When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

[Matthew 1:24-25 NRSV]

MARCH 19, 2022 — Today the Church commemorates Joseph, Guardian of our Lord.

Throughout my dozen or so years on social media, I believe I have recognized this feast day more consistently than any other, except, of course, Christmas and Easter.

Joseph’s role in the life of Jesus is an intriguing one. He was Jesus’ earthly father, but in the gospels, Jesus only acknowledges his heavenly Father. Philip Pfatteicher, in his New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, writes that, “No fully historical account or even a part of Joseph’s life is possible, for he left only a faint imprint on the tradition.” [p. 129]

He goes on to state that although both Matthew and Luke list him in their genealogies in order to trace Joseph’s ancestry through David, John’s gospel only mentions him in passing and Mark’s gospel doesn’t mention him at all.

In reading the two more extensive accounts of Joseph’s life, he was apparently alive when Jesus was born, but is out of the picture by the time of the Crucifixion. Although he was significant in protecting the child Jesus from possible death at the hands of Herod [see Matthew 2:13-20], there is only one reference to Joseph outside of the birth and infancy narratives by others, and not even by name: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” [Matt. 13:55]

Obviously, if tradition is to be believed Jesus was guided by, and followed his earthly father into his earthly vocation as carpenter. But Joseph’s role in salvation history extends far beyond that.

In a 15th Century sermon, Bernardine of Siena asks: “What then is Joseph’s position in the whole Church of Christ? Is he not a man chosen and set apart? Through him and , yes, under him, Christ was fittingly and honorably introduced into the world. Holy Church in its entirety is indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her it was judged worthy to receive Christ. But after her we undoubtedly owe special gratitude and reverence to St. Joseph.” [Pfatteicher, p. 130-131]

It prompts me to ponder the obscure but influential male figures in all our lives.

I think of my own father, who died unexpectedly when I was only thirteen years old, but whose shadow looms large over nearly every good decision I’ve made as an adult.

I’ve written before that today is Father’s Day in Spain. Some suggest that this day should be known as the Church’s Fathers’ Day as well; or international Father’s Day, for all those who have been blessed by the nurture and guidance of the human person who made it possible for one to be here.

I am mindful that there are many whose fathers are intentionally absent from their lives, and that there are those whose memory of their fathers includes a history of abuse and cruelty.

The National Fatherhood Initiative, for example, point out that, “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.4 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.”

I can only offer sympathy to those whose experience bears those scars. I don’t pretend to have a solution for those painful wounds, I certainly cannot overlook or dismiss it, and it was not my intent to bring up this topic when I began writing. But since I have unwittingly taken us down this path, I refer you to the debate that was discussed in the New York Times in June of 2013, “What Are Fathers For?” It raises several interesting perspectives by people far better informed on the subject than I am. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I simply ask us to acknowledge those men who have fulfilled their responsibility and have been a positive influence on the life of a young person.

Despite what little we may know about St. Joseph, today we honor and uphold the nurture, guidance, and protection he offered to our Lord.

And we pray:
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
[from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 239]

+      +      +


The Lord is my light and my salvation;
   whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
   of whom shall I be afraid?

[Psalm 27:1]

This Sunday many will hear Psalm 27 read in your worship services.

When I was in parish ministry, there were several psalms that I always had at the ready whenever I would visit parishioners in hospitals. Psalm 27 is one of them. The very first verse should give you a clue as to why. It is a psalm of absolute trust and confidence in God no matter what difficulties or hardships may confront us in life. They are words one needs to hear before facing surgery, or while recovering from sickness, or frightened by the anxieties of life.

Now that I have completed my assignment as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, I guess it’s fitting to let it be known that next week I will be returning to parish ministry for a time, but not in a Lutheran setting.

St. James Episcopal Church, Painesville, OH

On January 24 of this year, I received a call from the Right Reverend Mark Hollingsworth, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, asking whether I would be willing to serve as interim rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Painesville, OH.

Shortly before I retired, I had mentioned to Bishop Hollingsworth that if there were any opportunities to serve in the Episcopal Church, that I would be willing to do so. I wanted to remain active in ministry, yet I also wanted to avoid any high degree of visibility in our synod so as not to be a distraction. The ELCA’s full-communion partnership with the Episcopal Church provides that opportunity.

I eagerly look forward to my return to the parish. It is where I feel most useful. There is a joy to being able to shepherd the people of God through the obstacles that dominate our lives, to be a healing presence. I feel ready to step back into that fray.

I am not so naïve as to think this will be a walk in the park. The last two years have been a tremendous challenge to most pastors because of COVID-19.

A Pastor’s week has its ebbs and flows. We go from the delight of the Sunday celebration, to reassuring the concerns of a family in crisis, or sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill or dying. In between there are telephone calls to return, emails to answer, meetings that one has to attend but would rather miss.  At this time of the year there is the lousy weather and the lack of sunshine, not to mention all the duties that are part of one’s personal life. 

On a broader scale, throughout this pandemic of the past two years, and even earlier, our society has been hammered economically, physically, politically, and spiritually.  The culture has become coarse and degraded. People are still fighting off the ravages created by COVID-19, which manifests itself in many and various ways.

The relationships that used to connect us with others have literally vanished. We are angry more often than not. We have experienced a rise in incidents of racist acts, coupled with injustice, and gun violence.

The distrust of government and legislators is massive. Authoritarian regimes like that of Russia are turning the world on its ear. Life in general seems to be going in a downward spiral.

It is in times like these that fear frequently takes hold of us.  Fear traps us in the belief that nothing will ever improve, that we are surrounded by a net and will never escape.  When life gets us down, fear fills the void left by hope.

