Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sermon, Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2019


'The promises of God are not that we will never suffer, never be confused. We will not necessarily have fulfillment according to the world’s standards, and we may never achieve our dream job, our dream relationship, or our dream life. Rather, we are called to believe that we are sinners that are forgiven, we are subject to evil from which we will be delivered, and that we will die, but will be made alive.'

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Lenten Wednesdays at St. Stephen

We will be going 'The Way of the Cross' during our Lenten evening prayer services. We will not do all the stations each week, however - we will be dividing them among the first five Wednesdays in Lent. This week, we will meditate upon stations four through six.
The liturgy is adapted by The Rev. Thomas Weitzel, Florida, whose liturgy page may be found here.




You are welcome to join us at 7 pm on Wednesday night. If you cannot be with us, you might read the liturgy for stations four through six on your own (or do all of them if you desire!) Read the opening prayer; stations four through six, and the closing prayer at the bottom of the web page.



Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).




Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sermon, First Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2019


1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’
  
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’

  
9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
  to protect you,’
11and
 ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
  so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’

12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.                                                                      Luke 4:1-13

The Gospel lesson today is a war story. It tells of Jesus’ first battle with the evil one. The Son of God goes forth to be tempted, not by God, for God tempts no one, but by the evil one, who successfully tempted humanity.

Adam and Eve fell to temptation in the midst of a garden, a place where there were the evidence of God’s good gifts around them. Jesus, on the other hand, is cast out into the wilderness – a place where there is no food, no signs of God’s love or even his presence.

The evil one’s goal is to separate the Son of God from his Father. If he does this, then he will be undisputed lord of humanity – for if this human being does not fear, love and trust God above all things, then no human being can.

The evil one comes armed with three weapons that have never failed him. He comes bearing gifts that have subdued human beings for all time – hunger, power, and status.

All of us are tempted in some form in all three of these areas. We all run into the situation where our felt physical needs come into conflict with God’s commands and the needs of others. If we take our needs without regard to God’s commands and the needs of others, then we have ‘commanded stones to become bread.’ In other words, we have been more concerned with providing for our own wants and desires than being willing to receive them from God.

Not all of us have the opportunity to seize earthly power. But all of us are tempted to use physical or psychological power over others in order to control them and the world around us. Power can become an aphrodisiac. We see many people in the world who worship power, and when they worship power, they are truly dealing with the devil.

Whenever we have power in big or small ways, we must remember that it can quickly become a master. If we think of the book and movie Lord of the Rings, we remember that the Ring of Power could not be used for good. Anyone who took control of the Ring, even if they wished to do good with it, would quickly become just as much of a tyrant as Sauron the maker of the Ring. The more powerful they had been before taking the Ring, the more dangerous they would be with it.

Finally, the evil one uses the weapon of status. He claims that God’s special one will be able to use his special relationship to God to be invulnerable. Perhaps we see this in spiritual leaders that use their status in the church to cloak misdeeds, and presume that their station excuses these deeds. But anyone who claims exemption from striving to keep God’s word on the principle that God is loving and forgiving also is dependent upon status. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace.’

The evil one attacks Jesus with the three weapons that have never failed him. But Jesus does not come into the fight unarmed. He has the ‘sword of the Spirit,’ the Word of God. Whenever the evil one tempts him, Jesus parries with the Word of Scripture. It is with this weapon that he routs the evil one from the field. But the devil is not vanquished, but departs ‘until an opportune time.’ The devil saves his most powerful weapon for last, the one in which he has the most confidence – the weapon of death. It is this assault that Jesus must face in Jerusalem.



Christ Tempted, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56820[retrieved March 12, 2019]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ%27s_temptation_(Monreale).jpg.

It is for this reason that many Christians have emphasized memorizing Scripture – not for brownie points nor because there’s a test before you can enter the Pearly Gates – but because we need to be armed with the weapons of the Spirit. The only weapon we have against the evil one is the Word.
Those who would share in the king’s victory must go with him into combat. And whether or not we know it, we are under assault. 

We need not make the devil a figure in a red suit with horns and a barbed tail. All we need to do is remember how hunger, power and status entice people to forget God’s commands and violate the integrity of others.


Perhaps a good place to start might be with the words Jesus uses to repel the assaults of the devil in this passage:

One does not live by bread alone;
Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

So we go into combat. But we don’t go alone. Alone we would never be able to resist the evil one. ‘On earth is not his equal.’ As long as we are on the field of combat with our Lord, however, we can put our trust in Jesus that he will be our victor and our Savior. When the devil holds sin and death before us, we cling to Jesus’ forgiveness and resurrection.

No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight,
whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord;
God’s only Son, adored.
He holds the field victorious!




Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sermon, Ash Wednesday (March 6, 2019) - Pastor Frontz


We have received the sign of ashes on our foreheads, reminding us of our own mortality; that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

But it is more than simply the fact that we shall die someday that we remember on this day.

We also confess by the receiving of dust on our foreheads the futility of life without God, how life without God is so much dust and ashes.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ash Wednesday Services - March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday services will be held at St. Stephen at 12:30 pm and 7:30 pm.

Both services will include the imposition of ashes and the Sacrament of the Altar.

The 7:30 pm service will be accompanied with choral and organ music.

Visitors are most welcome.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Sermon


The Nativity of our Lord/Christmas Eve
December 24, 2018
St. Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III

In the waning days of 1968,
a few weeks before the launch of the mission
which would send human beings to orbit the moon for the first time,
Frank Borman, the mission commander,
was told by a NASA public-affairs official
that on Christmas Eve he and his fellow crew members
would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice.
And then the official said,
‘So say something appropriate.’

Borman and his fellow astronauts Jim Lovell and William Anders
were pilots by trade, not poets.
They tossed around several ideas.
They were men of faith,
so they considered a specifically Christian holiday message.
Discarding that, in view of the world audience of many faiths,
they thought maybe a story about Santa Claus
or re-writing the words to ‘Jingle Bells.’
Those ideas were rejected too.

Finally Borman asked a friend, who asked another friend,
Joe Laitini, who had been a speechwriter for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
He told his wife, Christine, about the problem,
and worked on it all night without success,
searching through the New Testament for something appropriate.
At 3:30 a.m. Christine came downstairs and said,
‘Why don’t you begin at the beginning?’
The words that had come to her would be typed on a piece of fireproof paper,
and the page inserted on the back of the flight plan,
to wait until Christmas Eve.
No one but the Laitinis and the astronauts themselves knew what it was they would say.

The astronauts were not trying to evangelize the world fifty years ago tonight,
but the words they spoke were words of faith.
Both their words and the words of the angels that Luke records
witness to a God who brings light from darkness,
life from death, speech from silence.
a God who created the universe and still sustains it,
and a humankind that by grace
can receive God’s kindness and respond to it.



And for many of those who heard the message,
their response was like that of the shepherds long ago.
The wonder brought them up short,
stopped them from their work,
turned their eyes to the skies,
filled them with awe,
for truly they had never seen or heard anything like this before.
The messengers from the heavens proclaiming the goodness of God’s creation,
and giving a blessing to them before falling silent.
The world, the universe itself became enlarged.

Off-duty Flight Director Eugene Kranz would write,
‘For those moments, I felt the presence of creation and the Creator.’

A guest at a party
remembered the emotion of his host,
the conductor Leonard Bernstein,
listening to the final words of astronaut Borman
with a look described as ‘depthless and inexpressible.’


To listen to the Apollo 8 broadcast,
again or for the first time, from the distance of 50 years,
or to view the famous photo of Earthrise,
with the dead moon below
and the inky vastness of space
surrounding the life-giving Earth,
is to feel the awe and wonder anew.
This awe and wonder leads to deeper questions.
Certainly how?
This is the domain of science.
But there is also the question, why?
This is the domain of faith.

St. Luke tells us
that on another Christmas Eve much longer ago,
there were other messengers
sent to give a message to people of the earth.
One rather whimsically wonders whether a higher-up angel said,
‘Say something appropriate.’

This is what they said:
‘Do not be afraid.’
‘Good news of a great joy for all people.’
‘To you is born a Savior.’
‘This shall be a sign for you.’
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
peace on earth.’

If the messengers of Apollo 8
reminded us that Creation itself was a miracle,
then the messengers of Bethlehem
told us that the Creator was saving us from what we had made of the miracle.
That though we had turned away from awe and wonder,
awe and wonder was coming among us still.
That the Creation does not belong to the tyrant and the thief,
but still to the Creator and those on earth with whom he finds favor.
That human beings might find their place in the creation,
in adoration and service of the Creator.

For awe and wonder do not exist for themselves,
but for adoration and service.

In the Bethlehem child,
we behold the creator become creation,
the eternal Son of the Father
stepping into time, into the universe.
If we can grasp the miracle of the living planet
upon which we live our brief lives,
then we may also be able to grasp by faith
this teaching, that a child who was born into the universe
was the one through whom the universe was created.

Beholding Earthrise, we ask ourselves,
was the world created by chance or caprice,
for the powerful and mighty to take,
or through Christ and for Christ,
for the humble and meek to receive?
Both are incomprehensible to our minds,
which means either may be true.
The picture alone does not tell us,
nor does simply seeing a baby.

We must hear the messengers,
and the messengers tell us
that there are signs given to us,
signs of God’s grace and love,
signs of his goodness and ours.







             
(From official NASA Mission Transcript)

086:06:40 Anders: 
We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

086:06:56 Anders: 
In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. [Pause.]

086:07:29 Lovell: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. And let it divide the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. [Pause.]

086:08:07 Borman: And God said, "Let the waters under the Heavens be gathered together into one place. And let the dry land appear." And it was so. And God called the dry land Earth. And the gathering together of the waters called he seas. And God saw that it was good.

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth.