January 19, 2021

 Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

 When Jesus says: "REPENT!" what does that mean to you?  For many, the word means: "stop having fun and get to work!”  The basic meaning of the word is, "turn around": stop running away from God, turn toward God.

 I suspect that some of us may recall times in our younger years when we wanted to run away from home.  We may have even packed a small suitcase with a few clothes and headed out the door with the intent to be free from the restrictions of living under our parents rule.  It was our understanding that if we could be "free", we would be happy.  Unfortunately, there have been too many "runaways" that have experienced a sad and tragic life as a result of that way of thinking.

 We are all "runaways".  It is part of our sinful condition that we want to be free from any restrictions so that we can do what we want to do.  That does not make us free at all, instead, it makes us slaves of our own desires.  In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, January 24, (see back of this bulletin) we discover that Jesus is inviting us to stop running away from the rule of God and turn around so that we can hear Jesus invitation to live under the "good news".  The kingdom of God (the rule of God) is intended to give us life in all its fullness, not to take away our fun.

 Why do we have so much trouble believing that Jesus really wants us to have a rich and happy life?  Why do we believe that Jesus is a "kill-joy"?  Why do so many people stay away from the church because they see it as a "downer" rather than an "upper"?  Is it our own guilt that colors the picture?  Is our thinking shaped by what we see on TV rather than the "good news of Jesus"?  Most of us hear too much "bad news" from the media and not enough Gospel (good news) from God.  If we spent less time hearing/reading the news from the media and more time in hearing/reading the Bible, would we have a different view of life?  I encountered a lady in our community recently who told me she gave away her TV.  That is a radically different way to live.  She says she gets all the news she needs and does not want her life to be dominated by what is being said on TV.

 Jesus says in our Gospel reading: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news"!  Turn around!  HEAR THE GOOD NEWS!  BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!  The invitation from Jesus to "follow me" also beings the invitation to "fish for people”. We swim in troubled waters.  These are very hard times for many, many people.  As disciples of Jesus, we can join in God's mission to bring "good news" to our neighbors.

 Blessings on your "good news" journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

January 12, 2021
Dear Family of Our Redeemer's
"FOLLOW ME"!  It was late summer in 1965.  I had just completed my Clinical Pastoral Education at Lutheran Deaconess Hospital in Chicago.  Juanita was to drive from Minneapolis, meet me at the bus station in Chicago and we would proceed together to Cincinnati to work on plans and arrangements for our wedding there in October.  Even though she was familiar with city driving in Cincinnati and Minneapolis, she got lost in Chicago trying to get to the bus station.  Ending up in a "not so good" area of the Windy City, she pulled over to the curb and stopped her car to try to figure things out.  A big fancy car pulled up behind her and a man in a white suit, smoking a cigar, who saw that she was likely confused and out of her comfort zone, got out of his car and came to her driver’s side window to ask if she was lost and where she needed to go.  After she explained it to him, he simply said: "FOLLOW ME"! He led her to the bus station, waved goodbye, and went on his way.  We have often referred to him as "the angel in a white suit with a cigar".  Juanita and I did connect at the bus station and proceeded on our way to Cincinnati.
In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, (John 1: 43-51 see back of bulletin), Jesus begins his ministry by calling his first disciples with the invitation: "FOLLOW ME"!  There have been and will continue to be many people, now and then, who invite us to follow them in this cause or that cause. It is always important to know who is calling us to join them.
The invitation from Jesus, "FOLLOW ME"!, is different from all other invitations.  Jesus calls us to join Him in a mission that is scary, uncharted, dangerous, challenging, and costly and is focused on the needs of others.  It may cost us our lives, even as it cost Jesus His life.  I have been humbled by some of my seminary classmates who answered the call of Jesus to be missionaries in unreached parts of the globe or in poverty ridden, high crime neighborhoods of our cities.  Significant progress has been made throughout the world in bringing hope, education, food security, clean water, peace, faith, and improved living conditions by those who have had the courage to follow Jesus into these areas of great need.
Where will the call of Jesus lead you?  Where will the call of Jesus lead Our Redeemer's?  Do we know who is calling?  Do we have enough faith to trust this "stranger from Galilee" who got himself killed because he loved the world so much?
Every day we ask ourselves: "What does it mean for me this day when Jesus says, "FOLLOW ME?"  Every new day is an unknown.  "We walk by faith and not by sight".  We do know who Jesus is, Son of God, Savior of the world.  We pray that we may have the courage and faith to respond like those first disciples and gladly follow Jesus wherever He leads us.
Blessings on your journey as a disciple of Jesus,
Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

January 5, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

Recently, we received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service requesting "identity verification".  They were planning to process our 2019 Form 1040 Tax Return and needed to verify that we were legitimate, that we were not "robots", that we actually were the persons named on the return, and that we were responsible for the information on the return. There was a telephone number that we were instructed to call. Each time we tried to fulfill that request, their phones were so busy that we were told to try later or try the next day. The "please hold" time was usually significant. As we came near to the deadline indicated in the letter, our anxiety climbed higher. Finally, we connected with a person and were assured that we had done nothing wrong but that the random sampling had selected us as part of the process to assure "truth and accuracy" in the IRS records.

