Questions and Reflections

Reflection - Children of God Sin

One of the striking claims in this passage from 1 John 3:1-7 is “no one who sins has either seen him or known him” (3:6). This seems to contradict what we heard last week: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1:8). How can the author of 1 John say that the followers of Jesus do not sin and, at the same time, that we need to confess the sins we know we have?

Like I mentioned in my sermon last week, there has been a split in the churches that first wrote and used the gospel according to John. Two groups emerged arguing over the nature of Jesus. The author of 1 John believed Jesus to be fully divine and fully human - all at the same time. The other side believed that Jesus’ divinity is all that mattered. This argument about Jesus impacted how they lived their lives. If Jesus is fully human, then how we live our lives right now matters. If Jesus’ humanity is not important, than what we do today doesn’t really matter in the end. For the author of 1 John, sin (the way we deny Jesus and fail to trust him because we are too busy acting as if we are the center of the universe) impacts our relationship and experience of Jesus. For the other side, sin does not alter their relationship and union with God. This kind of belief encouraged a way of life that did not focus on justice, righteousness, or ethics. It’s a way of life that assumed we’re already “good enough,” and thinks that Jesus (and Jesus’ church) cannot show us a new way of living.

Today’s passage from 1 John begins by proclaiming who, through baptism and faith, you are. You are a child of God. You are, right now, living with a fully human and fully divine Savior who cares about you. You have been adopted into God’s family and God’s family cares about justice, mercy, hope, and love. When we live as authentic children of God, following Jesus and serving each other are just what this family of faith do. But, as imperfect people, we sin. We make mistakes. We fail. But when we admit our faults, we also admit who we belong to. Being with Jesus empowers, inspires, and helps all our relationships with other people because we all struggle. In spite of our identity as Children of God, we will sin. But we trust that the Jesus who lived, died, and rose for us, will keep his promise. The eternal life doesn’t begin only when we did. In Christ, our eternal life starts right now. And the core of that life involves loving God and everyone else.



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We Declare: Church is Hard and Essential [Sermon Manuscript]

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:1-2:2

My sermon from the 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018) on 1 John 1:1-2:2. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So if it’s okay, I’d like to spend some time today with y’all nerding out. But instead of digging into our shared love of comic books or which Star Wars movie is the greatest, I want to take us to another level. I want to spend time with something called P52. Well, P52 is just it’s nickname. It’s full name is Rylands Library Papyrus 52 and it looks like this Slide 1. It’s a 3.5 inch by 2.5 inch piece of papyrus located at John Rylands University in Manchester. And it doesn’t look like much. The papyrus is all brown and fragile. Its edges are jagged and torn. And the words written on it are missing most of their letters. In fact, the whole thing looks like maybe it was tossed in the trash and left in the Egyptian desert for 1900 years - which might actually be what happened. On first glance, P52 looks like a piece of junk. But it isn’t. That, right there, is the earliest written copy of anything we have from the New Testament. What’s on that scrap is the gospel according to John, chapter 18, verses 31-33. And it’s a copy of the gospel, dated to sometime between 125 and 175 CE, just a generation or two after that gospel was first written down. The bible we read today, the scriptures that structure our faith, are connected to that little scrap of papyrus that someone left in a trash can 1900 years ago.

Now, that’s sort of mindblowing, right? I like to nerd out with old papyrus because we see how we are connected to a faith that is bigger than ourselves. Our belief and those moments in our lives when Jesus is very real to us - they are part of a wider reality of faith that includes everyone here and whoever held that piece of papyrus out in the Egyptian desert. As much as we in the church like to talk about our faith being a very personal thing - by using words like “my faith” or “I believe” or even “Jesus loves me” - the faith we have is also a very communal thing. Our faith connects us, unites us, and brings us together into a community that looks to Jesus for its life. What we do in worship today might sound different from what happened in Egypt 1900 years ago, but we are all connected to a Jesus who is both personal and communal. Our faith is not designed to be a solo activity. Our faith is a team sport.

