Words from Birmingham

Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was published in the Christian Century on June 12, 1963, as a response to a group of clergymen who argued that the fight for civil rights should be waged in the court system rather than through community organizing and protests. King, who’d been jailed for protesting without a permit, wrote the letter on scraps of paper and sent it to several publications. The New York Times Magazine turned it down. Liberation, the Christian Century, and The New Leader all published it over the span of a few weeks.

In the letter, King has some harsh words to say about the church (and in particular the white church of his day). He writes, “So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.” These are blunt words. We might say of King the same thing that Jesus says of Nathaniel in the gospel story: “Here is a man in whom there is no deceit!”

These words apply to us too. There are numerous ways in which Christians continue to defend our society’s power structures, sometimes under the guise of faith. But King also noted the work for justice that some church members were doing in his day. “Let us hope,” he concludes, “that the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities.”

As we commemorate King’s birthday this year, it’s worth asking ourselves: how might we begin to lift the fog of misunderstanding and fear that blinds us to the world’s need? Might God be calling us—like Philip and Nathaniel, even like the child Samuel—to step out of our comfort zones and into the risk of discipleship?

Pastor Elizabeth Palmer

Crucible Moments

I was having a conversation with one of our members about a graduate school course they recently completed in Psychology. They shared that they had to present a “crucible” moment that they had experienced in their life. A “crucible” moment can be described as a moment in one’s life that forever defines who we are, and has the potential to change the trajectory of your life. In this person’s case, they had to share with their peers an extensive emotional evaluation of their experience. The person said, “you know I thought I had passed through the emotions of the experience – but as I was once again sharing with my peers – all the emotions just reappeared as if it happened yesterday. The purpose of this exercise, they went on to say, was for them to understand empathy in a very personal way, so that they could be more empathic to others facing crucible moments in their lives.

I couldn’t help but relate that conversation to the “crucible” moment that we experience in our Gospel lesson this morning. In the Gospel of Mark, we only know Jesus as a middle aged man. Right out of the box in the early verses of chapter one – Jesus, the man is baptized with the same baptism of repentance and forgiveness in the River Jordan by John, as every other follower of John. Immediately, we read, the heavens were torn open and a voice from heaven reminds Jesus that “you are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”….

This “crucible moment” for Jesus allows him to fully experience the aspects of human life…..Jesus becomes empathetic to the perils of life that each of us experience. The voice of the Father tearing open the heavens, empowers Jesus into a ministry trajectory of healing and saving.

Several years ago, one of our members was facing a “crucible moment” in their life. Pastor Larson was a healing and empathetic witness of Jesus’ love to that person and family. As a part of Pastor Larson’s ministry to that person – Stephen offered them a book entitled, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss. That book was extremely helpful to the person passing through their “crucible experience.”   I thought this might be a valuable book to study more closely, so I will lead a four week book study this book, beginning Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. in the Conference Room.  Copies of the book can be found in the atrium this morning – the cost of the book is $10.00.

See you in Church!
Pastor Johnson

Turning the Page – Welcome 2018!

A New Year is always a time for self-examination and a recommitment to important goals for our lives. Often times this time of recommitment means developing new strategies that will allow us better focus on goals that are important for not only our health and vitality – but the health and vitality of the communities in which we live.

There are at least a couple ways that we will be formally self-examining and developing new strategies at St. Luke’s at the beginning of 2018.

  • We are inviting Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminsky and Deputy Chief Duane Mellema (a member of St. Luke’s) to our congregation on January 14, at 9:45 a.m. We are all aware of the changing environment of the safety of public places over the past 17 years, and we thought it would be an important time to meet with experts in the field of security and protection to go over ways that we might better protect our community when we gather at St. Luke’s. We encourage all of our members to be here for this important forum that will take place in the church sanctuary on January 14.
  • The leadership of our congregation will be meeting in February with two great visionaries in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ELCA – Bishop Wayne Miller and Pastor Craig Mueller, Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Addison in Lakeview. Each of these pastors have incredible knowledge and experience on the changing patterns in church life – so we will be seeking to have conversation around new strategies that will allow us better to meet important goals of our mission and ministry.

