June 22, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

Last week I began this weekly letter by quoting a familiar hymn, "Jesus, Savior, Pilot me".  This week another newer hymn jumps into my mind after reading the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday from Mark 5:21-43 (see back of this bulletin): "Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow."(With One Voice, #738).

As Lutheran Christians, we may tend to delegate "healing" to doctors, health professionals, and hospitals and focus on "spiritual issues" in the church.  We are suspicious of "faith healers" but have high respect (as we rightly should) for those who are dedicating their lives to the well-being of our physical, emotional, and mental health.  While much of the public ministry of Jesus involved teaching and preaching, when the crowds flocked around him, it was often "healing" for loved ones or for individuals themselves that came to the center of his attention.

Each Sunday in our worship service, we name those requesting prayer. While we welcome any kind of need as an appropriate reason for requesting prayer, it is often a need for "healing" that pushes us to place our name or the name of someone we love on that prayer list.  We encourage and invite members and friends to entrust such concerns to the "prayers of the church".  It is our great privilege, as members of the body of Christ, to support one another with our prayers.

Because of Covid 19 and the need for quarantine or isolation, Our Redeemer's has not held a public "healing service" during this period of time.  It has been our practice in those "healing services" to invite any person to present themselves or to come forward in the name of someone who cannot be present for the "laying on of hands" and a prayer for healing.  The personal touch with the "laying on of hands" was often a significant part of Jesus ministry.  In our Gospel Reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus healed the daughter of Jairus, a respected leader, as well as a woman who was considered an "outcast".  It was His loving touch and His powerful words that carried healing and wholeness to the one in need.

What needs for healing do you have in your life?  All of us are sick and broken.  There is illness, regret, failure, sin, loneliness, broken relationships, pain of various kinds, loss of hope, or loss of faith in all of us.  Can you bring those illnesses to Jesus?  Do you need to invite a Christian friend to come and pray with you?  Do you yearn for the loving touch of "the laying on of hands" from a trusted believer?

There is comfort and hope in the words of the hymn quoted at the beginning of this message: "Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow".

Blessings on your journey of healing,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

June 14, 2021

 Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

"Jesus Savior, pilot me, over life's tempestuous sea;

Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treach'rous shoal;

Chart and compass come from thee. Jesus, Savior, pilot me."

(LBW #334)

Our Gospel Reading for next Sunday, June 20, describes the experience of the disciples in a boat on the sea when a great windstorm threatened their safety (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus was with them "but he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion". You know the story well. They woke him up, He stilled the storm, and He asked them: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

Certainly, there are storms of one kind or another in all of our lives. We are familiar with many of them: loss of a loved one, physical pain and suffering, financial challenges, family conflict, mistreatment from a friend or neighbor, heartache from lost love or abuse, mental illness, disappointed hopes, loneliness or depression, etc, etc, etc. We may question at times whether we will make it through the day. We may even wish we could die so that the hurting would stop. These difficult times may last for a short time or a lifetime. No one is exempt or free from storms. As part of the broken world we live in and being part of the fallen humanity of which we are all part, it is expected that we will go through such periods in our journey between the cradle and the grave.

SO, HOW ARE YOU DOING? According to the Gospel reading from Mark 4, it does make a difference as to who is with you during the storm. When the disciples remembered that Jesus was with them and they turned to Him for help, calm returned in their boat ride, because "even the wind and the sea obey him." A familiar statement or prayer that many people use to reassure themselves at the beginning of each day states: "Lord, there's nothing that can happen to me today that YOU and I can't handle together". Jesus is with us every day and has promised: "I will never leave you or forsake you."

The hymn that was quoted above at the beginning of this article has helped countless millions of people make it through the storms in their lives. Jesus, himself, made it though the worst storm of all: His crucifixion and death. He emerged triumphant in His resurrection and now lives to lead us all through hard times to better days. We may even get to the time when we can sleep through storms because of His "peace". Every day we can hear His voice saying: "Peace, be still!" Whether we are asleep or awake, the power of His presence does indeed bring peace. "May the peace of God that passes all human understanding, guard and keep your life in Christ Jesus. Amen."