So for the next six weeks, we’re going to hang out in 1 John. 1 John is usually called a letter but it really isn’t. It’s more of a position paper, describing what they think the main themes from the gospel according to John are all about. But whenever someone writes down anything that says “this is what this means,” then we can be sure that there are others who don’t agree. Later on, we’ll discover that there’s been a split in the churches who first wrote and used the gospel according to John. And their disagreement centered on Jesus himself. One group, the larger and more successful of the two, decided that Jesus’ divinity, his status as God’s Son, was the most important part of who Jesus was. And since Jesus’ divinity was all that mattered, they decided that the rest of Jesus’ story - his humanity, his life, and his death - didn’t matter at all. For them, it was as if the opening chapter of the gospel according to John, the bit that described Jesus as being God and present since the beginning, was immediately followed by Easter. Everything in between was almost meaningless. It didn’t matter that Jesus was born. It didn’t matter that he was a teacher who always formed communities. It didn’t matter that he ate meals with people he shouldn’t, argued with the religious authorities, and healed those in need. And it especially didn’t make one lick of difference that Jesus ended up dying on the Cross. For the larger community, this framework created a kind of faith that was very personal, very individualized, and one that didn’t need really need the wider community. Because a faith that only cares about Jesus’ divinity, is a faith that doesn’t really care much about our everyday living. Instead, once that kind of faith feels like it already believes enough, then it starts acting as if life, right now, is meaningless to God. We can then make our life into whatever we want it to be, staying rooted in ourselves alone, and not in fellowship with the rest of the team.

Now, I know this kind of faith sounds a bit odd to us. But imagine if we didn’t have Mark, Matthew, or Luke in our bible. Then a faith that doesn’t pay much attention to Jesus’ life and death is a faith that a certain reading of the gospel according to John, can be possible. It’s a faith that’s centered on me and God and... no one else. It’s a faith that looks to escape the world rather than spend time trying to live in it. And it’s a faith that doesn’t really value community because it doesn’t believe that a community is needed to make people grow. It’s a faith that, in the end, looks for Jesus but ends up leaving Jesus’ community behind.

So, It’s to this larger, more successful, community that the author of 1 John was writing to. 1 John wasn’t written by the side that was the most powerful. And it was a letter that, in the end, didn’t really work at all because the two communities never reunited. 1 John is a piece of writing that failed it’s goal - yet it became part of our bible because, I think, it helped show all of us how faith is a communal effort. What we teach, share, and entrust to the next generation is a faith that grows, changes, and evolves in and through community. The gospel according to John needed Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And Matthew, Mark, and Luke needed the gospel according to John. Even the structure of our scripture itself shows us that we can’t be who God wants us to be unless each of us commit to following Jesus with each other.

And that commitment isn’t always easy. We will disagree with each other. We will see Jesus in different ways. There will be parts of our personal experience of faith that we believe should be essential to everyone, but we’ll discover that the person sitting next to us in these pews doesn’t feel that same way. [Nicolas, like the rest of us, is going to discover that] What makes church hard is that we are called to be with people who aren’t just like us. But that’s also what makes church essential because a faith without community is a faith that will not last.

And so, the author of 1 John, begins his writing in the place where our faith starts: with an honest sharing of what was “from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Our personal story with Jesus - with its struggles, doubts, and joys - is a story that we are asked to share with each other. When we tell our story, we commit ourselves to this community. And when this community listens to these stories, all of us discover a little more of what following this Jesus thing is all about. The person in Egypt hearing about Jesus from P52 had no idea that us, here in Woodcliff Lake, would be talking, and sharing, and following that same Jesus 1900 years later. But the Jesus that gave that person in Egypt life, and breath, and held them through all things - is the same Jesus who is here, with us, forming us into a new community where walking in His light is all that we [including little Nicholas] do.

Amen.

 



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A Reflection for Easter

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! 

It's hard to pick a "favorite" when it comes to the different stories of Jesus' resurrection. But today's reading from the gospel according to Mark 16:1-8 is near the top of my list. If you open up your bible at home, you might notice more verses after these eight. Yet we know that Mark originally ended at this point. Overtime, two different endings were added to the text. One was short, with the women telling others about what they saw (and completely contradicting the verse that came before it). The other ending is much longer, merging together stories from Matthew, Luke, and John. We know this original ending to Mark, with people too afraid to speak, troubled the early church. The early Christians felt compelled to show that the early disciples overcame their fear. And we know the women at the tomb did speak because, 2000 years later, we're sitting right here.  

