouble we are in,
                                                        and through our actions,
                                                                          through the research of scientists in labs
                                                                                                     around the world,
                                                                                         through nations coming together,
                                                                                                                         bring
                                                                                                                   the end of the virus
                                                                                                                                 and work
                                                                                                      the beginning of
                                                                     a new and hope-filled
                                                                                                            normal!

                                             Amen.

Announcements for Sunday 4/26

 

Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church

P. O. Box 961690
Riverdale, Georgia 30296
(770) 997-7117                       (770) 997-3312

Jeffrey M. Halenza, Pastor                                                                                                                           April 25, 2020

Dear Member,

      The Church Council has not yet set a date on which we will begin gathering for worship again but, in all likelihood, it will not be before mid-May, given the fact that many members are not comfortable venturing out before then. In the meantime, we will continue to do videos of Sunday services. To view this Sunday’s service, click on this link: Https://Youtu.be/KVgpm6jJv7Q. We hope the videos are helping you worship and stay connected to the congregation.

                  Regarding announcements…

      We will provide food for Calvary Refuge on Thursday, May 22. Before purchasing any items, please contact Carol Meyer (770-461-3448) to see what is needed so that we avoid duplications.

             Fayette Samaritans is in dire need of food items such as: canned goods: i. e. vegetables, fruit, spaghetti, meats, tuna, salmon; cereal, toilet paper, paper towels, and Kleenex. The items can be dropped off at church any weekday between 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM, or contact Sylvia to make alternative drop off agreements. Monetary donations are also very much needed, since shopping for food may be difficult for many people. If you have questions, please contact Sylvia McCullough (770-460-1001).

             Since we have not yet resumed ministries and activities, we will not publish a Scribe in May. We will, however, email the birthday and prayer lists along with my article.

Concerning our people:

          Pastor Berkobin is stable and has not suffered any further heart attacks.

          No member of the congregation has contracted the coronavirus, I’m glad to say, and most members are doing rather well (though cabin fever has set in big time!)

          Lynn Carroll and Nancy Norris wish to thank the congregation for their cards, calls, and expressions of sympathy upon the death of their mothers.

        The sympathy of the congregation and the strength and hope we share in the resurrection of Christ is extended to Barbara Gordin and her family upon the death of her brother.

         May God continue to grace us with the good sense and patience and strength to keep doing what is needed to control the virus and bring us safely together again at last,

Pastor Halenza

JMH/nvn

Good Friday letter from Pastor Jeff

 

Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church

P. O. Box 961690
Riverdale, Georgia 30296
(770) 997-7117                                   (770) 997-3312

Jeffrey M. Halenza, Pastor                                                                                                                                                                                          April 10, 2020

Dear Member,

     Attached is a section of the Good Friday service. I hope it will guide your devotions or prayers or thoughts on this Good Friday when we must remain apart.

     May the God who gave all for our sake and continues to deliver us from one day to the next in his love for us love us through it all unto a hope that is unfailing,

                                                                                                                                                                      Pastor Halenza

JMH/nvn

Good Friday Message

Good Friday                                                                                                                                                                               The Reverend Jeffrey M. Halenza
April 10, 2020                                                                                                                                                                         Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church

Reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ

First Word:                                          And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     But of course we do know, do know what we are doing, know very well what we are doing. That is our guilt. That is our shame.

     And yet, perhaps we do not know what we do. Perhaps we do not realize that with our cruel words and the prejudices we voice, with our thoughtless actions or our failure to act, with our angers and bitternesses, with our going along with our culture and our unwillingness to be shaped by and live out the Gospel, we do kill Christ, kill his love, kill hope. If people do not see in us who profess to be Christian the love of Christ, then we are crucifying him all over again.

     Father, forgive us.

 

Second Word:                               And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

     And that is our hope: that someday we shall be with Christ in Paradise.

     But if our hope is based on our own goodness or religiousness or even faith, then we have no hope. For we are no different than the thief on the cross who pleaded for Jesus to remember him: our hope rests on God’s grace and mercy alone. That is the stark truth of the cross. The cross was made necessary by the way world is, the way we are.

     And our only hope and prayer is that of the thief’s: “Remember me.” 

 

Third Word:                                   And Jesus said, “This is your son… This is your mother.”

     At the end, Jesus spoke to his mother’s deepest need and gave her a son to be the son he was never able to be to her. Jesus said that his true family were all who believed in him and he put that family above Mary and his own family and it must have hurt her deeply. But her greatest pain was to watch him die – it was like a sword piercing her heart. And so, Jesus gave her another son to love and a son who would love her and take care of her.

     At the end, Jesus forgot his own pain and spoke to Mary’s pain. As believers who are part of his family and who are to be like family to one another, we are to do the same: we are to forget ourselves and look after the other, love one another.

     Love with the very same love seen on the cross.

 

Fourth Word:                                    And Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

     And we ourselves know something about that – what it is like to feel forsaken by God, for God not to be there when we need him most.

     The Bible speaks as much about God’s absence as it does God’s presence and Jesus himself experienced that absence in his worst moment. But still, he held fast to God, cried out to God. Faith describes what we do in our worst moments, what we do when God is nowhere in sight.

     To cry out to the absent God is faith, the very faith of Jesus that carried him out the other side of death to life.

 

Fifth Word:                                           And Jesus said, “I thirst.”

     And we too thirst – thirst for love, peace, joy, something to fill the empty place down deep inside. Spiritual thirst can be as bad as physical thirst. Both can lead to death, whether it be the death that is despair or the death of the body. So powerful is thirst that we will do most anything to quench it and much of what we see in our culture today is just that: people filling themselves with everything they can in the hope that it satisfy their longing. 

     Jesus once said that whoever believes in him will never be thirsty, because he was like a spring of life-giving water that can quench our deepest thirst. And yet, he himself thirsted.

     He is a Savior who chose to know our thirst so that he would be a Savior in whom we could believe and thirst no more.

 

Sixth Word:                                        And Jesus said, “It is finished.”

     But did Jesus mean that his life was at an end or that he had fulfilled his purpose? Both: for by being obedient unto death he completed his work, fulfilled God’s purpose of redeeming his creation. He did what he set out to do, what God called him to do. In John’s gospel, they are the last words Jesus spoke and they are words of triumph.

     And you and I? What will our last words be? Will they be, “If only…” or “I wish…” or “I regret not doing…”? Or will we say, “I have lived my purpose, I have obeyed God’s call, I have completed what I set out to do”? As with Jesus, so too with us: the choice is ours.

     What Jesus finished was the working of our salvation, setting us free to be what God calls us to be. If we choose to live in the power of that salvation, then our last words can be words of if not triumph, certainly words of thankfulness and praise.

 

Seventh Word:                               And Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

     As death approached, Jesus commended his spirit to God, entrusted himself to the God who had promised to see him through death unto life. It was his final act of faith.

     And as death approaches, that is all each of us can do: entrust ourselves to God’s grace and mercy, commend our spirits to his care. We die as we live: in faith, the faith that trusts that we will be safe in the hands of God and that God will raise us up also at the last. 

     The cross of Christ is ultimately a love story: the story of a lover giving all for the sake of the beloved. Because God gave all for the sake of our salvation, we can dare to trust his love for us and, like Jesus, love him through death unto life.

Maundy Thursday Letter from Pastor Jeff

 

Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church

P. O. Box 961690
Riverdale, Georgia 30296
(770) 997-7117                                        (770) 997-3312

Jeffrey M. Halenza, Pastor
April 9, 2020

Dear Member,

     For years, the way we observed Maundy Thursday was to gather in the Fellowship Hall for a simple meal of soup and crackers. Following the meal, I would deliver a sermon and then we would commune one another as we sat around a table made up of several tables arranged to be one. The service then concluded in the sanctuary.

     The attached sermon is one I did nearly every year and I’m passing it along in the hope it will help you observe Maundy Thursday at home in some way. The characterizations draw heavily from the writings of Frederick Bucchner and I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to him.

     Not being able to gather for Holy Week services makes this not only a very strange but also very difficult week, but I hope you will make time each day to remember the story of those days and what it says to us today.