Blessings on your stormy journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

June 6, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

 How blest it feels to be alive and living in this part of God's world in this amazing time!! The miracles of springtime, planting, awakening, new life, growth, warmth, outdoor activity and more call us into awe and wonder as we see God at work in such inspiring ways. The words of the great hymn: "How great Thou Art!" flow spontaneously and loudly from our heart and voice in these glorious days. Each day is a fresh experience of the Creator God doing what God does in this world and in His Kingdom.

 Jesus often used agricultural images to try to help us understand "The Kingdom of God". In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, June 13, (Mark 4:26-34 see back of this bulletin) He talks about sowing seeds that germinate, grow into big plants or trees, and produce a harvest or shelter for living creatures great and small. Even brilliant scientists stand in awe of the activity of God that happens in creation and the cosmos every day. God surprises us with unexpected grace and delight as our lives are birthed and fulfill His plan.

 There is a lot of "mystery" in life. There are many things we do not understand and will never understand. The activity of God is greater than human comprehension. We do not have to understand it to enjoy and revel in it. The Good News is that God is great and God is good!! We trust that and live out our lives each day in that joy and confidence.

 All of these questions about the "Kingdom of God" can seem remote or unimportant for the daily struggles or activities in which we are involved, but it can be very personal if we restate the questions to ask: "How is the Kingdom of God unfolding in my life? How is the rule of God shaping me as a person in my family, my church, my community, and world? What kind of harvest is God trying to bring about in me?" This is not just about "theory", this is about "daily living".

 These are "encouraging words" from Jesus. These parables give us hope that we can actually amount to something, accomplish something, and fulfill a significant purpose in this world. The "mystery" of life, growth, and harvest does not depend on us, but is given to us as a GIFT! It comes from the One who has birthed us. God is at work in us, "to will and to do His good pleasure".

Take heart, dear Ones! The Kingdom of God is at work in you! The seed of the Kingdom has been planted in you through the Word, in Baptism, and in Holy Communion. The Gardner will watch and tend His plantings! The Gardner will bring forth a harvest! We celebrate as the seeds of the Kingdom sprout and grow in our lives and our community.

Blessings as you go on your way rejoicing!

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

June 1, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's
How interesting it is that halfway between Mother's Day and Father's Day we get this revolutionary statement from Jesus of what is means to be a "family".  He defines "family" in terms of "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."  (Mark 3:35)  While most of us define family on the basis of "birth" and "blood lines", Jesus uses actions or behavior as the grounds for determining what makes a family.
Loyalty to a common cause does indeed create strong ties between people.  Clubs and organizations are formed because people share the same interest or passion about some project, topic, program, need, or issue.  That concern draws them together and unites them in thought and action.
Unfortunately, many of us focus our lives on ourselves.  We, ourselves, become the center of attention.  Our own wants, desires, needs, well-being, and interests shape what we think and do on most days of our lives.  Jesus invites us to a higher goal, "doing the will of God".  Self-interest leads us to a dead end.  Minds turned toward God and others generates positive energy, enthusiasm, excitement, action, and a feeling of unity.  We have this sense of "oneness with others" when our thoughts, words, and deeds are driven toward this higher goal of love for God and neighbor.
 The "Church" is often described as a family.  I have chosen to direct these weekly letters to "Dear Family of Our Redeemer's".  When we come together for worship, study, work, or play we sense a common bond.  It feels good!  It feels right!  It feels like "this is the way it is supposed to be"!  How fortunate we are to be part of the family of Our Redeemer's.
Jesus also showed us by His own life that there may be some pain and suffering in being family and doing the will of God.  He was driven by His love and concern for others, not his own pleasure or well-being.  It is the will of God that all people experience kindness, care, security, safety, love, daily bread, a sense of being cherished, and belonging.  God invites us be His ambassadors  in spreading this feeling to others each day of our lives.  There may be some cost involved.  Love often involves self-denial and sacrifice, but there is joy in knowing that we are doing the "will of God" and being "family".
Thank you for who you are and what you do in making the family of Our Redeemer's the blessing it is to so many people in our community and beyond.
Blessings, dear sisters and brothers,
Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

April 19, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

This coming Sunday, April 25, is often called GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY.  The Psalm (23) is one of the most beloved passages in the whole Bible. It is read at most funerals.  You, perhaps have heard it so often that you could recite it from memory. It brings comfort to people in time of illness, adversity, or death.  Its rich expression of God's tender love and care for His flock (all people) assures us that we are always being watched over, guided, protected, and united with other sheep in the fold.  Its words inspire security, safety, confidence, and joy knowing that we are in good hands.

