Ever write a prayer? No? Why not? That's for theologians and, you know, priests and stuff. Maybe not. Consider some different perspectives on prayer, and, specifically, The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). First, think about the word "common" and what it might imply in the BCP context. Common means normal, everyday. It also means collective: Us together. When Thomas Cranmer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cranmer set out to write what would become the BCP for the Anglican church, he was, in effect, bringing prayer to the common people, rescuing it from the experts. The reformation of the Christian church made prayer common in both senses of the word.
Mark 1:21-28: Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
In my final year of Seminary, I took a class on the Gospel of Mark. I signed up for it because I loved the two professors who were teaching it, but I didn’t bother to read too much about the course itself. It turned out that it was a class dedicated to memorizing and performing the Gospel of Mark, which was not exactly what I had in mind. In fact, I have for the most part carefully avoided situations that would lead to me performing something in front of a group. I was never in a play at school or took ballet classes. But by the time I realized what type of class I had signed up for, it was too late to drop it. So I figured I would give it my best and try to learn from it. And ultimately it as a fun experience and I now know the Gospel of Mark pretty well.
One of the passages I was assigned to memorize and perform was the one we heard this morning. I wasn’t too excited about this assignment, because Jesus’ words in this Gospel feel so harsh to me. It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus, the great lover of souls yelling at someone who is suffering so much. Yes he might be speaking to the demon and not the man, but it still comes across as harsh. And yet my professor really wanted me to yell “Be silent, and come out of him!” When I asked my professor why Jesus was so harsh to this man (or to his demon,) she said it was because it was too soon for Jesus’ true identity to be revealed. The demon or man recognizes Jesus for who He truly is. He says “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” And as you can see in your bulletin, this passage is from the first chapter of Mark. It is too soon for everyone to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He has a ministry to do. There are many more healings to come. Jesus cannot risk the demon unveiling him now because He knows that His true identity will cause the people to condemn Him.
Jesus knows that it is not yet God’s time for his identity to be revealed and so he silences the demon. This is a good reminder for us that God’s time does not always match our own time. Things will be revealed as God chooses. Looking at the world right now you might be wondering when God’s time is coming. You might wonder when His Kingdom is going to be revealed. And yet while it may not be obvious to us, there are good things happening in the world even if the Kingdom is not fully revealed.
I recently read an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof called “Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History.” This title may surprise you when many other articles are decrying 2017 as the worst year ever. But he had some good news to share. Kristof notes that while many people have been looking at the goings on in Washington with despair, humanity has seen real progress in the last year. Kirstof writes that “A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.” He cites the work of Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Roser calculates that every day 325,000 more people gain access to electricity and 300,000 more people gain access to clean drinking water. These are encouraging trends.
Kristoff acknowledges that while there is much to be worried about in the current global climate, there are also many signs that good things are coming. Or as I would say that the Kingdom is slowly being revealed. Kristoff got a peek at the Kingdom through writing about a young Afghan woman from the Taliban heartland named Sultana. Sultana had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus through various educational websites. Without leaving her house, she moved on to physics and string theory. Kristof wrote about Sultana in 2016, and with the help of readers, she is now studying at Arizona State University, taking graduate classes. She is proof of the good that can come from our global progress.
I share Kristof’s article and in particular the story of Sultana to demonstrate that good things are happening in the greater world even if the scary stuff is more obvious. So while this may not be the moment for God’s Kingdom to be fully revealed to us. There are signs that it is coming. We must have faith that the Kingdom will come in God’s time.
The people in the synagogue that day had a glimpse of the Kingdom. They saw Jesus’ power and authority and heard the man call him the “Holy One of God.” They knew something was coming but it was not yet time for it to be revealed. So we just like them must wait faithfully and play our part until the moment that God’s Kingdom is fully revealed. Amen.
Rev'd Grace Pratt
I want to take this opportunity to mention a few things we are looking forward to in the next several weeks.
On the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 28, 2018, the Reverend Grace Pratt will celebrate and preach at 8 and 10 am. At the Adult Forum we will meet some of our nominees for Vestry - Charles Kinney, Cathy Lewis, and George Omohundro. We hope to have a fourth nominee by that time.
On the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 4, we Carlo Uchello will introduce an Episcopal Church wide effort to read Luke and Acts during Lent and Easter. We will also introduce our other Lenten groups - Sunday Forums about the Eucharist as presented in Paul and each of the Gospels; the Sunday Evening in Lent Program - Potluck Supper, prayer and Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John; Lent Madness http://www.lentmadness.org/category/lent-madness-2018/.
