messages from Pastor Cliff
Matthew 2: 1-12. Epiphany: a new church year, a new beginning. We celebrate the arrival of 3 wise men or 3 kings from very different parts of the world (ergo, 3 very different cultures). The word "epiphany" means "a sudden understanding." This season is 7 weeks long, this year; a festival season that lasts through Fat Tuesday and ends on Ash Wednesday. This is the time when God reveals Himself to us. The 3 travelers were not Jewish: they represented the world at large. Christianity was expanding in the 2nd century; a religion for all people, the Word for the World. This certainly applies to our world today. If you look at all the countries in the world, immigrants abide there. We humans are a mix of people and churches are a sanctuary for those immigrants seeking a new life, even survival. We are one race, one community in the same body of believers. Paradoxically, we welcome diversity! Matthew says, "Make disciples of all nations." That means us - today, as it was in Matthew's day.
The very first time I was part of leading a Christmas Eve Service was over thirty years ago. I was not ordained, and I really had no idea what I was doing. Lisa and I were recently married and serving with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. We worked and lived in National Parks and led Sunday worship services in the campgrounds or indoor meeting places. At this time we were living in Stove Pipe Wells, Death Valley, CA. We were living in an employee dorm in the park, and our housing was one room and a bath, which we shared with our cat. A very dark and dusty room as I remember! We had a hot plate, and our refrigerator was an ice chest. The nearest grocery store was more than an hour away in Nevada.
Like most of the park employees, we were scheduled to work on all of the holidays, Christmas included. So Lisa and I organized a Christmas Eve Service after the work day for all the park employees and guests. To our great surprise the entire park staff came out for the Christmas Eve Service. From the hotel manager who played the piano, and the District Park Ranger who served as lector. The hostess of the restaurant sang a solo, and the bus boy in the restaurant helped to set up chairs. The room was full as we began. We had a piano and a few hymnals, but no choir, and to my surprise the singing of carols was loud and joyful. Though it was a Christmas Eve Service stripped clean of glitter, candles, banners or stars, Christ's Spirit was very much evident. A simple service, for simple people of faith, longing for God's presence. Christ came and met us where we were.
I learned that Christmas does not need to be a fancy production. But then we knew that, didn't we, from the first Christmas, when a poor couple took refuge in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. They nestled their newborn son in a manger. Christ found his home on earth among us.
And so, as we prepare this Advent, I am reminded to simply open my heart to the true gift of Christmas. God coming as a child, innocent and defenseless into the craziness of our world. Whether we celebrate Christmas grandly or simply is not the point. Our focus is directed to Christ, who comes to us where we are, as suburban or city dwellers, as nomads or kings. That Christmas in the desert was special, not for the gifts or celebration, but because Christ was present. I have no idea what I said that night, but I do remember it as a Christ centered celebration. I also remember walking back to our dorm after the Christmas Service, it was night time in the desert and the sky was a magnificent canvas of stars. As I looked at the stars, I was thankful that the God of the universe was with us, in that very moment.
Advent Blessings, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one."-C.S. Lewis
Imagine the joy of sharing St. Luke with one of your best friends and they turn to you and say, "I was looking for a church like this!" You would be so excited. St. Luke means so much to each one us. We are connected to God and to one another because of St. Luke.
On Sunday, September 15, we will have a "Friendship Sunday." This is your chance to invite a friend to St. Luke. If you can make the effort to invite a friend, we will work to make this Sunday extra special.
The truth is, some Sunday services are just better than others. Not all Sunday services are equal, some services run long, some have a hard message (we talk about money), and some are just low energy.
On Friendship Sunday we will start with Marcin Arendt playing a violin prelude, we will have the praise team lead the opening song, and we will end with favorite hymns, choir, and an organ postlude. As pastor and preacher I will do my best to deliver an engaging message that connects the head to the heart. After the service we hope your friends will stay for fresh coffee and special treats to eat.
In other words, we want to take away the guess work on what Sunday to invite your friends, coworkers or neighbors. The best Sunday to invite someone to St. Luke is Friendship Sunday on September 15. We even have nice invitation printed up, and we created a special web site for more details (www.stlukememphis.org/friendshipsunday).
If your friend is more of a worker, you can invite them to God's Work Our Hands Sunday on September 8. On this Sunday we leave the church grounds and go serve in our community. Note the time change, we gather for a commissioning prayer at 9 am and then go and serve. After we work, you are invited back to St. Luke at noon for great food and a cook out in the pavilion.
We are blessed to have a church home. St. Luke is a special place and it means so much to each of us. Remember, St. Luke is not ours, it is God's church, and God's church is for all people. So let's share the good news, St. Luke has room for us all, come and enjoy the blessings of spiritual growth for you and your friends at St. Luke.
In Christ +
It was not that many years ago when in many Lutheran churches,
* the altar was up against the back wall
* Holy Communion was only celebrated once a month,
* the service was spoken in German, Swedish, or Danish.
The way we worship in our ELCA congregations has changed over the years. Weekly celebration of Holy Communion is now the norm, the altar is now free standing, and the language spoken changes with the needs of the people. The description of Lutheran Worship in the time of Martin Luther was simple. "The assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel" (Augsburg Confession).
Our Lutheran order of worship is simple, we seek to copy the order of first and second century Christians as found in the Bible and in the writings of Justin Martyr who wrote in A.D. 150. The essential components are; Gathering, Word, Table and Sending.
At St. Luke this is our basic order of worship. We gather to confess our sins, sing an opening hymn, and pray. We are people gathered to talk to God together. We worship as a community of faith, as a body of believers.
Prayers and Scripture readings, sermons and testimonies, hymns and songs are each part of the Word of worship. Each Sunday we hear the words of scripture from a three year lectionary schedule that follows the liturgical calendar. We hear the words of both law and gospel. We are drawn to the grace of God, shown in words and life of Christ.
Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me." So we gather at the table for a meal of remembrance, believing that Jesus is present with us, and in, with and under the bread and wine. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, so it is a meal of thanks, a meal of spiritual sustenance.
The last part, the sending, reminds us to go out with Jesus to serve in word and deed. We are reminded of the words of Martin Luther, "God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does." We serve, because we live in a hurting world, a world in need of hope and healing.
It is God who gathers us, speaks to us, feeds us in grace, and sends us into the world. We are a people of God called out to serve and love. We are diverse and inclusive, we are joyful and hopeful, we are marked with the water of baptism forever.
I hope to see you soon in the worship service, we will be reviewing the 7 Marks of Ministry in the month of August. In September we will have a special Friendship Sunday on September 15, a day to invite friends and family to join us in worship and fellowship.
Your partner in ministry,
Soul Keeping, what does this mean to you? How do we care for our Souls?
This is the topic of our St Luke Lenten Study. You are invited to join us as we dive deep into the care of our souls. First, we may ask what is a soul? As Christians we are taught that we are a body, and our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we die, our body shall rise and be reformed in heaven just as Jesus rose with a new body. God created a human body at the creation story and said it is good. So, in our Christian theology, we are a divinely created body. But this body is made up of many parts. The body consists of a will, a mind and a soul. All four parts make a whole. The will is the ability to choose, for God gave us free will. The mind is a person’s thoughts and feelings. We are told in scripture to renew our minds, to use our minds, to grow in our thoughts. The body is what houses, or carries us around. Our body is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, but our body is flesh and bone. The soul is what integrates all of our different parts into a single person. It is the soul that integrates all of our different parts into a single person.
We want to spend some time learning about our Soul this lent. The first lesson of the soul is to “slow down and know that I am God.” Our soul needs time with God, in prayer, in quiet, in peace. So, my first request of you this lent is to schedule time to be with God. To stop and let God meet you where you are. God always comes to where we are. We do not need to try and reach God, let God come to you. Make some time, this is the first step. If possible join the Soul Keeping study, get the work book, and go deeper. Each Sunday and Wednesday in lent I will draw on these topics in our worship services. Make an effort to attend Sunday and Wednesday services.
Take some time this week to consider these words, “You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe” (Dallas Willard).
I look forward to growing with you, let us be keepers of our souls this lent,
Twenty five years ago, on August 1, 1993, I was blessed to be ordained a pastor in the ELCA. The ordination certificate reads, "Clifford Alan Bahlinger, who has been called to serve in the ordained ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and who acknowledges adherence to this church's confession of faith and accepts its constitutional order, was ordained a Minister of the Church of Christ in the Office of Word and Sacrament, by the laying on of hands, under the authority of the Southeastern Synod."
In our church, one is only ordained to be pastor when one has a call from a congregation. Lutherans believe ordination is to an office of pastor for a specific congregation or ministry. You first must earn a Masters of Divinity degree and be approved by your Synod's Candidacy Committee. Once you are approved for ministry you await a call to a congregation and then ordination.
I was fortunate to receive a call to St. Stephen Church in Decatur, Georgia shortly after finishing my course work and receiving my degree. Our daughter Sophia was not yet two years old when we accepted the call and began planning the ordination service at St. Stephen. Bishop Harold Skillrud was the bishop of the Southeastern Synod at that time.
I was blessed to serve nine years at St Stephen. Our family grew along with the congregation. We were blessed to do ministry together. Our first big project was to join with a local organization that was looking for a place for a nursery for children that were HIV positive. We worked hard to educate the congregation and to build a working partnership. We held a congregational meeting to vote on hosting the AIDS children's ministry and remodeling the nursery. I was relieved when the vote passed with only a few dissenting votes. When it can time to remodel, a pipe burst and flooded the church. I remember thinking, "oh no, I am going to get fired." I went to inform several office holders on the church council. I was not at all sure what response I would get. To my surprise the church members banded together to help get fans and dry out the building for Sunday Service. We went on to host the children's HIV nursery for several years. It was so important for the parents of these children to know they had nursery for them, where their children were accepted and loved.
I have learned that ministry takes many forms. Here at St Luke we continue to look for partnerships to expand our ministry. We have been busy this summer hosting the YMCA Camp, overnight church groups, Jazzercise, and the neighborhood association. This fall Shady Oaks School returns along with the Sorority groups and quilting groups.
We are now in the home stretch to paying off our mortgage on our property. We will have more freedom in our ministry priorities when the mortgage payments are done. We would be wise to look into hosting an early education center or nursery in the south end of our building. Lutherans are well known for quality childcare, and all working parents want and desire quality childcare. Today's economy forces most couples to both work full time. How can we help families seeking affordable quality Christian childcare?
I have been so blessed to serve as your pastor these past 16 years. When you are having fun, working with wonderful people and watching and leading people growing in faith, the time does indeed go by fast! I am hopeful you will have me around for a few more years. I do believe God has more plans for us to grow and reach out to our neighbors. It is wonderful to see our children's "Pray Ground" filled with little ones each Sunday. We are blessed with great lay leadership, wonderful church staff and a vibrant congregation. Let's keep a good thing going.
Join me in starting and ending each day in prayer. Pray for your individual ministry, your family and your church. God is calling each of us to a deeper walk. Let us be mindful of God's presence with us each day.
One final thought, please pray for those entering seminary and seeking a call to ministry. The ELCA is experiencing a shortage of clergy. Pray for all who may be led to follow Christ on the path to ordained ministry in the ELCA.
Grace and Peace,
As a former Park Ranger with the National Park Service and having served with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, it was an honor to have Shantha Ready Alonso, Executive Director, Creation Justice Ministries call and ask if I would be available to travel to Washington, DC to meet with elected officials and advocated for public lands and parks. Creation Justice is the environmental office for the National Council of Churches. They partner with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment represents mainline Christians, Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims. This is a powerful coalition of all the major faith groups in the world. Together we all seek to care for creation and work to stop global warming.
I was part of a team comprised of Bishop Carroll Baltimore of the Global United Fellowship, Rev. John Barton of the Virginia Council of Churches, Rev. Peter Cook of the New York Council of Churches, Rabbi Daniel Swartz of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. We were led by Cassandra Carmichael, Executive Director, National Religious Partnership for the Environment and Shantha Ready Alonso Executive Director, Creation Justice Ministries.
We met with the offices of Senator Corker (TN), Senator Alexander (TN), Senator Schumer (NY), Rep. Taylor (VA), Rep. Faso (NY), Rep. Donovan (NY), and Rep. Garrett (VA). Our goal was to speak and advocate for the protection of national monuments and the Antiquities Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, concerns of coastal drilling and funding our National Park System.
It gives me great confidence to know that our faith community is represented in the halls of congress. As people of faith we are called to be stewards of God's good creation. The voices of people of faith need to heard. God has given us this one planet, this one, wonderful planet we call earth. Let us care for it, love it, and protect it for the good of our neighbor.
Pastor Cliff Bahlinger
St. Luke Lutheran Church
2000 Germantown Parkway N.
Cordova, TN 38016
To our sisters in faith, we entrust you to God who created you.
May you return to the one who formed us out of the dust of the earth.
Surrounded by the angels and triumphant saints,
may Christ come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
On Sunday, March 4, we will have two white roses on the altar at St. Luke. It has been our tradition to place a rose on the altar for deaths and for births of our members. The roses on the altar this month remind us of the lives of service that were given by
Bonnye Sampson and Nancy Roman.
I remember back to my early years serving at St. Luke. I would park my car in the parking lot and out in the back of the lot I would see Bonnye's car. I would right away know that Bonnye was weeding the two back parking lot islands. She had explained to me that she and her sons Eric and Mike were custodians of these parking lot gardens. She weeded them, added bird houses and garden art, and kept them looking good for the church.
That was how Bonnye liked to work, behind the scenes. Bonnye would weed gardens, give out flu shots, attend Sunday School and offer a smile to all she encountered. She was not one to take center stage, but she loved and supported her church.
Nancy and Ben Roman joined St. Luke in 2014. They were relocating from Mobile and had purchased a home in Cordova. Both Ben and Nancy had been active at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Mobile. They both got involved at St. Luke and were active in many areas of church life. It was such a shock when Ben received news of cancer in 2016. While Nancy dedicated herself to assisting Ben with his cancer fight, she became sick herself. In a matter of months both Ben and Nancy were fighting aggressive cancer with surgery and chemotherapy treatments. We said goodbye to Ben in September, and Nancy died
just this past week.
When we think of the season of lent, we often think about death coming before the new birth of spring. It seems in life we have seasons of grief when the loss of loved ones is real. As people of faith, we turn to our God for strength and hope. We know in our heart that God will never leave us or forsake up. We trust in the one who formed us to be with us through each stage of life on earth and bring us with all your saints in everlasting glory.
This year Holy Week will have special meaning. Join us for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Services. Let us grieve as a community for the sacrifices Jesus made for us, and grieve our St. Luke friends, and then come Easter Sunday, let us trust in the hope given to us by Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.
February at St. Luke offers us opportunities to grow and mature in our faith. We will have an in-depth discussion on Race, begin the Transformational Ministry process and start our Lenten journey.
What is this thing called race? Race -- The Power of an Illusion is based on aprovocative three-hour video series that questions the very idea of race as biology. If race is a biological myth, where did the idea come from? Are we open to challenge many long and deeply held assumptions? Is it safe to talk about race? Can we end racism? Join us as we, a people of faith, examine these important questions in our society.
All are invited to attend this seminar. We will meet at St. Luke on Saturday, February 10, start at 9am and end by 4pm. Lunch will be provided for all in attendance. Cathy Crimi and I will be the presenters and facilitate the discussions. Please join us and invite a friend to attend.
Transformational Ministry is a program designed by the ELCA and Southeastern Synod to lead Lutheran congregations to growth and vitality. St. Luke is a healthy congregation, but we are not all that God is calling us to be. We have lost some of the vitality of a new congregation. We risk becoming disconnected from the communities around us. In February we begin a two year process of discernment. We will be asking you for guidance, ideas and prayers as begin this process. Our first team meeting will be held on Saturday, February 3, 8am - 4pm. We will join with Living Word, Epiphany and Peace Lutheran churches in this discussion. The St. Luke Church Council has designated resources for this process. Our congregation voted at our last congregational meeting to engage in this process. Your participation will be needed in the coming months.
The season of Epiphany is quickly coming to an end. Ash Wednesday will soon be upon us. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14. What a cruel joke to have Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day on the same day. Chocolates and Ashes do not go together. Maybe this can be reminder that death and love are both part of our lives. We need to pause and acknowledge both. Both are part of who we are as humans. A life is not fully lived without love, as we consider our death, let us recommit to love God, love ourselves and love our neighbor.
Our Lenten devotional books are available in the narthex. "LIVING WELL through Lent 2018 --Loving With All Your Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind"includes daily readings and journal entries. Lent is a time for introspection and self- reflection, a time to reflect on the core of what it means to live a Christian life. For people of faith, love is not an abstract or feel-good concept, but an urgent call to radically incarnate love in how we relate to God, our neighbor and ourselves. Please join in the study and reflection this season of lent. A small group leader's guide is available for Lenten small groups using this resource.
As we continue the journey before us, consider this prayer by Chaplain Mychal Judge who died on 9/11/2011,
Lord, take me where You want me to go,
Let me meet who You want me to meet,
Tell me what You want me to say,
And, keep me out of Your way.
Dear Friends in Christ:
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe.
You call all nations to walk in your light
And to seek your ways of justice and peace,
For the night is past, and the dawn of your coming is near.
Bless us as we light the first candle of this wreath.
Rouse us from sleep,
That we may be ready to greet our Lord when he comes
And welcome him into our hearts and homes,
For he is our light and our salvation.
Advent is a season of waiting. We mark the passage of time as we light the Advent wreath, open the Advent calendar, and wait for Christmas and the light to appear.
Our society urges us to hurry and spend, while scripture and tradition beckons us to slow down and wait. We are tempted to rush and hurry, but in our church calendar Advent reminds us to slow down and to lean together. The darkness is all around us in the short days and long nights. In ancient times, people spent more time in doors, waiting for the return of the light. Advent reminds us of the rhythms of life. Advent invites us to open scripture and read of Mary and the promise of God to continue the reign of David. Mary was an unlikely heroine, yet God invites her into the salvation story. Just as God invites you into a deeper faith journey.
Below you will find Daily Bible readings for Advent and Christmas (pg 24 Sundays and Seasons), slow down, open your bible and read the stories of Advent and waiting. You may experience a more sacred season, as you slow down, read scripture and enter God's salvation story.
Sun. Dec. 3 Isaiah 64:1-9
Mon. Dec. 4 Psalm 80:1-7
Tues. Dec. 5 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Wed. Dec. 6 Mark 13:24-37
Thur. Dec. 7 Psalm 85:8-13
Fri. Dec. 8 Jeremiah 1:4-10
Sat. Dec. 9 Ezekiel 36:24-28
Sun. Dec. 10 Mark 1:1-8
Mon. Dec. 11 Isaiah 40:1-11
Tues. Dec. 12 Psalm 27
Wed. Dec. 13 Luke 1:5-17
Thur. Dec. 14 Habakkuk 2:1-4
Fri. Dec. 15 Philippians 3:12-16
Sat. Dec. 16 John 1:6-8, 19-28
Sun. Dec. 17 Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Mon. Dec. 18 Psalm 126
Tues. Dec. 19 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Wed. Dec. 20 Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Thur. Dec. 21 Luke 1:26-38
Fri. Dec. 22 Luke 1:39-45
Sat. Dec. 23 Luke 1:46-55
Sun. Dec. 24 Luke 2:1-20
Mon. Dec. 25 John 1:1-14
Tues. Dec. 26 Psalm 148
Wed. Dec. 27 1 John 1:1-9
Thur. Dec. 28 Jeremiah 31:15-17
Fri. Dec. 29 Isaiah 49:5-15
Sat. Dec. 30 Psalm 148
Sun. Dec. 31 Isaiah 61:1-10-62:3
Mon. Jan. 1 Galatians 4:4-7
Tues. Jan. 2 Luke 2:22-40
Wed. Jan. 3 Psalm 110
Thur. Jan. 4 Isaiah 60:1-6
Fri. Jan. 5 Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Sat. Jan. 6 Matthew 2:1-12