In the Gospel Reading for this Sunday, (John 10:11-18) Jesus refers to himself as THE GOOD SHEPHERD.  In contrast to a "hireling", who is simply doing a job because he/she is being paid, and who would abandon the flock in time of danger, Jesus makes it clear that He is committed to care for the sheep even if it costs His life.  Moreover, there is a "relationship" between the two: Jesus knows His sheep and the sheep know Him and recognize His voice.  Flocks being sheltered together at night for safety purposes could be sorted and claimed by voice in the morning to head out for pasture.  In the verses preceding our assigned reading from John 10, voice recognition was clearly one of the distinctions between a "good shepherd" and a "hireling".

"I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. . . I lay down my life for the sheep" (14a & 15b).  There are a lot of different "voices" calling us, "follow me".  Whose voice are you following?  Whose voice am I following? Every day we receive phone calls that are obvious scams. Pretending to be interested in helping, they are very clever in trying to get access to information that will allow them to exploit us. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  (10:10)

I do find it hard to understand how the message from Jesus is so easily ignored, dismissed and discounted.  More and more people seem to believe they can fix everything on their own. Conditions and relationships in the world continue to deteriorate. We seem to be destroying ourselves. Our democracy and country may crumble and fall from within. Our trust in government and political leaders appears to be empty and vain.  The world is in a mess. Will we come back to the GOOD SHEPHERD or will we "go down to the dust" in our independence, foolishness and false hope in self-reliance?

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want...  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Blessings in the flock of the Good Shepherd,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

April 13, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

We have come into the Easter and Springtime seasons.  It is, for most people of the world, a time of hope and new life!  The resurrection is a "big deal". Springtime is a "big deal".  Both are signs of new life!!  According to the Bible, the resurrection is a "super big deal!"  Listen to what we hear in I Corinthians 15:17-20.  "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died."

The early Church was so convinced of the importance of the resurrection that they moved the day of worship, the Sabbath (seventh), to the First Day of the week.  It almost sounds as if the disciples of Jesus had come to understand that the Old Testament pattern of working for the first six days of the week and then resting and worshipping on the seventh day should be changed because of the resurrection so that we should begin the week with a celebration of new life and then praise God throughout the whole week with all the other necessary things we do.  The resurrection of Jesus has definitely changed the way we live this day and the rest of our lives.

After Jesus has been put to death on the cross, the hopes and dreams of his follower had died as well.  But in the account of Jesus appearance to His disciples in our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Luke 24:36b-48 see back of this bulletin), the comforting words "Peace be with you", caused them to be "startled and terrified".  It was more than they could handle so Jesus helped them through their confusion and fear and shared a meal with them.  Jesus continues to share a meal with us when we gather in His name and says to each one of us: "Peace be with you!".

We live in disturbing times.  The daily fear, hatred, violence, and killing that takes place almost every day makes it hard to live in the joy of Easter.  It seems that we are enmeshed in the crucifying spirit of Good Friday rather than the life giving spirit of Easter.  And, it seems at this time in history, that the crucifying spirit is the stronger of the two.  All followers of Jesus, from the first century A.D. to the 21st century, have been caught between these two spirits.  Where will we stand? How then shall we live?

We are Easter people.  The word of LIFE comes from the empty tome, from all the "PEACE BE WITH YOU'S" during worship and in daily living and from the living Jesus who walks with us each day.  PEACE BE WITH YOU speaks more loudly than all the other voices we hear each day.  Allow that PEACE to lead you into Galilee and to all the other places you travel each day.

Blessings on your "peace" journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

March 30, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

Early in my ministry, about 50 years ago, when contemporary music and liturgy were changing the way Christians worshipped, a guitar-playing Roman Catholic Priest introduced this song into our community: "I can hardly believe my eyes, everything gives me a big surprise, nothing dies or lies in the grave, IT'S ALIVE!"  As we move through Holy Week towards Easter, that song keeps moving me forward with hope and anticipation.  In a world where death promotes itself to be the final word, we desperately need the Easter message.

Another song from a more recent creative musician is entitled, "Roll away the stone".  It points to the dark days after the crucifixion of Jesus when His body was in the tomb, guarded by a huge stone placed there to keep the disciples from stealing His body and proclaiming that "He has arisen!"

