Carry the Teachings of Jesus with You

As I read a portion of the narrative of the “Commissioning of the Disciples” from the Gospel of Matthew as our Gospel text today, I read the prophetic zeal that Jesus emphasizes in this commissioning of his disciples (learners).  He asks of his disciples that they take Jesus and his teachings seriously as they share the Good News in their travels.  Matthew also acknowledges that these teachings can and will cause a certain amount of division.

Which begged the question for me — what are the teachings of Jesus that I am invited to first learn and then to teach others in Jesus’ name?

In the ELCA, there are a series of teachings on contemporary topics that the church has studied over the almost 30 years of our existence entitled, Social Statements.

Social Statements are teachings that provide a broad framework to assist us in thinking about and discussing social issues in the context of faith and life. They are meant to help congregations and individuals with moral formation, discernment and thoughtful engagement with current social issues as we participate in God’s work in the world. They result from an extensive process of participation and deliberation and are adopted by a two-thirds vote of an ELCA churchwide assembly.

The ELCA Social Statements include:  Abortion (1991), Caring for Creation (1993), Church in Society (1991), The Church and Criminal Justice (2013), The Death Penalty (1991), Economic Life (1999), Education (2007), Genetics (2011), Health and Health Care (2003), Human Sexuality (2009), Peace (1995) and Race, Ethnicity and Culture (1993).

During this coming program year, we will take some time in our Adult Forums to look at these social statements as a way of learning and equipping us for our commission as advocates for Jesus’ sake in our contemporary world. As disciples, it becomes increasingly important to be the vessels that carry the teachings of Jesus to the world.

I hope that you plan to join us beginning in September to consider some of these statements that I hope will create some thoughtful engagement as consider our roles in being disciples in 21 century America.

See you in church!
Pastor Johnson


The Bad Stuff

“I’m still not a Christian,” Tian said last Tuesday as we ate lunch together. She’d flown into Chicago that morning to get a travel visa from the Chinese Consulate, and I was helping her with some logistics before her afternoon flight back to Minneapolis. My college friend Josh, who’s married to Tian, had recently asked me to send him some books on the problem of evil, and I had done so—not knowing that he was giving them to Tian. “I read the books you sent,” she continued, “but I didn’t find the answers satisfactory. I understand the idea of God giving us free will, which permits us to do evil things. But I don’t understand a God who would let babies die or Tsunamis destroy villages.”

“Yeah,” I responded. “I don’t understand it either. But I’ve been a Christian since before I thought to ask these kinds of questions, so I’m able to trust in God despite not having all the answers. I trust that God is with us when we suffer, and that through Christ new life always springs from death. But it’s mostly a matter of faith, not a rational explanation.”

Tian didn’t get on the plane that afternoon with any new revelations or a sudden faith in God. But I was glad that she’s willing to name her most difficult questions and ask them repeatedly. Tian isn’t in search of a simple faith that finds easy comfort. She needs the kind of faith that incorporates all the bad stuff in an honest, searching way.

There’s plenty of the bad stuff in today’s Scriptures. Paul writes to the Romans about suffering that produces endurance. Matthew writes about rejection, floggings, persecution, and even family members killing one another. Part of me is always annoyed when I hear these types of readings in church. I look nervously at my children in the pew next to me and hope they aren’t listening. I’m tempted to think, “Why can’t we just hear the nice, comforting Scriptures in church? Why all this bad stuff?”

But another part of me knows that church is exactly the place where we should be talking about the bad stuff. If we can name it and grapple with it together—and then gather for the Lord’s Supper and depart together in peace—perhaps we will all grow into a faith that is more courageous and more real.

Pastor Elizabeth Palmer

Liturgical Pattern for Worship

As a Lutheran worshipping community, we follow the basic liturgical pattern for worship that has been handed down since the early days of the church, that of Gathering – Word – Meal – Sending. This structure allows for freedom and flexibility while focusing on what the church holds in common. We value the tradition of Christian worship and, at the same time, seek to renew that tradition in response to our ever-growing understanding of the interrelatedness of the world and its diverse cultures.

Worship in the liturgical tradition will feel familiar to most Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Episcopalians, who follow the same basic pattern on Sunday morning. (Check out pages 92-93 at the front of the hymnal for more detail.)

GatheringThe Holy Spirit calls us together as the people of God.

Prelude music provides an opportunity for people to listen quietly and to prepare for worship. The service typically begins with either Confession and Forgiveness or Thanksgiving for Baptism. This is followed by a Gathering Hymn, sometimes a sung Kyrie, and the Greeting and Prayer of the Day.

