Social Media and the Christian Life

February 21, 2019

 

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”  - James 3:9-10

 

Dear People of God,

 

One of life’s great joys has been connecting with friends old and new via social media. For me that’s primarily included Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Twitter. It’s been wonderful seeing what’s happening in the lives of people that, in some cases, I haven’t seen since I was in 8th grade. And I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to connect with clergy and laity in the church, some of whom live in different parts of the world. 

 

Sometimes I think social media is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened.

 

But ironically, I’ve also come to the conclusion that at the very same time, social media is one of the worst things that’s ever happened.  

 

The social media platforms that allow us to celebrate life’s joys, invite others to show support when life is difficult, and that bring people together can also be used for slander and personal attacks, spreading misinformation and fake news, inciting anger and animosity, and creating division.

 

I see postings that fall squarely within the latter categories on an almost daily basis. Some of them are posted by liberals, some by conservatives. Some of them are posted by Christians. Some happen to be Episcopalians. 

 

So how do we as Christians deal with these realities?

 

I personally do not believe that retreating from social media altogether is the best response. Of course, the decision whether or not to be on social media is a personal one. No one should feel like they have to participate.

 

But it’s also true that given how people communicate today, social media can be a powerful tool for sharing the Gospel and the wonderful things happening in our church and school. I think we can all agree that these are very good things we want to see happening on a regular basis. To that end, I’m profoundly grateful for the wonderful communications work done by Anne Craven for the church and Brooke Noland for the school. 

 

I also want to underscore the point that as members of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church - regardless of whether we are paid or volunteer staff, committee chairs, etc. - we are representatives of Christ and his Church (and of St. Luke’s in particular) in all that we say and do. 

 

In the Baptismal Covenant we have promised to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” And we have promised to “respect the dignity of every human being” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). Are our social media postings compatible with the Good News of God in Christ? Or do they proclaim a different message? And how does our social media behavior show respect for the dignity of other people, and especially those with whom we disagree? 

 

As I’ve been thinking about all of this, I came across a wonderful document approved for use in the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. It’s entitled “Social Media Guidelines for Clergy and Congregational Leaders.” I went through the document, pulled out relevant parts, did a bit of revising for the context of St. Luke’s, and put together a two-page social media guidelines document for clergy and lay leaders in our church. You can read the document by clicking HERE.

 

I shared this document with the Vestry in our retreat earlier this month. And now, by sharing it with the congregation at large, I want to encourage us all to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. Even if you don’t use social media, the principles in this document can still be very helpful for how we communicate with others in ways that are consistent with Christian values and witness.

 

Many thanks for your support of St. Luke’s. And may God’s blessings be upon us as together we seek to bear faithful witness to God’s reconciling love given to the world in Jesus Christ.

 

Fr. Bryan

We Welcome the Reverend Sharon Alexander as Supply Priest 

and Adult Forum Facilitator on June 10

 

Dear People of God,

 

While I’m away on Sunday, June 10, St. Luke's will welcome my good friend and clergy colleague, the Reverend Sharon Alexander, as supply priest at the 8:00, 9:00, and 11:10 services. 

 

Mother Sharon has been in the Diocese of Louisiana since late 2009, starting at Trinity Church and Grace Church in New Orleans, then at St. Michael's in Mandeville.  She currently serves as Rector of Trinity Church, Baton Rouge.  Before ordination, she was a lawyer in Dallas and served as an Assistant Chancellor for the Diocese.

 

Mother Sharon has served in several capacities for our Diocese, including the Executive Board, Chair of Dispatch for Diocesan Convention, and clergy chaplain at Happening. 

 

She also has extensive experience serving the broader Episcopal Church.  She was a Deputy to General Convention in 2015 and served on the Committee for Structure and Governance.  She will soon finish the 3rd year of a 6-year term on the Standing Commission for Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons for the Episcopal Church.  She's also nearing the end of a 3-year term on the Task Force on the Episcopacy.  She will be a Deputy to General Convention this July where she will also serve as Vice Chair of the Committee on Churchwide Leadership and as a member of the Resolution Review Committee.

 

I note that the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets in Austin, Texas from July 5 to July 13.  Given her extensive experience, I’ve asked Mother Sharon to lead a forum on General Convention during the 10 o'clock hour on June 10.  This will be an excellent opportunity to get correct information about how General Convention operates and some of the matters the deputies and bishops will address this summer.

 

I have no doubt that Mother Sharon will do an excellent job presiding over the Mass, preaching God’s Word, and leading a forum on General Convention.  

 

June 10 will be a strong Sunday morning for St. Luke’s! 

 

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Bryan 

Closing the GAP in our Spiritual Lives

March 1, 2018

Dear People of God,

 

As we make our way through the season of Lent, we have many opportunities for self-examination and spiritual growth.  And one of the ways we can grow as individuals and as a church family is by closing the GAP in our spiritual lives.

 

What do I mean by “closing the GAP”?  I mean being mindful of our Giving, our Attendance, and our Participation in the life of St. Luke’s.

 

Giving

“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).  All we have comes from God.  In response, every Christian is called to give back to God a portion of his or her time, talent, and treasure to support the church.  

 

When it comes to financial giving, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has repeatedly affirmed the tithe - 10% of one’s income - as “the minimum standard of giving.”  Even if you’re not currently tithing, you can aspire to do so by making percentage increases each year in your pledge to St. Luke’s.  

 

By taking small steps in our giving, we offer thanks to God.  We loosen the potentially idolatrous grip of money in our lives.  We support the mission and ministries of St. Luke’s.  And we live into the truth taught by Jesus: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  Our hearts are fully invested in St. Luke’s when we faithfully commit to financially supporting our church with a percentage of our income.  

 

If you have not done so, I invite you to invest your heart in St. Luke’s by making a financial commitment.  You can do so by going to this page on our church website: http://www.stlukesbr.org/giving

 

Attendance

The first question of promise in the Baptismal Covenant is: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”  And we respond: “I will, with God’s help” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304).  We make this promise because regular attendance at worship is central to a healthy spiritual life.  Worship is foundational to our identity and the primary reason why we exist.

 

Attendance patterns have shifted at St. Luke’s.  There is room for improvement.  If you are here every Sunday, congratulations and thank you.  If you are here once a month, please consider making a commitment to attend twice a month.  If you attend twice a month, I invite you to order your life so that you can attend three times a month.  These simple steps will benefit our spiritual health and help us fulfill our calling as a worshipping community of Christ’s followers.  

 

Participation

In addition to giving and attendance, a healthy Christian spiritual life includes participation in Christian formation and ministry.  

 

We are blessed at St. Luke’s to have multiple opportunities for Christian formation for all ages on Sundays during the 10 o’clock hour.  We also have several Bible studies that meet during the week, as well as Vacation Bible School in the summer, the Wednesday evening Lenten series, Education for Ministry (EfM), and many other offerings.  

 

Every Christian is also gifted in baptism to do the work of ministry.  There are numerous ministry opportunities at St. Luke’s, including: altar guild, ushers, greeters, lay Eucharistic ministers, lay Eucharistic visitors, lectors, Sunday school teachers, acolytes, choristers, serving with hospitality, outreach, pastoral care - the list goes on and on.

 

Please check out the ministry and formation offerings at St. Luke’s on our website here: http://www.stlukesbr.org/ministries.  

 

I encourage us all to be active participants in the life of St. Luke’s who follow Jesus’ example of serving others to the glory of God.  

 

Giving, Attendance, Participation: these are ways we take responsibility for our spiritual lives as church members.  These are ways we respond in love and gratitude for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  

 

During this season of Lent, we can each ask: what steps do I need to take to close the GAP in my spiritual life?  What can I do to ensure that my giving, attendance, and participation are strong and healthy?  

 

I pray that this Lent is a special and holy time for you and your family as together we prepare for the joys of Easter.  

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Fr. Bryan

Christmas Reflections

December 21, 2017

Dear People of God,

 

The season of Christmas invites us to prayerfully contemplate the wonderful mystery that God loved the world so much he gave the precious gift of his only Son. In the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, God became a fully flesh-and-blood human being. Humbling himself to share our humanity, God dwelt among us, befriending, guiding, teaching, healing, and dying so that we might live.  

 

Christmas is about the birth of the Savior of the world, the One who comes to rescue and redeem. Christmas is about the joy of receiving the one and only gift we can never lose, the gift of God’s unconditional and saving love in Jesus Christ. And Christmas is also about the joy of being called to share that gift with others, so that they, too, may know the love of Jesus.  

 

There’s a poem by Howard Thurman entitled “The Work of Christmas” that beautifully sums up what it means to share the gift of Jesus with a lost and hurting world. I hope you will take a moment to read it and that it inspires you to share the joy of Christmas throughout the year.

 

I wish you and your family every blessing this Christmas season and throughout the New Year.

 

Faithfully yours,

 

Fr. Bryan

 

 

"The Work of Christmas"

by Howard Thurman

 

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

 

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.

The Tapestry of Advent

by Fr. Bryan Owen

December 1, 2017

Dear People of God,

 

It’s hard to believe, but the season of Advent is upon us.  Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the church calendar year because it is so complex and rich in diverse themes.  Those themes include: waiting, expectation, wonder, anticipation, longing, dawning, pregnancy, birth, judgment, endings, beginnings, judgment, repentance, arrival, presence, preparation, fulfillment, joy.  Taken together, the four Sundays of Advent touch on all of the major themes of the Christian faith.  

 

In the midst of that tapestry of Advent themes, we prepare for the coming of Christ.  We prepare for the Christ who comes in weakness as a baby lying in a manger.  We prepare for the Christ who comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.  We prepare for the Christ who comes in power to make all things new.  We prepare to receive the coming Christ in the Word and Sacraments of the Church.  We prepare for the Christ who comes among us in surprising persons, especially the poor, the needy, and the helpless.

 

In the midst of a very busy time of the year, I pray that we will make time this Advent to simply be still.  Be still as the days grow shorter, the shadows lengthen, and the darkness descends.  Be still with the longings, sorrows, and hopes that fill our hearts.  Be still and trust that the One who brings salvation is near at hand.

 

For we are waiting for the light that shines in the darkness, a light the darkness can never overcome (cf. John 1:5).  We are waiting for a joy that can never be taken away.  We are waiting for the gift of everlasting life that triumphs over the grave.  We are waiting for Jesus Christ, the One who fulfills our deepest longings and hopes.

 

I wish you all every blessing during this Advent season and every joy as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Fr. Bryan

Counsel for Hard Times from St. Paul

Fr. Bryan Owen

September 7, 2017

 

Dear People of God,

 

A few folks have requested that I share the sermon I delivered on Sunday, September 3.  In it, I offered counsel for dealing with hard times from the lesson assigned for that day from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  

 

Many thanks the Rev. Lisa Cressman of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas for sharing experience and insights that informed this sermon.

 

I hope this biblical counsel is helpful as we continue to deal with natural disasters and other challenges in our lives.

 

Blessings,

Fr. Bryan

-------

[AUDIO VERSION HERE]

I don’t know what it is about the month of August, but for the past two years it has not treated us kindly.

 

Like all of you, I’ve been watching the events unfolding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  The sheer magnitude of this disaster boggles the mind and breaks the heart.  It can feel overwhelming.

 

And that’s even more true for everyone here in Baton Rouge and south Louisiana whose homes and businesses flooded last August.  

 

Add into the mix everybody the challenges all of us face with work, family, financial, and health issues and it can feel like it’s just too much.  

 

So many things weigh on our hearts and souls.  Many of us have burdens that are difficult to bear.

 

And so I want to pull a few phrases out of today’s reading from Romans to offer ways all of us can keep our spiritual bearings and not get pulled under by whatever crises or challenges life throws our way.

 

In today’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul lays out a blueprint for the Christian life.  It would be easy to launch a preaching or teaching series over the course of several weeks on just this one passage.  It’s that dense and rich.  

 

But for this morning, five sentences from St. Paul stand out:

 

“Rejoice in hope.  Don’t quit in hard times.  Don’t forget to pray.  Give money and time to those who need it.  Welcome strangers with open arms” (Romans 12:12-13).  

 

Let’s start with this:

 

“Don’t forget to pray.”

 

Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus always made time for prayer.  When he had had enough, when he needed a break, he retreated from the crowds to a solitary place to pray.  

 

Even when the needs were great, Jesus took care of himself.  He made time for rest and prayer.  He never compromised when it came to self-care.  And when he was ready, he jumped back into the fray of teaching and healing and making himself available to meet the needs of others.

 

Jesus never apologized for taking time out to pray and to care for himself.  

 

Neither should we.

 

So don’t forget to pray.

 

And give yourself permission to follow Jesus’ example by alternating between self-care and caring for others.

 

This takes us to the next bit of counsel from St. Paul:

 

“Don’t quit in hard times.”

 

Sometimes to do that we have to acknowledge how hard it is.  

 

Even Jesus had to do this.

 

Once Jesus blurted out: “How much longer must I put up with you, you faithless generation” (Mt 17:17)?  He had to admit and express his frustration in order to stay the course with his mission.

 

And in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the shadow of the cross looming larger and larger, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39).  In order to do the Father’s will, in order to go to the cross, Jesus had to express his fear and grief.

 

Like Jesus, if we’re going to persevere, if we’re not going to give up, we have to admit what’s going on inside of us.  We have to express it.  We have to share it.  And we can follow Jesus’  example by offering whatever it is we’re going through to God.

 

St. Paul continues with another bit of counsel for hard times:

 

“Give money or time to those who need it.  Welcome strangers with open arms.”

 

When we feel overwhelmed, we can make it easier to be generous and welcoming by putting it like this: Do the next one thing.

 

Once Jesus faced a crowd of 5,000 hungry people.  How did he manage to meet such a great need?  By doing the next one thing.

 

First, he took up five loaves of bread and two fish.

 

Then he did the next one thing: he blessed the bread and the fish.

 

Then he did the next one thing: he broke the bread.

 

And then the next one thing: he gave the bread and fish to the disciples.

 

Then the disciples gave the food to the people.

 

By keeping the focus manageable, doing only the next one thing, Jesus and his disciples fed 5,000 people.

 

Whenever we feel paralyzed or overwhelmed by competing needs and demands, we can follow Jesus’ example by doing the only thing we need to do.  And that’s the next one thing. 

 

Today, that might mean giving a donation to a hurricane relief charity.  Tomorrow, it might mean taking a loved one to the doctor.  The next day, it might be something else.  

 

But if we stick to doing the next one thing, we can make our way forward with generosity and hospitality.

 

And above all, on good days and bad, we do well to follow St. Paul’s counsel: 

 

“Rejoice in hope.”

 

In the midst of a world filled with darkness and disaster, we Christians can be optimists.  For we belong to Jesus.  We belong to a risen Lord.  We belong to someone who has taken the full brunt of the world’s sin and evil and overcome it through his death and resurrection.

 

The love of Jesus Christ triumphs over all of our sorrows and losses.  It reassures us that whatever we’re going through in the present, we are guaranteed a future of joy and eternal life.  

 

So don’t forget to pray and take care of yourselves while tending to others.

 

Don’t quit when it gets tough.  Openly and honestly express how hard it really is.

 

Be generous in giving and welcoming to all by doing the next one thing you can.

 

And always and everywhere, rejoice in hope and give thanks to God.  

 

For all things are in God’s hands.

 

We can trust Him to see us through. 

Invite Your One for September 10

Fr. Bryan Owen

August 24, 2017

 

Dear People of God,

 

It’s a shocking statistic.  But according to one survey, the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 38 years.  

 

Once every 38 years.

 

That’s troubling for a host of reasons.  It clearly misses the mark when it comes to our Lord’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations,” baptizing and teaching people to obey all that he has commanded us (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).  And at the very least, it’s not a helpful strategy if we seek renewed vitality and growth as a church.

 

Fortunately, there’s good news.  For according to another survey, 8 out of 10 people, if invited to church, would say “yes,” particularly if the person extending the invitation attends with them.  (For more, check out this video with Thom Rainer: https://churchanswers.com/growth3/). 

 

8 out of 10 would say “yes.”  That’s an excellent return on taking the risk of extending an invitation!

 

More people than we might think will accept the invitation to come to church.  But it won’t happen if we don’t ask them.  

 

By extending an invitation to church, you might be the person who helps someone find a worshiping, loving, and supportive Christian community.  You might be the person who brings someone into a relationship with Christ.  You might be the person through whom the Holy Spirit changes someone’s life.

 

School is now back in session.  And Christian formation for all ages at St. Luke’s begins on Sunday, September 10.  What an opportune time to invite someone who doesn’t have a church home to join us at St. Luke’s!  

 

So here’s my challenge to each member of St. Luke’s: Invite Your One for Sunday, September 10.  

 

Invite one person to join us for worship at a service that Sunday and for the breakfast during the 10 o’clock hour.  Reassure that person that you will be with them as their host.  Let them know that they will experience the love and grace of God in worship, and that we will offer them wonderful food and warm fellowship.  

 

If we ask, they just might come.  

 

So let’s all meet the challenge to Invite Your One for Sunday, September 10.  

 

And let’s be prepared every Sunday to meet and greet new persons who may be looking for precisely what we as a church have to offer - a place where we care for one another, where we grow spiritually, and where we bring others closer to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Faithfully yours,

 

Fr. Bryan 

Persevere in Resisting Evil: Responding to Charlottesville

Fr. Bryan Owen
August 17, 2017

 

Like people all around our country and the world, I was horrified by the violence, the racial hatred, and the deliberate act of terror that killed Heather Heyer last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.  

 

I was particularly disturbed to see American citizens marching with Nazi flags and other white supremacist symbols while shouting slogans like “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!”  

 

This is pure evil.  And even more so when we recall how Americans of all races from the “Greatest Generation” made incredible sacrifices during World War II to eradicate the scourge of Fascism and Nazism from the face of the earth.  Those brave Americans fought and many of them died to insure that all people - regardless of race, color, or creed - can live in freedom.  

 

The protesters who advocated for white supremacy last weekend dishonor the sacrifices of Americans who fought during World War II.  They dishonor the sacrifices of Americans who struggled for liberty and justice for all in the Civil Rights Movement.  They dishonor true patriotism and love of our country.  They dishonor basic human values of decency, civility, and kindness.

 

But as Christians, we must condemn this evil in even stronger terms. 

 

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with the Southern Baptist Convention, hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following on Twitter:

 

“The so-called Alt-Right white supremacist ideologies are anti-Christ and satanic to the core.  We should say so.”

