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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

Sunday, March 28, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family,

This Sunday we begin Holy Week.  When I was a child, we went straight from the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday to the jubilation of resurrection on Easter.  As someone asked me a few years ago, “Why would we want to revisit the events of Holy Week when we know how it ends?” 

It’s a worthy question.  I suspect there are many good answers, but I’ll give you mine:

The stories we hear during Holy Week show us that Jesus’ life, teachings, choices, and most especially his fidelity to God increasingly challenge the powers of this world.  He moves from being a nuisance to being a threat.  I do not believe God required Jesus to die or wanted Jesus to die.  I believe Jesus was willing to stay true to the truest truth he knew: the love of God for all people.  His death was the natural and human consequence of that fidelity.  As he makes his holy way toward a very human death, God’s love for the human family is revealed to us in its fullest.  The message is not that suffering is good, or that God wants Jesus or anyone else to suffer.  In fact, we learn that suffering is tragic, the opposite of God’s will.  It is my belief, based on what we see of Jesus in Scripture, that God weeps when God’s beloved children suffer.  And so, we learn that there is no place we can go, no depth to which we can plunge, no farthest shore to which we can flee, that God is not with us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  What could possibly be more meaningful than to gather for worship again and again in the span of a week to remember, give thanks and stand in awe of God’s wondrous love? 

There is also the issue of contrast.  To journey with Jesus to the depths of betrayal, denial and crucifixion also has a way of raising our spirits to new heights on Easter morning.  When we call out, “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!” it rings with a more exuberant joy and resonant truth because we have experienced the darkness.  

At St. Luke, we will gather on Maundy Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom.  “Maundy” comes from the Latin word that means “mandate,” and it refers to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples in the Upper Room – that we love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13.31-35).  We will observe Maundy Thursday with communion, contemplative Taizé chants, and prayers.  And we will gather on Good Friday at noon on Zoom with music and art that retells the story of Christ’s crucifixion, and centers on the seven last words of Jesus.

But first, we will worship together this Sunday, Palm Sunday, a day of irony on which Jesus is celebrated as a king, but we know what’s coming.  The crowd shouts “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” or “Rescue us!” in Hebrew.  Scott Black Johnston asks, “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from?”  Maybe Holy Week is a chance to explore that question.

See you Sunday,

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Family:

Did you know that In-n-Out Burgers tucks Bible verses into obscure spots on its cups and food wrappers?  Not the verses themselves – just the citations – so, for example, “John 3:16,” is inscribed on the inside rim of the bottom of beverage cups.  Why?  I haven’t found any explanation at the In-n-Out website or in the restaurants themselves.  Are people supposed to be curious enough to look up John 3:16 in the Bible to see what it says, and, convinced by the power of that one verse, convert to Christianity?  I wonder if that ever happens.  I’m guessing that what actually happens is that the people who know John 3:16 feel like insiders, and the people who don’t know it feel like outsiders, which is exactly what I’d long understood as the intention of this verse.  While John 3:16 is a great source of comfort to many people, when I was in college, I really struggled with it. 

Or, rather, I struggled with John 3:16 as I had understood it.  I’d only heard the verse used to say that certain people are “in” with God and certain people are “out” with God and even if you never had a chance because of culture or background or whatever else, if you don’t “believe” then you are among the “outs.”  It challenged my sense of God’s goodness that God would be so arbitrary. 

What is your reaction to this verse?  Many of us memorized it as children, and it still shows up on placards at sporting events.  How might we read this important verse in a way that is consistent with, “God so loved the world” – with God’s love for the whole world?  Join us Sunday as we explore the Pharisee Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus, and John 3:16.

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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