Pastoral Letter from Pastor Jim

Dear Beloved Community at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church,

Not too long ago we received the ashes of previous palm crosses on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, with the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. 

It turns out that was not just the standard ritual that we go through each year to begin the season of Lent. In these last few weeks the meaning of what we did on Ash Wednesday has become a very important spiritual preparation for the unprecedented matters we are all being affected by now. When we face our human limitations during Lent specifically, and throughout our lives as Christians, we are more understanding and able to live well through difficult times like these and the many others that inevitably come.

This is especially true when we know that those ashes mean that our true faith is not placed in anything other than the love of God, and God’s hope for the ongoing healing of all creation, which we celebrate in the high point of the Christian year – Easter.

It certainly is harder to celebrate that when we can’t gather like we are used to, but we can still gather our spirits in other ways like sharing this email and praying after we read it.  We will also be given the opportunity to experience our weekly Sunday worship in a different way too. We are working on a way to both offer a live-stream link to Sunday morning worship that I and Gary Roberts, our musician will lead at a time TBD (once we are sure it will work), and by visiting our website and viewing a recording of our Sunday worship. The bulletin will be emailed out so you can print it and participate along with the service. Please watch for another email tomorrow or Saturday with the final details. 

In the meantime, here are the upcoming scripture readings for Sunday so you can have the Word of God planted in your life before we share them on Sunday. Hey! What a concept! We can open our Bibles and read from them, rather than relying upon the Celebrate insert!  My comments are a result of our weekly Pastor’s Text Study where several Lutheran and Episcopal pastors gather and rotate leadership of the study, so that we can come to a deeper and more scholarly understanding of what we will be preaching on for the coming Sunday.

First Reading:  1 Samuel 16: 1-13  (Pay attention to the theme of anointing here and in John and what it means as a new way of being able to see. Also the idea of speaking the truth in a difficult situation or when it may not be welcome. Also the way God chooses leaders that people don’t expect, but have the underlying characteristics that God hopes people to have.)

Psalm:  Psalm 23 (This is chosen to be read in Lent for its “death and resurrection” themes that play out most dramatically in the approaching Holy Week. Pay attention to what the verse “for you are with me” means to you in these times. This is a theme of this years gospel, Matthew, as well as the Lenten gospels in John that we have this year.  Again the image of anointing in the ancient world had power for the direction and care of their lives – how can this happen to day for you? Also, God “Makes” the psalmist lie down in green pastures. How can you surrender to God’s moving in your life in a way that is more directive and intentional, instead of always giving in to what we think we should do and how we should live? Also, sometimes life presents situations that are beyond our control and the message in this psalm can be a comforting one when that happens. Look for ways that you can “revive your soul” in these anxious times.)

Second Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14  (Light is used as a metaphor for a growing understanding and awareness of who Jesus is and what his message and purpose is. The context for this passage is that it is addressing the cultural battles of the day. Sound familiar? There were very diverse communities coming together in the early Christian church and sometimes that presented problems for how they were supposed to make decisions together and what they were supposed to believe when they disagreed. What are the ways we can bring this Christian heritage and message to the cultural battles of our time?)

Gospel:  John 9:1-41  (In John, sin is not really about the moral failing we often equate it with in our present day understanding. Instead, sin is really more about not being in relationship with God and receiving God’s Word as Jesus offers it. Pay attention to how Jesus corrects the wrong thinking that somehow suffering is deserved because of sin. This is an old tactic that is still heavily used today in the more fundamentalist / televangelist preaching known as the “Prosperity Gospel”, which claims that people just need to live a certain way in order to gain God’s approval and thus enjoy more material blessings. Jesus himself refutes this twisted form of belief in God. Also the theme of washing as a way to healing is a powerful baptismal reminder, which Lent is a traditional time of preparation for.)

Grace and Peace,  Pastor Jim

Special Guest: Grammy Nominated Tammi Brown

Sunday, September 1 at 9:30 Worship

Her beautiful, hair-raising voice has woven itself into the cultural backdrop of the Monterey Bay area. Infused with the raw power of her gospel upbringing, her voice is rich with tone and six-octave range, from sultry tenor to the high peels of soprano. But it’s the goosebumps on the back-of-the-neck affect she has that makes her presence so unforgettable.

Born into the musically fertile atmosphere of the Pentecostal Movement her parents belonged to in Oakland, she started singing her heart out in the kids choir. By the time she was four, she was standing up to play the Hammond organ.

“Within that kind of Christian environment music is everything,” said Brown “Music drives the entire service. Music is so powerful it can work up the entire congregation into a frenzy.”

Hence the goosebumps, which cross the threshold from the Christian environment into the human experience, period. When Brown opened for Joan Baez at the Esalen Institute, Native American Chief Little Bear came up to tell her how profoundly her performance of “Power of Prayer” had affected him. It “opened up a window to my ancestors that had long been closed” he said.

These are all emotions that come out of me from my heart,” Brown said. “when I’m singing, I’m telling a story. It has a lot to do with how you live your life, how you treat other people, the love you show, or the hate you show. All of that comes out as who you are through your voice. You’re turning yourself inside out and showing the world who you are.”

She appears regularly at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, sang with the white Album Ensemble, and opened for Maya Angelou at the Civic Auditorium. She performs at the Monterey Jazz and Blues festivals, and received the 2013 Gail Rich Award for lifetime contribution to the arts and entertainment scene in SC.

There is no doubt that Brown, who calls the Soquel Hills home, is loved and embraced by her community, but it’s critical that we get one thing clear: Tami Brown in no small town singer.

She has performed all over the world, from the storied Appollo Theater in NYC to the Mumbai Stadium in India. She has collaborated with an extensive list of acclaimed artists. Her work with Stanly Jordan on the 2008 tune “Stepppin’ Out” received a Grammy nomination.

Through the pain of losing her mother at an early age, and the challenges of life itself, Tammi found peace in God and the healing power of music. “I found my joy through music … When I’m singing, I’m telling a story.”

From SC Style, Maria Grusauskas

Oktoberfest • September 22, 2018

Oktoberfest September 22, 2018 Poster

Please click the poster image for a full-size view.

Please join us for
Oktoberfest – Santa Cruz Style!

Beer • Wine • Food • Music • Fun

St. Stephen’s is throwing a party for our community, Live Oak, Santa Cruz and beyond.  It’s based on the traditional Oktoberfest started by Ludvig I of Bavaria in 1810 on the occasion of his wedding to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  However, the Oktoberfest Team has added a few 21st century and Santa Cruz touches to make this more than the continuation of a tradition.  Come and see!