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Beloved Child

shore 23666cI had last Sunday off as I helped my daughter move into her apt for student teaching outside of St. Louis, Missouri! It was fun and exciting! Below is a brief reflection for our weekly newsletter which I record on video, and is emailed on Thursdays. If you would like to join St. Luke's email list to see these weekly videos and other news, please send a request to cThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Here is a link to our YouTube page. Our Sunday Service is livestreamed on our our Facebook page Sundays at 10 am, CST and the video of the service is posted there. Contact me on this site with questions, thank you so much! Linda

Maybe you've heard the story of children wrapping their cat in blanket and putting it in a box like baby Jesus. The cat tires of playing dress-up, leaps out of the box, and runs away. The children run after the cat yelling, "baby Jesus get back in your manger!"

We would all like Jesus to remain a baby in the manger at times. If he does not grow up, then maybe we do not have to either. But, already this week, Jesus is baptized to begin his adult ministry.

The manger becomes the Jordan River, the star is replaced by the dove of the Holy Spirit, and instead of wise travelers from the east, God's voice booms from the heavens, "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased." God loves Jesus-- God is for him, with him, and in him, in everything he does! Jesus is never alone--he is and always will be completely loved.

This is true for all of us-- you are a beloved child of God whose Holy Spirit dwells in you, with you, and is for you as we move into 2022 with all its challenges and hopes. You are never alone, and are completely washed and covered in God's love and grace. That is why God sent Jesus-- so we would have no doubt about this truth!

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Hidden in Plain Sight

magi 20027cMessage for Epiphany Sunday on Jan. 2, 2022 on Matthew 2:1-12 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Sometimes we cannot see the God who is right in front of us, hidden in plain sight.

• The religious leaders did not see it.
• The people did not know it.
• The tax collectors and the census takers, the family members, and the travelers, burdened by daily life and decrees, could not see beyond the crushing demands of the day.

But God was there—in love, in angels, in stars, and in baby smiles. God was present in loyal love that stood strong beyond scandals, in life that pushed through regardless of grime, and in joy that was felt, in spite of a jerry-rigged cradle.

God was making an entrance in plain sight fulfilling a promise: a Messiah is born, God in flesh and bone—in the very place the Scripture foretold—Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Yet, God is hidden in plain sight. No one noticed except a few shepherds who had to return to their sheep—and no one listened to shepherds anyway.

Who does God use to bring the revelation of a Savior—the recognition that the long-awaited Messiah has arrived?

• Does it come from the wealthy and powerful?
• From kings and leaders?
• From the religious and devout?
• From the prophets and sages of their own faith?

No. None of them can see the God who is born among them, hidden in plain sight.

The revelation of the Messiah comes from foreigners. From Persians, Iranians, and Saudi Arabians. The epiphany of who this baby truly is comes from priests and practitioners of Zoroastrianism, an ancient, pagan and foreign religion. From scientists who study the stars. They see clearly what God is doing—where and how —and they go on journey to be part of it.

Have you ever wondered why scientific foreigners of another religion know what God is doing when the people who serve and follow this God do not?

God seems willing to go pretty far to get the message across to the people that their Savior is born--that God loves them so much, God chose to become like them.

It is radical news. In our Ephesian passage, Paul talks about bringing the good news of Christ out into all the world, a light to the Gentiles.

But Matthew reverses this direction with Magi: the world is bringing the message of God to Israel. God will go to any length, use anyone in the world, to share God’s yearning to communicate—to love us and to save us – even other religions, scientists, foreigners, travelers, star-gazers, dreamers.

Would you believe foreigners, star-gazers, dreamers, Zoroastrians, scientists, travelers, or for that matter, shepherds, angels, unwed mothers, foolish loyal husbands-to-be? Will you believe them when God uses them to point out God’s presence and love and grace for you this year?

The magi invite us to be mindful of the things we are tempted to write off—be they foreigners or immigrants, recent science, a dream, neighbors of a different faith, the words of a child, the movement of nature, the timing of a song, the kindness of a stranger.

The Magi want us to be open to every way that God might show up—and God shows up in so many different ways in the Bible!

wrestling, hardship, healing, resurrection, hospitality, fire, storms, voices, clouds, mountains, foreign powers, metaphors, prophets, teachers, light, the poor, parables, songs, poetry, inner wisdom, bread, water, pregnancy, children, visions, rocks, silence, fish, and more! (I could go on, but we have burritos after church!)

When we open our minds, tune our thoughts and refresh our eyes for “God-sightings” or God-winks” we begin to notice them everywhere—Here’s a few I have noticed lately---

• The shape of the back of a tow-truck is a cross,
• An unexpected call from an old friend yesterday
• A church member who helped another member while I was on vacation last week
• The young man at the Target checkout right before Christmas, who was ready to go home, and his light was off and I was too tired to notice, and checked me out anyway.
• the bird singing in the tree near my parking space at Kroger
• A homeless person with a sign on the street corner asking God to bless me.
• My sister asked for guidance on a big decision and heard the words of a song at just the right moment that confirmed a future direction
• And these don’t even count the family time over the holiday.

Being open to new God-sightings is to trust the God that cannot be controlled, predicted, packaged, boxed into familiar categories.

God’s love and presence incarnate in Jesus Christ, exists in every person, and all of creation all around us, hidden in plain sight. God uses unlikely and unexpected ways to show Godself to us, shaking the blinders from our eyes so we can see God clearly—as easily as we can see negativity.

Yes, we are all weary of the pandemic. But remember that God’s love never wears out, never runs out, and never wearies of us. God’s love is never weary—there’s always more than enough for us.

Whatever chaos is happening around us, whatever difficulty is unfolding, whatever the pandemic is doing, whatever policy or judgement the current administration or supreme court is or is not enacting—here is what informs our daily life:

• love is always flowing from the manger;
• grace is always pouring from the cross;
• life is always bursting from the tomb—
• Spirit’s power is always available here and now

Look! See! Come! Join the magi on the journey to be a part of God’s life showing up, hidden in plain sight. Receive God’s love, always present with you in Jesus Christ, follow his light and share his love.

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Two Decrees

shepherds 13074cMessage for Christmas Eve on Luke 2:1-15 for December 24, 2021 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

“A decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered….”

I have read and heard this story hundreds of times, yet I have never thought about what it was like for Mary and Joseph to give birth under Emperor Augustus’s decree until recently—living in a pandemic. Now we know what it is like to live under decrees—about masks, vaccines, whether to work or go to school at home or on zoom, and when to test, and quarantine. Whether or not we like or agree with them, these decrees are intended to keep us and others healthy, but this was not true of the emperor’s decrees at the time that Jesus’ was born.

Emperor Augustus agreed with Benjamin Franklin’s assessment that the “only certain things in life are death and taxes” and he wielded both with a fearsome might. The registration Augustus decreed ensured that everyone was being properly taxed for the Roman empire—an oppressive burden on already poor people, many of whom already had their land taken away. They could pay the money or pay with their life, bringing fear and hardship. But decrees by emperors demanded a response; so, regardless of being nine months pregnant, Mary got on a donkey and with Joseph’s assistance, they made their way to Bethlehem to have what livelihood they did earn, taxed for Rome.

But this was not the only decree happening at the time. There was a parallel and much more powerful decree being declared by God in a field outside of Bethlehem. The angels appeared to the shepherds with a message of joy for the whole world that comes for all people everywhere. The angels told them NOT to be afraid, for their decree was one of life and love and salvation. Your God is coming as new life—as a baby in a manger, who will be like you and show you the way, and lead you forward, and walk with you through the valley of the shadows, and bring you through to the other side.

God has come to be with you, and your Messiah and Savior reverses the power of “death and taxes” with the certain gift of eternal life and a promissory note that says, “your debt is paid and your sins are forgiven.”

• This decree of hope and new life has the power to go back into your past and erase everything you have done you wish you didn’t, all you did not do and you wish you did—and bring you peace.
• This decree of hope and new life has the power to fill your present with the presence of the Christ-child, born anew in your hearts with the love and strength to live with the challenges of today knowing that Jesus is always with you.
• This decree of hope and new life has the power to reach into your future beyond the grave and give you a heavenly home with the angels you see around now.

The shepherds were so overjoyed to hear God’s decree of life and salvation from the angels, they, like Mary and Joseph, also went to Bethlehem. But they did not make their way under the heavy weight of obligation. They ran to Bethlehem. They rushed there out of sheer elation that they could live under the decree of God’s all-encompassing love here and now. The shepherds brought their joy and wonder to Mary and Joseph, releasing them and all of us, to live under a liberating decree of joy and glory.

The birth of God’s immense love into our lives in Jesus gives us all the strength and wisdom, power and love we need to live with the rules that order our earthly life, while we give our hearts and minds, our strength and souls—truly and completely—to the decree of Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Building in Joy

Cloth Prayer Cross.jpgMessage for Advent 3 on Luke 1:46-55 for December 12, 2021 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Our 4 Themes for Advent: 1-Believing in Hope (Zechariah); 2-Belonging in Peace (Mary and Elizabeth); 3-Building in Joy (Mary's Song); 4-Becoming in Love-the Christmas Pageant

• “Dear God, could you please give me a good work ethic.”
• “I pray for healing after my mom’s passing.”
• “Lord, forgive me for I have lost faith and now I am trying to return.”

These prayers were tied to the cloth prayer cross at the entrance to our parking lot on St. Luke’s Drive. This project was started by the Faithful Innovation team as a way to listen to our community during the pandemic. This team was just getting started on listening and learning experiments in 2020 as the pandemic set in, so all of the in-person events and plans had to be set aside. This one idea was a great, non-contact way to start engaging with the community.

Some of the questions we were encouraged to wonder about in the Leadership for Faithful Innovation process included: What keeps you up at night? What are the losses you are grieving and the longings you hope for? What is God up to in our neighborhood and how can we help?

The prayers on the cloth strips reveal so much about what keeps people up at night in our community, what losses they are grieving, what longings they hope for and what God might be up to in their lives. We could weave them together into an Arapaho Neighborhood Magnificat, for in these nearly 100 cloth prayers, we hear echoes of the song that Mary first sang—a song of God coming in surprising ways, a God who lifts up the lowly, a God who brings justice and hope, a God who remembers mercy is for all.
Mary sings a song of joy because God calls her to participate in building and bringing about a new way of living in the world. God is not coming through the power and aggression of the state, but from down under—through relationship, and family, and community—building with joy from the bottom up.

I am going to read Mary’s song again, interspersed with prayers from the cloth strips from our community so you can hear that the prayers and songs of the kingdom we are building together today are still the same ones that Mary first sang out. Since the beginning of God’s presence in her life, the same Spirit moves forward through time to help us build with joy this kingdom of love and hope today.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

• I love you Jesus for your sacrifice and that I may have eternal life.
• God is the best ever.
• Jesus, Lord and Savior, thank you for loving us.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

• I love Jesus so much.
• Prayers for Divine order: Path, Purpose and Prosperity
• Prayers for growing in my faith
• Thank you for this wonderful life and bringing us to this Earth.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

• Lord, be with those who are gathering and the elderly, and those families experiencing conflict.
• Prayers for faith among our youth and young adults
• God, thank you for my toys.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

• Jesus have mercy on us
• For our leader’s wisdom, patience, and perseverance
• That no more people die because others are selfish.
• Prayers for those who do not know the love of Christ, who have no hope

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

• For all victims of COVID, for kids to be safe in school, and our leaders to know what to do
• May God be with those at the US-Mexico border.
• Prayers for unaccompanied minors.
• Prayers to keep poor people safe.

he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

• For those whose livelihood has been hurt by the pandemic
• Prayers for action for injustice.
• For all who are incarcerated.
• Father, forgive us

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

• For nurses and healthcare workers
• Healing for our family members
• Comfort the grieving
• For those in surgery, pain and suffering
• For peace, love, and happiness

according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

• God, teach us to love you, and love others again.
• Prayers for us to feel your arms around us, and for peace.
• Give me your strength to embody your revolutionary spirit even if it causes me to share in your suffering.

What is God up to in our neighborhood? Members of our community are singing Mary’s song with their lives, and St. Luke’s is here to be the community that embodies this song, this prayer of love and hope and action for justice, so people have more than a piece of cloth! We are here so they have

• a hand to hold when they feel lonely
• a table of fellowship to share a meal,
• a prayer team to pray with them,
• a visitor when they are sick,
• a team with which to take action for justice,
• a group to travel with them to El Paso to learn about immigration!
• someone to weep with them when they are mourning,
• and someone to praise God with them when they are rejoicing!

This is what we are building with joy, with our Capital Campaign—a ministry that helps the people who left the prayers outside—feel safe and comfortable coming inside; and, so WE feel awesome and excited about inviting people here (and not worrying about whether there’s plastic on the pews because the roof leaks, whether elderly people or parents with strollers can get in the front door and so on). It is ultimately not about the building at all. It is about the mission with the people who are singing Mary’s song in their daily lives. 

Here is the last prayer from the cross I am going to share today: “Dear God, help me to do this job and do it successfully. Thank you for providing for us while I have been looking. Thank you for this church and for this prayer cross. Amen.”

In your bulletin is a short list of specific prayers from the cloth prayer cross. I invite you to take the card home with you and pray through this list from our community this week as a sign that just as our community is grateful for us, we are grateful for them. There are 12 of these prayer cards so you can exchange them in your household or among your congregational friends. If prayer is your super-power—I have a few rings with all 12 cards! You can ask me for a full ring after the service. 😊

We are leaning in, we are listening to our community, and we are learning how God calls us to build the kingdom here with joy, as our souls magnify the Lord.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.