 

 

And Bishop Jake Owensby of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana summed it up like this:

“Racism is a sin.  White supremacy is a racist ideology.  Its presence in Charlottesville was undeniable.  It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to denounce this hate and violence without resorting to hate and violence ourselves.”

 

In the Baptismal Covenant, we promise to “persevere in resisting evil.”  White supremacy in any form is evil.  It is an assault on the dignity of persons created in the image of God.  It is an assault on the teachings of Jesus, who commands us to love one another as he loves us (John 15:12).  It is a form of hatred that separates us from God.  For as St. John the Apostle writes: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

 

We find the way to resist evil in the love of Jesus Christ.  For the love of Jesus is stronger than hatred.  It transforms enemies into friends.  It overcomes even death itself.

 

What happened in Charlottesville reminds us that this world is shot through with sin and evil.  This world needs saving.  It desperately needs to see the light and know the healing power of Jesus’ love.  May we be that light and that love.

 

As we seek to resist the evils of racism and white supremacy by faithfully walking in love as Christ loved us, I invite you to use the following prayer from The Book of Common Prayer: 

 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Mission and Identity of St. Luke’s Episcopal School
August 10, 2017

 

Dear People of God,

 

For 60 years, St. Luke’s Episcopal School of Baton Rouge has been a nurturing place for children. First founded in 1957 as a preschool with a kindergarten class of eight children, our school has put down deep roots in our community, grown into a lower and middle school, and borne the fruit of lives that have been shaped by learning in a Christian environment. We give thanks for the many gifted and hard-working teachers, staff, chaplains, and heads of school who have nurtured and sustained our school over the years. 

 

A Mission of the Church

St. Luke’s Episcopal School is a mission of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. As a Christ-centered school dedicated to inspiring students to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity, our school provides an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and security for children. We welcome children and families from any religious background. We respect the variety of religious practices within our student body. 

 

Open Inquiry and Inclusive Community

We value open inquiry and inclusive community. There are no wrong questions! We can ask questions about anything while maintaining our Christian identity and respecting points of view and beliefs that differ from our own. Everyone has a place at St. Luke’s Episcopal School. All have opportunities to learn, to grow, and to be valued members of the community.

 

Focusing on the Whole Person

Our school offers a program of quality classroom instruction built upon a solid spiritual foundation. We focus on the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We believe that the pursuit of knowledge, spiritual growth, athletic achievement, and the development of moral character form a seamless whole.

 

Worship: The Heart of Our Identity

Anglican author Lesslie Newbigin writes: “Worship is the central work of the Church, and everything else in its life has meaning and value as it finds its focus in worship.” As a mission of the church, that’s also true of our school. Weekly chapel services lie at the heart of our school’s identity. Worship shows us how to love God with reverence. Worship empowers us to love our neighbor as ourselves, teaching us to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being.   

 

I invite you to join the children and teachers of our school for worship at All School Chapel on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM, and at Pre-School, PreK, and Kindergarten Chapel on Thursdays at 8:30 AM. 

 

Honoring God: Spiritual and Moral Formation

Grounded in Christian worship, and blessed with gifted staff and teachers, our school exists not just to impart information, but more importantly to enable formation. We seek to form persons who embody excellence in mind, body, and spirit.  

 

Striving for excellence certainly includes working hard, making good grades, and seeking to win in sports. But understood in a Christian sense, excellence is a nobler goal than mere worldly success.

 

As Anglican author Lesslie Newbigin writes: “What matters is not that I should succeed, but that God should be honored.”  

 

God is honored when we become persons of courage and compassion. God is honored when we become persons who lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity. God is honored when we become persons who love God in and above all things, and who love our neighbors as ourselves. God is honored when we become persons who embody the love, mercy, and compassion of Jesus Christ.

 

Forming young persons who embody these marks of excellence is the highest goal our school aims to achieve. 

 

Concluding Thoughts

I am very proud of the rich legacy, academic excellence, and faithful Christian witness of our school. And I am excited to begin another school year.

 

I hope you will join us for worship from time to time in our chapel services. And I hope that you will visit the school to see the wonderful things happening with our students. 

 

May St. Luke’s Episcopal School inspire us all to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity!

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Fr. Bryan Owen

6th Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Invitation to Holy Week and Easter
April 6, 2017

Dear People of God,

 

As I write, the beginning of Holy Week is just days away.  I invite you to participate as fully as you can in the Holy Week and Easter liturgies here at St. Luke’s.  Doing so allows us to experience the joyful mystery at the heart of the Christian faith.

 

We start with Palm Sunday: The Sunday of the Passion on April 9.  The liturgy of the palms commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the people greet him with shouts of joy.  But all the joy sours as the service transitions to the Passion Gospel’s recounting of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.  From here on, we walk each day of the week under the shadow of the cross.

 

The next major turning point comes with Maundy Thursday (service at 7:00 PM on April 13).  The term “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, meaning “new commandment.”  We remember Jesus telling his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).  We see what this kind of love looks like as Jesus takes the role of a servant and washes his disciples’ feet.  And so the service includes a ceremonial foot washing.  Maundy Thursday also commemorates our Lord’s institution of the sacrament of Holy Eucharist at the last supper with his disciples on the night before he died for us.  The service moves to the stripping of the altar as we remember how, on the night he was betrayed, our Lord was stripped of his power and glory.  It ends in silence.  The Blessed Sacrament is then reposed in Pope Hall for adoration during the hours of the night as we keep watch with Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

Good Friday on April 14 commemorates our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross.  The service at 12:10 PM includes the reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John, solemn prayers for the Church and the world, the veneration of the cross, and Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament.  We will also have a basket out to collect donations for the Good Friday offering that benefits the Church’s ministries in the Holy Land (you can read more about that offering here).

 

The Great Vigil of Easter (7:30 PM on Saturday, April 15) is, quite simply, the liturgy of the Church.  It beautifully recounts the grand sweep of salvation history that comes to its decisive turning point in Jesus’ resurrection.  The service consists of four parts: the Service of Light (including the lighting of a new fire, the lighting of the Paschal candle, and the singing of the Exsultet); the Service of Lessons (with readings from the Old Testament interspersed with psalms, canticles, and prayers); Christian Initiation (Holy Baptism) or the renewal of Baptismal vows; and Holy Eucharist. A festive reception follows the service in Pope Hall.  This is one of the most powerful services the Church offers.  You do not want to miss this!

 

Easter Day services on Sunday, April 16 will take place at 8:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:10 AM (note that there will be no 5:30 PM service on Easter Day).  The celebration of our Lord’s resurrection continues on this day with festive services of Holy Eucharist.  And an Easter egg hunt for the children will take place during the 10 o’clock hour.

 

The Holy Week and Easter liturgies at St. Luke’s are powerful ways for us to participate in the mystery of the Christian faith.  So bring your family, invite a friend, experience just how much God loves you.  

 

Holy Week and Easter blessings to you all!

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Fr. Bryan

Keeping a Holy Lent
March 2, 2017

If you’re looking for ways to keep a holy Lent, it’s hard to beat the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These practices provide concrete ways for us to renew our repentance and faith on a daily basis.  They open our hearts to the love and grace of God.  They can help us grow closer to Jesus and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

It all starts with prayer, for that is the way we keep company with God, nurturing intimacy with the One who loves us more than we can imagine.  

 

The monk Thomas Merton was once asked, “What’s the one thing I should do to improve my prayer life?”  And Merton responded: “Take the time.”

 

Lent invites us to take the time for prayer.  

 

We can make a commitment each day to spend time in communion with God.  Maybe we pray the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Maybe we pray through the Psalms.  Maybe we read and meditate on Holy Scripture and then offer our thoughts, questions, and concerns to God.  We could spend 5 or 10 minutes each day repeating the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  

 

And, of course, we can make a commitment to attending church each week, coming together for fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, joining with them in offering our prayers of petition and intercession, and receiving the Blessed Sacrament for strength and renewal.

 

Make the time for prayer this Lent.

 

The discipline of fasting reinforces our prayer life by reminding us that we are dependent on God for our lives.  When we fast we abstain from certain foods or behaviors to allow the deeper hunger of our souls to emerge, a hunger that only God can satisfy.  When we find ourselves really wanting whatever it is we’ve given up in our fast, we can take that as an opportunity to turn to God and to deepen our relationship with Him through prayer. 

 

Pinpoint a desire that’s become too dominant in your life and fast by limiting or abstaining from it this Lent.  

 

And finally, there’s the discipline of almsgiving.  When we give alms - when we give money and possessions to the poor and the needy - we acknowledge our interconnectedness with other people.  We acknowledge that we are all part of the same human family.  We are all dependent on God as the source and owner of all things.  So my money and possessions don’t simply belong to me.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas says we have a right to private ownership, but not to private use.  As Christians, we are called to use our private possessions for the common good, for the sake of loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We do that by giving alms.

 

St. Luke’s is offering a very fitting way to give alms this Lent.  Pick up a mite box after a church service.  These are little cardboard “banks” you can fill with spare change and cash, and we have them for both children and adults.  The funds will go to assist two Baton Rouge children and their families: a 10-year-old boy whose family lost everything in last August’s flood, and a 5-year-old girl who sustained a spinal injury in a car accident (read more about these children here).  We’ll collect the mite boxes as part of our offering on Easter Sunday.  What a great way to give alms this Lent!

 

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving: these are three ways we can all make Lent a meaningful time of spiritual growth.  

 

Whatever practices we engage this Lent, we aren’t trying to earn God’s favor or impress anybody.  Instead, we are offering our selves - our souls and bodies - as living sacrifices to God, trusting that He will take that offering and create clean hearts and renew right spirits within us.

 

May this Lent be a time of spiritual renewal as we prepare for the joys of Easter.

 

Blessings,

  Fr. Bryan

A New Curate?
February 2, 2017

Dear St. Luke’s Family,

 

In the wake of the departure of Fr. Watson Lamb and his family from St. Luke’s, I write to express my gratitude for your loving support of the Lamb family.  The generous gifts to the “Lamb Purse,” and the turnout for the 5th Sunday service and luncheon on January 29, were remarkable.  The farewell for the Lamb family was a shining example of St. Luke’s at our very best.  

 

One of the questions that has come up a number of times since Fr. Lamb announced his new call is: “When will we hire a new curate for St. Luke’s?”  Unfortunately, my answer is: “Not anytime soon.” 

 

As our most recent Senior Warden Mike Gaudet and our Treasurer Barbee Pipes have noted in their annual meeting reports, we’ve been struggling this past fiscal year with a budget deficit of over $50,000. While one-time grants from our Endowment Funds have helped, those grants have not bridged the deficit gap.  And in the meantime, we were hit by flooding.  It’s therefore not surprising that commitments from last fall’s Annual Giving Campaign have been less than the previous year.  As a consequence, I am anticipating the possibility of a larger deficit than the one we’ve already been grappling with.  

 

Before making a new hire, we need solid assurance that the funds for a new curate’s compensation will recur annually in the operating budget.  Until we reach that point, it would be unwise to bring a new curate on board.

 

In the face of these challenges, the Vestry is committed to working to ensure that St. Luke’s stays true to our mission and upholds our core values.  We also recognize that we must be flexible and willing to adjust and adapt in order to make that happen.

 

I’m very excited about one of those adjustments.  Since we are moving into a time without an ordained day school chaplain, I have asked St. Luke’s parishioner and day school religion teacher Lynn Hooks to assume the responsibilities of Lay Chaplain for the day school.  In so many ways Lynn has already been functioning as a chaplain.  Now is the ideal time for her to own that identity, take responsibility for the day school chapel program, and help us take it in new directions.  Since the day school is the principal mission of our church, and the chapel program lies at the heart of the day school, Lynn’s efforts will benefit both our church and school.  

 

The Vestry and the church office staff will be working hard to continue building on the many positive signs of new life and growth we have seen over the past few years.  We will need your help to continue making progress.   

 

Deacon Reese put it so well in a recent sermon when he said:

 

“As our St. Luke’s parish family moves into 2017 with its many challenges and opportunities ahead of us, it is important to reflect on our own individual call to discipleship and how we can respond to that call. … To consider that now may be the time to be a part of those challenges and opportunities ahead of us.  We want to be a faith community where each member of the body does their small but important part in building up our parish life and God’s Kingdom.”  

 

We have many challenges to address.  But our challenges are also opportunities to renew our commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus, as well as the many wonderful things that make our church and day school nurturing places of love and acceptance.  I look forward to continuing that work with you all.

 

Faithfully yours,

Fr. Bryan

December 22, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

As I write, Christmas is just three days away.  I am looking forward to celebrating with you all the “good news of great joy” first proclaimed by angels to shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night (Luke 2:10).  For a Savior has come into the world to rescue and redeem.  A Savior has come to dispel the darkness of death by the light of his immeasurable love for us.  And as St. John tells us: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

 

I’ll have much more to say about the light of Christ in my sermon for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  But in the meantime, I’m sharing below a reflection on the moral message of Christmas written by Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury.  I hope you find it helpful. 

 

I wish you and yours every blessing this Christmas and throughout the New Year!

 

Faithfully yours,

   Fr. Bryan

 

 

The Moral Message of Christmas

By the Most Reverend Arthur Michael Ramsey 

100th Archbishop of Canterbury

 

Today the joy of Christmas shines in a world that is darkened by sadness.  How real are the gifts of human goodness, nonetheless: they are gifts from the God of Bethlehem who is their source; for God who took human flesh in the stable is God from whose store of love humanity’s gifts of love are drawn.

 

The stable is a symbol of Christ’s poverty.  The characteristic that gave him the title poor was his simplicity.  He did without many of the things that people crave.  None did he criticise more severely than those who hankered after more and more possessions and who were preoccupied with money.  The worth of a person’s life, he insisted, does not consist of possessions, for piling things up does not increase worth.  People matter more than things, as people have an eternal destiny.  Those who do not fuss about their standard of living and their luxuries are freer to love one another, to serve one another and to enjoy one another.  Christ became poor, and he chose the way of simplicity; and if we follow him he promises us riches of his own, riches of happiness and brotherhood shared with one another and with him.

 

How did Christ become poor?  By coming to share in the limitations, frustrations, and hard realities of our human life, our pains and sorrows, and even our death.  The imagery of Christ’s riches and his poverty is a vivid picture of the Incarnation; but it is another thing to grasp its moral message and to live by it, the message of simplicity and self-sacrifice.  Christ gave himself to us to enable us to give ourselves to one another: that is the message of Bethlehem to a world in trouble.

 

Come to Bethlehem once again: see the stable - see the child.  Knowing that he is God made man, knowing that he who was rich has become poor for us, let us kneel in the darkness and cold that is the symbol of our blind and chilly hearts, and say in a new way: ‘yours in the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.’ 

Cultivating Grateful Hearts: Thoughts on Thanksgiving
November 17, 2016

 

Dear People of God,

 

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to say to how grateful I am for St. Luke’s.  I give thanks to God for every single person who calls our church their spiritual home.  I give thanks to God for the mission of our Day School that touches the lives of so many children and families.  What a privilege to be a part of this journey with you all!

 

The theme of thanksgiving is central to our faith.  So it’s little wonder that the Bible is filled with verses that talk about thanksgiving and gratitude.  One verse sums it up: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).  God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, and God’s eternal love for us - that’s the foundation for gratitude.  

 

Gratitude has power to change our perspective and open our hearts to more deeply loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

 

Gratitude shifts our focus away from fixation on self and towards others, including God.  Grateful people are not selfish.  They are selfless.  They are giving and compassionate.  

 

Gratitude puts our problems in perspective, allowing us to recognize and appreciate the goodness of things we sometimes take for granted.  

 

Gratitude reminds us that we’re not self-sufficient.  We’re dependent on the generosity of God and other people.

 

Gratitude banishes the spirit of negativity.  We simply cannot complain or be bitter and resentful when our hearts are filled with thanksgiving for the blessings of this life.

 

Gratitude is contagious.  Thanksgiving breeds further thanksgiving.  

 

At a time when fear, anxiety, and division pervade our society, I pray that we will commit ourselves to cultivating grateful hearts so that we may continually give thanks for God’s blessings in our lives, and that we may recognize the ways that we are dependent upon each other.  For regardless of politics, race, or creed, we are all created in the image of God.  We are all persons of infinite worth and value.  And we are all called to come together as a Beloved Community that cares for each other.  

 

May God’s blessings pour out upon you this Thanksgiving Day and throughout the coming Advent and Christmas seasons.  

 

Yours in Christ,

  Fr. Bryan

Remember From Whom You Learned It

October 16, 2016

 

It’s time for show and tell! 

 

Today I want to share with you a birthday gift I received from my mom and dad when I turned 10 years old. It’s a leather-bound red-letter edition of the King James Version of the Bible. 

 

I trust everybody knows what a red-letter Bible is? It has the words of Christ in red. 

 

This Bible became my close spiritual companion. And by the time I finished Middle School I had read it cover to cover. I can’t say I understood it all! But I did spend time immersed in Holy Scripture. And I discovered in these sacred writings a deep and life-giving connection to Jesus Christ.

 

I’m reminded of the words of St. Paul to the young Timothy in today’s epistle lesson:

 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

 

Timothy became acquainted with the sacred writings as a child. Perhaps in ways he didn’t always understand, Timothy discovered the living God in the scriptures. Through scripture, God touched his heart and changed his life. 

 

We cannot overestimate the importance of Holy Scripture in our lives as Christians. For as St. John Chrysostom notes, the exhortation of the Scripture is given to us so that we may be rendered complete and that we may grow to maturity. 

 

We read, meditate upon, and study scripture to be changed. We engage scripture to be transformed by God’s word written into the likeness of God’s Word Incarnate, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 John 2:1).

 

But there’s another side to what St. Paul is saying to the young Timothy that’s critically important for all of us to take to heart. Because it’s not just the sacred writings all on their own that teach and form us; it’s not just about individuals reading the Bible all by themselves apart from community. 

 

Quite the contrary. Coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ is also about the relationships we have with other people whose lives have also been transformed by the truths of scripture. It’s about belonging to the fellowship of faith we call the Church, the People of God whose lives bear witness to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

 

That’s why St. Paul encourages Timothy to not just persevere in what he has learned, to not just hold his own when it comes to a set of doctrines or core beliefs. In addition, St. Paul also admonishes Timothy to remember “from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14). 

 

Remember from whom you learned it.

 

None of us comes to faith in Christ on our own. Nobody becomes a Christian all by themselves. We learn how to follow Jesus from others. We receive the Christian faith from persons who have themselves received it as a gift from still other people in a line of teachers, witnesses, and examples that go all the way back to the first disciples sitting at the feet of Jesus. 

