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.: NOTES FROM PASTOR JEFF:.

Ever since our humble beginning in 1870, St. John has been a Lutheran congregation. As Lutherans we are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The ELCA just celebrated its 25th anniversary.  Beginning January 1, 1988, three large church bodies, with shared beliefs and missions, officially formed the ELCA. Two and a half decades later, this energized church is composed of 4.8 million members and nearly 10,500 congregations across the U.S. and Caribbean. Today, the ELCA reflects the rich and diverse heritage of the people it serves.

 

As you know, we don’t necessarily push “Lutheran” at our church. We are Christians first.  Many of us come to St. John from other traditions. Or we come from no tradition at all. Many of us, began being and doing church right here.  Still, we are a Lutheran Church. We have been for 143 years. So it’s fair to ask, “What exactly makes us Lutheran?”  I’ve put together a top 10 list:

1.    We’re really big on grace. We get that heaven is ours not because of what we’ve done for God but because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

2.    We love the Bible. We believe it is an inspired and living Word; word for word the Word of God.

3.    We love music. From the very beginning Lutherans were called “the singing church.” We’re one of those.

4.    We are evangelical. We’re all about the Good News of Jesus Christ, living by it and getting it out through our words and deeds (but mostly through our deeds).

5.    As a church born out of the Reformation we see change and growth as a good thing (even though we don’t always like it).

6.    We are sacramental, seeing in both Baptism and the Communion not something we do for God, but something God does for us as God brings us grace and forgiveness.

7.    We believe everyone has a calling to serve the Lord. We like to call it equipping. Luther called it “the priesthood of all believers.”

8.    We believe that apart from Jesus Christ, there is no way of salvation. This belief drives us to share the Good News of Jesus with others for heaven’s sake.

9.    We’re all about growing up as Christians, emphasizing Christian education at all levels.

10.       We see the family as the primary setting for living out and passing on our Christian faith and values.

 

I know, other traditions cherish some of these same values; but these really are at the core of what it means to be Lutheran. And, they are also at the core of what it means to be a Christian. 

Yours, in His service,

Rev. Dr. Jeffery G. Gramza

 

Previous Messages:

March 2013

I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:5–7)

St. John Lutheran Church has been living in and proclaiming God’s Word since 1870. We are a congregation with a rich history of nurturing faith, preaching God’s word, administering the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and reaching beyond our building walls to share the love and resurrection power of Christ with the community, nation and world.  We are a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

 

In 2009 at the national assembly of the ELCA, a number of significant votes were taken, but one vote divided the church—the allowance for homosexual pastors, in same-gendered, monogamous, life-long relationships to serve the few churches around the country  in which the congregation members believe they would be best served by a gay pastor.

 

Two years ago, our congregation was embroiled in this division and was encouraged to take a vote on whether to leave the ELCA. Congregational leadership at that time prayerfully determined it would be best to take a two-year hiatus to determine God’s will for our congregation. In hindsight, this was a very courageous decision.  We have learned from almost ever congregation that did vote that regardless of the outcome of the vote, there are no winners.

 

When I was a young member of the Boy Scouts I participated in many canoe trips. When paddling a canoe down river, speed is determined by the current of the river plus the effort of the paddler.  Occasionally, I would attempt to paddle up river.  It took more work, more energy and I usually moved slowly backward.  Herein lies a biblically sound way of examining our actions.  When we are seeking to do the will of God, and going in the path God directs, then the going is easier, fulfilling and often very enjoyable.  When we seek to go our own way and serve our own will rather than God’s, then it is much like paddling a canoe upstream.  The going is hard, we make little headway, and life just feels like it is going wrong.

 

In the two years since our congregation called for a time of prayer and discernment, God has richly blessed our mission and our ministry. As pastor of this congregation I firmly believe we are working in the path God is directing. We are not a timid church. We cling to who we are and whose we are in the waters of baptism. We will continue to love as Christ loved us; we will continue to reach out as Christ reach out for us; we will continue to welcome the outcast, sinner, lonely, sick, imprisoned, addicted, dying, etc., as Christ welcomed us. Prayerfully, our days of being controlled by fear and timidity are over. We proclaim with boldness: By the power of the Spirit, we are a church confident that we have all we need. We have the treasure God has entrusted to us, the treasure of the gospel, incarnate in Jesus Christ.

 

I am asking the council to affirm with boldness and joy that we are an ELCA congregation, we are all sinners saved by grace, and we are putting the 2009 vote behind us and moving forward in our mission of Making the Love of Christ Known.

 

Your companion in His mission,

 Rev. Dr. Jeffery Gramza

January 2013

Who is the most important person in our church?

