A sermon by Pastor Joe McGarry
I am excited to announce my new call to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Kensington, CT. Below is the letter I sent to the people of Faith Lutheran Church Gardner, MA. My last Sunday at Faith will be on June 24th. I am thankful and grateful for the support I have received from the people of Faith and I am looking forward to new adventures in Kensington.
We recently read John 3: 16 in worship. When you think about John 3: 16 what comes to your mind? Maybe you think of the guy in the rainbow-colored wig sitting between the uprights holding the sign painted with the world’s most famous verse. But when I think of John 3:16, I think of six year-old Benjamin, protesting his bedtime, and I’m reminded of God’s unexpected, surprising grace. Sometimes I say the phrase “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to die…..” too often because it loses it’s significance. God did not send Jesus to simply deliver a message, God sent Jesus to die, to die on a cross, to die on a cross for us. This is why, as Martin Luther once said, this verse is “the gospel in a nutshell.” God never asked for our permission to send Jesus to the cross. In fact, God does not ask us to do anything for our salvation. If you are ever told that you need to do something to earn Gods love you can know that person is lying to you – you do not have to profess Jesus as your personal savior, you do not have to attend a bunch of classes you don’t have to do anything because Gods love is a free gift and it lasts forever.
Three years ago when I moved to Gardner I knew I wanted to get involved with the community. Moving here from a small town in New York I was aware of the importance of not only getting to know the people in my congregation but also the movers and shakers in the community. One day I received a letter from the Gardner Rotary club inviting me to have a conversation about becoming a Rotarian. I thought it would be nice to have a conversation and learn more about the Rotary Club and have a better understanding as to what they do in the community and for the community. I sat down with Joe Guercio and Dawn Casavant and they talked about all the of the service projects the Rotary does and the connection Rotary has all around the world. I was impressed. The purpose of a local Rotary club is to connect people who then work together to solve community problems, provide humanitarian aid, and promote goodwill and peace. Rotary clubs exist all around the world, and Rotary International has over 1.2 million members. Their motto is “Service Above Self.” Rotarians are committed to creating inroads with people so that opportunities to serve will arise from those connections. The Rotarian philosophy is that mutual service is the best way to create thriving businesses and societies. A Rotary club is committed to ethical practices in business and holds high ideals for personal behavior. Rotary clubs ask four questions—the Four-way Test—to be […]
Martin Luther changed the world with an idea. The question that every religion asks and seeks to answer is how to we get to God. Many of us have a relationship with God, but how do we truly know if we have a place in heaven? In almost every case the answer is like a ladder. Every good work that we do, every time we go to church, every time we say a prayer we are one rung closer to heaven. If we are faithful enough, if we pray enough and read our bible then we will secure our place it heaven. Martin Luther became a monk and he prayed, fasted, studied, and learned that he needed to do to be a faithful Christian. The problem was that no matter how high Luther climbed on that ladder he could never discover God. We still have ladders today. You may hear some preachers say that you have to go to church, you have to give your life over to God, or you have to give so much money into the offering plate in order for God to love you. But that’s not true. If you think about it we too often put people higher up to ladder than we find ourselves. Where do you think Mother Teresa is on the ladder? What about Dali Lama, Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis? We may look at our neighbor who is faithful in going to church and praying and then we look at our […]
[callout]This article was first published in The Gardner News on January 21, 2017[/callout] Yesterday, we watched as Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States of America. We listened and watched as President Barack Obama served his final day in the White House. I started thinking about the great things President Obama did in office and how it has impacted my faith. “This is your victory,” President Obama said in his 2008 victory speech. “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep,” he said. “We may not get there in one year or even two terms. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.” Many of those who voted for President Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, were seeking change. President Obama’s message of hope, his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his decency, his integrity, his fine character, his grace under pressure and his good temperament are traits that he lived by every day. No president has been perfect. Every president makes mistakes, some more than others. History will ultimately be the judge of Obama’s presidency. But, despite the challenges, he leaves office with many accomplishments. He was a truly and amazing president. One of the lessons I learned the last four years was to never give up. President Obama saved the country from disaster. He saved the auto industry. Unemployment fell almost seven percent, and the stock market has nearly tripled. He extended health insurance to 20 […]