It is in times like these that the words of the psalmist radiate like a beam of sunshine through the clouds of our emotions.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Fear is not just the realm of the timid.  Fear closes in over all of us no matter how brave we may appear to be. Politicians know this, and they capitalize on our fear to fill up their campaign coffers.

I cringe, for example, when I hear the campaign slogan, “Pro-God. Pro-Gun.” Which is it? It can’t be both.

How challenging it is for our secular world to trust in God when anxiety seems to rule the day.

When we ponder the realities of today’s world, we come face to face with some of the core questions of our faith: How do we move confidently from the present into the future? What is the nature of the Christian hope?

As Christians, our circumstances should never be what defines our life.  Rather than taking direction from our fears, our faith compels us to see our life in a much larger perspective.  There is nothing so dark and gloomy as fear, nothing so unsettling than being afraid.  When we are intimidated by people, or discouraged by circumstances, God’s presence provides a defense against these frightening circumstances.

God’s presence is the light which chases away the shadows of despair. God is a fortress against whatever evil comes our way. When we live without that sense of God’s presence, our fears become all the more encompassing. But when we trust in God’s presence, we can cease being intimidated by the unknown.

The Crucifixion; Jesus dies on the cross – John 19:25

This Second Sunday in Lent we are one week further into the experience of the cross, the symbol of what stands between the Lord and us. It was Jesus who knew far better than any of us the horrors of evil, sin, and abandonment.

I invite you to read the entire psalm (HERE). As you do, picture Jesus as he hung on the Cross, yet embodied confidence and complete trust in the God of our salvation.

If we are willing to face our fears with that same confidence and trust, the doom of depression can and will be expelled by the light of the Gospel.

+      +      +


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

[John 14:27 NRSV]

Monday, February 28 was my final day as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. It was a gratifying experience that I will forever treasure. I was inspired by the dedicated staff and their exemplary commitment to the ministry of care for the people and pastors. Each Monday we gathered electronically for a weekly meeting. We usually began with a devotion. The morning of my final day among them, I woke up early with the word “Peace” on my mind. As I considered what to say to them, the word just wouldn’t let me go. So, what follows is a reworked version of what I shared with them for our devotional time.

+ + +

When I was in my last parish call, I would preface the sharing of the peace with the words of Jesus to his disciples from the Gospel according to John:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

I confess that I may have been slightly influenced by what Roman Catholic priests say just prior to the sharing of the peace: “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,’ look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” [“Prayer for Peace,” from the Roman Missal]

Jesus’ words are part of what we know as his “Farewell Discourse,” which begins with the first verse of chapter 14 and goes on to the end of chapter 16. So, for three chapters Jesus spends a great deal of time preparing the disciples for the coming events of his death, resurrection, and ascension. 

This week we begin the Lenten season. Throughout these next six weeks we will hear several readings in which Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his departure. He has not kept them in the dark about this fact. But knowing he will be leaving them soon and understanding what that meant for them personally were probably two different things.

In these few words from John’s Gospel, he offers them a gift of profound importance. This is not a wish, but words of affirmation, an assurance of his continuing presence, a gift to carry wherever they go, and a destination to long for.

He gives them a good-bye greeting which they can continue to use, wherever they are, reminding themselves of his love. Don’t be troubled; don’t be afraid, Jesus says. Let this word hold us together: Peace.

Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. In the world, people can greet you as you come and go, but the greeting Jesus asks us to use, shalom, brings with it the understanding that peace and wholeness is not something which just anyone can give. It comes from a relationship with Jesus, the one who has given you acceptance and forgiveness in God’s eyes. From this perspective you are whole, complete, accepted, forever. When you say “Shalom” to one another, when you use this gift, remember who you are – God’s people forever.

This is what Jesus was telling them. My “shalom” is different.

It needs to be interpreted first in a communal aspect – the way people get along with one another, rather than in an individual sense of inner tranquility. It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus’ name, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 

All the words in this context are meant to be comforting, supportive, affirming. Jesus is telling the disciples before he leaves them so they will understand it all when he’s gone. It’s like a hug to those who are anxious, a bold and generous embrace.

And as we look on these words and read them through the lens of our own questions, our own doubts, our own anxieties, and our own fears, I wonder, is there something for us here?

Is there a way in which we who have become Christ’s own body as the church can touch and affirm each other to assure that God’s presence still surrounds us when we are feeling alone or abandoned?

I’m thinking this morning of the people of Ukraine, what does their Shalom look like as they are being invaded by Russia and no one seems to be rushing to their aid?

Or our legislators? What does their Shalom look like in light of all the partisan bickering that goes on in Washington and in state and local government?

What about our churches? What does their Shalom look like while some tear away at the joy of worship and mission by going their separate ways and others redirecting mission support dollars? (I remain especially troubled by the recent events in the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA and the subsequent fallout that resulted.)

You can carry that question down to communities, neighborhoods, families…what does their Shalom look like?

Let me give you my take on it. And this is my parting gift.

In the face of the chaos of rejection of God in the world, we are called to be people of peace. I happen to be foolish enough to think that Shalom, Peace, can happen all over the place because we are made in the image of God. We serve as the dwelling places for God. We are made for peace and we long for peace and we then work for peace.

Peace is a mark of true discipleship that is required of all disciples – then and now.

As we prepare for the Lenten season, I want to remind you of three things that God has given us to equip us to be peacekeepers during our earthly journey.

God has given us the Church, the body of God’s fellowship where we hear the word and receive the sacraments, signs of God’s gracious love, God’s means of grace, to be strengthened and encouraged.

God has given us the Holy Spirit, the present tense of God, through which God sustains us and reminds us who God is.

And finally, God has left us each other, imperfect as we are, to carry on God’s mission in the world and remind each other who we are and whose we are.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 


%d bloggers like this: