Worship Planning Conversation

What do you like about Worship at St. Luke? What would you like more of? Join us for a worship planning conversation this Wed., April 13th, at 1pm in Pastor Janet’s office as we look ahead to worship opportunities for the summer and beyond! ALL are welcome! (You don’t need to have a worship or musical background, just be willing to share your experiences and hopes!) If you can’t make it on Wednesday, but have thoughts to share, contact Pastor Janet! Your feedback is welcome!

From Tehran to St Luke

We are enriched by the diverse experiences, backgrounds and gifts of people who come to church. Meet Leyla! She’s one of several new young adult members who are Persian in background – in fact, on her first Sunday here she witnessed the baptism of another young woman from Iran.

I was born on January 4th 1979 in Tehran.  I was 2 months old when my father, who was an employee of Iran Air, was assigned to Rome, Italy. My family and I lived in Italy for 10 years and then my father was re-assigned to the Iran Air office in Manchester, UK. We lived there for 2 years, after which he was re-assigned again to United Arab Emirate Iran Air office.  We lived in UAE for three years.

My father had a very close Italian friend who was a faithful Catholic.  He would invite my father  to different ceremonies they had at their local church. He would talk to my Dad about Jesus and argue on the facts and basic teachings with my Dad.   My parents were never Muslims.  They identified with the actual Persian religion Zoroastrianism. But my Dad started researching and studying Jesus and Christianity more and eventually he and my Mum converted to Christianity and got baptized in Rome around 1982. From that point on I remember practicing the faith and going to church together, but somehow I don’t remember getting officially baptized.

I was eleven years old and a school child when under the influence of one of my teachers I became interested in Buddhism and tried to live as a Buddhist. My family never persuaded me in any way to follow a certain religion and the choice of religion was left up to me, as long as I knew and understood what I believed in. The only suggestion from my parents came in the form of gift of a number of books about other religions to consider or review.  This was when I was 17 years old, a time when we had to move to Iran and live there for a while.

As I read each of these books my opinion about the various religions changed.  In some instances I was “in favor” and in other instances “not in favor” of a particular religion. Of course there was a common thread between all these religions as to the creation and the creator. However, there were major differences as to how the creator rewards and punishes those who disregard the teaching of a particular religion. After I completed reading all these books my perception of different religions changed considerably. I found out some of the religious teachings advocate humanity, friendship, forgiveness and love while other religions advocate rather harsh teachings.  At this point my Mum was a bit worried and kept on talking to me about Jesus and his love and told me to just think about it and read the bible. I was confused, because I did believe in Jesus as a child, but I was also attracted to what my Buddhism teacher had taught me.

In 2003 I traveled to Ukraine.  On Sundays I started to attend some Christian Churches.  I could not understand the sermons given in Latin, but I used to have a sense of tranquility and peace while in the Church and after I left the services. I remembered how I always felt this feeling from the time when I was a little girl, and that was what my Dad had felt in having accepted Jesus in his heart. I was getting back to my actual faith. In 2009 I moved to Moscow and while I lived there I continued my education online with Liverpool University in England. My student advisor Mark was a very interesting person. Every time we talked about my course schedule and my academic issues we ended up discussing religion and in particular, Christianity. We discussed Christianity for hours at a time and very soon we became very good friends. When Mark and his wife traveled to Moscow they brought me a gift; a Bible in Farsi. Reading the Bible in my language helped me to comprehend the teaching of Christ as I never understood it before. When they were leaving, Mark asked if I had truly accepted Jesus as my Savior in my heart, not just because my parents were Christians and I had to. While we gathered to pray, I suddenly realized that I had accepted him truly in my heart and was ready to seek God’s Kingdom through Christ. I continued to attend the nearest church to my home, and study more about the bible.

My parents were finally happy and at peace but I always felt something was missing. Not being officially baptized, I felt it wasn’t real. But I couldn’t be baptized because I lived in Dubai and was an Iranian.  If I were to be baptized, they would consider me to be an apostate, and I would receive the death penalty!

But when I moved to America,  baptism was my priority after settling. When I joined St.Luke my whole life felt different. Attending sermons regularly and in English was a dream come true. My baptism changed my whole life, as it gave me the feeling of being reborn. My faith got stronger as well, and made a new life with so many obstacles much easier.