So why end the story in this way? Because, I think, Jesus' resurrection is terrifying, shocking, and downright amazing. This kind of ending doesn't happen in our daily lives. The shock of the empty tomb is unexpected. And Mark loves the unexpected. The women, out of devotion to their teacher and with a desire to properly care for him in his death, arrived at the the tomb early in the morning. They knew Jesus died and they all knew what death looked like. They had their expectations of how Jesus' story ended. But once they approach the tomb, every expectation was reversed. The large stone was rolled away. A young man, dressed in white, sat inside. The young man acknowledged their fear and surprise and he told them to leave this place and go forward to Galilee. The women run away in silence because none of this was expected. And that makes sense because Jesus was (and is) a brand new thing. 

This brand new thing, however, doesn't end with verse 8. Jesus continues. If we look at the opening verses of the gospel according to Mark, we read this: "The beginning of the good news..." Mark's story was never meant to be an ending nor designed to contain everything about faith and Jesus. Mark (and all the gospels) are only a beginning. And this new beginning continued in Galilee, Turkey, Greece, and beyond. Jesus' story continues wherever people gather to show and tell hoe Jesus made a difference to them. You, right now, are part of that story. And I pray that Jesus' story of love, compassion, and grace will continue to shape your life in amazing ways. 



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No Joke: A Mid-Sentence and Resurrected Life [MANUSCRIPT]

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.​

Mark 16:1-8

My sermon from Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018) on Mark 16:1-8. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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I’ve noticed that my life lately keeps wrapping up mid-sentence. When I walk from one side of my house to the other, with a very clear and specific purpose in mind, I’m usually detoured by the most random thins - like that sock, right there, in the middle of the floor. I grab it, planning to toss it into the laundry but then realize I forgot to move the laundry into the dryer. Oh, and there’s that email I need to write and I better post that funny thing my kids said on Twitter before I forget….….wait...I forgot what they said. When I finally return to that original task, hours have literally floated by. I call these mid-sentence moments because my wife and I will start a conversation and in the middle of a sentence, something like this will come up, and we’ll finish the conversation days later. This mid-sentence kind of living is exhausting and it’s also hard because it leaves conversations, thoughts, and experiences hanging in the air. And unless I keep these mid-sentence moments right here, right in front of me, they end up forgotten and falling away. Now I know that most of my mid-sentence living is caused by my life choices. It’s not easy having many competing priorities and living with a family that has their own priorities as well. I have some control over my mid-sentence moments but I also know that this isn’t always true. There are experiences that stop us in mid-sentence and not by our own choice. We are caught up by things and events and people we can’t control. And before we know it, our expectations are inverted. Our plans go awry. Our assumptions are undone. And we become like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, left in mid-sentence.

The gospel according to Mark is a little weird because it ends basically in mid-sentence. Unlike Matthew, Luke, and John, there’s no vision of the resurrected Jesus in this text. Jesus doesn’t speak Mary’s name. He doesn’t walk through locked doors to surprise a disciple named Thomas. We don’t even get to see Jesus having brunch with his friends on the beach. Instead, we get a large stone, rolled away. A young man sitting there, telling the women to not be afraid. He gives them a job, saying “Go and tell.” Tell the disciples what you saw. Tell Peter where Jesus is going. Tell everyone that Jesus isn’t where you expected him to be. And the women, according to this text, go nowhere and say nothing.

Which isn’t really the story we expect to hear on Easter. We already started today by proclaiming that Jesus is risen. We’ve already shouted alleluia. We’re gathered here because we know that someone told; that there have always been women preachers because if the Marys and Salome hadn’t preached, we wouldn’t be here right now. We expect on Easter for the Bible to show us Jesus raised from the dead and yet the gospel according to Mark leaves us, and these women, stuck in mid-sentence - between what we know came before and what now looks brand new.

Now the women already knew everything that had gone before this moment. They had followed Jesus, heard his teaching, watched his healings, and were the only ones of Jesus’ disciples who saw him die on the Cross. I’m sure these women thought they knew Jesus’ whole story. But then, in a completely unexpected way, the women heard that the resurrected life was now a reality. And at that moment, their understanding of their relationship with Jesus suddenly changed. Their connection to God’s Son; this Savior who called each of them by name; who promised through word and deed that God knew them; that God saw them; and that God loved them; this Jesus who gave so many other people new life now had a new life of his own. And because Jesus knew these women, this new Easter life was now part of them. Their mid-sentence life was over and their resurrected life had, because of Jesus, begun.

But, according to Mark, this resurrected life doesn’t show up at the end. The resurrected life appears in our everyday living and it shows up everywhere. We see what this life looks like “when Peter’s mother-in-law is raised out of a fever and freed to serve (1:31).” We see the resurrection happen when a tax collector, a profession in the ancient world that required corruption, abuse, and violence, leaves his tax booth behind to follow Jesus(2:14). We see a person marginalized because of their difference “raised into the center of his community’s attention and is” then fully “healed (3:3).” And we watch a father, knowing that his doubt and his faith are not incompatible, so he bring his most cherished relationship to Jesus because being with Jesus changes everything. (Mark 9) Time and time again in Mark, the sick, the wounded, the marginalized, and the ones society casts aside are raised up, given new life, and then placed into a community called to care and love them. It was only at the tomb, after the good news of new life was told to them, that the disciples finally realized that Jesus had already been filling out the next part of their sentence and the next part of their life.

The resurrection isn’t something we have to wait to find out. It’s already here. In our baptism and in our faith, the new life of Jesus is given to each of us as a gift. This gift isn’t given to us because we’re perfect, or get everything right, and or we come to church every Sunday. No, this resurrected life is given to us because God lived our mid-sentence life and, through the Cross, God pushed us to the other side. It’s not always easy to feel and notice this resurrected life. We are, like those women at the tomb, still living lives in between what has come before and what will come next. The Marys and Salome had no idea what joys, struggles, and experiences their new life with Jesus would bring. But they did know that Jesus was right there, ahead of them, and he is right here, ahead of us. We just need to shift our focus, reset our eyes, look to him, and live into our resurrected lives. Lives where healing, not harm, is all we do. Lives where love of neighbor becomes a reflex because it’s part of who we are. Lives where the walls and dividing lines we build to keep others out so that we can stay in our personal bubbles - those walls need to be torn down. And these resurrected lives are where inclusion, care, service, and love become habits that offer new life to all. The resurrected life knows who we are, where we’ve been, and knows all the ways we failed to serve others without fear. This life knows us as we are, right now, caught in our mid-sentence moments; but with our eye stuck on Jesus, this resurrected life will carry us through into a new reality, into God’s reality, where the next part of our life becomes love.

Amen.



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A Reflection on 4 parts of the Passion Story [ Manuscript]

Click here to read John 18:1-19:42

My sermon from Good Friday (March 30, 2018) on the Passion according to John. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Earth

One of the insights to faith that I like to borrow from our Jewish siblings involves the Passover. Tonight, Jewish people all over the world will gather together around tables to tell the story about who they are and what God did for them. They are doing more than celebrating sharing a history lesson. Passover is when every Jewish person is invited to re-experience the story of the Exodus. They are binding themselves to the story of who they are. The words, smells, and tastes of the seder meal re-connects them to the words, smells, and history of their own story. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they are emboding and embracing a history, an identity, and a reality that began in the fields of Egypt 3300 years ago and continues into this very day.

So tonight I’m going to invite all of us to do something similar. Let’s spend this moment re-experiencing Jesus’ story. The sights and sounds of Jesus’ story are meant for us. Now, there are moments in tonight’s story that will shock us. And there are words in this version of the passion, especially John’s use of “the Jews” as a catch-all for the small and angry group of leaders opposed to Jesus, that we, as a church, rightly condemn. Yet this is the story that God has given to us. This is the story God wants us to have. And it begins in a garden.

Gardens are powerful places. And in our little part of the world, gardens are stirring. Weeds and bulbs, bushes and branches, are starting to show life. The rich earth of our gardens are the places where life begins anew. The old leaves and vegetation are broken down, providing new nutrients to the soil. And seeds and bulbs use everything in the earth to grow. It is in a garden where new life begins. And since our old life cannot stand the new life that Jesus offers, a garden is the place where the Romans and other political leaders try to end Jesus.

Fire

It’s pretty reckless for Peter to be standing by that fire. He just cut off the ear of one of people who arrested Jesus. And now he’s standing with them, trying to warm himself by the fire. It’s hard to know what Peter was thinking. It’s obvious that he will be recognized because, by this point in the story, the disciples are no longer anonymous. People know who they are. They use their network of connections to enter the courtyard of the high priest and then stand, surrounded by the police, around the fire. The text says that it is cold. So Peter probably wanted some heat. But I don’t know if he understood the kind of heat was he getting into by standing next to that fire.