     We continue to pray for all those everywhere who have contracted the coronavirus and for the families of those who have succumbed to it. And we pray for all those who are risking their health to assure our health and protection and well-being. And for all who are struggling financially and worried about putting food on the table. Move us to do whatever we can to help and give us the strength to keep sheltering in place for the good of all.

     May the God who is a very present help in trouble be with us in this trouble and lead us beyond it,

                                                                                    Pastor Halenza

JMH/nvn

Maundy Thursday Sermon

 

Maundy Thursday                                                                                                                                                                The Reverend Jeffrey M. Halenza
|April 9, 2020 Christ                                                                                                                                                                           Our Hope Lutheran Church

Maundy Thursday is the day on which we remember Jesus and his disciples having a meal together, the meal they ate together on the night of his arrest and trial, the night before his crucifixion – the last meal they ate together, the Last Supper as we have come to call it. During the meal, Jesus took some bread and gave it a name – his body – and took some wine and gave it a name too – his blood – and he gave the bread and wine to his disciples and told them that he was giving his life so that they could have life; he told them to take his life into their lives so that he would live in them and they would know true life. This giving of the bread and wine is what we now to call Communion. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And that is what we are to do on Maundy Thursday: remember that night long ago, and remember him.

Remember Jesus.

 

But the truth is that we sometimes forget Jesus.

If you’re anything like me, then by Tuesday or Wednesday you have forgotten him in the midst of all the demands and pressures, confusion and chaos, pain and loneliness. Even as a church we sometimes forget him – in the midst of all the busyness and meetings and goings on we can forget that finally the only reason the church is here is Christ and that what we are to be is him, Christ one to the other.

So let us remember, remember Christ. 

 

And the place to begin, I think, is with trying to picture the room in which Jesus and his closest followers gathered. It is a plain room. The walls are bare and the night has painted them with shades of gray. Candles burn to hold the darkness back, but they only barely hold it back. There is a cooking fire in the corner and the smoke from the fire has made the dim light in the room thick and heavy. There is a wooden table and on the table there is what remains of a meal of fish and bread and wine. And around the table sit some men, while off to one side stand some women who are looking on. Some of those at the table seem tired and can barely keep their eyes open. Another one seems very nervous and keeps looking towards the door. A couple of them are smiling as if they had just remembered a joke they had heard that morning. And at the head of the table sits One whose eyes are alive. But not with laughter. He is leaning forward. He is saying something. And you get the feeling that whatever he is saying, he wants with all of his heart for the other ones to hear it. You get the feeling what whatever he is saying somehow it could make all the difference in the world to them if they could only hear it and believe it.

And now try to picture those who were gathered in that room.

But just who did gather that night?

 

Well, sitting over here are James and John.

They are brothers, the sons of Zebedee. 

They can barely keep their eyes open they are so tired. Jesus called them “Men of Thunder”, probably because they were big, loud, boisterous fellows. But tonight they are tired and unusually quiet.

Really, we don’t know much about them, except that they were a couple of mama’s boys. You see, they were the ones who got their mama to ask Jesus to give them the top spots in the kingdom of God, they were the ones who wanted to be promoted over all the other disciples and “be named Executive Vice-Presidents of the kingdom.” They wanted the plush offices right next to his. They “wanted keys to the executive washroom.” Of course, Jesus knew who put mama up to asking him and so he looked right past her and asked the boys, “Do you have any idea what you are asking? Do you realize you’re asking for big trouble when you ask to be made great in the kingdom? Can you drink the cup of suffering I am about to drink?” And the boys gulped hard and said they could. But you get the feeling they really didn’t mean it, that it never dawned on them what they were asking for, what they were in for. And, as you might expect, when the rest of the disciples got wind of what was going on, they really got steamed because they figured they were being aced out of the prime spots. So Jesus had to sit them all down and try once again to get it through their thick heads what this kingdom thing was all about. And what he told them was this: if you want to be great, then you have to serve others; if you want to be first, then you have to be willing to be last; and what the whole thing boiled down to was not being served, but serving and giving and even suffering for the sake of another. Now whether the other disciples finally got the point, I do not know, but it seems that James and John missed it again. You see, in a few hours, they would fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was a few feet away sweating blood over the suffering he was facing. And what they were dreaming about, I have no idea – maybe those big offices right next to the boss’ office.