Early on the first day of the week, the women who brought spices to anoint His body, were concerned about the huge stone that would prevent them from carrying out their final act of love.  To their amazement, they discovered that the stone had already been rolled away and the body of Jesus was not in the tomb.

The joy and excitement that was experienced by the disciples and friends of Jesus on that first Easter, breaks into each day of our lives anew in 2021.  We are an Easter people.  But, many of us still live as though Jesus is still locked up in the tomb.  "ROLL AWAY THE STONE"!  What are the "huge stones" in your life that are preventing the living Jesus from bringing hope and joy into your experience"

It is painful to listen to the news each day.  Sin and evil continue to crucify people.  Jesus is locked out of the deliberations and plans going on in many of our daily transactions.  We tend to live as though he were still in the tomb.  Something very important and essential is missing.

In the Gospel reading for Easter Sunday, Mark 16:1-8 (See back of this bulletin) the women coming to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus were asking:  "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"  Much to their surprise, the stone had already been rolled away and the tomb was empty.  The young man in the tomb dressed in white announced to them and to us: "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him just as he told you."

The Easter angel is still announcing to us each day: "Jesus is going ahead of you to . . .(Suring, Gillett, Oconto Falls, Green Bay. etc.); there you will see him, just as he told you."  We are an Easter people at Our Redeemer's and whatever other places we go.

Blessings on your Easter journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

March 23, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

This coming Sunday is titled: SUNDAY OF THE PASSION/PALM SUNDAY.  The observance of PALM SUNDAY has become more subdued in recent years and the focus has moved more quickly and directly toward SUNDAY OF THE PASSION.  What does this mean?

When King Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds should have anticipated that Jesus had a different agenda from what they expected.  Their long-standing hopes for an Imperial Ruler who would give them improved living conditions and prosperity of riches did not match up with Jesus on a young donkey's colt.  Yet, they continued to act out their false hopes and delusions.  They tried to make him into their kind of KING.

The world continues to live out its false hopes and delusions.  What's in it for me?  Why isn't Jesus like Santa Claus, bringing me the toys on my wish list?  Could it be that Jesus is so much wiser and knows what we can't quite grasp?  In the wisdom of God Jesus knew that it is more blessed to live for others than to spend a lifetime chasing the "me first" dream.

The Church, too, can be drawn into the same delusions as the world.  Self-sacrifice does not quite match up with our idea of what it means to be a Christian.  Success and glory are much more appealing to us. Good feelings of being "highly favored" draws more "likes" on our face book page than the "cost of discipleship".  The way of the cross draws fewer followers than the road to glory.

SUNDAY OF THE PASSION is the passageway into HOLY WEEK.  It is a week of deep reflection.  It is a good time to ask some honest questions about the meaning and direction of our lives.  Today we read a very long Gospel, and as you notice on the back of this bulletin, we were offered the opportunity to read both Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark, instead of our choice of only Chapter 15.

HOLY WEEK is intended to be a different kind of week on our journey instead of the "same old, same old".  It is a gift that we can use or squander, it is an opportunity that we can use wisely or waste.  To walk with Jesus through the hard choices, ugly rejections, painful beatings, disgraceful ridicule, public shaming, arrogant mockery, etc. etc. etc.--these can be transformative for our spiritual lives and selves.  I encourage you to spend more time with the Bible readings included in this bulletin; think about what Jesus went through for you and me; reflect on how much he loved you to save you from your sins; think about the kind of life Jesus would like for you to live; pray for yourself and others; pray for those who are suffering and in need; look in faith toward resurrection and new life.  GET READY TO MEET JESUS, not only on the Road to Emmaus but on every road that you travel.  "And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world".

Blessings on your Holy Week journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

March 16, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

Ah, sweet springtime!! This morning, the ground is white even as the calendar tells us we are four days from the first day of Spring. However, the forecasts are telling us that it will soon be warmer and new life will spring from the earth. Ah, sweet springtime!!

The cycle of death and new life is visible in creation. When people are starving, it is very hard to plant their seeds in the earth with the hope for more food in the future. In our daily lives, the pull to spend ourselves on ourselves usually seems to be the smart choice rather than giving our lives to others. The statement by Jesus: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." is a daily challenge.