But I imagine that there was something so enticing by this fire that Peter couldn’t help but walk towards it. He had just seen his teacher arrested; he had just cut off someone’s ear; and he’s standing there, outside the rooms, where Jesus is being questioned. It’s probably fair to say that his mind wasn’t in the right place - so when he entered the courtyard, he drifted towards the warmth and the light he thought he needed. Yet that light was not the true light. And the warmth he felt was not as comforting as he thought it would be. He knew he was in a dangerous spot, in a place where he could not be his true and authentic self. So when the heat from the questions finally started to come at him, he denied his relationship with Jesus. How many times do we find ourselves drawn to people, places, and experiences where we can’t be ourselves? How many times do we find ourselves in situations where the light we thought we needed has put us in danger? How many times do we find ourselves being Peter, forgetting that the rooster is about to crow?

 

Words

Sometimes the words that are not said are the ones that sound the loudest.

Pilate is, to me, the kind of guy who always gets the final word. I’m sure we all know people like that or maybe we, sometimes, do that ourselves. Pilate tonight will race back and forth, from the religious leaders on the outside to Jesus on the inside. Words flow constantly between them and that’s because, in some ways, John is the wordiest of the gospels. It sometimes feels as if Jesus in this gospel uses three sentences even though only one sentence would do. Yet when the wordy Jesus meets the wordy Pilate, it’s the unspoken phrase that speaks the loudest. Pilate finally asks, “what is truth?” And Jesus says….nothing.

That silence in the text is actually even more harsh than that. The text doesn’t record any kind of response. In fact, it doesn’t tell us that Jesus stay silent. All we hear is Pilate asking what is truth - and then we watch as Pilate moves away from it. The truth is right in front of him, yet Pilate can’t see it. The truth is that the values Jesus is bringing into the world are the values the world is not ready to fully embrace. Pilate is busy playing word games while Jesus is busy showing what God’s truth, love, and grace actually looks like. When the Word of God shows up in our world, what we say will not be what defines us. Rather, it’s our relationship, it’s our connection with Jesus, that will carry us through.

 

Sweat

I usually can tell when someone has kids that play sports because whenever they give me a ride, the first thing they say as I enter the car is, “I’m sorry about the smell.” And then they point to the duffle bag filled with baseball, soccer, and lacrosse gear. I’ve yet to actually smell anything funky whenever someone says that but I appreciate their concern. I’ve spent enough time in gyms to know what sweat can smell like. I, myself, have sometimes not washed my workout gear as much as I should. Sweat is usually a sign of a body in stress and in motion. And by this point, Pilate must have been sweating. He’s running back and forth, interrogating Jesus and the religious leaders. The author of John writes as if the entire Jewish population is there in the room. But that’s just dangerous hyperbole. The judge’s bench sat outside Pilate’s headquarters and was in a courtyard that could only hold a hundred people at most. The only people who would be in that crowd were the religious and political leaders afraid of what Jesus was up to. The presence of Jesus was upsetting the uneasy social system that existed with the Roman Emperor, who was treated like a god, on top - while everyone else was somewhere below. It didn’t only matter if someone called themselves the Messiah, King, or the Son of God. If other people called them that too, that was enough to disrupt the fragile social order. Jesus, this man who called tax collectors friends, who ate meals with the people he shouldn’t, and who lived a life were service and love was the center of everything - this Jesus was a political problem in a world that believed that violence, power, and might made everything right.

 

Hang

I finished my seminary education at an Episcopal seminary which means people always asked me “what makes Lutherans different anyways?” Every flavor of Christianity has its own uniqueness. We all share the same origin story but we came into our own collective identities at different times and places. For Episcopalians, the marital troubles of a king and the American Revolution itself helped develop who they are. And for us Lutherans, the writings of a German monk / university professor gave birth to our movement. These differences are always easy to point to. But there’s another difference that defines us too. And that difference is centered on where we put our troubles.