On the following Wednesday, February 7, we will begin our annual hosting at the Ventures in Community Hypothermia Outreach Project at Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church on Russell Road. You can sign up to help at the VIC HOP VIC HOP 2018
On the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 11 the Reverend Scott Parnell will join us to celebrate the Eucharist and the Reverend Diane Murphy will preach. At 11:30 am we will convene the 78th annual meeting of the congregation and elect new members to the Vestry.
Tuesday night, February 13, we host our annual Pancake Supper to celebrate the beginning of Spring, or Lent as we call it in the Church. Lent continues Wednesday February 14 with the penitential services that include imposition of Ashes and Holy Eucharist at 7am, noon, and 7pm.
With the beginning of Lent we turn our hearts and minds toward the joyful Day of Resurrection, Easter Sunday, including the Easter Vigil and Feast March 31 and Easter Day, April 1. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
This Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 21, 2018 we read how Jesus calls four Galilean fishermen to join him and learn from him how to "fish for people". After his resurrection Jesus sent these transformed fisher people to replicate their experience with him, to call, teach and pray with groups in various nations. He named them Apostles, which means commissioned or sent, a term used at that time for ship captains and ambassadors. Over time, the Apostles helped their new communities develop reliable ways to continue to share the good news of God in Christ and to continue to raise up apostles to lead and guard the faithful.
Today, the Church, acting under Constitutional authority, continues to elect Apostles under the title of Bishop. In November 2017 the delegates of the 180 congregations of the Diocese of Virginia voted to begin a process to elect a new Suffragan Bishop (Apostle) for our Diocese. Suffragan simply means elected, and is used to indicate that this Bishop (Apostle) is not our “Diocesan” Bishop, The Right Reverend Shannon Johnston, but is equal in standing with (and not replacing) our suffragan bishop the Right Reverend Susan Goff. (Our recently retired bishop the Right Reverend Theodore Gulick was appointed, not elected, and served as an assistant to Bishop Johnston.)
Electing a Bishop is the work of the whole Diocese. The vestries of each congregation, themselves elected by the adult members in good standing of the congregation, including St. Luke’s Vestry, will elect a representative to vote in the election of the Suffragan Bishop at the Diocesan Convention in November 2018. This October the three to five candidates for election will tour the Diocese and be available for us to meet. And of course we will each be able to advise our representative on how to vote! Our new Suffragan Bishop will be consecrated by the Most Reverend Michael Curry at a date to be determined in April or May of 2019. And since our new Suffragan Bishop will work out of an office in northern Virginia, we will have a continuing opportunity to shape their ministry.
Please pray for the success of this work we share in Christ’s Name.
Almighty God, Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, who calls, guides, and empowers us as your Church; Bless us as your people. Create in us discerning minds as we seek to elect a Bishop in this Diocese. Open our ears, broaden our vision, and enliven our hearts for the work that lies before us. All this we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
In Thanksgiving for St. Luke’s Scouting Ministry, Troop 654
"We pledge by means of prayer, witness, and example to help our children grow in their capacity to serve Christ by loving their neighbors, striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every person. Scouting does all of that."
—Tuck Bowerfind, Rector, Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria
"The God and Country program really made me think about my relationship with God and made me evaluate it."
—Harrison Smith, Scout, Troop 654
"Scouting reinforces the central principles of faith for my sons: Love God, and honor God through the way you treat others as you yourself would want to be treated."
—Amy Smith, Scout Parent, Troop 654
"Scouting has helped me discover the amazing works of creation while making true and lasting friendships!” Sam Meadows,Star Scout , Troop 654
"Go forth into the darkness and place your hand in the hand of God. It will be safer than a marked trail, and better than a known path.” Ed Harn, former Troop 654 Scoutmaster. As recalled more than 6o years later by Skip MacMichael, former 654 Scout, this was Scoutmaster Harn’s regular closing campfire prayer back in the day.
As you can tell from some of these personal quotes, Scouting is more than just an activity for our youth to learn about the outdoors. Scouting is truly a holistic ministry that provides spiritual growth through fun, fellowship, and training in practical life skills to youth in our community. It emphasizes honesty, self-reliance, and respect. Through a year-round program, it affects character, citizenship, personal fitness, and gratitude toward God.
St. Luke’s has chartered Troop 654 since the 1950’s. We provide space for Troop 654 to meet every Monday night, a home base for their outings, and worship space for their Eagle ceremonies. We renew the charter annually because of the wonderful spirit and character of the people who populate the program and make it work. Like all church programs, the success of Troop 654 depends on faithful adult volunteers, who serve in a variety of leadership roles so that our young people may benefit from our Scouting ministry. Over 39 adult volunteers give their time so more than 50 boys in Troop 654 will be involved in a quality program. Merit badge counselors help Scouts learn more about vocations and hobbies. Volunteers serve behind the scenes on committees so that community organizations using the Scouting program can find the best leadership possible for the youth related to their organizations. Volunteers see that regional camps have necessary physical facilities and that all Scouting activities meet the high health and safety standards of their national organizations.
We salute the splendid volunteers who mentor Girls and Boys in Scouting throughout the National Capital region and want to offer a special prayer and word of thanks for the leaders of Troop 654: Bill Hanna, Troop master, Randall Neal, Committee Chair, Bill Shute, St. Luke’s Representative, Brad Smith, prospective Troop master.
St. Luke’s is offering a weekly one-hour class on meditation and contemplative prayer in the Library starting at 3:30 pm on Friday, January 13. These free classes, open to members of St. Luke’s and the community at large, will be guided by Caroline Altmann. Join us to learn and practice two forms of contemplation – mindfulness, which focuses on awareness, and metta meditation, which focuses on opening the heart to loving kindness. Both can be therapeutic and contribute to a variety of positive health indicators including lower blood pressure and stress and a stronger immune system. Everyone is welcome to participate once in a while or regularly.
God bless St. Luke’s Church and all who worship within its walls. With God’s help may we ever seek to grow this fellowship of love through our prayer, our friendliness, and our unceasing labor with Christ. Thus may God’s will be done through us on earth as in heaven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As we come to the beginning of a new year, it is my pleasure to share some reflections on the past year and some thoughts about the year to come.
As for several years now, the 2008 Comprehensive Building Plan for renewing the physical fabric of our building an grounds, and the companion 2010 Learning Team initiative to renew the human fabric of the parish, provided direction for St. Luke’s in 2016 and should remain relevant for the coming year.
Including the abiding sense that, despite the many challenges to accomplishing it, God is calling us to grow into a program size congregation of about 225-250 ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) with 200 households contributing to our operating budget. We currently remain on the plateau between pastoral and program size, about 180 ASA with about 150 households contributing to our budget.
Our belief in God’s call to grow is not simply about getting bigger. One of the things so many of us love about St. Luke’s is that we are a small enough community that we can actually recognize most people if we make the effort. In fact our enjoyment of life in our current context is probably the biggest obstacle to growth. We like the way things are. Life is good at St. Luke’s. But life as it is falls short of what we should be able to accomplish, what God is calling us to accomplish. Our recent Stewardship Campaign is an example. The campaign was fabulous. Through Tom Hargrove’s leadership and the work of the stewardship Committee, Vestry and staff, we articulated a clear case for why we needed more resources: Grace, Kate, and Susan.
What wonderful new energy and vision have been brought to us through Grace Pratt, Kate Weber-Petrova, and Susan Bentley. The joy they each take in their work increases our joy as a parish. Keeping joy in God’s service alive and bright is perhaps the single most important work of every Christian. It is essential spiritual work for all parish leaders and members.
Being able to more nearly compensate our clergy and lay staff for the work they do posed a great challenge. And nearly 150 households stepped up to that challenge because, I believe, they share joy in God’s love and the desire to expand that joy into the lives of others making the world and our lives better.
St. Lukers don’t need to grow in numbers to do this work. We already have many wonderful vital ministries that give full expression to God’s purpose among us.
The scope and vitality of our Outreach ministries under Zelda Shute’s joy filled leadership is unparalleled. Our ministries are hugely important to so many in our community. Many of our ministries include people recruited from outside of St. Luke’s. And I hope we all appreciate the importance of this. For as important as it is that we help those in need, there is no work given to human beings that is not better accomplished with friends than it is alone. It is so important that we expand friendship with God and each other and help others find their purpose as active, contributing partners in God’s community of love and prayer.
Our Christian Formation, Fellowship, and Worship ministries, including Choirs, Worship Guilds, Sunday School, Day School, and Boy Scout Troop, study groups such as St. Catherine’s Guild, Saturday Bible Study, Thursday Morning Prayer, Old Town Irregulars, Historical Jesus, Life, Community, and Faith, Ladies First, Men’s Steak and Beer, Fish Groups, flower and meal delivery teams attest to our ability and desire to organize around our faith that God wants every person to be supported in a safe, loving environment and to grow into the full stature of Christ: in the knowledge of God and in fulfillment of their promise as a human being made in God’s image and set in a community.