Well, anyway, picture them sitting there, tired, their heads almost too heavy to hold up. 

 

And now, picture Andrew.

Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. And, of course, Simon Peter was the center of things, “the one who in the group photographs,” was always seen standing beside Jesus, the one whom Jesus called “the rock”, the one whom Jesus felt he could count on the most. And so picture Andrew “living in the shadow of his brother.”

Do you know what it’s like to live in the shadow of a brother — or a sister? Do you know what it’s like to feel that your brother or your sister is the favored one?

And so picture Andrew figuring out a way to get some attention, picture him thinking about a joke he heard that morning, thinking about telling that joke to the others the first chance he got.

And maybe thinking too that he feels like a joke sometimes, that he is a joke, a bad joke.

 

And who else is there?

Well, Matthew is there.

Saint Matthew as we refer to him.

But Matthew was no saint. At least not when he first hooked up with Jesus – when he first hooked up with Jesus he was an out and out crook. Matthew had been a tax collector for the Roman government and working for Rome as a tax collector was a sweet deal. Rome would set the amount it wanted from a particular district and, as long as the quota was met, the boys in Rome were happy – if the tax collector could squeeze more out of the people, well, that was his to keep. So the idea was to beat the people out of as much as you could. Needless to say, “when Matthew came oiling down the street, any self-respecting person would cross to the other side.”

His own people saw him as a traitor, Rome saw him as a stooge, and what Matthew thought of himself, we do not know, but chances are he did not like what he saw in the mirror every morning as he shaved.

 

And, oh yes, there is Thomas.

“Doubting Thomas” as he has been called down through the centuries.

And Thomas has been called that because following the resurrection of Jesus, when the other disciples claimed that they had seen Jesus alive, Thomas said that he would not believe it unless he could “see the nail marks for himself and touch those ruined hands.” Thomas preferred to stick to what he could see and touch. And he was never short on questions.

It was hard for Thomas to believe, so hard.

But little did Thomas know, sitting there that night, that in a few days he would see and touch those ruined hands and not have a question left to ask and only be able to stammer, “My Lord and my God”. 

 

And then picture Nathaniel.

He’s “wearing glasses as thick as a bottom of a Coke bottle” and he’s as blind as a bat without them. His nose is buried in a book.

But now he looks up and you can see butter on his chin. He takes his glasses off and as he’s cleaning them with his sleeve he squints in the dim light at the One who is sitting at the head of the table. Nathaniel is perplexed because everything he has read says that he can’t be the One.

Nathaniel keeps wondering, can anything good come out of Nazareth, can anything good come out of Smyrna?

He puts his glasses back on and returns to his book not realizing that even with his glasses on he’s blind as a bat because sitting there right in front of him is the One, the One he’s been looking for all his life.

 

And then, standing off to one side, is Mary, Mary Magdalene.

“Painted up like a cigar store Indian she stands there. A retread if there ever was one. She has more miles on her than a ‘57 Chevy. Mary’s been around. Old tart, old wreck, old brokenheart.”

But Mary knew a thing or two about love and she knew a thing or two about courage also and Mary had more love and courage than the rest of them put together. She stuck it out to the end and even beyond. In a few hours, all the others will have hightailed it into the hills leaving Jesus holding the bag.

But not Mary. Last friend, best friend, she will stick it out and stand at the foot of the cross. 

And on Sunday morning you will find her standing outside an empty tomb and whatever dark doubts you might have about what happened that morning, “one look at her face would be enough to melt them all away like the morning mist”.

 

And over here is Martha, busy as always.

Martha is cleaning up.

She wants to fuss at the men for being so messy, but she thinks better of it. She also wants to fuss at the One at the head of the table and tell him that he needs to take better care of himself, but she is afraid to say anything.

She wipes her hands on her apron and sits down for the first time since morning. She is worn out. Weariness washes over her like a great wave. She knows the men laugh at her fussiness and think she’s foolish. But staying busy is the only way she knows to keep back the emptiness and deadness she feels down deep inside.

And as she sits there wanting to rub her aching feet, she wishes with all of her heart that he would put life in her like he once put life into her brother Lazarus and raise her up out of all that is dead and empty inside her.

 

And then, of course, Simon Peter was there, Simon the Rock. 

But you have to wonder sometimes just why Jesus did call Simon “the rock.” Maybe because he could be as dense as a rock. Half the time Simon didn’t know which end was up and he was always making a fool out of himself. Simon had a big mouth and “he was always putting his foot into his big mouth and having to eat his big words.” But you have to hand it to Simon. He was always willing to stick his neck out. While the other ones played it safe, Simon was willing to put it on the line. On another evening, when the disciples were out in the middle of a lake in a boat, Jesus came to them walking on the water. While the other disciples cowered in fear, Peter stepped out on the water and actually made it a few steps. But then he took his eyes off Jesus and Peter the Rock sank like a rock. But at least he risked it, stepped out into the unknown with faith. And maybe that’s why Jesus called him “the rock”, because he could count on Peter to stick his neck out, and maybe that’s what Jesus figured the church needed most of all, what you could build a church on — somebody willing to stick his neck out, step out into the unknown with faith, and make a fool of himself for Jesus’ sake and not just be a plain fool.

And so picture Simon Peter sitting there ready to open his big mouth, ready to tell Jesus that he can count on him, that even though all the others might run away and try to save their own skins, even though all the others might deny him, he wouldn’t, no sir, not him.

And now picture Simon Peter standing in the darkness of the morning with tears “rolling down his face like rain down a rock” because in spite of his own big words he saved his own skin, he denied that he even knew Jesus.

And thus you have a picture of how hard it is not to play it safe, how hard it is to risk all, how easy it is to kid ourselves about this commitment business. And you also have a picture of why it is that we so desperately need God’s forgiveness. 

 

And then there is Judas, nervously eyeing the door.

Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

Now do not picture Judas as evil; picture him as having the best of intentions.

Judas never meant to hurt Jesus; he never meant for it to turn out like it did. He just wanted to force Jesus’ hand, to force Jesus to use his power the way he wanted. He figured that once Jesus was confronted by those clowns from the Temple, Jesus would act, let loose, use his power to take over and be a real king. Judas was so sure that if he just forced his hand, Jesus would do what he wanted him to do, be what he wanted him to be. Judas never figured that Jesus would just stand there, just stand there, and say and do nothing. Judas never figured what they would do to those hands, what Jesus would let them do to him.

And Judas also probably never figured that very soon he himself would be hanging from a tree, hung by his own good intentions.

 

And then, at the head of the table, sits The One whose eyes are alive.

He has a scrap of bread in his hand and he is leaning forward. He is saying something. And you get the feeling that whatever he is saying he wants with all his heart for them to hear it. You get the feeling that whatever he is saying somehow it could make all the difference in the world to them if they could only hear it and believe it.

And what he says is this: “Given for you.” 

“Given for you old crock and crook, given for you big mouth and bad joke, given for you mama’s boys, doubter and blind man, weary one and empty one, even for you betrayer.”

What he wants with all of his heart for them to hear are the words, “Given for you.”

Because they are the words that can make all the difference in the world.

Because to hear those words is to hear the words of life and hope and to believe those words is to somehow have life and hope.

 

And so once again we observe Maundy Thursday.

And the words we hear in the story are the words we have heard so many times before: “Given for you.”

They are simple words, and yet perhaps they are words which we still do not fully understand.

It is a terribly difficult thing to understand how one life willingly given can bring life to all. Perhaps all we can say is that there is tremendous power in those words – there is the power to transform life, to transform old crocks and crooks, big mouths and bad jokes, mama’s boys and doubters and blind men, weary ones and empty ones, even betrayers.

The power to transform even you and me. 

 

Who knows?

Maybe if we could finally hear those words, truly hear them, hear that we are loved, forgiven, we might even want to give ourselves to him and let him live in and through us.

Just picture that!

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