It’s odd to talk about putting our troubles somewhere because we usually are told not to do that. Instead, we’re invited to take a deep breath, to get rid of distractions, and to dig deep so that we can overcome whatever issue we’re facing. We live in a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” kind of culture and all our troubles are ones we imagine can personally overcome. But we also know that this isn’t entirely true. There are troubles that we cannot, through our own hardwork and grit, actually overcome. There are troubles in our family members and friends that we can only sit on the sidelines and watch as that trouble unfolds. Our life is going to include moments when we cannot will our self out of the trouble, hurt, and heartbreak we find. Instead, we need to do something different: and that’s learn how to live through it. And that’s why Lutherans, I think, take our troubles and lay them at the foot of the cross. When we admit our own vulnerability and powerlessness, and take everything that we are experiencing and lay it right there at the foot of the cross, we are doing what Mary and Mary did. There was nothing they could do to stop what was what was happening. They couldn’t take Jesus down. Instead, they could only stand at the foot of the cross, stand there in their heartbreak, and look up. Yet in their incredible moment of powerlessness, Jesus made sure they wouldn’t live through this trouble alone. He gave Mary a new family; a new community to help carry her heartbreak. None of us can solve every problem we face. None of us can, on our own, make the troubles our family, friends, and world experience, just magically go away. But when we bring our troubles and lay them at the foot of the cross, we can - with Jesus - find a new community, a new reality, and a new life that will carry us through.

 

Amen.

 



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A Reflection for Good Friday

Tonight’s worship is one filled with silence. We begin by entering this sacred moment without speaking. The service then starts abruptly, without the prelude of music we’re used to. The opening of tonight’s worship isn’t designed to break the silence. Instead, we’re invited to live into it. Every word we speak, song we sing, and prayer we offer is a moment filled by a heavy silence. It’s a silence that reminds us of who we are, who Jesus is, and why we share our life with a crucified savior.

I invite you, over the next 36 hours, to hold this silence. Before too long, the silence will end with the rolling away of the stone on a beautiful Easter morning. Easter has already come. We know that the silence will be broken. But we shouldn’t rush to Easter too quickly. The silence that marked Jesus’ final moments on the cross and his time in the tomb is a silence God chose to live through. There are moments of our lives that we cannot rush through. Instead, we need to live through them. Jesus chose to live the moments we cannot rush through. Because when God chose to live a human life, God lived through every part of it.



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Table Read: Who Can Love When We Can't? [ Manuscript]

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:1-17,21-35

My sermon from Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018) on John 13:1-17, 21-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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I am not an actor. And I don’t know much about what it's like to be one. I’ve never taken an acting class and I couldn’t tell why Frances McDormand deserved the best actress Oscar this year instead of Meryl Streep. I don’t understand the process of “acting” but I love listening to actors talk about their life as an actor. I want to know what their auditions are like, the words they use when they text casting directors, and how they survive emotionally, physically, and spiritually when it takes, on average, 64 auditions before they get a part. I love hearing about the process of life that surrounds being an actor. And one place I go to learn more about the acting life is a podcast called The West Wing Weekly. Each week, this podcast talks about one specific episode of the TV show The West Wing. Now, that show hasn’t been on the air in over a dozen years. But through the power of Netflix, anyone can rewatch the series as much as they want. The West Wing Weekly does a great job digging into the details of each show and reacting to them from a very 2018 point of view. It’s a fun podcast for anyone who’s a fan of the show. But my favorite part of the whole podcast is when they interview an actor who appeared on the show. And they, literally, will interview anyone. They’ve spoken to actors who only had one scene, as well as the main stars of the show like Martin Sheen. Last November, they talked to Clark Gregg, who had a minor recurring role on The West Wing as FBI agent Michael Caspar. I know Clark him better as another special agent named Phil Coulson, who is THE non-superpowered star of the Marvel Comic Book movie universe. Now, Clark Gregg is a guy who has lived the actor’s life. He spent years selling hair accessories on the street while waiting for his career to take off. And he once pretended that he didn’t know the horrible review that appeared in the newspaper so he wouldn’t ruin an opening night party. During the interview on The West Wing Weekly, stories kept falling out of him. They’re just too many good ones to mention. But the one that jumped out at me started with a table. Whether you are a fan of The West Wing or not, all of us have to admit that the calibre of actors on that show was amazing. Clark was honored to be with them on the show. He loved watching them work and seeing what each brought to their roles. Now, on a tv show, not every actor is in every scene. And since scenes are filmed at different times and in different locations, actors usually don’t know how an episode will play out until it’s broadcasted on tv. But one thing Clark experienced on The West Wing was the table read. Before filming began and before everyone headed off to do their own specific thing, the actors, writers, and directors gathered around the table to read, and begin acting out, the episode. Every actor involved in that episode would be there and everyone who hear how their role fit into the wider story. Seeing the big picture and watching each other work made such an impact on Clark that when he became the star of his own tv show, he made sure that every actor would know the full story by starting with a table read.