Especially at St.Luke, I feel like I’m close to my family, I feel so welcomed. I’m blessed. I can’t thank everybody enough, for making me a part of the family and teaching me more  about my beliefs every time I’m here.

The surpassing value of knowing Christ

A theme for Lent, 2013

This image is from a Giotto crucifixion scene.  St Luke members were inspired by a recent visit to the Giotto exhibit at the Getty.

This image is from a Giotto crucifixion scene. St Luke members were inspired by a recent visit to the Giotto exhibit at the Getty.

“… I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him …” from Philippians 3

It may be that we’re in recovery from the “great recession,” but it sometimes seems like it’s just hit. We’re still adapting to what seems like a different world. The relevant adage is “count your blessings.” I don’t know that we need to keep score, but there may be wisdom in noticing, whatever may be happening in my life, how amazing it really is that I get to spend an afternoon with this person. Or, what a blessing it is, that as I sit here taking in the Ocean with my eyes, it’s so warm, and it’s Winter!

So to the question for Lent: do we think about faith this way? It seems to me that you do. Whether it’s a generous gift towards a new organ or showing up week after week to fold lengthy bulletins, you show how much you are committed to and value faith in Christ. Paul, writing from prison in the text above (which we’ll be hearing one Sunday this Lent) writes about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” God has made a connection with us so vital, so rich in blessing, that all of life is new. We are constantly finding new reasons to give thanks, and finding that what seemed important before is thrown into perspective.
The season of Lent (“Spring”) originated as a time for candidates to prepare for baptism at Easter – the bath where we die to sin and arise to eternal life. Lent is about dying to sin: saying “what was need no longer be.” I think of stories about early converts from paganism losing social acceptance and familiar gods, “suffering the loss of all things … in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
And what gain! I pray that Lent be a time when we discover in new ways what we gain in knowing Christ. In the Sundays to come, notice how often the assigned readings In the Sundays to come, notice how often the assigned readings invite us to consider gain and loss in the life of faith:
-Jesus refuses what the devil offers, to do the will of God for us;
-God calls to the waters and wisdom of salvation, freely given
– A prodigal son loses everything, but not the embrace of his father
-A woman squanders expensive perfume on Jesus before his death.
Also, in daily devotions and in midweek prayer, we consider the “Seven Wonders of the Word.”

Worship Matters – learning opportunity and theme, Epiphany and the Sundays following …


A brief course-book “developed to help participants grow into a richer understanding of the foundations of Lutheran worship. With a focus on the principal gathering around word and sacrament, this course explores the foundational questions about why we gather, how we encounter God in worship, and how that encounter shapes our response in both our communities and our world. Topics include the Church Year, the Lectionary, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Corporate Prayer, Worship and Culture, and more.”
We’ll have a stack available, $7 each, check made out to St Luke for: Christian education.

Why do you go to worship? Why does your church use so many scripture readings? Why do you have communion every Sunday? Always pray the Lord’s prayer right before?

You’re new to church, you come in and someone hands you a bulletin: page after page of songs, prayers, standing, sitting, italicized instructions, and you think to yourself “what is all this?” It may feel like you’ve just walked into orchestra practice, viola in hand, and been given a score. It’s perhaps a good parallel: we’re not here as an audience at a show, but as participants, to play: and there is depth and richness to these traditions, songs,and how it all fits together. And yet, it’s really pretty simple, and life-giving, as we learn it.

Each Sunday, from January 6th to February 10th:

  • During worship, scripture and sermon as well as bulletin front cover and interior text will help explain one aspect of worship – so we think about what we do in a new way.
  • At around 9:45am (between services) there will be opportunities for training in various aspects of worship assistance, including two new roles: homebound communion distribution, and assisting minister (see below).
  • “Worship Matters,” an accessible new curriculum / book from Augsburg Fortress – written by young leaders in the ELCA – will be made available and connect to Sunday worship and discussions.

January 6th –Why Do We Worship?
“Minimalist Worship Service” – this one Sunday, worship is simplified to the bare essence of what we do. (Think of a Japanese teahouse with bare floor and simple furnishings …)
Scripture: Wise men come from the East to worship Jesus.
Themes: Why worship? Is it required when you’re a Christians? Why do we worship with this pattern, which is so different from other Christians? Does it really matter?