Personally, I am seeking out ways of self-examination as well. 2017 has been an exhausting year for me and for many others as we navigate new political realities on social media. Former President Obama said recently in an interview that “the question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanization of society and allows ways of finding common ground ….it is important for people to get offline and meet others in their communities because the truth is that on the internet everything is simplified and when you meet people face to face it turns out they are complicated……”

So for me, that will mean listening more, and in real time, develop new communication strategies between folks who may disagree with one another – to have safe places where we can attempt to find common ground to navigate this very complicated terrain we live in.

Happy New Year!
Pastor Johnson


An Unforgettable Christmas

It was a Christmas I won’t forget. In a small congregation there were six deaths among members and people who were part of the extended congregational family between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany. I spent a large portion of the six weeks in parishioners’ homes, nursing homes, hospitals, and funeral homes. In fact, I spent the time between the early Family Christmas Eve Service and the later Candlelight Service with a family gathered around the hospital bed of their elderly grandfather who would die a day later.

In the midst of all this I found time to help my spouse with a little holiday decorating around the parsonage. When it came to decorating outside I took an old string of flashing C6 light bulbs (the big ones those of us of certain age remember well) and wrapped it around a metal wreath frame, hung it on the front porch and plugged it in. It was a tacky, flashing embarrassment – which hung there for the entire season.

I think my spouse correctly diagnosed what I was unconsciously trying to do: make a light to push back the darkness I experienced and the gloom which hovered over the congregation. I was trying to “make Christmas happen.”

This morning we come to the celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas is about to happen. There is no time left for whatever remains undone on the list – the cards not mailed, the gifts not purchased and wrapped, the decorations not hung, the cookies not baked. Christmas is about to happen. It is not dependent upon the things we have or have not accomplished in our sometimes misdirected busyness.

The gift is about to be given anew. The birth of a child. The gift of a Savior. The Light is given. We need only say “yes” and open ourselves to grace.

Pastor John Schumacher

Divinity Lying in the Rough

“Fling wide the door, unbar the gate” the Advent hymn proclaims, calling us into lives of generosity and openness as we prepare the way for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ. This hymn was written by a 17th century pastor, Georg Weissel, who lived in a place called Prussia. Prussia no longer exists—most of it is now what we would call northern Germany. Political alliances change over the centuries as empires rise and fall. But we still sing this old Prussian hymn because it points to something that transcends any particular time and space: the miracle of God become flesh, salvation in the form of a tiny wiggling baby lying in the hay.

Decades ago, an American theologian, Gracia Grindal, translated the words of Weissel’s hymn into English. “Macht hoch die Tür” has become “fling wide the door,” but the message is the same in both languages. We can join our voices with 17th-century Prussians (and everyone in between), proclaiming the glorious news of God’s salvation. We sing these joyful words of triumph even while we wait for the baby to be born in the stable, because as Christians we always stand with one foot in Advent and one foot in Christmas, always between waiting and fulfillment. The king of glory has come, and at the same time we earnestly wait for Mary and Joseph to arrive at the stable.

Gracia Grindal, the hymn translator who made it possible for us to sing “fling wide the door,” is also a poet. She recently wrote a poem called “Mary nurses Jesus” that we published the in the Christian Century. In this poem, Mary reflects on the child as she holds him in her arms:

Here in this infant, the tempter’s curse undone,
Divinity now lying in the rough—
A stable, the friendly beasts, our flesh like theirs.
Young as a bud, I pondered what this meant:
The baby in my arms, God unawares

This imagery—divinity in the rough, God unawares—reminds us underneath our exuberant door-flinging excitement about Christmas lies a quiet, miraculous truth. Jesus bridges the divine and the human, collapsing the distance between us and God. The tempter’s curse is undone, and all flesh is redeemed. In a tiny wiggling baby is our salvation.