 

There are no lone ranger Christians. We’re all a part of the communion of the saints, living and dead, who teach and pass on the good news of Jesus Christ. 

 

Earlier in this letter, St. Paul mentions who two of those people were in Timothy’s life. St. Paul writes: “I’m reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Timothy 1:5). 

 

Timothy learned about Jesus from his grandmamma and his mama. They were his first and most influential teachers. They were the ones who gave him a solid foundation in the faith. What a powerful reminder of the important role of parents and grandparents in raising children as disciples of Jesus Christ! Y’all are on the frontlines. 

 

We receive a faith that makes a difference in our lives as a gift from people who live that faith every day. Genuine faith comes to us from people who care enough to be there with words of wisdom and encouragement, and sometimes with words of warning and rebuke. It comes from people who care enough to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

 

People like Lois and Eunice in the life of the young Timothy. People who embody faith in Christ in their words and deeds. People who serve as examples of what it looks like to live as a Christian.

 

Who are those examples in your lives?

 

Was it a grandparent or a parent? A teacher? A coach? A Sunday school or youth group leader? A priest or pastor? A sibling or spouse? A friend?

 

Think for a moment about who those people have been in your lives. Picture their faces in your mind’s eye. Remember things they said and did that meant so much to you. And give thanks for their life and witness.

 

Lately we’ve been highlighting that part of our mission statement that names one of our core commitments as “caring for one another.” 

 

Caring for one another.

 

That’s what Eunice and Lois did for their beloved child Timothy. They cared enough to make the time and go to the trouble to share the Christian faith with him. They cared enough to set good examples for him. They cared enough to make sure he would receive adequate instruction, attend worship regularly, and take advantage of opportunities to grow in Christ. They cared enough to be there for him when he needed them, to support, to encourage, and to guide him along the right path. 

 

That happens in so many ways here at St. Luke’s. Some of it is directly connected to the study of Holy Scripture, as the Bible studies on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sunday mornings attest. 

 

But even when the Bible is not the explicit focus, our Christian formation offerings for persons of all ages are informed by the truths of the scriptures. All of our offerings are centered in Christ. They are intended to deepen our relationship with Christ so that we may know Christ and make Christ known.

 

The persons who give their time to teach, to mentor, and to be examples for our children, youth, and adults - we owe them a great debt of thanks. The families we have in this church whose legacy spans several generations - we owe them a great debt of thanks. All of these persons set an example that deepens the work that we as parents and grandparents do. And they are the ones that, later in life, our children and youth may remember and say: 

 

“That experience in Sunday school, that mission trip to Houston with the youth group, that time an adult in the church cared enough to reach out to me, that time I was encouraged to serve the needy in my community, that youth confirmation class and the weekend retreat we went on … that made Jesus real in my life. That helped me grasp what it means to live as a Christian. That made me want to live a life that honors God.”

 

Whether it’s on a Sunday morning, in a weekday Bible study, an outreach or mission trip, a confirmation class, an EYC gathering, or just someone extending a hand or offering a hug - things like that happen behind the scenes at St. Luke’s all the time. And it’s only possible because we support St. Luke’s with our time, our talents, and our treasure. 

 

St. Paul challenges us to be good stewards of what we have received and learned from others who cared enough to teach Jesus to us. And so I invite you to join me in continuing to support the ways that we care for one another as a church family at St. Luke’s. With your support, we are able to provide the resources and the facilities that make it possible to teach, to learn, to practice, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

 

We have inherited a rich legacy of mission and ministry, praise and worship, learning and growing, outreach and service, fellowship and friendship here at St. Luke’s. All of it gives glory to God by drawing us closer to Jesus and equipping us for every good work (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). All of it bears witness to the truth that our ultimate hope for this life and the next is found in Jesus Christ. 

 

May we receive that rich legacy of faith by putting it into action, allowing it to shape our hearts, minds, and souls. And may we continue to pass it on to others.

Sermon for Stewardship Sunday

Fr. Bryan Owen

October 2, 2016

 

When you stop and really think about it, it’s nothing short of a miracle.  

 

The very fact that we’re alive.  That we’re breathing.  That we live on a planet that can sustain life, a shining green and blue jewel suspended in the darkness of space, circling the sun in a cosmos filled with beautiful planets, stars, and galaxies.  And that in spite of the vastness of the universe, through Jesus we know a God who cares so much about each individual person that even the hairs of our heads are all counted, and we have nothing to fear in this life or the next (cf. Luke 12:7).  

 

When I think of these things, I’m filled with awe.  I’m filled with gratitude for the incredible gifts of creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.  They’re all precious gifts given to us from a loving and generous Creator.  

 

That’s really where stewardship begins: in wonder and awe, and in praise and thanksgiving for the gifts of God.  All that we possess and all that we are have been given to us as a blessing from the Maker of heaven and earth.  And it is our noble calling as caretakers entrusted with these wonderful gifts to use them in ways that honor God.

 

One of the primary ways we honor God is by how we treat one another.  Every person is created in the image of God.  Every person is of infinite worth and value.  Every person points to the mystery of a personal God who created us to enjoy communion with Him and with each other.  

 

And so stewardship is more than minding how we use our time, our talents, and our treasure.  Stewardship is also a way of life in which we cultivate gratitude for the gifts of creation.  And it’s a way of life in which we strive to care for one another as God cares for us.  

 

Jesus Christ shows us the way.  For Jesus is the incarnation of God’s care for us.  

 

By reaching out to heal the sick, save the lost, befriend the lonely, feed the hungry, and preach the good news that God’s rule has come near, Jesus shows us what it looks like to put love into action.  And by dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus has drawn the fullness of our humanity into the heart of God, restoring the dignity of human nature, and making it possible for us to share the divine life of the One whose love moves the sun and the stars.  And now Jesus sends us forth to draw the world into a new community of love and hope, that everyone might enjoy the gifts of life that God so freely showers upon us.  

 

We see that happening in the early church as they followed the example of Jesus by caring for one another.  

 

In the Acts of the Apostles, we’re told that everyone in the church was “of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32).  And “there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34).  

 

If someone needed food, clothes, or shelter, if someone needed hope, if someone needed forgiveness and the reassurance of God’s mercy, if someone needed to be loved, the church was there.  Special attention was given to the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans.  Indeed, it was the early Christians who established orphanages and hospitals to insure care for the most vulnerable persons in society.  

 

The early Christians were quick to give to the church so that the church could then turn around and give to the needy, the hurting, and the devastated.  It was all about continuing Jesus’ ministry so that God’s loving care could be real in people’s lives.

 

How the early Christians cared for one another reveals God’s intention that we embrace each other as sisters and brothers.  For we are all one family in Christ.  If one part of the body suffers, all suffer together with it; if one part of the body is honored, all rejoice together with it (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26).  We all belong to one another, just as each of us belongs to God.  

 

Little wonder then, that St. Paul says: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  

 

Extend a helping hand.  Be there for one another.  Hold each other accountable.  Support, encourage, and sustain each other.  For by doing so, we fulfill the law of Christ.

 

And what is the law of Christ?  

 

We heard it in today’s Gospel reading when Jesus says:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  

 

Love one another as Jesus loves you.  Love one another by giving your lives for each other.  Love one another by helping each other carry whatever crosses this world may lay upon our backs.  Love one another in concrete deeds of nurture, support, and care.  

 

Our church’s mission statement picks up on all of this by including “caring for one another” as one of our core commitments.  Week in and week out, we live that commitment in so many ways. 

 

Like visits to a hospital or nursing home.  

 

Lay Eucharistic Visitors taking communion to the shut-in.  

 

Altar guild and choir members who form support groups within the larger church, working quietly behind the scenes to prepare everything for worship, from pressed linens to beautiful anthems.  

 

Church office staff who answer phones, put together bulletins, get the word out about what’s happening with communications, manage the money you give so that it funds our ministries, and keep our building and grounds clean and beautiful.

 

Clergy who work hard to faithfully preach God’s word, teach, lead worship, offer pastoral care, and cultivate relationships with our day school and the community.  

 

Nursery workers who hold and love our babies.   

 

Ushers and greeters who welcome everybody who shows up.  

 

Adults who volunteer to teach and mentor our children and youth.  

 

Knitters making prayer shawls to give to the sick and the hurting as an outward and visible sign of God’s enfolding love.  

 

Church staff and volunteers coordinating food preparation and delivery to those afflicted by illness or natural calamities.  

 

The list could go on and on.

 

In these and countless other ways we fulfill our mission of caring for one another by serving as the the heart and hands of Jesus to those in need of support and a healing touch.  

 

And we extend that care beyond ourselves, beyond the circle of those we already know at St. Luke’s, as we’ve recently been doing with the relationships we are cultivating with the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Young Leaders Academy.

 

If you’re not familiar with the Young Leaders Academy, it’s an organization that works with young African American males to cultivate leadership qualities, empowering them to improve the quality of their lives and become productive citizens.  It’s a fantastic ministry that our church and school have partnered with over the years that makes a lasting difference in real people’s lives.

 

One Young Leaders Academy family helped by our recent flood relief gift card drive wrote this in a thank-you note to St. Luke’s: “It is a blessing just knowing that there are people who care enough to give to people they do not know.”  

