October 15, 2023 — The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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The Feast of St. Luke (translated)

The only other congregation I have led was St. Paul’s in Sparks, Nevada.  Every year the Feast of St. Paul falls on June 29 and is the custom in the Episcopal Church, this was known as our patronal feast day, in other words, our namesake day.  This was a bit tricky for many reasons including that it fell just as summer vacation started.  Also, the feast is traditionally associated with ordinations and then there are the difficulties many people have with not only the temperament but the teachings of St. Paul.

It has been with great relief that for the past 8 years, the patronal feast of the congregation I lead is Luke, the physician, evangelist and friend of the poor.  It was not always so for this Ballard congregation.  When we were first formed in 1891, we were called St. Stephen’s and were located on NW 52nd on the other side of 15th.  Initially St. Stephen’s grew but then it declined and eventually was down to a membership of just one woman and her dog.  The building was closed and eventually torn down and the congregation became homeless.

Yet, the Spirit was still alive and after years meeting in a variety of places, we became a mission of Trinity Parish and were renamed St. Luke’s.  Our current chapel was dedicated in 1924.  So far in my research, I don’t know why the name was changed to St. Luke’s.  There are already four other St. Luke’s in the Diocese of Olympia so they weren’t trying to be original!

Here we are, the congregation of St. Luke’s nearly 100 years after the dedication of that second church building.  We have been through times of boom and bust.  On numerous occasions, as recently as 2015, the church was in danger of being closed.  At other times St. Luke’s has been a trailblazer, the center of dynamic ministry and the place to watch for new developments.  We have fluctuated from a membership of a dozen to as many as 1,500.  We have remained through the many changes in this neighborhood, in the church and in our world.  Even now we are planning for the next hundred years, unsure of what that time may bring but following the Spirit’s leading to new ways of being church.

What unites us as a congregation?  What allows us to identify with our ancestors in the faith over these past 130 years?  What is the vision that guides our path and the mission that energizes us to continue?  The key themes for this community can be found in the gospel and writings of our patron saint, Luke.

Let’s begin with his ethnic and national identity.  Luke is believed to be a Gentile and yet one whose life and self-understanding is firmly located within Judaism.  This is so important to understand and accept as we hear about the current desperate situation in Israel and Gaza.  Identifying as either Jew or Gentile, Israeli or Palestinian, doesn’t need to automatically result in animosity and violence.  These are people who have dwelled together over centuries and whose existence is intertwined.

Luke, the Gentile is able to quote from Hebrew Scripture, honor the Jewish Sabbath and be familiar with synagogue practice.  He evidences a deep respect for the faith tradition of Jesus and may himself be a convert to Judaism.  In fact, his closest association is as a disciple of St. Paul whom he travelled with and ministered to.  Luke and Paul were very different in background and outlook and yet united by their common love for Jesus.

It is possible not to be either/or but rather both/and in our willingness to live together with respect and even love for our neighbors.  It is possible to condemn violence, judgement, prejudice and oppression without hating those whose nation or organization is responsible for these actions.  In the midst of a horrific war, it is worth remembering that peaceful co-existence is possible as long as violence is condemned and ended.

Luke shows us that this is possible in first century Israel/Palestine and now in Russia/Ukraine, Sudan/South Sudan and even the U.S. House of Representatives.

The theme and practice of healing has always been associated with St. Luke.  He was believed to be a physician and his detailed and accurate descriptions of those suffering from illness or impediment show an intimate acquaintance with the many ways we are wounded in body, mind and spirit.  He knows Jesus to be the Great Physician, the healer of our souls.

He notices how Jesus touches the leper, puts mud on the blind man’s eyes, puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf and raised up the woman bent over double.  Jesus could heal with a word, from a distance, instead Jesus gets up close and personal with those who are suffering to not only deliver us from our physical infirmities but to free us from all that prevents us from being our fullest selves.

This congregation believes in the power of prayer, in the efficacy of getting up close and personal with those who are hurting.  We are not afraid to lay hands on those seeking healing.  We don’t walk on the other side of the street from those who are rejected by society.  St. Luke’s opens its doors, heart and hands to the wounded.

Some are wounded by life’s circumstances, tragic childhoods, trauma, prejudice, poverty and neglect.  Here they find a welcome, dignity and the hope of acceptance.  We are the community where those whose sexual identity has been rejected by religious groups find a spiritual home.  We are the place where those who have been damaged by living unsheltered are equally valued and loved as those who look outwardly respectable.