WordGod speaks to us in scripture reading, preaching, and song.

We read a passage from the Old Testament, followed by the singing of a psalm. A passage from the New Testament is followed by a sung Gospel Acclamation, and then the reading of the Gospel. The sermon is preached, and the Hymn of the Day is sung. We often include one of the Creeds which is followed by the Prayers of Intercession and the Sharing of the Peace.

MealGod feed us with the presence of Jesus Christ.

During the Offering the Table (altar) is set. We sing as gifts of money, bread and wine are brought forward. The presiding minister leads the Great Thanksgiving. We sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, hear a prayer and the Words of Institution. We pray together the Lord’s Prayer and are invited to take part in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

SendingGod blesses us and sends us in mission to the world.

This is the shortest part of the service! We are blessed and sent out with a song

Anne Krentz Organ

Not Alone

“One hippo, all alone, calls two hippos on the phone” begins the classic nonfiction accomplishment by Sandra Boynton, Hippos Go Berserk! My toddler Miriam has taken a liking to this board book. “Three hippos at the door bring along another four . . .” it continues, and so on until the house is full of hippos and then they all have a giant hippo party, during which time the title of the book plays out in glorious detail.

What strikes me about Miriam’s engagement with this book is that on every page she looks carefully at all the hippos, then points to one of them and says: “I’m that one.” She looks thoughtfully at picture again and then says: “that one is mommy,” followed by daddy and then her sister Anna. Next comes: “and that one’s Grandma and that one’s Grandpa and that one’s Nan and that one’s Pops” and so on until all of the hippos have been assigned an identity corresponding to someone who Miriam knows and loves.

And don’t we all do that with our beloved stories—whether it be the novel we’re currently reading, the narratives our loved ones are currently living, the stories that float around in culture and politics, or the Christian story of salvation that undergirds our faith? It’s nearly a universal tendency to want to imagine ourselves into these stories, to let them challenge us into being someone greater than we currently are, to let them carry us into questions we may not have been brave enough to ask on our own, to let them break down our assumptions so we can rebuild new ways of being in the world.

It matters, though, which stories we choose to live into and which ones we dismiss as distracting chatter or false news. It also matters how we live into the stories. (It matters which hippo we choose to be!)

Discerning what it means to live faithfully in such a visibly broken world is no easy task. But today’s gospel story reminds us that we are not alone in this endeavor. We have the Holy Spirit, our advocate, to guide us. As we live, worship, and discern together within the larger story of salvation, the Spirit helps us negotiate between all the other stories that swirl around us.

Elizabeth Palmer

That All May Find God

The Words from the Gospel of John that are a part of our Gospel lesson this morning are very familiar to me. In my former parish in Milwaukee, the words from John 14: 6-7 were permanently mounted to the front wall of the church.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6-7

There words were clearly intended to bring comfort to the congregation when they were first mounted in 1957 as the sanctuary was complete. For over 60 years they have reminded all who enter the sanctuary that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, for us and Christians.

But there has been a lot of discussion concerning the second part of that sentence in more recent years – “No one comes to the Father but by me…” The congregation had a strong relationship with a Jewish Synagogue in the area – and often we would do joint musical concerts with them. There was a growing discomfort about the second half of that sentence.

The congregation council decided to create a statement that appears on every bulletin that is published in the congregation…..reminding them of the context and meaning of these words. I thought it might be interesting to share that statement with those at St. Luke’s who may have been troubled by the exclusivity of that sentence as well.

A Reflection on the Words in Our Worship Area:

“These words are grounded in the joyous affirmation of a first century religious community that believes that in the person of Jesus, the tangible presence of God’s love to the world has been experienced – to know the compassion and love of Jesus is to know the heart of God.

However beautiful these words were to first century Christians, some in the contemporary church have made these words a rallying cry of Christian superiority over and against those with other faiths or no faith. In the original context, these words celebrate a faith community’s desire to understand more deeply the way, the truth, and life of Jesus as a path of love and compassion on this earth.

The Mount Carmel community, its people and pastors, believe that the divine is revealed to humanity in many and various ways. We celebrate the unity that we share with all the people of this earth. We see in each person the work of the divine. We have a shared desire with all the world’s religious communities that all people will find peace and unity in the divine nature of a loving God.”

Pastor Richard Johnson

Summer Worship

Summer Sunday Worship – one service @ 9:00 a.m. – Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend – Alternative Worship Experiences on several Thursday Nights during the summer.