Some might think it’s the Pastor because he preaches to the congregation and shepherds the church to be the Body of Christ alive in the world.  Some might think it’s one of the WOW or Bible teachers because they are responsible for the Christian education of children and adults.  Some might think it’s the secretary or the custodian, both of which work so diligently behind the scenes each week to keep the facilities functioning as they should.  Some might think it’s one of our musicians because they help us lift our praises to God.  Some people, for some reason or another, might even think they themselves are the most important person in this church.

I say none of these are the most important in the church.  The most important person in our church is the person who came here looking for God.  They drove or walked onto this property and wanted to find out how St. John Lutheran Church can make a difference in their life.  Maybe they didn’t know many people or anything about our programs or schedule or buildings or restrooms or rules or beliefs.  They came because you, their neighbor or co-worker, told them about the church, or because they are new in town and are “shopping” for a new church home.  Maybe they came because they are in some place of crisis in their lives.  They expect to find people here who will express the love of Christ by welcoming them and helping them meet their basic needs while at church; things like where to take their kids, where the restrooms are, where to go for fellowship and a sense of belonging, where to sit in the worship center, or what to do during Holy Communion.  They wonder if people at St. John really know something about God.  They wonder if this “God and church stuff” is real.  Their hearts and minds are open to discovering what God can accomplish in their lives.  That’s why they are the most important person at our church.

Lately we’ve been blessed by the presence of many visitors each Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. I thank God for each one of them. What can you do to invite visitors to our church?  What can you do to help our visitors know how important they are to God and us? What can you do to express God’s welcome and love to them?

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Jeffery G. Gramza

 

December 2012:

One of the decorations we often see at Christmas time is the candle in the window. The candle’s cheerful warm glow is reason enough for the flame, but, as is true of most Christmas decorations, there is a story behind those candles.

In ancient Ireland hospitality was a matter of law. No homeowner could deny food, drink, entertainment and a bed for the night to any traveler. And no guests dared to pay for hospitality, though they may have entertained their hosts with a song or story. Fines were imposed on the inhospitable and at least one king was actually driven from the throne because he did not properly entertain his guests.

Candles in the windows of ancient Irish homes helped travelers find their way to hospitality. The laws protecting hospitality eventually faded, and the candles became just a Christmas decoration. But for those who remember the ancient story, the candles may remind us that Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus suffered the humiliation of inhospitality and rejection at the Inn in Bethlehem when they were in great need.

Once the decorations are up and those million things are crossed off the “to do” list we might think we are finally ready for the holiday.  But getting ready for Jesus is about preparing our hearts. We examine ourselves and turn to our God in repentance. Seeking refuge from the storms of sin in our lives we discover that there is always a candle burning in God’s window. Jesus said he is the light of the world. He said that in him we will find rest, forgiveness of sin, and shelter from the storms of life

Keep those candles burning, good Christians! As people who know that Christ has come into the world, we are beacons of light and hope for lost and weary wanderers. Share the joy! Share the light of Jesus this season!

 

Lighting a candle,

Pastor Jeff

 

November 2012:

Take and eat, this is my body (Matthew 26:26b)

 

When I was a boy, I would sit and watch my grandmother make homemade Limpa (Swedish rye bread).  I watched her work for hours on it, preparing the spices, mixing it just right, kneading it, rolling it, preparing it for the oven and watching it closely.  Sometimes I can close my eyes and still smell that wondrous aroma.

 

One day, after she had been making and baking bread all day, we had a delicious family meal.  There was the bread, hot and steaming, fresh from the oven, with a glaze of butter melting over it.  After the blessing, I reached first for the bread.  And as I ate it, it melting in my mouth, I had the strangest feeling that somehow my grandmother was in that bread.  The more I’ve thought about it since then, there was a lot of her in that bread - her labor, her time, her creativity, her life, her love. It took her life to make it.  And I began to have a new and even deeper appreciation for that bread.

 

If this can be so with mere homemade bread, how much more so can the bread from heaven be for us the body of Christ!  For in that bread, in that cup we find Christ himself - his very life kneaded, given, broken, poured out for us.

 

"So, take and eat," Jesus says, "this is my body."

 

As your family gathers around the dinner table this holiday season, remember the labor of love present in the food you eat.  From the farmers to the servers, many lives, much sacrifice, and tremendous love has been given that you might enjoy your meal.

 

As you gather with your church family around Our Lord’s Table, remember the labor of love and the life given, that you may be nourished.

First Communion:

We are about to begin our First Communion classes for children preschool age and above. Below is some information to help you decide if your child is ready to receive communion and how to get registered.

First Communion Letter      First Communion Registration Form

More information about the theology of First Communion

Response to ELCA Policy Changes:

Before I was called to St. John, I was asked to respond to the changes that occured in the policies of the ELCA in 2009.  There have been some requests for a copy of that response so I have included it below.

Pastor Jeff's Comment on the 2009 ELCA Changes

 

Please feel free to contact me at the church office or by email with any questions.

Pastor Jeffery Gramza

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