Before becoming a pastor I worked at a Christian camp in New Hampshire. I hosted retreats for different churches throughout New England. Our most attended winter weekends was called Christmas Traditions. Throughout the weekend we would recreate different family holiday traditions. One of my jobs during the weekend was to dress as Santa and bring in a bag of toys for all the kids. One by one the kids would come up to me, I looked in their eyes and I asked each of them by name if they had been good all year. They gave me an enthusiastic yes and then I handed them a toy. I knew that one of the families in attendance told their kids the “truth” about Santa. They explained to their children the tradition behind Santa and Christmas. The kids knew that other children would think Santa is real and it was their job to keep the spirit of Santa alive. When it Erik’s time for a present I watched as he approached me with curiosity that only a four year old at Christmas can have. “Santa?” he said. “Yes, it is me Erik. Have you been a good boy all year?” He responded with a breathless ‘Yes’ as he reached for my beard. I took his hands into mine and I handed him his gift and said “Thank you for helping me by being such a good boy all year. I made this especially for you.” He took the present and had a […]
We teach them to our children as the magic words: “Please” and “Thank you.” We prompt our kids to be polite: “Thank you, Mrs. Greene, for having me over.” Most of us automatically say “thank you” many times a day. You probably say it when you get change at the store. You respond with a “thank you” when someone says, “bless you” after you sneeze. I’ve have even been known to say “thank you” on those very rare occasions, that a police officer has handed me a speeding ticket! The Bible says to give thanks with a grateful heart. Ideally, Giving thanks and having a grateful heart go hand in hand. We feel grateful, and then we find a way to show our gratitude by giving thanks. This past week I have been thankful. I spent the past week with my family in Florida on vacation. It has been awhile since I have spent significant time with my family. We find ourselves separated by distance and busy lives. So it is wonderful to have fun, play, rest and relax with my family. I have also had an opportunity to spend time thinking about what it means to be grateful and how I can give thanks for the people that I love dearly. I think that God has hardwired the universe around the idea of thankful hearts because it put us in the right attitude towards God and each other. But it is not always easy, sometimes it is hard for […]
This past week my family and I stayed at one of our favorite places in the world, Camp Calumet. We spend a week’s vacation at Calumet every year. At the start of the camp session we have a community campfire and we sing songs, watch skits and enjoy the beauty of nature all around us. At the end of the campfire we sing this song: “Down Beside the moonlit waters of Lake Ossipee Lies our beautiful Camp Calumet dear to you and me Swell the chorus speed it onward till the echo rings Let our camp go down in history Calumet we sing.” You may have a place like Calumet, a place you can go to experience the beauty of God’s creation, a place to connect with friends and to remind you of the simple things in life. We arrived at camp after spending two hours fighting traffic, connected to our phones, listening to the news, and tired from the stress of life. But that fades away as we looked upon the beautiful lake, gave our friends a hug and settled into our lodge. We then put away our phones to open a book, we turned off the news and listened to the sounds of our children playing together and we relaxed on the beach as we talked with the people we love most in our lives. I reflected over my time at camp and realized that I have been coming here for thirty years! During that time I […]
When in good company we are told to never talk about religion and politics. Well today I am going to talk about both, specifically I am going to talk about how my church helps me see the world of politics. I am not going to tell you how to vote, I would never do that. I believe that we have the freedom to vote for whom we believe will serve our country the best. But I will tell you that as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) I have certain ways that I live my life. My faith plays an important part of who I am, what I believe and how I see the world. I grew up in the Lutheran church and there have been moments in my life when I have looked into other churches and moments when I have considered leaving the church all together. But I have come back to the ELCA time and time again because I truly believe that God is active in the world and that God is active in the church. So here are some things that I love about my church and things that help me wade through what some have called the “political mess” that our country is experiencing right now.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16 How do you live? What are the things in your life that you are most proud of and what are the things in your life that you regret? If we are honest with ourselves, we have things that we are proud of and we have things that we regret. My junior year of college I was lost. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, I was attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa but I was not really going to my classes. Instead I was either working at a local restaurant as a cook or I was sitting in my dorm room, alone.
I am excited to announce that I have accepted a new call to Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA. Below is the letter I sent to the people of St. Mark’s. I am thankful for everyone’s support during this time of transition. Many thanks to Pastor Keith Anderson for help with the letter. January 22, 2014 Dear Friends of St. Mark’s, It is with both joy and sadness that I write to you. The joy I greet you with is the news that I have accepted a new call to serve as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA. The sadness is that in order to pursue this new call I will resign as your pastor. My last Sunday will be March 2nd. I want to let you know that this has been a difficult decision to make. You are wonderful people. My family has come to know and love both the community of Baldwinsville as well as the community of St. Mark’s. Together, over the course of the last six years, St. Mark’s has accomplished quite a bit. We’ve watched our youth program blossom and grow by creating opportunities for our youth to be engaged with ministries beyond the walls of our church, we have seen growth in our community dinners and expanded that ministry by delivering to homebound people, we celebrated our 60th anniversary, we have done necessary improvements and upgrades to our church building, we have created a memorial garden, we have grown to recognize the […]