Dear People of Low's,
During the Advent and Christmas season we hear much about Mary, Jesus' mother. While in some church traditions she is lauded as a saintly, even sinless, figure, we know that God chose Mary despite her being an ordinary woman from a backwater village, Nazareth. We can imagine, however, that Mary was faithful and devout, given her response to the angel Gabriel's announcement that she would bear the Christ child: "Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:38).
It was Mary's faith, a gift of God's grace, not any special merits or qualifications (other than being a woman able to bear a child), that caused her to be "favored" by God. Martin Luther, in commenting on Mary's song, the "Magnificat" (Luke 1:46-55) imagines her saying, "I am only the workshop in which God operates." Mary was willing to act as God's servant, not taking any special credit or recognition for being Jesus' mother. She realized her own position, as being a humble person chosen for a great task.
Over the centuries Mary became known as the "God-bearer", and "Mother of God". Ultimately, however, it is Mary's example to us of faithfulness, not anything in her person, that makes her a model disciple--in fact, the first disciple of Jesus.
In considering Mary's life we might wonder how we can be "God-bearers". We might put it another way--how can we be "Christ carriers"? How can we carry or bear Jesus to others? Does our faithfullness, our servant attitude, or our willingness to share the Good News, demonstrate to others that Immanuel, "God With Us", lives in us? All of us, as Jesus' followers, have been chosen for a great task, following the example of Mary. Consider in this New Year how you, like Mary, can be a "Christ carrier" to those around you and even those neighbors far off. God loves you and I do too, Pastor John Mark
Dear People of Low’s,
This past month of November we celebrated Veterans’ Day at Low’s. It was fortunate that November 11 fell on a Sunday, giving us the perfect opportunity to honor those who have served our nation in our armed forces. It was also a day to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, what we today call the First World War. In considering that great conflict I looked into the role of chaplains with the American troops who served in that war. From April 6, 1917—Nov. 11, 1918 a total of 2,364 chaplains were commissioned to serve the American Expeditionary Forces (among them were many Lutherans). Five were killed in action, 6 died of wounds, 12 died of disease or accident, and 27 others were wounded in action. Five Distinguished Service Medals and 23 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to Great War American chaplains. Because of the notable service of chaplains to the American troops in their care, in 1926 the US Congress gave Armed Forces chaplains official military status, including special insignia and the pay and other compensation commensurate with their rank (the highest rank in the Army and Marines at that time for chaplains being colonel).
Sadly, the last American office killed in the Great War was 1st Lt. Rev. William Francis Davitt, a Roman Catholic priest. Davitt died an hour and 15 minutes before the armistice ending armed conflict was to take effect at 11 am on November 11, 1918. Davitt, an athletic former college football player, was raising a regimental flag in celebration of the war’s end when he was killed by shrapnel from an exploding German artillery shell (some troops on both sides, knowing exactly when the armistice cease-fire was to go into effect, kept their guns going until the last second, hoping to gain further military “glory”). Davitt was a recipient of numerous citations for bravery, and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for leading volunteer rescue parties who successfully saved 40 men in his command while under fire. Davitt was also awarded a Silver Star for leading volunteer burial parties while under fire.
Davitt, and other brave military chaplains who have served in all our wars, distinguished themselves not by bearing arms but by caring for soldiers in their time of greatest need—distributing Holy Communion, praying with and counseling soldiers and sailors, tending to the wounded and comforting the dying, and leading worship services. This Advent and Christmas season, be mindful of those in military service who are deployed overseas or who are otherwise unable to be join family and friends for this special time of year, and give thanks for military chaplains, who serve Christ by serving them.
God loves you and so do I, Pastor John Mark
What is Ash Wednesday? And, for that matter, what is Lent? On February 14, 2018 we will begin the observance of that season of the church year we know as Lent. February 14 is an odd mix of observances, in fact, as it is both St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. This means that many folks, rather than being in worship, may be out having dinner or watching a movie with their significant other. But while the commercial and cultural importance of St. Valentine’s Day far overshadows that of Ash Wednesday (I doubt if anyone of you has ever received a “Happy Ash Wednesday” card!), as far as our life of faith goes Ash Wednesday is a bigger deal. Ash Wednesday has its origins as far back as the early 5th century, when it was simply called the “Beginning of the Fast”. It was the first day of Lent, a time of fasting, prayer, and repentance, marking the 40 days prior to Maundy Thursday, the day Christians remember the last night Jesus spent with his disciples and the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). On Ash Wednesday Christians begin their journey of Lent with the imposition of ashes on their foreheads, in the form of a cross, a symbol of sorrow and repentance for sin (ashes being a sign of mourning in ancient Judaism) and our reliance on what Christ has done for us on the cross for forgiveness of our sin and the new life we have in him. During the 40 days of Lent (the word comes from the old Anglo-Saxon term for “spring”) we focus on our relationship with Christ, in prayer, Scripture reading, acts of devotion and good works, and special times of worship. We particularly remember Christ’s great sacrifice for us, and allow that to motivate us to be better witnesses for him in the world. Lent had its origins in the time of preparation for Christian baptism, as candidates for baptism were taught the Scriptures and the orthodox Christian faith. Since many came from pagan backgrounds, they had much to learn. While this practice is not so common today, we still see the observance of Lent as a useful time to increase our faith and better our walk with Christ.
The Gospel of Mark: This year in the lectionary calendar for the church year (the lectionary being a selection of readings, generally an Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel text for each Sunday of the year) we focus on Mark. The “Year of Mark” is designated as “Year B”, with “Year A” focusing on Matthew and “Year C” on Luke. You may wonder about John—his gospel is spread out as readings over the entire three year span, but features most prominently in “Year B”. This is doubtless due to the fact that Mark’s gospel (gospel coming from the Old English “godspel”—“good tale”) is the shortest of the four—at 16 chapters. Matthew’s narrative runs 28 chapters, and Luke’s 24, with John’s coming in at 21. Mark is considered one of the “Synoptic Gospels”, along with Matthew and Luke (“synoptic” meaning to “take the same or common view”). Those three gospels share much of their content in common, with John being very different. Mark is widely considered the oldest of the four gospels, having been composed between 64—70 AD, around the time of the ruinous First Jewish War with Rome and the destruction of the Temple. Mark’s gospel emphasizes the failures of Jesus’ first disciples, perhaps inspired by the first great persecution of Christians that took place during the reign of Nero following the Great Fire in Rome in 64 AD. While many Christians bravely testified to their faith in Christ and were martyred, others were likely not so brave, and either renounced their faith or sought other means of avoiding death and suffering. The failure of the Twelve would have been a message to the entire Christian community that even the most devoted follower of Jesus can falter—but will be welcomed back into the fold when they acknowledge their sin and seek forgiveness. Mark uses the term “immediately” often as a way to move his narrative along. There is not story of Jesus’ birth (unlike Matthew and Luke), and no account of the risen Jesus (the end of Mark is rather abrupt—the women, who find the tomb empty, run away, terrified, after being told by an angel that Jesus had been raised. During most of 2018 we will be dwelling in Mark’s gospel, so it would be a good idea to read this short book at one or two sittings to get an overview of the life, work, and teaching of Jesus according to Mark the evangelist.