Over the years that I have been at St. Luke’s I will often hear….”I haven’t seen Doris or Joe for a while……are they 11:00 a.m. people?” I will often respond, “O yes, they are here almost every Sunday – but they go to the late service!” And the common response, “I miss them – I wish that once in a while we would worship at one service so everyone can be together at the same time and place!”

If you remember, at the end of last summer we did a survey of those who attended St. Luke’s during the summer months. Overwhelmingly, the respondents indicated that they would like to have one service during the summer months so that we could bring the family “back together again!” So in response to your request, this summer, beginning on Memorial Day weekend, we will have one service for the summer that begins at 9:00 a.m. each Sunday through Labor Day weekend.

We have also planned three alternative services that will take place on Thursday evenings during the summer months for those who find themselves out of town on the weekends or who might be looking for a change of pace in their worship life. Thursdays, June 15, July 20, and August 10, at 7:00 p.m., we will gather for services that will be voiced differently, and will feel a bit different than our Sunday worship experiences. We hope that if you are in town, you will mark these on your calendar, and join us for worship on Thursday evenings!

During our summer schedule – we will have coffee hour immediately following worship each Sunday – and we will occasionally have some fun opportunities that people can participate in after worship…..service projects, children friendly activities, a pet blessing, extended brunches, and some adult education opportunities. We have also planned “walk abouts” for our children on quite a few Sundays!

It will be fun to be together as a church family this summer at St. Luke’s – hope you can be a part of our summer worship experience!!!

Pastor Richard Johnson

Emmaus Mysteries

Jesus appearing to disciples on the road to Emmaus is a story that most of us will find familiar. But many biblical scholars believe that an actual town called Emmaus wasn’t a place familiar to early Christians. There’s controversy over where the town might have been located, and what its real name might have been. Some say it was the fictional name of a place that didn’t exist—not on the map, at least. These scholars say the name Emmaus is a metaphor for the disciples’ desolation as they mourned the violent death of their teacher and friend. The non-existence of a literal place called Emmaus isn’t necessarily bad news for us, though. It means that Emmaus can stand in for us as a symbol of whatever destination resides at the end of our grief and longing. What’s most important is that wherever we’re headed—even if we’re seemingly going nowhere—Jesus accompanies us along the way.

The location of Emmaus isn’t the only mystery in this story. It’s also strange that when Jesus walks with these two disciples they don’t recognize him. In fact, the story implies, they regard him as alien. (The Greek word paroikos can mean a stranger, a person in exile, or an alien.) It’s certainly odd that these disciples who are so intimately aware of the details of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death would be blind enough not to recognize him when he appears. The gospel writer tells us that their eyes were kept from recognizing him, which implies that God had something to do with it. The romantic side of me wants to say that the resurrected Christ appeared far more glorious than Jesus did before his death—and that they didn’t recognize him for that reason. But the fact is that he seems to have appeared to them as a completely ordinary traveler, albeit one who understood the Scriptures.

We don’t know why those disciples didn’t know Jesus until he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. What we do know is that Jesus accompanied them even when they didn’t recognize him. He opened up the Scriptures to them, and then he sat at table with them, blessed the bread, and gave it to them. This sharing of word and sacrament is the most wondrous mystery of this story, and it’s a mystery in which we are privileged to partake.

Pastor Elizabeth Palmer

Life of the Beloved

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen
I look forward to leading another book study during the weeks after Easter on Wednesday night. We will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Conference room beginning this Wednesday, April 26. The book is entitled, “Life of the Beloved” and it is written by world famous Christian author – Henri Nouwen. Originally, I was going to team-lead this discussion with Bob Douglass who recommended the book to me. Unfortunately, Bob will be hospitalized during a portion of the dates of this study so you will be stuck with me – but we will be using Bob’s notes as we move through the study!

The book is intended to be a letter to a Jewish New York friend of Nouwen’s named Fred, whom he met when Fred interviewed Nouwen while teaching at Yale Divinity School. They formed an unlikely bond and became lifelong friends, sharing each other’s deepest longings, fears, and doubts. This book is the result of these deep questions that they have asked each other and its tone is indeed that of a dear friend talking intimately and warmly to a “fellow-traveler searching for life, light and truth.”

Nouwen believes the most important spiritual journey of our lives involves claiming the truth of our belovedness and living into that truth by becoming the beloved…He believes we become the Beloved of God when we:1) claim that we are taken, 2) know that we are blessed, 3) acknowledge that we are broken, and 4) submit to being given. Each of these four ways is explored beautifully and helpfully in simple terms, with real life examples.

Without being unrealistic about the pain of death and loss, he speaks convincingly of our lives being like a seed that must die to bear fruit. “How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it…and that—even then—there will be leftovers!”

The book has appealed to thousands of Christians who struggle through life trying to apply the Christian principles they’ve learned to the situations they encounter day in and day out. I hope you will consider joining me on Wednesday evenings. The book is available in the atrium for $10.00 – please take one and sign up. We will collect the $10 at our first meeting.

Pastor Richard Johnson


Life Changing

I look forward to the “butterfly” kit that Iris Henderson provides to so many of us at St. Luke’s every spring.   The kit is simple – a see-through plastic covered container, a caterpillar, some leafy greens, and a small twig.

I knew all the steps describing the movement from caterpillar to butterfly from my biology classes, but I had never experienced it firsthand. It was fascinating…. Each day I would get up and immediately go to see if the chrysalis was breaking down…..and after several days I said to my wife….maybe we did something wrong….I think it is dead.

Finally, one afternoon, the chrysalis was breaking down…..and both of us watched in amazement as this wet “grass-hopper” like creature emerged from the tomb-like structure. We videoed the progression of this creature….as it began to flap its wings….and dry out… was a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

Initially it stumbled around the container….but eventually it demonstrated a true eagerness to be released. We walked outside, removed the lid from the container….and watched this beautiful butterfly initially cautious, take flight around our yard before disappearing into the sky. It may seem silly to say, but both my wife and I wept at this event – it was a powerful moment of resurrection!

On March 19, 1976 – my vivacious and beautiful 13 year old niece (who was more like a sister to me) died of viral meningitis. The illness took her just two days after diagnosis…..and her death changed my life and my family’s life forever. At her memorial service, the pastor used the “butterfly” as a symbol and metaphor of resurrection and new hope amid the horrific event of her death. I have never looked at a butterfly the same since.

I can only imagine that most of you reading this have had something in your life happen that has had “life changing” significance… unexpected death…..a difficult diagnosis…..a painful divorce…..a job loss…..a loved one struggling with addictions or depression….the list could go on.

Whatever trauma or sadness that you might be experiencing…..please know that God desires something greater for you.  This Easter, through the message of Jesus’ resurrection, through the powerful Easter worship experience or through a resurrection metaphor from your personal experience, may you find life, freedom, hope, forgiveness, and joy in a loving, compassionate God made real and tangible in a community of people committed to bringing life and love to you!

Pastor Richard Johnson



Passion Sunday

I grew up with the Service Book and Hymnal – SBH – the Red Book – as it was known to those who were a part of this church in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. During that period, the Sunday before Easter was always known as Palm Sunday! Each Palm Sunday the congregation gathered to sing songs of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, children were given Palms to wave, and at least in some churches, there was a ceremonial march around the neighborhood with palm branches.

In 1976, the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches collectively decided to move to a new hymnal – the Lutheran Book of Worship – the Green Book! This new hymnal had a dramatic effect on how we would worship as a community going forward. The LBW moved us closer to the liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church.

With the LBW there was a new emphasis on the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. There is a renewed interest in using Baptismal imageries in worship, especially within the funeral services, and other liturgical services of the church. Holy Communion was seen as an essential part of every Sunday worship. Within ten years, the LCA, ALC and AELC formed the new Lutheran Church – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988.

There was also a change in the way we celebrated the Sunday before Easter. No longer did we call this Sunday – Palm Sunday. It became Passion Sunday. The emphasis of this Sunday’s liturgies changed. That change is reflected in our Sunday worship this weekend.

We will begin with the Blessing of the Palms this Sunday. This will be followed by the celebration of the Procession of Palms through the church by our children, choirs, and worship leaders. Together we will sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as our entrance hymn. However, at the Prayer of the Day, things change dramatically in our liturgy, from the images of the “Triumphal Entry” – we move from the joyous movements of Jesus into Jerusalem, to the powerful, yet unsettling events that took place through the remaining days of Holy Week…..the cleansing of the Temple, The Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Arrest, the Trial, and the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Our newest worship book and hymnal, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship – the ELW – the Cranberry Book, introduced to congregations at the turn of the century, continues this tradition. Passion Sunday gives us an eyewitness, sweeping experience of the painful scope of the Passion of our Lord. Through the reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew, and the singing of powerful hymns, we will walk with Jesus through his last days on earth.

We encourage you to experience the breadth of this experience during worship this morning…..but then return on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday, to fully appreciate the drama and power of this most sacred week in our church’s calendar.

Pastor Richard Johnson