There is a heavy mood of sadness during the season of Lent. We follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to die. His impending death seems to be the loss of all hopes and dreams: "We had hoped that He would be the One to redeem His people". It is hard to believe that His death would bring life to the world. So, we follow Jesus with mixed feelings of disappointment, confusion, grief, loss, and hope. We are torn, weary, but follow because there is no other way to go.

Why not skip Lent? Why do we have to go through all this sad stuff? Why not go straight to Easter? I remember an oft-quoted statement from a book many years ago: "You will be dead as long as you refuse to die". There is much in our lives that needs to die: selfishness, fear, hatred, greed, stubbornness, etc.  When we ignore or deny that we are not OK as we are ("I'm OK, you're OK), we allow death to reign in our lives without being open to something better. The old must die, so that the new can be born.

Nor can we live in the wilderness of Lent without the hope of "the promised land". Luther's Small Catechism continues to be helpful in understanding our daily baptismal journey: "It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." This is not just wishful thinking or pie in the sky. Luther points us to the solid foundation of Holy Scripture as the basis for our hope: "St. Paul says in Romans 6, "We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of Life".

Each day is a new day of Springtime! Each day is both crucifixion and resurrection. We die daily, but more importantly, we rise anew each day. Thanks be to God for the grain of wheat in our lives that falls into the earth each day, dies, but "bears much fruit".

Blessings on your daily journey of death and life!

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

 March 9, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

It seems hard to believe that we are already halfway through Lent. Without the mid-week Lenten gatherings, whether of Lenten Services or Lenten Bible Studies, this year’s preparation for Easter does not really feel like Lent. Perhaps the Gospel for this coming Sunday, March 9, from one of the most familiar passages in the Bible, John 3:14-21, (see back cover of this bulletin) will help move us in spirit through the crucifixion and the resurrection.

In the readings for next Sunday, the Gospel clearly flows out of the First Reading from Numbers 21:4-9, which has always been a challenge to understand and interpret. The bronze serpent on the pole and Jesus on the cross do not seem like the same thing. But the writer of the Gospel of John makes a clear connection between the two. The Gospel message on the inside cover of this bulletin, "Look and Live", is helpful in our search for understanding.

Truth and honesty are often hard to come by. We tend to be "people of the lie". It is our natural tendency to put on a happy face for the world, pretend that we have it all together, deny that we are torn apart by our failures and shortcomings, disappointed in what we have done and left undone, ignore that we are in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves, not capable of taking off the disguise that we wear each day. We are fearful that if people really know us, they will not accept us or love us.

The bronze serpent on the pole and Jesus on the Cross invite and welcome us. Truth and honesty, confession and forgiveness, are necessary before healing and freedom can come into our lives. While John 3:16, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life," may be the best known and most memorized verse in the whole Bible, the verse following it is also life-giving as it portrays the nature and character of the God to whom we are accountable. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17).

We do recognize that God is Holy and we are not. We know that God is the Judge and there is a natural fear in facing the Judge, considering our sins, failures, and shortcomings. But Jesus, offering himself on the cross for our sake, certainly changes everything. Justice has been satisfied, the righteousness of Christ has been given to us as a gift, we are freed from condemnation and judgment, the future is open, and we are "free to sing, and work, and love". In the somber mood of Lent, the light of joy is dawning as we see Jesus on the cross for us.

Blessings on your Lenten hope,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

March 2, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's,

We continue on our journey through Lent, looking for hope, renewal of trust in God's mercy rather than our own works, and a renewal of vitality and excitement about our daily walk with the living Jesus. God's purpose in sending Jesus is to "make all things new". Each new day is a new gift. Each new day is an opportunity to experience this abundant life in Christ. It is guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus..

In our Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, March 7, (John 2:13-22, printed on the back of this bulletin), we encounter an angry Jesus. It is not the typical picture that we expect from the kind, compassionate, merciful Savior. The house of prayer has become a marketplace, and the access to forgiveness is limited to those who can afford it. The angry Jesus overturns the tables and spills the money all over the place by driving the people and the animals out of the temple with the words: "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"

Obviously, those who think they are providing a service to temple customers, are confused. They are assuming that "Jesus has lost his mind". When he states that if they "destroy this temple, in three days I will raise it up", they do not make the connection that Jesus is not talking about a building, but about his death and resurrection. The writer of the Gospel of John does indicate that the disciples do make the connection after Jesus was raised from the dead.

Most of us have difficulty getting past the idea that our faith in God is not about a transaction. It is a relationship of grace that is offered to us free, paid for with a high price by this Son of God. Perhaps we can understand why Jesus became so furious when he saw that people were still thinking that their sacrificial animals would satisfy the demands of justice and give them a clean slate in the eyes of the Almighty. Sin creates damage that no sacrifices can repair. The suffering and pain that we cause by our thoughts, words, and deeds cannot be healed by scapegoats or substitutes, only God, in the person of Jesus, could do that. Jesus knew there was no other way than his own death and resurrection to bring new life to a dying world.

This is a lot of foolishness according to the normal way of thinking. In our Second Reading for this coming Sunday, I Corinthians 1:18 (see back of bulletin), it states: "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." The temptation to trust in our "sacrifices of transactions" is not a winning ticket, it is a bad idea, a dead end. So each day, we respond to the invitation: "Return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love".

Blessings on your grace-filled return,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

February 23, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

I have called attention to the fact that the first verse of our Gospel reading for this next Sunday (Mark 8:31 see back of this bulletin) is the turning point in the story of Jesus in Mark.  In the first half of the Gospel, Mark records many activities in Jesus public ministry that demonstrate "the good news of the Kingdom".  Mark 8:31 is the first public statement by Jesus that He "must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."  That doesn't make any sense to Peter.  The whole world still struggles to understand and believe it as well.

During the Season of Lent we spend a lot of time thinking about "the foolishness of God".  In the end, we will never really understand it but, by the Holy Spirit, we can be led to believe it and even to find LIFE from its truth.  From our human perspective, much of what God has done and is doing does not make sense.  The examples in the Bible are too numerous to count.

For instance, in today's First Reading from Genesis: Abraham and Sarai are shocked in their old age when God Almighty announces to them: “of You shall be the ancestor of a multitude nations".  In our Second Reading from Romans 4, Abraham's faith in God's promise guided him and his wife, Sarah, to believe what seemed almost impossible.  It was faith in God, rather than their own ideas, that empowered them to walk by faith and not by sight until the promise was fulfilled.  Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church has chosen to "walk by faith, and not by sight" as our mission statement and to use that truth to be the guiding star in our life together.

Continuing further in our Gospel Reading for Sunday, Jesus makes another statement that doesn't seem to make sense to us or to the world: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (v.35).  That kind of thinking is not the pattern that we usually operate within our day to day living.  But the Bible, from beginning to end, insists that it is the way God operated in sending His Son to die for us and it is the way we are called to use the life that God has given to us.

I suspect that many of us have been inspired and would like to follow the famous words of what is often called, THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS, which begins: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  “It is the last lines of the prayer that echo our Gospel reading for this week: "For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Blessings on your journey of walking by faith and not by sight,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

February 16, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

By the time you get this bulletin and letter in the mail, we will have experienced Ash Wednesday and moved into the season of Lent.  Our Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15 (see back of bulletin), tells us that immediately after Jesus had been baptized, "the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him" (Mark 1:12).  Our forty days of Lent (not counting Sundays) are meant to help us feel and understand what Jesus experienced on our behalf when he offered himself to His mission of redeeming us from sin, death and the power of the devil.  Life for Jesus in the wilderness, and life for us in the wilderness is a battle with the wild beasts and it lasts for more than "forty days".

"What is life like for you in your wilderness?  Are you able to identify and name the wild beasts that you deal with?  Are they inside of you or outside of you?  Are there angels waiting on you to help you make it through each day?  I do not think it is helpful for us to deny that we are in the wilderness.  Even though we live in what is often called the richest country in the world and live in the "land of the free and the home of the brave", the "wild beasts" find their way into our daily lives.  And, for me, it seems that most of them are inside of me rather than outside of me.  "We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves".  The "wild beasts" show up every day.

I encourage you to read and re-read the Gospel Message, "Secure Even When It's Not Safe", included on the inside cover of this bulletin.  While the season of Lent is a helpful reminder of our life in the wilderness, there is a "rest and renewal" Sabbath in every week of Lent even as that Sabbath is offered each week throughout the whole year.  It is a good discipline to experience the Lenten wilderness but it is a tremendous sigh of relief, with the help of the angels, to arrive safely at Easter.

