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Sunday, January 17, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family:

In a Facebook post I read this week, a young woman reflected on an article pointing out that people can experience God everywhere, not just at church.  The young woman said she totally believes that.  As do I.  God is everywhere; we can meet Christ in anyone, not just in church.  These ideas aren’t New Age or spiritual-but-not-religious; they are actually supported in Scripture.

 What this young woman wondered is whether we would notice God’s presence everywhere if we didn’t practice noticing it somewhere.  She said that going to a particular building on a particular day at a particular time helps her practice noticing God’s “everywhere-ness.”  This was written before the pandemic; I assume now she goes to a particular church website, YouTube channel or Zoom meeting.  But in any event, she invited her Facebook friends to stop and notice today, and if it’s in their tradition, to go to church.  Church is not perfect, she said.  It’s practice. 

In the passage from John’s gospel we will consider this coming Sunday, one of Jesus’ brand new disciples extends an invitation, as well.  He tells his skeptical friend to “Come and see;” come and see who Jesus is, what his ministry is, how it fulfills God’s promises.  That is exactly how the Christian faith has spread from the time of the disciples to the early Church to the present day: one person tells another, “Come and see.”  As with the young woman on Facebook, the invitation isn’t a sledgehammer of truth.  Rather, it’s having an experience that makes you sure that if somebody else simply saw, it would be enough.

 Come and see.  Church is not perfect.  It’s practice.  I’ll probably remind you many more times how much I love St. Luke’s mission statement: “Practicing love by following Jesus.”  Our calling as the Church is to keep extending that gracious invitation to others (and to us!) to practice love, to become the people God calls us to be and the world needs.  How might St. Luke extend that invitation?  “Come and see!”

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor   

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Family:

It’s been a troubling week.  It might seem an odd juxtaposition to consider Baptism this Sunday, the day on our Christian calendar set aside as Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  

But when you think about it, it is perhaps one of the most timely and healing topics we could consider.  A phrase often used in worship after a child or adult has been baptized is directed to the rest of the congregation: “Remember your Baptism, and be thankful.”  Many of us can’t remember our Baptisms; we were too young.  A better rephrasing might be, “Remember that you have been baptized, and be thankful.” 

Why should we remember and be thankful?  Presbyterians don’t believe that Baptism changes God’s attitude toward us; we don’t believe Baptism is required for salvation or that God loves us more if we’ve been baptized.  Rather, baptism is but the beginning of a lifelong process of formation in the faith.  In baptism, we are called to a new way of life as Christ’s disciples, sharing the good news of the God’s love with all the world, and living out our belief that in life and in death we all belong to God.  Baptism affirms that God claims us as God’s own, as God’s beloveds. 

Just think what a radical and life-altering belief that is.  We are all God’s beloved children.  

If we’ve seen anything this week, it’s the importance of beliefs.  What we believe shapes us, and shapes our actions.  This Sunday we celebrate and remember that God loves us and calls us to love all those whom God loves, which is everybody.  Jesus taught that this is the most important belief for his followers.  That belief should shape us, change us, transform us.  Figuring out what that looks like in this complicated and often disturbing world is why we gather as church, counting on God’s grace to work steadily in us as we help each other practice love by following Jesus.

Remember your Baptism, and be thankful.

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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Sunday, January 3, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Community,
  
January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas or “Twelfth Night.”  That means that on the Sunday before January 6, a preacher has a decision to make: Preach the gospel lesson for that Sunday, the highly theological Prologue to John’s gospel, a statement of the Doctrine of the Incarnation steeped in Greek philosophy?  Or preach the Epiphany texts, the story of the magi from the East, a story full of intrigue, jealousy, power struggles, and, well, epiphanies?  You can probably tell from this description which direction I lean.

In my study for this Sunday’s sermon, a comment by Lutheran pastor Craig Satterlee grabbed my attention: “The magi did not come looking for the Christ through preaching, liturgy, sacrament, a welcoming congregation, or a vital social ministry – things I hold dear.  They came seeking the Christ after studying the night skies.  As someone who holds on to favorite, cherished ways that God works to proclaim the gospel and bring people to faith, it’s always wondrously frightening to realize anew that God’s own work of embracing all people is more ‘mystery’ than ‘formula,’ because God’s ways are always bigger than my understanding.”

It hit me that this comment speaks to every congregation in 2021, but perhaps most especially to a congregation in transition.  We’ll spend the next months together discovering who St. Luke is now, in 2021, after saying goodbye to a beloved pastor.  What are your core values; what are your purpose, mission, and vision for the future? Although the Presbyterian system offers structure and guidance to the interim period between pastors, it is vital that we remember God’s work is more mystery than formula, and God’s ways are always bigger than our own understanding.  

Certainly more mystery than formula is what draws people to a congregation, what inspires them to stay, what causes them to drive past one or more churches to worship at St. Luke.  We’ll be exploring this together, as well as asking questions about what surprising ways St. Luke might join in God’s work of embracing all people.  Perhaps “an expected epiphany" is an oxymoron, but count on this journey to be an adventure.  God’s ways are, indeed, bigger than our understanding.

God’s abundant blessings in the New Year!

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt     

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