 

It really is a blessing to be a part of a church that strives to care for one another.  It’s hard for me to even imagine what it would be like, or how impoverished my own life would be, if St. Luke’s didn’t exist and if we did not know and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

My friends, you make all of this possible.  By supporting St. Luke’s with your time, your talents, and your treasure, you insure that we can continue fulfilling our mission of caring for one another in ways that touch hearts and change lives with the love of Jesus Christ.  

 

Thank you for your commitment to St. Luke’s.  I invite you to join me and my family in filling out a commitment card, so that we all may prayerfully discern how to continue supporting the mission and ministries of this wonderful place we call St. Luke’s.  

 

There’s a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that pulls all of this together:

 

“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

 

As we support our mission of caring for one another, may we continue to be drawn into life-giving service to others.  With full hearts, may we see God’s hand at work in all that He has given us, that our delight in His gifts may become an unending prayer of thanksgiving and an ever-growing habit of generosity.  And all for the sake of him who loves us and gave himself for us, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Staying the Course After the Flood

by Fr. Bryan Owen

August 28, 2016

 

A picture says a thousand words.

 

That saying hit home for me recently when I came across a picture that sums up the spirit of our people.  The picture shows three men standing knee deep in flood water.  In between them is a grill with meat cooking over the charcoal fire.  The caption below the photograph says: 

 

"No diss to other states, but Louisiana folk are a different breed.  We don’t stress over the situation, we make the situation better.  So what if it floods and we have to stand in knee deep water, come on by and get yourself a plate of food.  #WeGotYou!"

It’s true.  If anything, flood waters have increased the outpouring of love, generosity, and hospitality.  It’s what folks down here do. 

 

From the rescue work of the Cajun Navy; to the Cajun Army who organized supplies and mobilized teams of the young and old to gut out houses for people that in many cases they didn’t even know; to the Cajun Rosies who’ve cooked food, washed clothes, and set up childcare so parents could work on their homes; to volunteers in shelters; to folks from afar loading up trucks with supplies or sending money and gift cards; to church members making food and delivering meals - a spirit of generosity and hospitality has characterized the immediate aftermath of the flooding.  It’s been amazing.

 

The trick is sustaining that generosity and hospitality.  Because the recovery from this disaster is going to go on for a long time.

 

That’s why our faith in Jesus Christ is so important.  

 

For we follow a Lord who came, not to be served, but to serve.  We follow a Lord who got his hands dirty in the trenches of helping others.  

 

Jesus gave his life to free people from the oppression of sin and sickness.  He put the needs of others first.  He fed the hungry, consoled the sorrowful, healed the sick and brokenhearted, made room for the displaced and the lost, and befriended the stranger.  

 

That is the way of Jesus Christ.  That is the way of abundant life.  And that is the way of perfect love.  

 

Our scripture lesson today from the letter to the Hebrews offers a blueprint for how we can continue to practice the generous love of Jesus Christ in witness to the good news that Jesus’ work of rescuing and renewing continues in his church through ordinary folks like you and me. 

 

So let’s take a closer look at some of the verses in this passage from Hebrews.

 

“Let mutual love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).

 

Or, as another translation puts it: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 13:1 NIV).  

 

In our baptisms, we are adopted by God into His family.  We become members of God’s household.  We become brothers and sisters to one another, and members of a family that spans the ages and the globe.

 

Sometimes, as in our own families, we have our differences.  Sometimes there’s conflict.  Sometimes we squabble.  And sometimes we hurt each other.  It happens.

 

But as a family in Christ here at St. Luke’s, we are committed to sticking it out together.  We are committed to caring for one another.  We are committed to the long haul. 

 

So here’s the core truth: we are going to move forward together as one family in Christ.  And we are going to make it through all of this stronger and more committed to doing God’s work in this community.  

 

Let’s listen again to the letter to the Hebrews.  

 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2).

 

Here we are reminded that the love we have for each other in our parish family is not meant to be exclusionary.  We are not meant to be a club or a clique that allows only “the right kind” of people to belong.  Nor are we meant to be a place that runs away or hides from the challenges in our community.

 

Rather, God calls us to cultivate an outward focus that welcomes the stranger in our midst.  

 

And by welcoming, I mean more than just a handshake and a “Good morning, how are you.”  I mean being intentional and proactive in reaching out, making connections, listening, cultivating relationships, and receiving strangers into our group so that they may also become members of our family, our sisters and brothers in Christ.  The “Welcoming Tips” found in your bulletin insert offer some simple ways we can all practice that kind of hospitality every time we come to church.

 

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3).

 

In other words, remember those who suffer as though you were suffering.  Practice radical empathy.  

 

Many among us have suffered greatly recently.  Many have lost most or all of their worldly possessions.  Many had to be rescued by boat from the rising waters.  Many are left feeling shell-shocked and broken. 

 

I’ve heard some folks say, “It’s just stuff.”  It’s true that we’re talking about inanimate objects.  And Lord knows it’s true that we’d rather lose that than lose people.  Thank God more people weren’t lost!  

 

But it’s not true that “it’s just stuff.”  Our possessions carry meanings and values that go well beyond price tags and appraisals.  For that reason those possessions cannot easily be replaced.  And some of them are priceless.  

 

Just think about it.  The table that belonged to grandmother.  The wedding photographs.  The prayer book that your great-grandfather used.  The Bible your parents gave you at confirmation. The letters you received so many years ago from the girl who eventually became your wife.  Then there’s your mother’s wedding dress.  And the album with photographs of your children when they were babies.  Or the high school yearbook signed by everybody in your graduating class.  

 

The list of such things that were lost could go on and on.  To lose them is heartbreaking. 

 

It’s hard enough to lose one or more of those possessions.  But to then also lose most or all of your home - it’s emotionally and spiritual like experiencing the death of a loved one.  The suffering is all too real.  We show respect for each other’s dignity, and we give ourselves permission to grieve, by not minimizing the loss.  

 

And if we who were fortunate to stay dry have feelings of “survivor’s guilt,” rather than letting those feelings paralyze us, we do well to channel those feelings into empathy for the grieving and the suffering, and to then translate that empathy into action.

 

Which leads us to the next point from the letter to the Hebrews.

 

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).  

 

Sometimes we are blessed to give to the church.  Sometimes we are fortunate to receive from the church.  The devastated need to receive.  And those who were fortunate to avoid the floodwaters have not only an opportunity but a moral obligation to give.  

 

Jesus gave himself for us, holding nothing back, but giving his life.  Following his example, the Gospel calls us to do good and to share what we have.  Every offering - no matter how small it may seem - is important.  It makes a difference.  May we continue in the coming weeks and months to do good and to share generously in ways that give glory to God.  

 

And then there’s one of the great verses from all of the Bible:

 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

 

Circumstances in our lives will change.  There will be good times and bad times.  There will be times of joy and times of sorrow.  Times of abundance and times of scarcity.  And we can’t always predict or control what happens.

 

But regardless of circumstances, the love of Jesus Christ will never change.  That love remains constant and steady.  Flood waters can’t wash that away.  Nothing in all of creation can ever separate us from the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.  

 

Regardless of what we’re going through, we can count on Jesus.  He is forever faithful and reliable.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  For he is the Good Shepherd of our souls.  He will guide us along the path that leads to new life.  He will give us the courage and the perseverance to stay the course as together we rebuild our lives.  

 

So let us not grow weary of doing the good work of loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

 

Let us not grow weary in welcoming the stranger into the fold.

 

Let us not grow weary in showing empathy for the suffering, generously sharing our time, talent, and treasure for the spread of God’s kingdom, and trusting in the love of Christ for each one of us.  

 

For by doing so, we will reap a harvest of blessings (cf. Galatians 6:9).  We will fulfill our Lord’s command to love one another as he loves us.  And we will strengthen the bonds of affection that unite us to one another and inspire us to live more deeply into our mission of caring for one another, spiritual growth, and bringing others closer to God through Jesus Christ.  

Act Justly & Keep Sabbath

by Fr. Bryan Owen

August 21, 2016

 

Save me, O God,

   for the waters have risen up to my neck.

 

I am sinking in deep mire,

   and there is no firm ground for my feet.

 

I have come into deep waters,

   and the torrent washes over me. …

 

Save me from the mire, do not let me sink;

   let me be rescued … out of the deep waters.

 

Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind;

   in your great compassion, turn to me.  (Psalm 69:1-3, 16, 18)

 

Since last weekend’s devastating flood, these words from Psalm 69 have been echoing in my mind and heart.  They capture the feelings of fear, desperation, and helplessness that so many have felt as rising waters damaged homes and businesses and vehicles, even entire communities, rendering thousands of people homeless and countless others destitute.  The sheer magnitude of what has happened and the pressing needs of so many are staggering.  

 

We’ve seen some of the worst that Mother Nature can unleash.  And in response, we’ve seen some of the best that people filled with compassion can do.  

 

Until this flood, I’d never heard of the Cajun Navy.  It was incredibly moving to see footage of ordinary citizens in our communities hitching boats to their trucks and driving to the flood waters to launch out on search and rescue missions, sometimes for hours at a time, all day and all night.  They rescued hundreds - perhaps even thousands - of people and hundreds of pets.  And they risked their own lives to do it.  They are heroes.  

 

We also give thanks for the Louisiana National Guard.  I read that they rescued 19,000 people in flood-affected areas.  

 

Then there are the many individuals and Red Cross workers who have opened up shelters for flood victims.  They’ve housed and fed thousands of people, many of whom have lost everything.  Everyone who has volunteered in these shelters has saved lives and has brought hope to the hopeless.