During the journey, it is essential that we stay connected to each other. We cannot make it alone.  The Body of Christ does not survive when we dismember the parts.  Pray, encourage, reach out, bring life to one another.  Together, with the angels, and the Spirit, we will make it to Easter and the joy of life RENEWED.

Blessings and thank you for walking the road together,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

February 9, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

This coming Sunday, February 14, will likely get more attention in the world as "Saint Valentine’s Day" than "Transfiguration of our Lord" Sunday. Both are significant. In the Church Year Calendar, "Transfiguration of our Lord" is the last Sunday in Epiphany before we move to Ash Wednesday, February 17, and the Season of Lent. We have been unwrapping our Christmas Gift, Jesus, asking the question: "Are you the One who is to come or should we look for another?" On the Mount of Transfiguration, three of the disciples are dazzled by a bright light and hear a voice saying: "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!" With that assurance, we are ready to move to Ash Wednesday and Lent.

As the ashes from the previous Palm Sunday branches are imprinted on our foreheads with the proclamation, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return", we acknowledge the truth of our mortality and wait for God's intervention to bring new life from our own ashes. During the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the Church tries to understand the depth of God's love that God would be willing to pay the high price of redeeming us mortals through the suffering and death of His Son Jesus. 

"We rise again from ashes", a powerful message in song from the Our Redeemer's choir during the Lenten season, points us to the hope and light that leads us through these dark days to Easter. Our church will gather on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday for worship with our current choices of in-church presence, parking lot radio participation, or the live stream website service. There will also be a message from the Pastor that can be heard and seen each week on the church Facebook focusing on the theme, "From ashes to new Life".

The Covid 19 pandemic has held us hostage for more than a year. These powers of sin and death, along with other aspects of the fallen creation, have made the past months a challenge. While there are signs of hope on the horizon through the vaccinations, at this time it continues to require patience, caution, wisdom, and much prayer to free us from these demons. 

"Our hope is in God" as it always has been. "In Him we live and move and have our being". The God who created and redeemed us has promised to sustain and be present with us no matter how hard the journey.  And, the Gospel is clear and strong in emphasizing that Jesus was focused on helping those who carry heavy loads. Whatever your load, hear the voice of Jesus: "Come to me...I will give you rest...Peace be with you".

Blessings on your journey to new life,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai

February 2, 2021

Dear Family of Our Redeemer's

There were two statements from the sermon resources I use that caught my attention while I was preparing to write this letter: 1) "The forces that diminish human life are rendered powerless by Jesus" 2) "Good news draws a crowd; the gospel is found in Jesus!".

We heard from last Sundays Gospel reading that Jesus first public act recorded in Mark was the exorcism of a demon in the synagogue.  This coming Sunday, the Gospel (Mark 1:29-39, see back of this bulletin) tells us that the mother-in-law of the disciple Simon was sick in bed with a fever:  "He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them."

There are many forces in this world that diminish human life.  Each of us can make a list from our own experiences: physical illnesses or handicaps, family crises, economic struggles, relationship breakdowns, threats to national and international security, political chaos, the pandemic, etc.  Even though "Jesus came that we might have life and have it in all its fullness", the destructive forces are still at work in our lives and in this world.

Where do you find strength and help as you struggle with the problems in your life?  Where do you "discover hope"?  There are messiahs of every kind claiming to have the answers.  Many of the acclaimed solutions are "do-it-yourself" fixes that we are still trying to make work but with little success.  We win some and lose some.  We confess our failures and try again.

"The forces that diminish human life are rendered powerless by Jesus"  "Good news draws a crowd: the gospel is found in Jesus!"  The Christian faith is revolutionary and transformational. In our baptism, we are united with Christ.  The Word has given us LIFE!  We are empowered each day by the Spirit of God.  The Word is made flesh within our bodies. Luther described our existence after Baptism as "Little Christs" , the presence of God still living and active in and through us in this world.

Have we caught the thrill and excitement of the Gospel?  Of being disciples of Jesus?  Of being called to bring Good News to hurting people?  Of being connected with each other in this glorious mission?  Of being the Communion of Saints?  Of having the power and authority to change the world for the better?

Remember: "Good news draws a crowd: the gospel is found in Jesus!"  You are a living Jesus!

Blessings on your "Jesus" journey,

Interim Supply Pastor, Fred Mai