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Sunday, April 18, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family:

Witnesses have been a big part of the news lately, with the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin and the recent impeachment hearing.  There are all kinds of witnesses: eyewitnesses, expert witnesses, character witnesses, corroborating witnesses, and so on.  In our passage in Luke’s gospel this Sunday, on the first Easter night Jesus tells the disciples that they are witnesses.  He doesn’t ask them to be witnesses or give them a choice; the disciples do not volunteer.  They are witnesses to “these things,” he says. 

What are “these things”?  Maybe it’s the real bodily resurrection of our Lord.  Maybe “these things” is what Jesus has just shared with them: the suffering of the Messiah, rising on the third day, the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Or, perhaps “these things” is all of Jesus’ ministry: teaching, healing, eating with sinners, including outcasts, welcoming prodigals, explaining that the best way to love God is to love our neighbors as ourselves, overcoming death and calling us to new life.

Whatever “these things” are, it’s clear that Luke emphasizes the real, physical, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus.  As one writer puts it, “We’re not Eastern-like mystics who believe that the key to spirituality is to find ways to transcend this world’s physicalness so as to drift into realms of pure thought and consciousness.  No, our faith is gritty and fleshy and tangible and involves nothing short of the renewal of all things: lakes, mountains, tadpoles, tangerines, real human bodies.”  And so Jesus invites the disciples to look, to touch, to see his wounds and feel that he’s really there; to use their senses.  He even shares a meal with them.  He knows they need reassurance.  Of course they have doubts.  And then he tells them they are witnesses.  They are not only to sense God’s activity, but to tell others. 

What does this story mean for us?  Perhaps, first, we need practice at noticing God’s activity, what one writer calls “God sightings.”  How can we help each other with this?  And then, what might it look like for us, not to bludgeon people with our religious convictions, but simply to say, “Here’s what I saw.  Here’s how it went.  Make of it what you will”?  What does it look like to live into the words of the song, “…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love….”?

Certainly, it looks like something human, physical, “gritty and fleshy and tangible.”  It looks like something real, touching our real lives, our real stories, and other people’s real lives and stories.  How do we, as a congregation, make it real?

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Family,

Happy Easter!  While we celebrated the Resurrection on Sunday, we now enter the season of Easter, when we spend time figuring out what the Resurrection means for us.  For the next few weeks, the lectionary Scripture passages show Jesus struggling to convince the disciples – and all the generations of disciples who follow them – what happened.  This week we meet the disciple Thomas, who, very unfairly in my opinion, ended up with the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”  But rather than lecture you on why doubt is not only normal but perhaps a necessary element of faith, I’m going to tell you a story. 

For centuries, in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant countries, Easter Monday and “Bright Sunday” (the Sunday after Easter) were observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter.”  These celebrations were rooted in the musings of early church theologians that Easter was “God’s supreme joke played on death.”  Risus paschalis – “the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it. 

There is, in fact, something intrinsically funny about theology.  As one writer puts it, “How can we hope to grasp the significance of God’s self-revelation in Scripture when we can’t even discern the meaning of ‘Dancing with the Stars’”?  It reminds me of an old “Peanuts” cartoon.  Snoopy is on top of his doghouse tapping away on his typewriter.  Charlie Brown looks up and says, “I hear you’re writing a book on theology.  I hope you have a good title.”  Snoopy takes his hands off the keyboard for a second, thinking, “I have the perfect title…” and then he imagines the title: “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?”

So this Sunday, I’ll tell a light-hearted story, very loosely modeled on “The News from Lake Wobegon” from “A Prairie Home Companion.”  Very.  Loosely.  Join us Sunday for “The News from Bayview Drive.”

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

Posted by Joanne Whitt with

Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family,

Easter is the joyous celebration of new life in Christ; that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God.  It’s also a reminder that Scripture is not a seamless, consistent narrative.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John offer very different accounts of the first Easter.  In Matthew, two women go to the tomb (Matthew 28:1).  In Mark, it’s three women (Mark 16:1).  In Luke, we’re told “the women who had come with him from Galilee” returned to the tomb, but we’re not told how many women that is, or their names (Luke 23:55-56, 24:1).  In John, only Mary Magdalene visits the tomb on Easter morning, but she tells two of the disciples, who then rush to see the tomb for themselves, the only version in which men visit the tomb (John 20:1-10).  In the post-resurrection stories, John tells us Jesus enters rooms with locked doors (John 20:26), and eats a fish breakfast on the beach (John 21:9-15).  Luke has Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).  Matthew’s Jesus gives the disciples the Great Commission (“Go and makes disciples …,” Matthew 28:19), while in Mark, we never see the risen Jesus; we’re just told by a young man, presumably an angel, that Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee, just as he said he would (Mark 16:6-7).

There is no way to reconcile these stories.  They were told by different people with different memories of what happened.  They were put into writing at different times.  They were written for and first read by different communities with different concerns and priorities.  It is impossible for us to know which if any of these stories is factually accurate.  Rather than pretending they are consistent, or trying to mash them together into one story, the approach that most honors these Scripture passages is to treat them as separate narratives that speak for themselves.  Each one offers insights into the Christian community’s experience of the Risen Lord.  Each one offers profound meaning for our own Christian journeys.  And each one reminds us that Scripture isn’t the Encyclopedia Britannica or a history textbook.  Rather, Scripture needs to be read in its own historical and literary context, as well as in the context of the broadest biblical themes, with special weight given to the “rule of love” – that is, “How does this passage help the reader better fulfill Scripture’s highest law to ‘Love your Lord with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself?’”  

Jack Haberer writes, “Ultimately, the best biblical student is the one who not only seeks to understand but also is committed to applying the message of Scripture. ‘Be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers,’ says the writer James (1:22).”

This weekend, we are invited to apply the message of Resurrection to our lives.  We’ll visit John’s version of the first Easter at the sunrise service at 6:30 a.m., and Mark’s strikingly different version at 10:00 a.m.  How do these stories speak to us today, in Marin County, in April 2021?  How do they invite us to be “doers of the Word”?

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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