–Pastor Elizabeth

Encounters in the Wilderness

Geography in the Bible often has a double meaning. When Jesus goes into the mountains, it usually means that he is not only literally going up the mountain, but it also means that Jesus is going to a place where he will have an intimate conversation with the Father. Mountains are places in scripture where people have had these intimate conversations and encounters with God.

So, too, about today’s Gospel. Mark begins his Gospel using images from both the prophets Isaiah and Malachi – “I am sending my messenger before you…..like a voice crying in the wilderness”…..then later Mark continues by saying that “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…..”

Twice in the very first verses of the Gospel of Mark, Mark uses the image of “wilderness” to describe the place where good news will be proclaimed and forgiveness of sins found. In Isaiah and Malachi, and now in the Gospel of Mark, the wilderness is a place of great uncertainty and danger. Both Isaiah and Malachi use the wilderness as the place that the Jews find themselves after the total collapse of life as they had known it when Judah fell in 586 BC – it is the wilderness where they are now looking for a new hope…..a new message….a Messiah after the exile from Judah.

When the ancients read the Biblical material from both Old and New Testaments, they knew that wilderness was not just a geographical location. They understood that wilderness was also their personal experience of uncertainty and danger. For Mark’s original audience, they were watching the Roman government systematically destroying their religious centers – culminating in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. They felt the wilderness in very real terms on a daily basis.

So I ask you this morning – are you experiencing wilderness in your life right now? Are there places of uncertainty and danger that you can relate to in your own experience?

It is precisely in those places in our personal experience that God encounters us anew this Advent season. Mark begins his Gospel with the words ….”The beginning of the Good News…..” For Mark and for us, the beginning of that Good News is that Jesus encounters every wilderness that we experience – and is present with us there! Jesus knows our wilderness and will bring Good News to counter our uncertainty and fears.

Pastor Johnson

The Season of Advent

The new church year begins this day with the first Sunday in Advent. I found this reflection in the Sundays and Seasons Preaching edition this week – and I thought it was worth sharing.

“Despite all evidence to the contrary, Advent is about the art of waiting. But holiday decorations have been on the shelves at Kmart well before Halloween and the world declares everything after Thanksgiving Day as the ‘Christmas Season.”

Though all of us are tempted to act otherwise. Now is the time for slowing down and leaning together. As with the ancients, we gather in the darkness to wait for the light. In some rural communities in the past centuries, the farmers would remove a wagon wheel from their wagon to create an Advent Wreath for family worship time. Consider what it would be like for us to take a wheel off our car, truck or minivan for the Advent season. Instead of rushing to the mall, we’d stay home but also gather with friends to sing ancient hymns and hear readings of prophecy and promise.

In the dead of winter, we need one another and we need signs that the sun (and the Son) will come again. Like the ancients who gathered together for courage and hope that the sun would return, we gather each week to hear the “Word that does not pass away”. The Advent season’s texts give us voice for our brokenness and promise of a Savior. Sundays and Seasons – Preaching Year B – 2018, pg. 16

See you in Church!
Pastor Johnson

West Lawn Storm Water Project

Have you noticed unusual activity on St. Luke’s West Lawn during the past two weeks? This sustainable project will capture and move storm water and sump pump outflow away from our building’s foundation and disperse it in an environmentally friendly and code-compliant manner. Proposed by the Green Team and sponsored by the Operations and Management Cabinet, the project was designed by Carol Becker of Sage Advice Landscape Design (who also designed our front garden) and executed by Cityscape Landscape and volunteers led by Jeff Greve. The Weinke family generously made available several pieces of specialized equipment for use on the project.

A major feature is the rain garden that will handle over 50% of the outflow by holding it in an engineered garden bed and slowly releasing it into the surrounding soil and air. The garden is already planted with attractive native sedges and shrubs that tolerate wet locations and move moisture into the air by transpiration. Native Illinois plants do this so well because their roots extend as deep as 12 to 15 feet. These plants also provide food, shelter and reproductive space for insects and birds.

The shrubs we planted are black chokeberry, a great small shrub for birds, especially in the fall when the berries are ripe. Adjacent to the garden and closer to the building, we installed two other native shrubs that are hosts to beneficial insects — oakleaf hydrangea, the largest hydrangea native to Illinois, and Brandywine viburnum, a large shrub whose great fall color is visible right now.

Grass-like sedges, a common wetland plant, are placed around the perimeter to hold the rain garden edges in place as the plants become established. We’ve also planted a few iris, but most of the wildflowers appropriate for a rain garden will be added when they become available next spring. We can all enjoy watching this garden fill in over the next two summers. It will achieve its mature appearance by the summer of 2020. View pictures of the Rain Garden Project HERE>

from the Green Team

Member Care Cabinet

Mission Statement: The Member Care Cabinet provides opportunity to empower St. Luke’s members to become involved in Christian community to share God’s love and to express their faith by ministering to and supporting others in daily life.

The Member Care Cabinet consists of 8 dedicated members who meet monthly. We often begin meetings with the following quote by Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Members from our cabinet as well as several home visitors take communion and offer fellowship to 16 of our homebound members.  Please let a member of the cabinet know if you are aware of someone who could benefit from regular visits.

This past Sunday a luncheon was held for those who had lost spouses.  Diane Barounis led a beautiful program which included candles symbolizing grief, hope and rememberence.

Last spring an Old Fashioned Circle Luncheon was offered for those whose circles had become smaller or were no longer meeting on a regular basis.  We wore vintage aprons and even served a chicken casserole from the 1983 St. Luke’s cookbook!

Please mark your calendar for December 10th when we will go caroling to elderly in the community.  This is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit!  Carolers will meet for chili after the second service and then head out.  We hope you can join us!

Several initiatives fall under the Member Care umbrella.  The Card Ministry group creates the amazing cards to benefit world hunger, and flowers are delivered weekly to those in the community.  The Prayer Shawl ministry knits the lovely prayer shawls for the homebound, hospitalized, grieving, newly baptized and college students.  Blood pressure screenings are performed monthly, and assistance is given to adult children of aging parents.  The Spirit Matters group meets monthly and provides a time for reflection and sharing.  Our cabinet continues to offer various devotional and resource materials.

The Member Care cabinet welcomes all who are interested in serving though our ministries and thanks those who work so hard on various initiatives.  We continue to look for new ways to serve the members of St. Luke’s, and we welcome any input you may have.

Julie Russell for the Member Care Cabinet

Faith Formation & Learning Cabinet

Faith Formation & Learning Cabinet 

Mission Statement: The Faith Formation & Learning Cabinet (FF&L) strives to strengthen the faith and knowledge of St. Luke’s members and friends by providing lifelong learning opportunities that inspire, lead and guide all to be people of God living faithfully in the world.

FF&L touches all generations and spans Sunday School, Confirmation classes, Youth and Adult Forums, Bible Study and much more. Book discussions, guest speakers and extensive resources through the Dokmo Library are also part of our ministries. All are welcome to share God’s word through the various Education & Learning avenues and continuously build fellowship and support.

Take-aways: Participants are enriched in multiple ways throughout the year. Events and offerings are formal, informal, spontaneous, fun and always authentic. Join us!


Children’s Ministry
Melinda Hoiland
  •  Sunday School from 2-yr old to 6th Grade
  •  “Walk-a-About Lessons” at Sunday Services
  •  “Multi-generational” Sunday School
Youth Ministry
Gerry Mears
  •  Confirmation Curriculum
  •  Sunday Youth Forum for High School Students
  •  Weekend & Summer Retreats
  •  National Youth Gathering
  •  Service and Outreach Programs
Adult Ministry
Pr. Richard Johnson
  •  Sunday Restore & Renew Adult Forums
  •  Bible Study & Community Initiatives
  •  Service & Outreach Programs
Library Ministry
Gail Larson
  •  Central resources offered by Dokmo Library
  •  Winter Reading Challenge
  •  Adopt-a-Book Sale