Ever since Christmas, we have been asking the question: "Are you the One who is to come or should we look for another?"  The Gospel for this coming Sunday, the Baptism of our Lord, concludes with the answer, "And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.  Because our "sin problem" is so serious, leading to death, it is very important that we have a Savior who is genuine, adequate, legitimate, and committed to the task of freeing us from sin, death, and the power of evil. History records a long list of "false messiah's", so the need for identity verification is very real.

In the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven announced His identity. In your baptism and in mine, our identity has been announced and verified with the words, "Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever". God's Word has declared "who we are, and whose we are". As we move into the year 2021, this clear statement about us fills us with hope and confidence, even as we live in a world filled with turmoil and pain.

On January 9, @ 1pm, Bishop elect Rev. Anne Edison-Albright will be installed as Bishop of the East Central Synod of the ELCA. You can view that service on Facebook Live or join the Synod zoom at ecsw.org. It is interesting and significant that his event is titled: Service of Welcome, celebrating the gift of baptism and the beginning of ministry with Bishop Anne Edison-Albright. It is also significant that your daily life of ministry and my daily life of ministry is grounded in the truth that in our baptism God claimed and named us "Child of God". Our identity has been verified. We can continue our ministry in confidence.

Blessings on your baptismal journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

December 29, 2020

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

We are living in the "Twelve Days of Christmas"! We are living in the Light! The Light is shining in the darkness and the darkness will not be able to overcome it!

The days after Christmas may be a good time for some reflection about whether the Christmas message was allowed to do its renewing and energizing work in our lives or whether the season left us exhausted, relieved that it is over, or made no difference at all. Although this Christmas was "like no other" because of the pandemic, with restrictions on family, church, and social gatherings, the message of God coming into this broken world with His presence, grace, truth, peace, and love is the "One Message" that can "Light up our lives!". The message of Christmas is transformational! God's coming into our world and into our lives is able to "make all things new"!

There is also something very exciting about the promise of a new calendar year. We will all look back at 2020 with different feelings and perspectives. For some of us, it has been a "very bad year". For some of us, it has been a "very good year". For all of us, it has been a "different kind of year". The Covid 19 virus has "ruled the world". And yet, for all of us, "He (Jesus) rules the world with Truth and Grace!” Far too much and far too often, we allow the circumstances or situations in our lives to be more determinative than the "Joy to the world" that we have just sung about.

So, what is your perspective about The New Year? How are you feeling about your future? There is truth in some of the oft-quoted phrases: "What you see is what you get!" or "Your perception is your reality".  Looking at the future through the Christmas message can indeed transform each day of The New Year.

I keep learning that some of our greatest hymns of praise have been written during times in history when terrible things were happening. In times of various plagues, drought, persecution, suffering, mass deaths, and other tragedies, people of faith have been able to see through their tears the ultimate redeeming truth of Jesus. The Baby born in a manger was put to death on the Cross. But His death was turned into Resurrection! That Light is for all of us "The Light shining in the darkness" and "The darkness will not be able to overcome it".

When the Sundays of Christmas come to an end, we are lead to Epiphany (The Season of Light). The Light of the world is in our midst!

Blessings on your journey of Light,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

December 15, 2020

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

This coming Sunday, December 20, is the last Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas. Does it really seem like Christmas this year? Many of the activities that we ordinarily do or take part in during the month of December did not happen this year. With the isolation and separation required to try to keep the virus from invading our lives, it has not been a "normal" season of preparation for Christmas.

Is it possible that there might be some "positives" in this enforced change in our schedules and activities?  How would you describe a "good Christmas"? The focus in two of the readings for this week center on the announcement to Mary that she was to "birth the Messiah" (The Gospel: Luke 1:26-38) and her response (Psalm: Luke 1:46b-55). The angel Gabriel came to Mary with an unusual message: "Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you." Mary's life would never be the same again, even as pregnancy in any family changes the picture forever.