January 13th – Encountering God in Word.
Scripture: At Jesus’ baptism, he hears a voice: “this is my Son the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Themes: What’s the “Word of God,” and what does it have to do with the Bible? Why do we use a lectionary of assigned readings? What’s a sermon, and what do I listen for? Why follow seasons of the church year?
Training: Lectors, possibly Cantors / Song leaders.

January 19th (Saturday), 10am, fellowship hall – Communion instruction for kids. Instruction in the meaning and practice of Holy Communion is lifelong! For those kids (age 6 and up) who haven’t begun this learning, join us for this fun, interactive time of learning with Pastor Hillesland!

January 20th – Encountering God in the Sacraments
Scripture: At Cana Jesus turns water into wine.
Themes: What’s a Sacrament? Mystery or Magic? Closer look at the Rite of Holy Communion – why every week? What do all those prayers mean before Communion? Why kneel? Stand?
Training, introducing a new ministry: Communion to homebound members. Once a month (or as often as we can) the congregation – during worship – prays over bread and wine, body and blood of Christ, as they are sent out among people who can’t make it to church. That day, or shortly thereafter, volunteers bring the sacrament. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected beyond our doors! Join us if you are interested in learning about this ministry – no commitment necessary.

January 27th – RIC Sunday. Paul says every part of the body is necessary to worship. On this Sunday – celebrated in common by Reconciled in Christ congregations throughout the nation – we recommit to our welcome statement.

February 3rd – Worship and the World.
Scripture: Jeremiah and Jesus are sent into the world. Paul says “love does not insist on its own way.”
Themes: What does worship have to do with love for our neighbor? Why do we sing music from other cultures?
Training: Ushers and Greeters.

February 10th – Prayer and Praise.
Scripture: On the mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples came to silence in the presence of God.
Themes: Posture and gestures in worship (kneeling, prayer, sign of the cross). What’s the prayer of the day? Why do we do intercessions that way? Where is there silence in worship?
Training: new role, Assisting Ministers – a new role for St Luke. Assisting ministers represent the people before God, primarily by preparing and leading the prayers of the people (currently read by lectors). They also lead other prayers, such as the Kyrie, Offertory and Dismissal. They assist at communion. Again, come if you are interested, no commitment necessary.

Confirmation trip to the Cathedral

Last weekend the new confirmation class took a trip out to “Our Lady of the Angels,” the Catholic cathedral in downtown LA. It was fun to have some time together and experience how a modern worship space and community center helps us to rethink Christian faith for today. We spent a good while in a gallery featuring the work of probably the most well known contemporary Christian artist in Los Angeles, John August Swanson – and then discovered he was there, talking about his work.

September 2012 – St James of Jerusalem

By Unknown Russian icon painter of 1809 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this little book tucked in at the end of the Bible. It’s title is “James.” You may flip past it, on your way to more familiar passages, but you miss out. James was an important figure, the head of the church in Jerusalem, also known as “the brother of our Lord.” He speaks of the faith in fresh and sometimes unusual ways.
Of course, what’s unusual can make us nervous! James is famous for being the book that Martin Luther found to be nothing but “straw.” He felt there wasn’t enough “Christ” in it (Lutherans don’t revere the Bible because it’s “holy” in some general way – but because it proclaims Christ, good news). So James has been neglected, almost like a banned book – and now you really want to read it, don’t you!
Why the judgment against James? Paul says “we are justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” James says “faith without works is dead.” Is he contradicting Paul, whom Lutherans love? Another thing about James: he quotes Jesus, but doesn’t talk about Jesus much. James speaks more of “God.” At times, you wonder if James is Jewish, or even a Greek teacher of wisdom. And this makes him all the more interesting today as we learn to “speak” faith – of Jesus, God, religion – in our religiously diverse society. James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” And when James says “unstained by the world,” he means not caught up in the all too prevalent envy and rivalry that leads to poverty and violence. James doesn’t talk about being “Christians” but “friends of God,” our lives open to and gifts shared with others. Because God is for James (in the words of L. T. Johnson) “that open system of giving and reciprocity into which humans have been invited.”
A common New Testament word for such sharing is “koinonia,” which we translate as fellowship or communion. In this ‘red and blue’ polarizing election year with much at stake, let’s celebrate the way God knits us together into a “communion of saints.” Maybe there could be a “saint of the month” or week, beginning with James. We’ll hear the book read and preached on in worship this month, with opportunities for further discussion.