Susan and I are in Sun City Center, Florida trying to sort out a winter palace where we can have warm bones and tanned skin. We attended the nearby ELCA church just off the road a holler from our hoped-for community. Before I go any further let us look at this picture. There are three items here and one item missing from most churches these days.
1. The red circle on the left shows a hymnal board, a listing of songs which included the songs for Holy Communion. When we began The Feast congregants sang out of the pew hymnals.
2. The elongated circle (which encases the fellow’s ear) shows what is a called a ‘modesty panel’. These are wooden walls set in front of front pews which allow women wearing dresses to sit comfortably without anyone able to see their legs.
3. The circle in the top middle of the photograph shows a real live stained-glass window. They are made with leaded glass, not plastic ones you might find elsewhere. All windows in the sanctuary were stained glass.
4. Where you see the ‘?’ marks are where you do not see video screens.
Located just outside two retirement communities, Redeemer Lutheran Church serves the elderly. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Susan and I, in our early 60s, were among the youngest ones there. There was no children’s message as there were no children. Redeemer uses services folders with the entire order of service printed out in larger-than-usual type and even a HUGE-print option was available.
Service began with a choir processional of about 40 persons singing Jesus, We Are Gathered on their ways to the choir section. Pastor David Allman greeted us and gave the announcements, information of upcoming events, recent deaths and updates on missions works. And potlucks. Not a yearly potluck for Ash Wednesday but a potluck because it’s what they do. Potlucks for the sake of potlucks. The choir then sang Share His Love for the call to worship. Just a note: Throughout the service folder where the congregation normally stands for The Gospel reading or prayers it will state, Please stand, if able. Just thought I’d toss that in.
Pastor led us with Confession And Forgiveness. This was followed with something called ‘gathering hymn’. It sounds obvious but … . The song was Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Then we had Prayer of the Day. I’m guessing when a member of the church dies they are sung a hymn called In Remembrance. Two choir members sang a lovely, powerful version of this song.
We had our first scripture reading, Deuteronomy 30:15-20. This was followed by a responsive reading of Psalm 119:1-8. Our second reading was 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. We sang Celtic Alleluia followed by the gospel reading, Matthew 5:21-37. Then the sermon.
The sermon is based on Matthew 5:21-38.
”You have it heard it said” is a typical way Jewish scholars would begin a lesson. Those scholars before Jesus would explain to their people the importance of The Ten Commandments and why they ought to follow the rules. No killing means no killing. No cussing means no cussing. Loving God means loving God. For the most part that’s as far as it went. Ten laws, ten things you can’t do. Then after a few exiles into foreign lands the Jewish leaders started tacking on more laws to the original ten untouched hoping to keep God pleased and avoid being exiled again. It wasn’t unlike tugboats with tires attached to all sides. You can bang up, spiritually, against the another ship with the bumpers protecting you but you still keep the ship safe. Unfortunately, the leaders and Pharisees made the punishment for the extra 650+ laws so harsh that life for most people became a burden. It was what they were taught. This notwithstanding, the Jewish person did so love their God who brought them out of bondage that they followed the rules earnestly.
Then Jesus comes along using the term “You have heard it said …” and instead of re-iterating the black-and-white nature of the Jewish scholars’ views of Scripture, He said “Let’s look at these things from a different point of view. Let’s look at what your heart says“. It’s easy enough to go through life without murdering anyone. Most of us will do that. But we can and do get angry with people throughout our lives. And we can stay angry with people our entire lives. But being angry at anyone is still a step closer to killing them. Jesus says if we hate someone with our hearts, we have already killed him. If we lust over another man’s wife, we have already committed adultery. Jesus says it is our hearts which kill not a weapon. It’s with our hearts we deceive and cheat on our husbands when you ogle another man.
Wait! This sounds like Jesus is adding ‘rules’ with which to dictate our behavior, not unlike the Pharisees who added law after law to protect The Ten Commandments. The Pharisees judge persons by their actions and words and react accordingly with punishments to scare people from committing further crimes. Just don’t touch The Law of Moses! Jesus tells the people God is able to look into our hearts and know our intent. If we know we our hearts are being surveyed by the God we profess to love then that will cause us to consider our next moves. Even though we are born will sinful hearts there’s still a part of us which wishes ourselves no harm. If I’m giving a woman the ‘eye’, well, fine with me but if another man gives my wife a ‘look up and down’ then, wait, I don’t care for that one bit. If it makes me feel bad then I’m probably making him feel uneasy or even violated. With Jesus in my life I want to show compassion to the next fellow. And I want to maintain my relationship with God not foul it up with false thoughts, lies and evil. If I claim to have a relationship with God how did that come about? By not resisting Him any longer and He filled my heart with His love, praying to Him and studying His word. How should I then love my neighbor? By having a relationship in God’s name with them. How many times have you looked askance at someone wondering what his angle is only to be pleasantly surprised, after you meet them, finding you have more in common than you’d imagined? THIS is why Jesus is so big on connecting with others. It breaks down walls and makes friends of enemies.
Then came The Hymn of the Day, Day by Day (not the Godspell version). We then recited The Apostles’ Creed. The post-sermon prayers for the church included closer relationships with God, blessings for His Creation, an end to wars and violence, relief from injustice, for serving hearts, protection for military and law enforcement, and those among us who suffer from emotional pain, illness and grief.
We were encouraged to greet other congregants before the offering plate was passed. The offering hymn, sung by the choir, was The Name of The Lord. We had an Offertory Response and Offering Prayer.
Now Holy Communion. The Words of Institution, The Lord’s Prayer and Distribution. We sang Lamb of God and Jesus Remember Me from the service folder.
Then we picked up our hymnals and sang these four songs: I Received the Living God; Eat This Bread, Drink This Cup; O Light Whose Wonder Spills and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The members of this church, about 250 of them, are pretty old and it takes time to give them Communion. They are released from the outer edge of the pews, walk along the sides of the church, meet in the middle of the front of the altar where the pastor begins to serve before all have finished the semi-circle. This cuts down on the time persons need to stand and wait. He had an assistant to work one side while he did the other. It took three and a half hymns to complete Communion. The worship director could have stopped at three and noodled on the organ for a few minutes but she saw fit to play What a Friend We Have in Jesus. That hymn never disappoints.
Susan and I did not go up for Communion. We are still waiting to see if ELCA and LCMS doctrines regarding Communion go hand in hand. We are also unsure of ELCA’s stand on abortion. I read their 1991 release on abortion and while they prefer a woman carry a baby full term there seem to be circumstances such as rape, incest and health issues where it reads as though if the woman wants to go have an abortion then do it and ELCA will support her spiritually afterward. Susan and I plan to keep Holy Cross as our home church since we’ll only be down here about half the year. There is an LCMS church about 25 minutes away and we surely will visit it. I’m no fan of changing denominations and can’t see how I would but is it OK to visit an ELCA on occasion? Maybe this seems a bit hard-headed to some but thats the way it is. These things take time.
The post Communion canticle* was Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise.
Pastor then gave the benediction:
The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make His shine on us and be gracious to us. The Lord look on us with favor and give us peace. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Our last hymn was Amazing Grace.
And lastly it was this:
Pastor: Go in peace. Let your light shine.
Congregation: Thanks be to God.
Service began at 10AM, ended at 11:20AM. The sermon was of typical Lutheran length, between 18 and 23 minutes. Redeemer Lutheran did everything it was going to do and that was that. It was a splendid service.
1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
3 they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.
1 Corinthian 3:1-9
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angrywith a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f]32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath,but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
*one of the nonmetrical hymns or chants, chiefly from the Bible, used in church services