Regardless of what our Christmas preparations and activities look like this year, if we hear the message of the angel: "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you", it will be a good Christmas for us. If we do not hear that announcement that the Lord is with us, the season and the future could be frightening and bleak. The best Christmas for all of us is wrapped up in the words: "The Lord is with you!". The worst Christmas is when we feel isolated and alone.

When Mary hears the words, "The Lord is with you!”, she is willing to accept the unusual assignment given to her to be the "Christ Bearer". She is able to break forth in a song of joy: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior". There will be challenges, hardships, heartache, questions, and pain in this journey but her song is still being sung around the world twenty centuries later.

When we greet each other in worship before prayer with the words, "The Lord be with you!" and receive the response, "And also with you", we are conveying to each other the heart of the Christmas message. In the birth of Jesus, God is with us. That makes it a good Christmas and that "good news" can carry us into the New Year and the rest of our lives.

Blessings on your Christ-bearing journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

December 8, 2020

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

 We are entering the darkest days of the year. According to the Weather Channel, the sun will set at 4:10 P. M. for the next several days before the days lengthen and we begin the movement toward more light. The early sunset and the early darkness can have an impact on our mood, outlook, and spirit. It becomes especially important that we look to the “Light of the World" to shatter our darkness.

 In the beautiful liturgy of Evening Prayer (Vespers) in our hymnal, the worship leader and the congregation call to each other in proclamation and prayer for the Light to enter our darkness:

 L: "Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

C: the light no darkness can overcome.

L: "Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening,

C: and the day is almost over.

L: "Let your light scatter the darkness,

C: and illumine your church.

 The very first verses in our Bible, when God created the heavens and the earth, God spoke Light into the darkness: "And God said, 'Let there be light': and there was light". All living things are in need of light. When the first humans turned away from God in the garden of Eden to pursue independence and selfishness, the light of God was dimmed and darkness invaded their existence. Immediately, God promised that a Savior would come to restore and redeem the fallen creation.

 We are well into the season of Advent. In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, December 13, (John 1:6-8, 19-28--see back cover of this bulletin), John the Baptist has come upon the scene to announce that God was about to enter the darkness in the world with the light of His own presence. After centuries of waiting, people were obviously excited about what they heard from John and mistakenly thought he was the fulfillment of the promise. John quickly turned the spotlight away from himself and pointed to Jesus, the Light of the world.

 In these longest, darkest days of the year, it is obvious that we need the Light of the World as desperately as did those who had waited so long when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Our Advent scriptures encourage us not to give up hope.  God has come, continues to come to us each day, comes to us in bread and wine at His table, and will come again to fulfill His plan. In the darkest days of the year and in the dark days of human history, we wait with hope, joy, peace, and confidence. God does what God has promised to do. God will come to save us! Rejoice! Celebrate!

Blessings on your expectant journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

November 17, 2020

Dear Family of Our Redeemer’s,

I was looking forward to CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY (this Sunday), instead, it is giving me “fits”.  For the most of 55 years of my pastoral ministry, I have not preached a sermon or had to prepare a letter to the congregation for CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY because I was always at “deer camp” on this weekend and, of course, you don’t prepare “sermons” for deer camp.

NOW, I don’t know how to deal with the Gospel assigned to this day from Matthew 25:31-46.   (see back cover of the bulletin).  The KING sitting on His judgement throne is using different criteria in separating the “sheep“ from the “goats”, and it is messing with my comfort zone.  Does my response “to the least of thee” determine my eternal destiny?  Is the KING really a JUDGE?  I sincerely confess that the focus of my life has not been primarily focused on “the least of these”.  Am I doomed to spend eternity with the “goats”?

What I was really expecting from this coming Sunday was the words from the great oratorio of George Frederick Handel in the “THE MESSIAH”:

                King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever and ever;

                                Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”

JESUS CHRIST is truly a different kind of KING! His entry into this world as the Son of God was always focused toward “the least of these”.  His mission of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead, and lifting up the lowly demonstrated that the KINGDOM OF GOD is about LOVE!  Another great hymn that emphasizes the truth that THIS KING is different from all other kings invites us to sing: (LBW#456)

                “The king of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth ever,

                I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.

                And so, through all the length of days, thy goodness faileth never,

                Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house forever.”

We can see CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY as an invitation rather than a judgment.   The important work of ministry to the “least of these” is possible for us because God has provided all that we need in creation, redemption, and Spirit-empowerment.  What a joy to be partners, “God’s work, our hands”, and to anticipate the KING saying to us: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you “.

Blessings on your servant journey,

Interim Supply Pastor

Fred Mai