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Sunday, May 2, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family:   

I read a Vox article entitled, “Of Course You’re Anxious About Returning to Normal Life.”  With over 80% of Marin adults now having had at least one COVID vaccine, it’s starting to feel as though we could get back to normal-ish life soon.  But it seems many of us are also feeling anxious about returning to normal, and the article points out that this is more complicated than merely worrying about whether we still might get sick.  Some people are worried about the awkwardness of reacclimating to social life.  They’re worried about returning to commutes and office work that added to their stress and chipped away at their quality of life.  And they’re worried about returning to a new normal that looks much like the old normal — one whose flaws the pandemic threw into sharp relief.  Maybe we’ve loved being free from the rigidity of the modern workday.  Maybe the pandemic has allowed us to pause long enough to think about what’s important.  It’s also certainly exposed societal inequities, especially regarding access to healthcare and a safety net, that need to be addressed.

And what about church?  In this Sunday’s sermon, I’ll reference an article by Diana Butler Bass, author of several wonderful books, including, Christianity for the Rest of Us, Christianity After Religion, and Freeing Jesus.  When asked how the church will change after the pandemic, Bass had to answer, “I don’t know.  Nobody knows.”  She says we need to focus on what we do know. 

Here are some things we at St. Luke know:

  • There are people who are able to worship with us when we offer Zoom worship that couldn’t join us otherwise.
  • People are willing to attend meetings via Zoom that would have been inconvenient to attend in person.
  • People with hearing challenges find Zoom meetings and worship easier to hear.
  • In spite of these pluses, being together in meetings or in worship on Zoom just isn’t as intimate, as embodied, or as welcoming as being together in person. 

Our Scripture passage this week includes the famous verses in which Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  His disciples are to “abide” in him, remain in him, as he abides in us.  It’s a passage about maintaining not just connection to Jesus but commitment to his teachings and above all, to his love which nourishes us and helps our faith grow. 

We’ve been through something unprecedented for any of us, something life changing.  How might abiding in Jesus help us navigate the uncertain post-pandemic world?  How might our commitment to St. Luke’s mission statement, “To practice love by following Jesus,” not only help us “abide” in him, but help us “bear fruit” in the weeks and months to come?  Bearing fruit, says Jesus, is the whole point of being branches connected to the vine.  How might our faith and the congregation of St. Luke help us process it all, grow from it, and continue to bear fruit?

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor 

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Family:

As I reported to you in worship on Sunday, I’m taking off this weekend, and the Rev. Dvera Hadden will be our guest preacher.  I understand that Dvera has served as a guest preacher at St. Luke in the past.  On Saturday and Sunday, our pastor emeritus, the Rev. Dan White, will be available for pastoral emergencies.  A big thanks to Dvera and Dan; they and the whole congregation will be in my prayers while I’m away.

This Sunday is what the lectionary calls “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  In the Gospel reading in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  The psalm for the day, the much-loved 23rd Psalm, begins, “the Lord is my shepherd…”.  Dvera will be preaching from the psalm, and also from the epistle reading for the day, John’s First Letter, 1 John 3:16-24.

In Psalm 23, the psalmist says, “I shall not want,” which is better translated, “I have all I need.”  John’s First Letter focuses on loving one another, and the verses from the lectionary look at what sacrificial love looks like, what “laying down your life” for another might look like, not necessarily in the extreme situation of the cross but in the daily give and take of the loving life.  Concretely, the writer says, love means sharing what we have with others. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17).

Even in the midst of this pandemic which has caused economic hardship for many, most Americans have more of the world’s goods than most of the world can imagine.  The 23rd psalm and John’s First Letter challenge us to consider: How much do we need?  How much is enough?  In John’s gospel, Jesus promises that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).  We know better than to think that the abundant life Jesus is talking about means owning more and more of the world’s goods, more and more stuff.  But might it mean that everybody has enough, and that love means helping make that happen? 

As I write this, it is Earth Day.  Reading these passages on Earth Day inspires me to re-watch “The Story of Stuff,” a twenty-minute video about how we ended up with this consumer culture that is killing God’s Creation.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it: https://www.storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/.

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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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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