Some of you aren’t aware of the deep ministry of healing prayer and relationship that is foundational to our identity.  Each week a group gathers to pray for one another, the congregation, community and the world.  Some of the members themselves live in long-term care facilities and with disabilities.  Some are immuno-compromised and unable to come to church in person.  Some live in small towns where there is no church that will accept them and the people they love so they have found a home with us online.  This ongoing ministry of prayer undergirds every activity, every person associated with St. Luke’s.

Luke’s gospel is my favorite.  Coupled with the Acts of the Apostles, which Luke also composed, these books more than any others focus on the marginalized.  In them women are named and take leadership roles in the community.  The poor are lifted up and honored as in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, where only the poor man receives a name and dignity.  In his gospel, Luke has Jesus quoting from Isaiah to make his own mission clear right from the beginning.

This vision will be about proclaiming good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight and freedom for the oppressed.  This good news is about God’s favor falling upon the least, the last and the lost.  This is the gospel where the prodigal is welcomed back home, Mary sings her Magnificat on behalf of the lowly and the resurrected Christ appears first to women.

Often visitors to St. Luke’s have two repeated observations.  First they notice how much of the leadership is female.  (I deliberately asked three different men to preach the last three Sundays to make sure we had some male representation!)  The other thing visitors notice is the presence of people from all walks of life and every economic level.  Some are made uncomfortable by one or both of these characteristics and they look for another church.  But those of you who stay and let yourself be touched by this beautiful, beloved community experience some of what Luke describes of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles where no one goes hungry, people of every tribe and language and culture are welcome and God binds us into one not only with people who are not like us but even with those we don’t like!

Finally, if you’re reading Luke, you can’t miss the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amazing things are always happening.  People give up their goods to help one another.  The disciples speak in tongues so that everyone can hear the message of God’s love in Christ.  Healing happens.  Jail doors are opened.  Forgiveness and reconciliation take place in the most unlikely relationships.

Over and over, when this congregation has been at its lowest, desperately wondering if we will have the strength to carry on, the Spirit has lifted us up, provided miraculously above anything we could ask or imagine and set us on a new path.  As I often say, when I write the book on the past decade at St. Luke’s, we’ll title it Ten Amazing Things Before Lunch and I’ve got the stories and journal entries to fill it up!  Since I first arrived, our older members have reminded me that “The Spirit isn’t done with St. Luke’s” and they’ve certainly been correct.

Now we are launching the first capital campaign in decades as we plan for affordable housing and our new church and multi-use program space.  I know that some of you wonder how this little congregation will ever meet the goal of raising $1.7million.  It seems utterly outrageous and I myself feel a bit overwhelmed by the numbers. 

But the title of the campaign says it all, “Building a place where love dwells.”  We can do that.  We know how to do that.  We live it out every single day at the Edible Hope Kitchen and in our worship and programs.  We know how to make room for everyone and to welcome in those who have been disillusioned by the church or life’s circumstances.  We know what we need to do to make space for individuals and families who can’t afford to live in this neighborhood.  We just need to give up the value of our expensive real estate so that affordable homes can be built.

And we know how to pray for and expect the Spirit to work in our midst.  Just this past week we raised over $90,000 for the Edible Hope Kitchen and donations are still coming in.  And as we begin the congregational phase of this capital campaign, we already have both gifts and pledges totally $420,000.  We are already halfway through our congregational goal of $850,000 over three years.

In January, we will take “Building a Place Where Love Dwells” out to the diocese and the larger community to raise the second $850,000 through gifts and grants.  Bishop Melissa has already agreed to co-chair this part of the campaign and before we even put out any materials or a giving card, we received a $60,000 pledge.  We believe the gifts are already there by God’s gracious provision.

Over the next few weeks you will hear testimony from those whose lives have been changed by St. Luke’s.  There will be a forum each month after worship to share what the Spirit is doing as we move forward in faith and you will be invited to participate in both our regular annual giving campaign and in the capital campaign that will secure the future of this blessed, beloved community for the next one hundred years.

When I came to St. Luke’s in 2015 I was disillusioned.  I had spent 10 years in diocesan leadership dealing with bureaucracy, conflict, decline, policies and procedures.  The joy of my priesthood had diminished and my spiritual life was floundering.  What I found here was a very small but mighty group of disciples who really believe that the Spirit is alive, it is a joy to serve others and that we can trust God to provide. 

I have now served at St. Luke’s longer than I have remained in any position in my career.  I have no plans to leave until God calls me home or I can at least see the promised land and turn over the keys to someone younger.  I’m planning on making a significant commitment of time, talent and treasure so that we can build a place where love dwells for the next hundred years and I ask you to join me.

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