Even so, many of our ministries struggle to find the people necessary to fully accomplish their goals. A few more Sunday School teachers and a few more students would make Sunday school less of a duty and more of a joy.
$50,000 more in our annual budget would allow us to give health care to our organist and secure the help of a part time sexton to help with some of the elements of managing our building and grounds.
Another $50,000 would enable us to fulfill a 10% pledge to the Diocese, 1% for our local Episcopal Mission, and 1% for theological education without compromising on the compensation of our staff.
We could certainly ask existing members to dig deeper for that money. To give more of their time and talent. But the better solution is the one God is challenging us to achieve – include more people within the fellowship of love we share at St. Luke's, expand the circle of friends.
50 more active households in the parish would provide the human and capital resources to more fully accomplish our ministries, and with some intentional effort we could still recognize, know and care for each other.
The single most important factor in parishes that grow is the broadly shared commitment among the members and leaders of the parish to consider and care about people who are not currently members without neglecting to inspire, organize and care for those who are.
Once we have done the heart and soul work that refocuses our attention on people who are not already here, the growth that inspires and eludes us might be as simple as a broadly shared commitment from every small group of friends and every existing ministry team to reorganize to include one or a few new members, especially members who are new to St. Luke’s, and to keep an opening in the system, an open chair at every gathering, and open eye and heart for the person that might be willing to join the group if asked and encouraged and made welcome.
Growth might be something as simple as each of us taking the time to meet one new person each month and really care about who they are, what makes them tick. It might be as simple as inviting one friend, neighbor, or family member to church with you with enough persistence that one day they say yes, and then you ask them to come again with enough persistence that they say yes. And to ask them because you truly believe they will make St. Luke’s better and St. Luke’s has something to offer that will enrich their lives as well.
Earlier I mentioned the 2008 Comprehensive Building Plan which provided the basis for the last Capital Campaign, the renovations of our Kitchen, Day School Classrooms, and the building of the beautiful reredos. The Building plan is rooted in the belief that beautiful, gracious, useful, efficient, safe and secure facilities are a great strength from which we perform God’s ministry and inspire others to participate in God’s work.
We have long known that the next steps in the plan include the Parish Hall renovation to provide more appropriate and gracious spaces for the many groups that want to meet for work, fellowship, and celebrations at St. Luke’s. Upgrading building envelope, lighting, heating and cooling systems will ensure continuity of ministry and efficient use of resources. Lighting our parking areas and grounds will make the facility safer, more attractive and inviting for our many evening programs. Redesigning and resourcing the median in the parking with power and water will support existing programs and inspire new ones. And I agree with our Vestry that it is time this year for us to seriously consider taking these next steps.
Finally, a word about the Sabbatical. The Sabbatical ahead of us is for deepening our experience and reservoir of joy. My time away, beginning the day after Pentecost, June 5 and concluding All Saints Day Sunday November 4, will include the opportunity to take a couple of silent retreats to reconnect with God who waits in the silent solitude of our souls. I will take time to loll around with my family, my wife and children. I will spend nearly a month in Jerusalem, my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And through all this I will be keeping my mind open in search for living saints, people in everyday life who seem activated and alive to the joy of the love of God.
It is my deep hope that every member of St. Luke’s will likewise stay awake to and reconnect with their joy in knowing and serving God. Let’s encourage one another to discover and follow joy. And let’s continually look for ways to include others in our joy in worshipping and growing in understanding and service of God’s love. St. Luke’s is populated by so many living saints – exemplars of contagious joy, including Grace, Kate, Susan, and people like vestry members Judy Bryan and Joe Manous, outreach chair Zelda Shute, stewardship chair Tom Hargrove, wardens Don Hazen, and Cathy McPeek. There are so many others.
Rooted in the joy of God’s love, I know we can realize God’s call to us to revitalize our mission of faith and incorporate vital new members into our historic fellowship of love, prayer, and service. In 2017 let’s recommit ourselves, and our lives to connecting with and expressing the joy of God’s love and finding ways of including new friends in the work we love.
May God continue to bless St. Luke’s Church and all who worship within its walls. With God’s help may we continue to grow this fellowship of love through our prayer, our friendliness, and our unceasing labor with Christ. Thus may God’s will be done through us on earth as in heaven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.