 

There are folks like you who have answered the call to serve by cleaning out flooded houses, making and delivering food, offering shelter in your homes, giving money and gift cards and supplies, referring people to community resources that can help, keeping all persons affected in your prayers, and making it clear that you will be there for those in need for the long haul. 

And then there was the outpouring of people from our church, our school, and the larger community who yesterday unloaded supplies from Rome, Georgia for police officer and other families in the community whose homes flooded.  People of all ages were down in Witter Hall working hard to unload and sort.  It was a truly amazing sight.

 

I cannot begin to say how proud I am of the many ways that members of St. Luke’s have put their faith into action by loving God and loving our neighbors.  You are doing the work of Jesus Christ.  You are living sermons that proclaim the Good News that God has come among us in Jesus to rescue and renew.  

 

Many of us have been concerned that the national news media has largely ignored this disaster.  But via social media, the word has spread far and wide.  I was even contacted by a priest in the Church of Ireland with whom I’ve corresponded over the years.  He recently offered Mass for St. Luke’s in Belfast Cathedral.  We are remembered by people all over the world who care and who are holding us in their prayers.  

 

A few days after the flooding started, I met an elderly African American lady who had lost everything.  And yet, she was filled with faith and hope for the future.  Knowing all of the unrest we’ve experienced this summer in Baton Rouge, she looked me in the eyes and said: “I think God wants to use this to bring us all together.” 

 

She’s right.  God does want to use this tragedy to bring us all together.  

 

Just as flood waters don’t discriminate on the basis of income, wealth, race, gender, politics, or creed, our call is to care for others regardless of who they are.  Just as God reached out to all persons through his Son Jesus, God wants us to reach out in love to everybody who’s hurting and needy.  

 

To do that, we have to rely on our faith and the hope that it gives us for the future.  Our ultimate hope is in God.  We need to remember how to act on that hope so that it bears the fruits of righteousness in lives restored to fullness of life.  

 

Our scripture reading today from the prophet Isaiah points us in the right direction.  It’s a passage that addresses issues God’s people faced when they returned from exile and had to rebuild their lives.  

 

You may recall that in the 6th Century B.C., the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem.  They demolished the Temple.  They destroyed the Davidic monarchy.  They hauled the Israelites out of their homes, carrying them off to a place whose language, customs, and religious practices were alien.  Losing the land, the monarchy, the Temple, and their homes, the Babylonian Exile destroyed the outward and visible signs of God’s presence and favor.  The feelings of abandonment and desolation for the Israelites must have been overwhelming.  They lost everything but their lives.  

 

But now, after nearly 60 years of exile, the people have returned to the ruins of their homeland.  Now they must begin the long, hard work of rebuilding.  

 

Precisely because the work of beginning again can be so hard, people can get discouraged.  Sometimes, in the face of so many needs, people can be tempted to take shortcuts that leave the destitute and the vulnerable behind.  

 

And so, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God offers this counsel to His people:

 

“If you get rid of unfair practices,

   quit blaming victims,

   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

   and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

   your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

   I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places - 

   firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,

   a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,

   rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

   restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

  [and] make the community livable again.”  (Isaiah 58: 9-12)

 

There’s a lot to unpack here.  But it can all be summarized by saying: Act justly.  

 

Resist temptations to take moral shortcuts.  Don’t take advantage of the vulnerable.  Don’t focus on other people’s shortcomings by pointing fingers of blame.  

 

Instead, God calls us in the weeks and months to come to be as generous in responding to needs as we were during and in the immediate aftermath of the flooding.  

 

Feed the hungry.  Rescue the oppressed.  Befriend the lost and the lonely.  Make friends with strangers.  And when things get difficult and people make mistakes, resist the temptation to assign blame.  Instead of asking who’s right and who’s wrong, ask: Who is hurting?  Who is hungry?  Who needs a safe place?  Who needs help?  Reach out with open hands and open hearts.  

 

That’s what it looks like to act justly.

 

But there’s a second part of God’s counsel to His people who must rebuild their lives and begin again.  And that can be summarized by saying: keep Sabbath.  

 

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, here’s how God puts it:

 

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath

   and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,

If you treat the Sabbath as a day for joy,

   God’s holy day as a celebration,

If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’

   making money, running here and there - 

Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!

   Oh, and I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14)

 

There’s an important reminder here that in the aftermath of disaster and in the midst of rebuilding, it is imperative that we honor God by making time for worship on our Sabbath: Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day on which we remember and give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus, the One in whom all of our hopes find their fulfilment.  For by coming together to worship God, we will find our strength renewed and our hopes for the future restored.  We need that if we’re going to move forward together! 

 

I think the call to keep Sabbath also includes the need we all will have in the coming weeks and months to take time out from the busyness and the stress of rebuilding.  We must not push ourselves too hard.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  We must take time for rest.  We must make it a priority to take time apart to keep company with God in prayer and meditation on a daily basis, lest we burn ourselves out.  

 

Act justly and keep Sabbath.  

 

That’s God’s counsel to us as we work to begin again.  

 

We are now rebuilding and raising up the foundations for future generations.  

 

We are repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in.  And just as God was with His people who had to rebuild in the past, God is with us today.  

 

God will show us where to go.  

 

He will give us fullness of life in even the emptiest of places.  

 

And out of the darkness and destruction, God will bring the beauty and joy of new life for us all.  

 

Stay strong.  Keep the faith.  Pray without ceasing.  Hold on to one another.  Act justly.  Keep sabbath.  

 

And remember that bidden or unbidden, God is among us to comfort and sustain, to guide and protect, and to bring to fulfillment His perfect will for the renewal of all things.  

Faith After the Flood

by Fr. Bryan Owen

August 18, 2016

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  …  Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:1-2, 4).

Dear People of God,

 

The recent devastating flooding that has affected all of our lives has left us shaken, heartbroken, and grieving.  So many have suffered damage to homes and the loss of vehicles and treasured possessions.  The sheer magnitude of what has happened, and the pressing needs of thousands of people, is staggering.  It will take months and perhaps years to fully recover.  

 

It sometimes feels like it’s too much to bear.  But we will make it through this.  We will do it together as a St. Luke’s church and school family.  We will do it as fellow citizens of the great state of Louisiana.  And we will do it by relying on our faith in a God who knows us each by name, who loves us, who cherishes us as precious, and who promises that the waters of affliction and the fires of adversity will not take us down.

 

God will see us through this.  He’s already doing it through people who are reaching out in love and concern to all who have been affected.  And He will continue to do so by giving us the strength and the perseverance we need to move forward.

 

As a church, St. Luke’s will continue to find ways to be a part of this important work of living our faith by bringing hope and healing to those needing help to rebuild their lives. So many of you have already participated in those efforts by cleaning out flood-damaged homes, making food, giving money to the clergy discretionary funds, and contributing supplies for needy police officer families.  Thank you!  

 

Please continue to be on the lookout for other opportunities to live our faith by reaching out in love to the needy in our church and our community. We will communicate that information via the church website and church emails.

 

I feel blessed to be a part of the St. Luke’s community. When the call goes out to St. Luke’s to help, you can be counted on to respond.  It’s a moving example of putting our faith into action. I am proud of the many ways we are living out our mission of caring for one another as God in Christ cares for us.  

 

As we work our way into the recovery and rebuilding phase of this disaster, I invite you to add the following prayer to your daily prayers: 

 

Dear Lord, we pray for those whose lives have been devastated by rain and flood. Protect the vulnerable. Strengthen the weak. Give comfort to the grieving. Bring relief to the suffering. And may our response to all in need be generous and such as would bring you praise. Amen.

 

Love and blessings to you all,

 

Fr. Bryan 

A Time for Hope and Healing

by Fr. Bryan Owen

August 5, 2016

 

Dear People of God,

 

On the afternoon after the funeral service for Cpl. Montrell Jackson, I was leaving the church office when I noticed two men standing outside of a white vehicle in the staff parking lot.  I didn’t recognize them, so I walked over to introduce myself.  It turned out that they were police officers.  I asked if they were from Baton Rouge.  One of them responded: “No. We’re from San Francisco.”

 

These officers had driven to Baton Rouge all the way from San Francisco to attend all three of the funerals in the wake of the July 17 shootings.  And they were preparing to make the long journey home.  

 

What a powerful reminder that people all over the country care.  And they are holding us in their prayers.

 

I’ve even heard twice from an Anglican priest in the Church of Ireland with whom I’ve corresponded over the years.  He grew up in Belfast, so he knows more than he would like about social strife and violence.  He remembered St. Luke’s and Baton Rouge in the intentions at the Mass in his church.  

 

What a powerful reminder that people all over the world care.  And they are holding us in their prayers.

 

It’s important to hold on to these experiences and relationships.  Because these are concrete ways in which the hope we have in Christ take on “flesh” with the power to strengthen us for anything that may lie ahead.  God calls us to live our faith as “ambassadors for Christ” who exercise “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). That’s not the work of news cycles, but of decades.  

 

St. Luke’s is taking steps to exercise this ministry of reconciliation in the larger community.  That started recently with a breakfast we hosted for the Chief of Police, many of his uniformed officers, as well as clergy, civic, and other leaders from our city.  We had about 40-50 people in attendance.  We had fellowship over wonderful food.  And we had a very frank and honest conversation about what our law enforcement officers need, what our fears and anxieties are, and how we need to begin moving forward together.  

