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February 5, 2023

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


This is an older article I wrote for you all in 2015.  I’m bringing it back out because I think it has become an even more important reality in our post-covid world.  In a world that is so fractured into different beliefs, ideologies, and cliques, it is important to remember our role as a church.  We are the ones who bring all people together.  I believe that this work starts in our homes.  


Ordinary Households Show Extraordinary Hospitality


Last week we talked about how God chooses to work through the ordinary things in life to do extraordinary things.  Our households are on the proverbial platter this week and here’s what I’m serving!  Households are where Jesus meets those who don’t know him.  Jesus doesn’t often meet “disconnected” and “unconnected” people where the pastor is or at the church.  Jesus, from my brief experience on this globe, tends to meet people where they are at, and most people are blessed to spend that time in a place they call home.  


Homes are where we spend the most time with the people God has put closest in our lives…family.  The Lord comes to families as they grow and struggle through life together.  Our households are where we can show God’s love in some of the most tangible and ordinary ways possible: being good stewards of time, energy and money, saying “I’m sorry” and offering forgiveness when wrongs have been done, going out of our way to celebrate and opening ourselves to great opportunities of hospitality.  


It’s this last one I want to talk about a little more in depth.  It is in our hospitality that our faith life most fully intersects with a world that doesn’t call on Jesus as Lord.  Hospitality is not the same as entertaining people in our homes.  


The following differentiation between “hospitality” and “entertaining” was made by Karen Mains in Open Heart, Open Home (Elgin, Ill.: Cook, 1976):


Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.” Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.” Hospitality aims to serve.

Entertaining puts things before people. “As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my housecleaning done—then I will start inviting people. Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture—we’ll eat on the floor.” “The decorating may never get done—you come anyway.” “The house is a mess—but you are friends—come home with us.”

Entertaining subtly declares, “This home is mine, an expression of my personality. Look, please, and admire.” Hospitality whispers, “What is mine is yours.”


The author of Hebrews writes, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:1-2).  Homes are messy places, not because they aren’t clean, but because homes are where people are and people aren’t perfect.  We invite one another into our imperfect lives and our messy homes because we are the stewards of our good master’s gifts.  


Homes and lives are meant to share.  They can be completely ordinary but God has this wonderful habit of taking that which is ordinary and doing eternal, wonderful and extraordinary things through them.  After all, we are all members of an extraordinary household!  "So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Eph. 2:19).


In His Peace and Love,

Pastor Rust


Letter 1/8/2023

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


Blessed New Year to you all.  This is the year of our Lord 2023.  This year will look much like last year and the years before.  Yet…each and every day as we continue to be discipled as Christians is a new day and God is always doing a new thing in us. 


Isaiah 43:19, the Lord says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God is constantly at work in our lives, creating new opportunities and possibilities for us.


Every year, month and day is a new day for those of us in the Lord.  Each and every day we repent of sin, confess sin and receive forgiveness of our sin.  I intentionally didn’t use the plural form of sin, for when we confess we are confessing the totality of our sin.  We don’t confess some sins and not others.  We confess all our sin.  


May this new year in you be one of forgiveness.   May this new year in you be one of striving for good works.  May this new year in you be one of faithfulness.  I’m excited to share this year of forgiveness with you all each and every day, month and years to come. 


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

Letter 12/25/22

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS!  At the risk of treating lightly the birth of our Lord, I wish you a “Happy Birthday Jesus.”  Remember being a child and the excitement about your birthday?  I know I would look forward to the special food made just for me by my mom.  I longed to open the presents that I knew were waiting.  I anticipated my cousins and family coming to my house.  


Christmas is the celebration of God being born among us.  The fullness of the divine assuming humanity into it.  The profound nature of this event is lost on my limited human mind.  I’m even more befuddled when I consider the purpose and intent of this infant born among us; this babe of Bethlehem who is sinless, dying for my sin and rising again.  May we never miss the significance of the nativity simply because we are so familiar with it.  May Immanuel, God with Us, always induce that awe and reverence that it deserves.  


That being said, “Happy Birthday Jesus” fits as well.  We pause from the fullness of life to gather, remember and give thanks.  We feast in celebration.  We give gifts to one another in remembrance of His gift to us.  Jesus does away with our sin.  Jesus defeats the devil.  Jesus destroys death.  These are His gifts to us.  Our response to these gifts is to receive them faithfully, to live within these beautiful treasures and to share this treasure with all.


I look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth with you this week.  Join me on Saturday at 6:30 as we remember the night of His birth.  After service on Saturday, for all who would like to stay for a few minutes after, we will fellowship with a birthday cake for Jesus, because His birth blesses us.  On Sunday we gather at 10:30AM to receive Jesus’ gifts in the Divine Service.  


A blessed and Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.


Letter 12/07/22

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


We have all had it happen to us. It happens regularly.  We get a song stuck in our head.  The worst is when only part of the song is stuck in our head, one line or just a few notes. 


This season at Shepherd of the Hills we are all about melody and song.  We are singing the song salvation.  The songs we hear are the tunes Zechariah, Mary and the Angels sing. They are melodies of mercy.  They are the songs of salvation. 


Continue to join me every Sunday at 10:30 as we work to get that tune of triumph stuck in our head for the week. Especially when this season is so busy, take the extra time to sing these songs with me.  Now, more than ever, with all the heaviness of life and the weights of the world, we need these notes of God’s grace and love to resound in our heads and our hearts.  Maybe, just maybe that melody will come pouring out in how we live and serve those others around us. 


Take a break from the world to sing with me:  Sundays at 10:30, Wednesday evenings at 6:30 (soup supper at 5:30), Christmas Eve at 6:30 and Christmas Day at 10:30. 


It’s not so bad getting a song stuck in your head when it’s a song that is sweet and up lifting.  The song of Jesus’ promise to each and everyone one of us is one I want in my head, felt in my heart and pouring out of my lips. May this melody of mercy be yours now and forever. 


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

Letter 11/22/22

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


I love a holiday where our faith, bestowed upon us by God, has a deep and profound meaning.  It is a holiday that our nation will celebrate, but for those of us who know the hand that gives all good things in due season, it is a holiday that means that much more.  


The Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread.  What does this mean?  God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.  What is meant by daily bread?  Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  


If you are on this side of the grave, and I’m assuming if you are reading this that is true, then today you have yet again enjoyed your daily bread.  Thanksgiving is a special time as a nation when we all pause to give thanks.  During this time with your church family, households, friends and neighbors may we all bear witness to a caring creator who is still active in upholding and sustaining all created things.  May we bear witness to this creator who lovingly becomes one with his creation.  May we bear witness to this creator who takes up our infirmities.  May we bear witness to this creator who in his life, death and resurrection redeems all of creation.  


Come celebrate with me this Thanksgiving Day at 10:30 as we return thanks to the one who gives his all for us and as we once again receive his blessed gifts together.  I’m thankful for you, for this family of faith and for the life we share as a congregation.  


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust


Letter 11/6/22

Dear Friends and Members,


Every year at the Oscars the world takes a moment to remember those entertainers in the film industry who have died in the last year.  It is always a somber moment.  It is a critical moment from my perspective.  It is a moment when the millions of people watching are reminded of their own mortality.  


Today we in the Christian Church celebrate All Saints' Day.  It is a day to mark and remember those is our own congregation who have died in the faith.  They have run their race with endurance.  This year in our community of believers we celebrate the confirmed faith of Phylis Hammons, Jim Bernhardt and Ron Strassburg.  This weekend we will pause to remember them.  Not in the way Hollywood does, but in a way that is authentic to the faith they died in.  We will remember them in Hope.  The hope that comes in the resurrection of all flesh.  We will see the dearly departed again on the last day. 


For all the Saints is a collection of readings and devotions through the church year where we hear from different saints who have come before us.  Here is a bit from Athanasius (295-375) and his writing, “On the Incarnation”:


"A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this.  All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead.  Before the divine advent of the Saviour even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish.  But now that the savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they died they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.  There is proof of this too for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Saviour’s resurrection from it.  Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it.  So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength.  Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and food as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him.  So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Saviour on the cross.  It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory; O Grave, where is thy sting?”


A blessed All Saints' Day to you dear ones, who join with me in mocking death. 


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust

Letter 10/16/22

Dear Friends and Members of Shepherd of the Hills,


I wanted to take a moment and share with you an article I wrote for our “Affirming Life” newsletter that goes out to the Rocky Mountain District.  This is an article about how we best affirm life near its end.  Hopefully you find this article edifying for you.  I would encourage any of you who would like to know more about our district's work to affirm life to contact to our district life coordinator at .


In His Love and Service,

Pastor Rust


Three Ways to Honor Life at Its End


I find myself again sitting at the bedside of a beloved brother in Christ, who is struggling during his last days on this side of heaven. He is not struggling the way you might think.  This is a man who is happy and confident in his faith and trusts that when he breathes his last, he will see his Savior face to face.  He trusts and believes with the psalmist when he confesses, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”  This dying man’s struggle is instead about how now he cannot serve in the ways he has become accustomed and finds this state-of-being useless and unnecessary.  Why not just skip to the ending? Why prolong the inevitable?  


This is the moment as a pastor that I have the opportunity to bring God’s Word to bare in honoring life, even at its end.  Here are three ways, as Christians, we can honor life in its end. 


One, how we speak about our frail, failing life.  It is too easy to become far too pragmatic about failing health and look toward the inevitable.  We must fight to always speak about our life in such a way as to acknowledge it is not our own.  Romans 14:8 says, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”  Our life is not our own.  We are the Lord’s, who is the giver of life and salvation.  Using this language helps us to fight the temptation of control.  We are not in control, and that can be a scary thought for many.  Let us put our confidence in the One who actually has control and let our language reflect that confidence.  After all, the One who has all control gave His life for you.  


Two, how we make medical choices during times of failing health and imminent death.  As we are taught in the explanation of the 5th commandment, we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.  This applies to every physical body, even our own.  As we make choices, especially in times when medicine has become so advanced, it can be hard to discern when we are or aren’t following the 5th commandment.  As a general rule, “always care, never kill” is a helpful axiom for working to be faithful to the Lord’s commands regarding the preservation of life.  Let us never take lightly the choices we make about our failing bodies.  There are choices that honor life and choices that don’t.  May the Lord help guide these conversations through the wisdom of your pastors, doctors and family.  


Three, how we allow others to care for us during our moments of frailty and death.  We are blessed in most churches to be surrounded by people who desire to care of those in need.  Sermon after sermon reminds us of God’s call to “… love your neighbor as yourself.”  This love comes in service to our neighbor.  We really like being the people who serve.  It feels good.  We receive more from the people we serve than we give.  It is great!  However, in order to serve, this necessitates someone being served.  During moments of failing and frail health, we, by necessity, become the ones needing service.  This can be difficult.  My encouragement to all of us is to receive that service thankfully, humbly and patiently.  Pray with those who care for you.  Share the hope you have in these moments of vulnerability.  Bless those who serve for you.  In our last years, months, days or hours, this might be our greatest act of service.  Don’t miss your opportunity to bless others during your time of need!  


No matter how well we work to fulfill all this, we will always fall short.  We will, now and always, rely on God our Father, who created our bodies; God the Son, who by His blood redeemed our bodies; and God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified our bodies to be His temple.


- Rev. Jason S. Rust, Southern Region VP RMD