And tonight, we sort of did a similar thing. Every Maundy Thursday, we hear these same verses from the gospel according to John. The disciples are eating a meal with Jesus; Jesus washed their feet; Peter freaked out; and we’re told to love “one another.” In our culture, washing each other’s feet isn’t a normal thing. But in Jesus’ time, when hygiene was poor, roads were dusty, and everyone wore open-toed shoes, washing feet before you entered someone’s home was completely normal. The foot washer was usually a servant or a slave, the person on the lowest rung on the social ladder because the act, while necessary, was seen as dirty and demeaning. The host at a dinner party would offer to wash your feet but they wouldn’t actually do it. But Jesus, in the middle of the meal, does it. That’s how we, as a church, traditionally choose to remember the night before Good Friday. By focusing on the story of Jesus doing something different, freaking out everyone in the room, and then telling all of us to “love one another.”

But tonight, we did a table read of our own. We expanded our experience of scripture by including some of the verses we usually leave out. After Jesus washed their feet, he shocked everyone again by saying someone would betray him. Everyone in that room was curious - so they asked Jesus, “who?” But instead of name dropping, Jesus gave a cryptic answer centered on a little piece of bread. And once Judas had this crumb, he fled into the night. It’s after this when Jesus says to “love one another.” Judas wasn’t there to hear this word from Jesus. But everyone in that room knew that the love Jesus was talking about was deeply connected to who was there when Jesus washed their feet. When we expand the story, when we have our own table read, we see that Judas was in the room. Jesus didn’t serve only his friends. He washed the feet of the one who would break his trust. Jesus even loved the one who betrayed him.

Most of us, I imagine, know what it’s like to be betrayed. We know what it’s like to hurt. We all carry with us stories, some we can articulate and others we can’t, about the different ways we’ve hurt ourselves and each other. Being betrayed is a very human experience - and one Jesus knows well. Yet tonight Jesus shows us, even commands us, to wash our betrayer’s feet. And that is just...hard. And in certain situations, when we’re under the threat of harm and violence, that command is impossible to do. So what can we do with this command to love and serve even those we know we can’t?

Well, to do that, we need a table. We need to table read. A table read isn’t something that can be done only by one person. A table read needs a community. When Clark Gregg gathered with the cast of The West Wing, everyone was there at the table. Every part of that community was needed to uncover the rest of the story. Jesus didn’t give this commandment to only one person. Instead, he gave it to everyone in that room. Each person is given by Jesus a responsibility to love one another. And since there’s more than one person in that room, the community of Jesus is called to love and serve too. Jesus’ call is a call we cannot fulfill only on our own. We need all of us, gathered around Jesus’ table, to help each of us love like he did. We need people who will take care of us when we are hurt and who will love the one we cannot. And when we hurt others, we need this community to hold each us accountable and to serve those we’ve hurt. Only when we are together, can this community, this part of the body of Christ in God’s beloved world, love and serve like Jesus did. The table we gather around tonight is a table meant for each of us - and is a table where our full story comes more fully into focused when we are apart of it. As individuals, we might not be able to love everyone; but together, as a community, we can love all.   

Amen.

 



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A Maundy Thursday Reflection

One of the stories I love to tell is about my wife’s grandfather. He grew up in England and moved to the United States after World War II. His dad was a preacher so he grew up in a variety of church communities. Many of his congregations practiced communion that might surprise us. Instead of serving bread and wine every week, they washed each other’s feet. And they did so because of this passage from the Gospel According to John.

When I tell this story, people react the same way: disbelief. The idea of washing each other’s feet every week is shocking in our context. Our feet are very personal and we don’t want to touch a stranger’s feet. But I think our real struggle is having someone touch ours. When Peter cried out to Jesus, we understand the raw emotion he displayed. When he tells Jesus to wash his entire body, we instinctively feel like Peter is right. Peter knew that Jesus was doing something problematic. In his culture, only slaves washed people’s feet. It was the person who had no control over their own body that was forced to clean other people’s feet. The feeling of discomfort was outsourced to the one who could not say no. And the one having their feet washed would know, even if it made them feel uncomfortable, that at least they weren’t a slave. By the simple act of washing feet, Jesus showed just how intimately connected we are to God. And Jesus modeled how God will always care for us.

I know that foot washing makes us uncomfortable. And some of us can’t easily remove our socks, tights, and shoes during church. That’s why tonight we are offering an additional option. There is a place in tonight’s service where you will be invited to wash each other’s hands. The simple act of pouring water on each other’s hands and drying them will be a sign of your commitment to one another. And we are called to that commitment because Jesus will always be committed to us.



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The Off Season. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, April 2018 Edition

Have you ever been some place “off-season?” The times I’ve visited places before they get busy, I’ve always been struck how the energy in the air feels different. There’s a quietness that seems to fill much of the space. This quiet never feels unpleasant. Instead, it feels like the deep calming breath the entire community takes before the large number of people arrive. That deep calming breath requires a peace and simplicity that gives everyone time to prepare for what’s to come. Restaurants and shops have shorter hours and smaller menus. Artisans and entertainers rehearse their craft in an intentional but gentle way. The few visitors that find themselves in these “off-season” places are invited to embody the slower pace, quieting their soul and mind in preparation for the busyness to come. The “off-season” is a perfect time to refresh, recharge and experience familiar places in new ways. And when we engage with places during their off-season, we sometimes surprise ourselves by learning something new about what refreshes our heart, mind and soul.
 
The Sundays after Easter can sometimes feel like an “Off-Season” for the church. After all the busyness and excitement of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, many of us feel like we could use a break. Lent sometimes feels like a long inhale preparing us for the exhale of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. When the Sunday after Easter comes along, we feel worn out and just tired. But Easter is more than just one day. As a faith community, we experience Easter as an entire season. The Sundays after Easter invite us to re-experience the risen Jesus in our lives. When Jesus’ earliest disciples discovered the empty tomb, their faith wasn’t all figured out. They still needed time to discover what living with a resurrected Jesus was all about. The time they spent with Jesus after the Resurrection was an opportunity to connect with the Jesus they always knew but who they now encountered in a new way. They needed to see Jesus in the garden, meet him in a locked room, break bread with him while meeting him on the road, and eating brunch with him on the beach. The season of Easter invites us to refresh and recharge with a Jesus who is always with us, even when we feel like we could use a break.
 
And this season at CLC will be filled with a baptism, hymn sing and a joint worship service with First Congregational Church and Pascack Reformed Church. See Jesus in this “off-season” and discover new ways to be recharged.
 
See you in church!
Pastor Marc


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Something New to Learn: A Palm Sunday Reflection

There's always something new to discover in every biblical story.

For the longest time, I've never asked an important question about today's passage from Mark 11:1-11: what does hosanna actually mean? I've always assumed that hosanna was a word about rejoicing, sort of like a biblical version of the word "hooray!" That words seems to fit this context. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and there is a crowd (of uncertain size) following him. They are waving branches and shouting as he rode into the city. They keep shouting that this whole scene and event is blessed. Hooray is the right word for this context. But hosanna isn't just a shout of joy. It's actually a prayer. And it's saying, "Lord, save!" 

Another translation, using the Hebrew words the greek words in this passage are based on, might be "I beg you to save" or "deliver us!" This are pretty forceful prayers. They are the prayers we say when we are under extreme duress. When we are suffering from anxiety, fear, oppression, or illness, we want to be saved. We pray that God will show up immediately. The crowd is doing more than just celebrating Jesus showing up. They are praying, and expecting, Jesus to save and deliver them. They expected Jesus to act. 

But what did they expect him to do? Jesus is entering the city around the time of the Passover. The city of Jerusalem might have double or tripled in size with tourists and pilgrims. The Roman governors would re-establish their physical presence in the city. Religious and civil authorities would do whatever they could to keep the crowds under control. And as the story of Passover was retold, and the people re-experienced their release from the oppressive role of the Pharaoh, many wanted to make that story a reality by overthrowing the oppressive rule of Rome. On one level, everyone was expecting some kind of action to take place. What they didn't expect was for someone to just be acted on. 

But being acted on is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was arrested. He was put on trial. He was convicted. He was hung on the Cross. A prayer for saving is a prayer asking for God to act. Yet it was the Jesus who refused to act in the ways we expect that ended up saving everyone. 



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