We all walked away with a renewed sense of hope for the future, and with the confidence that working together we can experience the healing our city needs. 

We will continue this journey with our police neighbors and others in the community in the coming weeks and months.  Again, this is not the work of news cycles, but the work of decades.  

So please pray that we may have the patience to stay the course.  Pray that we may have the wisdom to discern God’s will and the courage to pursue it.  Pray that our efforts may bear the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

To aid in our prayers, I want to call your attention to a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer that I find myself returning to again and again.  I invite you to include this prayer in your daily walk with Christ.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

 

 

Blessings,

Fr. Bryan

"Go and Do Likewise":

Being Good Samaritans in a Time of Social Strife

 

by Fr. Bryan Owen

July 15, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

I’m sharing below the text of my sermon for Sunday, July 10.  I preached this sermon in the wake of the shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, and the protests that began occurring across the nation (including here in Baton Rouge just up the street from St. Luke’s at the intersection of Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway).  The sermon is an initial attempt to provide a biblically faithful pastoral response.  I offer it in the hope that all of us will continue to pray and work for the peace, healing, reconciliation, and justice that God wills. 

 

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Bryan

Independence Day Reflection On Freedom

 

by Fr. Bryan Owen

July 1, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

As we observe Independence Day on July 4 and celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, I’m reminded that freedom is not free.  Freedom comes at a cost.  We do well to remember the many persons who have fought, defended, and died for the cause of freedom.  And we do well to remember that we can lose our freedom through abuse or neglect. 

 

Our freedom as Christians has also come at a cost: the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be set free from bondage to our sins and from the futility of trying to make ourselves okay with God.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been rescued from sin and death, we have been restored to right relationship with God, and we have been given the gifts of the Spirit to enable us to be “servants to one another in love” and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 5:13, 6:2). 

 

Sometimes liberty gets equated with license, as though the point is to cast aside accountability to external authorities and mutual obligations for the pursuit of gratification.  Such a view of freedom finds expression in the maxim: “I get to do what I want, when I want, how I want so long as I don’t hurt anybody else.”  It’s an essentially self-centered exercise.

 

But Christian freedom is about the obligation and the joys of placing service above self.  A Christian view of freedom finds apt expression in our Baptismal Covenant vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons by loving our neighbors as ourselves (cf. The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305).  This understanding of freedom is Christ-centered and neighbor-centered. 

 

When we forget that true freedom finds its highest expression in service to causes greater than ourselves, that our rights entail responsibilities to others, and that we are not the masters of our own lives, we lose our life-giving connections with God and with each other.  We lose a sense of meaning and purpose in life.  And we dishonor the memories of predecessors in Church and Society who have made great sacrifices.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that we are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  As disciples of Jesus, our calling is to illumine the true meaning of freedom in a world enthralled by the tyrannies of political dictators and unbridled individualism.  We do that best by serving the most needy, poor, and vulnerable members of our world.

 

That’s the exercise of freedom that embodies the self-giving love of Jesus Christ on the cross.  And by putting that self-giving love into practice, we fulfill our Prayer Book’s petition that we “use our liberty in accordance with [God’s] gracious will” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 258).

 

May God bless our nation and every member of the St. Luke’s family this Independence Day.

 

Yours in Christ,

   Fr. Bryan Owen

Something New for Fr. Lamb

 

by Fr. Bryan Owen

May 27, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

I’m writing with news about Fr. Watson Lamb, who has served as our Curate and Day School Chaplain since May 2013.

 

As you may know, a Curate typically works in a parish church under the supervision of a Rector for approximately 2-3 years.  Following that model, Fr. Lamb and his family would be moving on to new opportunities at this time, and I would be well into the process of interviewing candidates for the next Curate/Day School Chaplain.

 

As I have worked with Fr. Lamb over the past three years, I have come to deeply value his thoughtfulness, his faithfulness, his willingness to work hard and go the extra mile, and his love and care for our church and day school.  He is a solid preacher, teacher, and pastoral caregiver who has earned the trust and respect of church members and everyone associated with the day school.  He has also brought much-needed stability to the relationship between the church and the day school.  And at a time when we are entering one of the biggest transitions with our day school in over 20 years, that stability is all the more crucial as we welcome Greg Hutchinson as the next Head of School. 

 

Accordingly, I have replaced the title of "Curate" with "Assisting Priest" for Fr. Lamb.  He will also retain the title and duties of "Day School Chaplain."  But Fr. Lamb is a Curate no more!

 

As an Assisting Priest, Fr. Lamb will continue to share in the preaching, teaching, liturgical, sacramental, pastoral care, and administrative aspects of parish life.  And as the Day School Chaplain, Fr. Lamb will continue to serve the spiritual needs of our school’s students, families, teachers, and staff.  Since the day school is a principal mission of the church, Fr. Lamb helps keep the two connected so that the day school can fulfill its mission with appropriate support from the church.

 

I am very grateful for Fr. Lamb’s ministry among us.  And I am excited that Fr. Lamb and his family will still be with us at St. Luke's.  I know that eventually, in God's good time, he will be called to move on to new opportunities.  But until that day comes, the Lambs will continue to bless us with their presence and their gifts for ministry. 

 

Yours in Christ,

   Fr. Bryan Owen

Hospitality: Loving Jesus by Loving the Stranger

 

by Fr. Bryan Owen

May 20, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

One of the big themes of the Bible is the mandate to welcome and love the strangers who come among us.  “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).  This idea goes all the way back to the Old Testament, including God’s command to the Israelites to love the stranger.  And why?  Because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).  Therefore, share with others the welcome you yourselves have received.

 

That’s what the Christian practice of hospitality is all about.  In fact, the word “hospitality” in the New Testament literally means “love of strangers.”  So when we reach out in welcome to strangers - to persons we don’t know or who are new to our church - we are putting the love of Jesus into action.

 

Hospitality was central to Jesus’ ministry as he gathered at table, eating and drinking with strangers, the marginalized, the outcast, and the lost, forming relationships that helped welcome people into God’s kingdom, and transforming outsiders to the covenant into members of God’s household.

 

But Jesus took it another step by identifying himself with the stranger.  “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” he said (Matthew 25:35).  “I was an outsider and you received me into your group.”  “I was a newcomer who didn’t know anybody here, I was anxious and afraid you might not even notice me, and you made me feel at home.” 

 

Every time we show hospitality to strangers, every time we reach out in love to welcome a newcomer or guest, we welcome Jesus himself.

 

All of us were once strangers to the faith and outsiders to this community of St. Luke.  But because someone invited us, because someone reached out to us, because someone introduced themselves and welcomed us, we’ve found a home at St. Luke’s where we belong.

 

Imagine how different all of our lives would be if that kind of hospitality, if that kind of welcoming love, had not been extended.  Imagine how many of the people in this place we’ve come to know and love as brothers and sisters in Christ might not have come back if nobody had noticed them and opened their hearts to them.  Imagine how much poorer our lives would be if that had happened.

 

As your Rector, my great hope is to see the spirit of Christ’s hospitality so pervade St. Luke’s that in everything we do we regularly ask ourselves:

 

  • How are we doing at inviting others?

  • How are we doing at welcoming the stranger in our midst?

  • How are we doing at connecting newcomers into our church family?

  • And how can we improve?

 

May God give us eyes to see the stranger in our midst.  May God give us hearts willing to welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And may the Holy Spirit instill within us a restlessness to continually invite, welcome, and connect strangers into this part of Christ’s flock, that they may find a place among us as part of the St. Luke’s family.

 

Blessings,

 

Fr. Bryan

Honoring Amy Whitley

 

by Fr. Bryan Owen

May 6, 2016

Dear People of God,

 

It’s hard to believe that another school year is coming to an end. The time seems to go by faster each year! 

 

The ending of this school year is particularly bittersweet because, after serving as the head of St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School for 20 years, Amy Whitley will move on to new opportunities. 

 

As Head of School, Amy has served countless children and families, as well as staff and teachers.  And since the Day School is an extension of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and a ministry of the Gospel, Amy’s work has been a means by which God’s love and grace has been made manifest, and particularly for children that have such a special place in our Lord’s heart.

 

Going well beyond administrative duties, Amy has served as a mentor and guide.  She’s been a teacher and facilitator.  She’s been a visionary who has always been looking to the future to insure that our school continually strives for excellence and remains competitive.  She’s encouraged personal and professional growth by modeling that growth in her own life.  She’s kept the ship afloat and on course in both good and challenging times.  She has poured her heart and soul into our beloved school, and she leaves a legacy of integrity and excellence that will continue bearing fruit for many years to come.  

 

I want to be clear to say that while Amy will soon be moving on from the position of Head of School, she is not retiring.  As a good steward of the manifold grace of God, Amy will continue using the gifts she has received to serve God’s people.  It will be a blessing to see where God now calls her. 

 

We give thanks for Amy’s long and rich tenure as Head of School.  And as a church family we will soon have an opportunity to personally express our thanks to Amy. 

 

On Sunday, May 15 we will recognize the 8th graders who will graduate from our school and we will honor Amy during the 9 o’clock service.  We will also have a reception in Pope Hall during the 10 o’clock hour that Sunday.

 

Please join us on Sunday, May 15 as we recognize our Day School graduates and honor Amy for her years of faithful service as Head of School.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Fr. Bryan

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ST. LUKE'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH   8833 Goodwood Boulevard   Baton Rouge, LA 70806   (225) 926-5343

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Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana