Questions and Reflections

500 Plus. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, October 2017 Edition

On Sunday, October 29, we're doing something new . . .

This October marks the 500th birthday of the Reformation. Legend has it that Martin Luther wrote 95 thoughts about faith, Jesus and the church (The 95 Theses) and posted them to a church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Scholars debate if this posting actually happened, but we know his words didn't stay local. His writings spread like wildfire. In a few short years, a new church movement took root, launching new Christian traditions. As Lutherans, the Sunday before October 31st is our annual "birthday party" where we celebrate this
Lutheran flavor of the Christian faith that God gifted to us. But our experience of the Christian faith is not the only tradition out there. We are surrounded by Baptists, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Reformed, Church of Christ and more. Each one can trace their start and growth to these 95 thoughts about faith and God. For almost 500 years, the story of Christianity has been reflected in the ways we split apart. As individuals and communities who experience God in different ways, we sometimes separate from each other. Christian history can be described as a history of division. But there's also a history of unity and coming together. On October 29th, heirs to the Reformation will worship at Christ Lutheran Church.

Pascack Reformed Church and First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) will join us for worship at our church at 10:00 am. A joint choir will sing, and we'll give thanks for the variety of gifts God gives each of our communities. We'll celebrate our shared history and also our joint witness as churches who are different but united in Jesus Christ. As communities of faith, we are grateful for the different identities the Holy Spirit has given to each of us. As part of the body of Christ, we are grateful that our differences do not divide us from Jesus. I invite you to be at this joint worship service at 10:00 am on Sunday, October 29th. And let's discover where the Spirit is leading us in the next 500 years.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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Who Are You: Food Fight Edition

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Romans 14:1-12

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This September, for me, is a month filled with weddings. Over Labor Day weekend, I officiated the wedding of my sister-in-law and her fiancée. Two days ago, I was in Beacon, NY, standing next to a roaring waterfall as two people committed themselves to each other. And in less than two weeks, I'll be in the foothills of Colorado, officiating the wedding of one of my good friends from high school. Each one of these weddings is different. Each one is unique. And each one is filled with rituals. From the ceremony to the reception, each couple has its own vision of how their wedding day will go. The music will be done in a certain way and the DJ will play specific songs at the right time. The center pieces on the table during the reception will be big...or small...full of flowers or with candles floating in water. The ceremony will include traditional vows that are repeated, or vows written by the couple themselves, or I'll recite the words and wait for the very simple but very powerful “I do.” For the couple and their families, each part of the wedding event is a ritual that requires careful consideration, time, and attention. But there are other rituals at weddings too. And one of my favorite is, as a guest, the ritual of standing at a table, looking at a sea of name cards, trying to find the table I’ll be sitting at during the reception. There's usually a table at the entrance covered in name tags or a poster with the seating chart printed on. And once I find my name, I then scan all the other names, trying to see who is sitting at the table with me. This ritual of finding our table mates can be nerve wracking. We want to sit with people we know but...what if we don't? Are the people who will be sitting with us going to be like us or will they be totally weird? Or maybe we’re the weird one and we just don't know it yet? These and countless other concerns and fears zip through our heads when we're standing at the seating chart, trying to figure out who we are eating with. And these same feelings and anxieties about who is sitting at our table was right there, in the city of Rome, when Paul wrote his letter 2,000 years ago.

Today's reading from the letter to the Romans is our last selection from that book for awhile. We spent this whole summer discovering how this community of non-Jews struggled connecting their culture to their faith. The Romans hoped the teachings from this Jew named Jesus would help them master their passions - those feelings and emotions that stop them from being their best selves. The rules and rituals and methods they saw in Jesus’ teaching seemed to provide a way to turn these Romans be into the best Romans they could possibly be. Yet, the rules weren't so simple to understand. Different people interpreted the rules in different ways. Even when this small community of believers ate together at the 1st century version of coffee hour, conflict happened. Now, this wasn't a battle between vegetarians and omnivores even though verse 2 sort of sounds like it is. The problem was really about where the meat came from. Meat, in the ancient world, was very expensive. Few people could afford to eat meat on any kind of regular basis. Instead, people waited for these animals to be given out after they were used in a sacrifice. The animals would led into a temple dedicated to some god or goddess. They were prayed over, blessed, and then ritually slaughtered. Once the ceremony was over, the meat was served to anyone who needed it. For some in the Roman community, this meat was free and anyone could eat it because, well, those gods and goddesses didn't exist. But others felt eating such meat would violate the food laws that even Jesus might have followed. The act of sacrifice made the meat unclean and, in the eyes of God, would harm anyone who ate it. So, at the same table and during the same meal, there would be those who ate meat and those who didn't - and each side, at a minimum, would see the others are being totally weird. 

Yet Paul’s vision of Jesus broke the Romans’ expectations. The meat wasn't really important; rather, it was the people at the table who mattered the most. Since their baptism put them in a public relationship with Jesus, their relationship with each other mattered too. They were no longer just individual Romans trying to live their best lives. They had put on Jesus and are now the hands and feet, arms and legs, of God’s Son. Even though their bodies might feel like they did before and they might still struggle with their thoughts, emotions, and passions that caused them to sometimes hurt those around them, these Romans were no longer just themselves. They're Jesus too. They carry with them all the promises God makes to all of us - a promise of love, presence, and fidelity. Jesus gave himself fully over to the task of reconciling the world to its Creator; to the task of showing love to those shouldn't be loved; and saying that everyone, including you, has value. Jesus devoted himself to his neighbors. He gave himself to a world that didn't fully understand him and who killed him for sharing his table with people he wasn't supposed to. We can imagine Jesus, at that wedding in Cana, finding his name on a little card, seeing his table number, and refusing to scope out who he might be sitting with. Instead, he would be the first at the table, ready to welcome and care for all who sit by him, whether they realized he was Jesus or not. Our ritual of trying to foresee or maybe even control who we sit with is replaced by a Jesus who is already at the table, ready to eat and share and love whoever shows up. This kind of ritual isn't a ritual that is easy. It's an approach to life that is downright scary. It means we have to talk to people, to all kinds of people, and learn who they are and what their story is. We need to know who at the table eats meat, who doesn't, and why. We need to know ourselves well, to discover the side eyes of judgement we're throwing at those around us. And we need to be flexible in our own way of life so that we can adjust to the needs of whoever God puts in our path. Living this kind of life takes work. It does takes effort. It takes an imagination and a faith that knows we won't be doing this work on our own. Instead we get to live this kind of life because Jesus has already given his life for each of us. We get to serve our neighbor, to bear their burdens, to share their tables, and to help them thrive because the Lord, each and every day, helps us stand gracefully, faithfully, and wonderfully, tall. 

Amen.


 



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Conflict in Community Part 2

Today's reading from the gospel according to Matthew 18:21-35 continues last week's reading and is about conflict. My reflection last week showed how the bible knew conflicts within churches would happen. Communities are made of people and people will disagree with each other. But conflict isn't a sign of the community being broken. As long as we commit ourselves to love and serve each other with grace, we will be strong. And we can serve each other with love and grace because our community includes someone important. Jesus is here and Jesus inspires us to serve one another.

Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive each other. Jesus' answer is surprising because he says to forgive an unlimited amount of times. Jesus focused on what we can do. We cannot control other people but we can control our own response. When we are safe, we can forgive. When we are loved and allowed a life to live, forgiveness helps us break the bonds holding us back. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is ending the hurt inflicted on us to continue to limit who we are. When we forgive, we are loving ourselves by not letting hurt hold us back. 

So how can we forgive like Jesus says we should? We start by first knowing who we are. In May, the Church Council voted to start a process to figure out who we are as a community. The process we are using is called Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what we do well as a community. It identifies our gifts. When we focus on our strengths, we discover who we are and where we come from. When we know who we are, our disagreements stay rooted in our shared identity as a community. As a community of faith, Jesus invites us to have difficult conversations. He wants us to ask how we can serve our neighbors in new ways and what that might mean for our identity as a community. We need to ask difficult questions. We need to see how our faith and shared identity as followers of Jesus address issues like same-gender weddings, gender identity, racism, politics, and more. These conversations are hard but they can go well when we know ourselves. 

The council is putting together a team who will start this process within the next few months. You will be invited to meet with a fellow church member for a one-on-one conversation. You'll be invited to share your story. Once everyone in the church is interviewed, we will move into developing a shared vision of who we are and where we believe God is taking us. This process will take time and you'll hear more about it in our next issue of the Messenger. I'm excited about what this process will uncover and look forward to seeing how the Spirit inspires us in new and exciting ways. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. 



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Nearer: Distracted from Jesus

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:8-14

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What made it hard for you to come to church today? 

Now, if it was easy to get to church this morning - awesome. That's great. I hope whatever is working for you today stays that way for as many Sundays as possible. But I know not every Sunday is easy. Sometimes, your car doesn't start or you might wake up feeling sick or maybe, just maybe, today is the day when the Run the Reservoir half-marathon, starting at the Oradell Reservoir and going through Emerson, is literally running outside your house at the moment you need to leave to make it to church on time. Sometimes the road to church on Sunday is literally blocked off. But sometimes that road is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually blocked off too. Even when we make it into this building, we’re still not really here. Our thoughts, maybe even our soul, is somewhere else. And if I'm honest, my mind right now is where it was last week, with my in-laws and extended family in Tampa and the rest of Florida. I was blessed and honored to officiate the wedding of my sister-in-law and the amazing person she's going to spend her life with. The night before the wedding, we drove to the rehearsal in a downpour that flooded the streets, made the trees bend sideways, and reduced visibility to almost nothing. That storm didn't last long but Hurricane Irma will. Maybe a pastor shouldn't admit when they're distracted on a Sunday morning but today, I am. So what can we do with scripture, with faith, and with Jesus, when we’re not as present as we want to be?


In Paul's Letter to the Romans, a letter we've been walking through over the last several months, we’re now in the middle of what some scholars see as Paul’s vision of the activated Christian life. I like to call this the “now what?” of the gospel - the how-does-this-Jesus-thing-matter-for-our-lives right now. For the first 2/3rds of this letter, Paul laid out his argument about why Jesus, why his death and crucifixion, mattered to these Romans who lived hundreds of miles away from where Jesus grew up. Unlike Paul, we have no record of Jesus taking a cruise around the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt and some parts of modern Syria was about as far as Jesus got and he wasn't there for very long. Jesus was just this young guy who grew up in a province that was considered a backwater part of the Roman Empire. And after stirring up things by eating meals with people he shouldn’t, the Roman Empire killed Jesus in the most scandalous way possible. As a modern day faith community preaching and teaching about how awesome Jesus is and how a relationship with Jesus matters - it's sometimes hard for us to remember that, in Paul's day, Jesus’ story wasn't really an asset. Jesus never raised an army, he never defeated a foe, he never secured some great victlory, he never won - and most of the people who followed him were the least of the least: women, slaves, Gentiles, tax collectors, and fishermen. From a Roman perspective, Jesus’ whole story was a distraction from who God truly is. The creator of everything couldn't be defeated so there's no way God and Jesus could be the same. Jesus’s story, Jesus’s cross, is a distraction from what we want God to be. We don't want a God who dies; we want a God who can't lose. We want a God who can turn away the storms - rather than a God who lives with us through them. The Romans wanted a god who overcomes - who displays power in ways that we can copy and helps us overcome our own faults, fears, and problems, forming us into who we think we want to be. That kind of god is a god who wins but the god we get is the God who loves. 

And that love...can be weird. We sometimes take the words Paul uses here, words that come from the Old Testament and that Jesus himself uses, as some version of the golden rule: if we want other people to treat us well, then we should treat them well to. But that rule depends on what it means to be treated well and who gets to decide what that looks like. Every culture and society has rules about who gets treated in what way; which kind of people are owed certain honors and privileges and respect and which ones aren't. A janitor doesn't have the status a CEO has which means culturally, that janitor is lower on the being treated well ladder. We can say that the janitor deserves respect. We don't give the janitor a red carpet arrival. We save that for the CEO who makes 4000 times that janitor's salary. We carry this culturally defined list of who is owed what - inside of us. It's something we are given because we live here. And the Romans had their version of this list too. So when Paul talked about love, the Romans thought they knew what he meant. The Emperor, the rich, the person who wasn't a slave, is owed a different kind of love because their status is different from the poor, and the slave, and the sick. But the “now what?” of the gospel, of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection means, that the rules of what we think others are owed is undone. Everyone is worthy of love. Everyone is owed love. And every other rule that causes us to treat others differently in ways that are not life giving - those rules are a distraction from what being with Jesus is all about. Love is love is love which is given to us by a God who knows that the walls we build between each other can only come down if the grace of God comes straight into us. And that grace changes us into living, and breathing, and being who God wants us to be rather than into who we think we ought to be. 

That grace knows that, sometimes, we're going to be distracted. Some Sundays, it's going to be hard to get to church. It's going to be hard to hear and sing and pray because our soul feels like it's a million miles away. Yet even when we are distracted from Jesus, Jesus isn't distracted from us. He's still in the words, even when we can't hear them. He's still in the bread, still in the drink, still in the prayers we might need the people around us to speak on our behalf. He's here because he promises to be. And there's nothing we can do to break the promises Jesus makes. Because the Jesus who lived like us, who loved all of us, and who died for us is the same Jesus showing us how we can live for everyone else. In the words of a colleague of mine who is working in Texas and whose church spent all this week clearing out homes damaged and flooded by Hurricane Harvey, “a loved people serve people.” And there is nothing that can distract Jesus from loving us.

Amen. 



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Conflict in Community Part 1

Did you know today's reading from the gospel according to Matthew 18:15-20 is in our church constitution? Every congregation in our denomination has a constitution, a document that outlines how we live our life together as a community. Each congregation's constitution is unique but they follow the model established by our denomination. Today's gospel passage is how we resolve conflict between members in our community. This method is not the only method available to resolve conflict inside the church but it shows us that conflict inside the church is normal. As a community of faith, we sometimes mess up and hurt other people. As a community filled with people, each one of us sometimes hurt each other or the community itself. We are not perfect. Conflict has, does, and will happen in this church. But conflict does not mean we are an unhealthy community. Conflict can be healthy and help us discover how the Spirit is leading us in exciting, effective, and life-giving ways.

One of the fun parts of this passage is the assumption inside it that we, as disciples of Jesus, and the church itself are always right. But if we're honest, there are times when the issue we have with another person is our issue and not theirs. How many times have you heard someone talk about someone else but know, deep down, that the talker is at fault? How many times, after reflection or confrontation, have you realized you were the one with the problem and not the other way around? Conflict isn't the sign of a broken community. The community is broken when we refuse to talk to each other. When we, as a church, avoid difficult conversations, we're avoiding the possibilities healthy conflict can bring. I honestly believe that the Holy Spirit brings us specifically together not because we are all alike but because the Holy Spirit knows we need each other. When we talk together, we can see more clearly what the Spirit is doing.  

So how can we disagree with each, talk to each other, and experience conflict while still being the community the Spirit wants us to be? One way, I think, is by first knowing who we are. We are beloved children of God. We are, through our baptism, united with Christ. When two of us are together, Jesus is right there. Jesus is there in our committee meetings, congregational meetings, and when we meet one-on-one. We are a community that gathers together not because we are all friends and we never disagree with each other. We are a church because we belong to Jesus and Jesus calls us to be right here.



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Bless even when you don't want to

What are the things in life you wish you liked? What do you keep trying, hoping that this will be the time when you finally enjoy it? There are two of these things on my list. One is bleu cheese. I try it every time I see it. I want to like it. I pray that I will like it. I know I should like it. But when I take a bite of it, I can't take another. Next to bleu cheese is running. Growing up, I tried soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. I picked sports knowing I would need to run up and down a field. I even tried jogging for fun once. But running is something I've never been into. One of the issues I have with running is the pain. Once I start running, sharp pain radiates from my shins. I've learned different stretches and coping mechanisms over the years to deal with the pain but that pain is always there. I wish I liked running. I wish I enjoyed running races because I would like a cool medal. Nothing so far has made running "fun" for me. But I keep trying. God willing, this will be the weekend I complete my first 5K and come bak to New Jersey with a medal in the shape of a bowl of Kraft Mac & Cheese. 

Today's reading from Romans 12:9-21 continues what we heard last week. The Romans are trying to embody a life that follows Jesus and Paul is laying out what that life looks likes. Paul starts with love, honor, and service. He advocates taking strong stances against everything that keeps people from God. He explains that a life lived in harmony with others means showing hospitality to strangers and being generous to the people sitting next to you. We're called to know people, crying when they cry and laughing when they life. We live to be with people and to bless them, focusing on the needs of our neighbors instead of ourselves. Paul is advocating a way of life that is difficult to understand and even harder to live out. Yet it's a way of life rooted in Jesus Christ. Jesus had the power to seek vengeance, to raise an army, to establish a political kingdom on Earth that could push the Roman Empire into the Sea. As the Son of God, he could use his power like we do.  He could have been violent, destructive, and focused on only his own immediate needs and wants. But he didn't. He went to the Cross because God's number one desire is to love, save, and redeem all of us. A Jesus-like life is hard. A Jesus-like life involves sacrifices. A Jesus-like life means always loving even in the face of evil. We keep loving because Jesus keeps loving us. And it's that kind of love, service, and honoring of others that can truly change the world. 



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Pencil Pusher. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, September 2017 Edition

When was the last time you used 60 #2 pencils? When was the last time you saw that many pencils in one place? Growing up, I longed to be the kid with the fancy mechanical pencil with the right kind of lead for the scantron tests. I didn't want to use those yellow pencils ever again. And now that I'm older, I rarely write. Instead, I give my fingers a workout on a keyboard, and I keep my thumbs busy on the screen of my smartphone. I didn't expect to spend a day this summer surrounded by those yellow pencils. But on the last day of Vacation Bible School the kids, volunteers and I were elbow-deep in those pencils I avoided. We were also knee-deep in glue sticks, crayons and two pocket folders. We spent the day packing 20 backpacks full of school supplies for students in need. The supplies we packed were graciously donated by the kids at VBS themselves and members of CLC. The 3 through 11 year olds that made up our VBS classes were packing backpacks for kids their age to actually use. The week the kids spent wasn't only about trying to have fun with God. It wasn't just an excuse to dress up as superheroes every day. They were there to learn how God makes them heroes, and they spent a day being the heroes God calls them to be. Being a hero isn't only for those with super strength. Sometimes a hero means finding 60 #2 pencils and giving them to a kid who needs them.

This September is the start of a busy programming year at CLC. Our 2 worship Sundays kick-off is on September 17th. Confirmation classes, Sunday School and Youth Group will start up right after. Our committees and ministry teams are gearing up for an exciting year. And our interfaith and community partnerships are hitting the ground running. We're going to spend the year finding new and exciting ways to be the body of Christ in Northern New Jersey. One of the gifts God gives us every day is the very faith that drives us to know that God's love, mercy and hope are not abstract. These attributes of God are part of who we are. As we start a busy September, let’s see the different and unexpected ways God is calling us to make a difference in our church and in our community. Because being engaged with our neighbors is how we can be like Jesus who never stopped engaging with a world who desperately needs him.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc 

 



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Pan Pizzaz: Peter is the Rock

Today's passage from Matthew 16:13-20 is a passage the church has fought over for centuries. For the Roman Catholic Church, this text illustrates why Peter (and his spiritual descendants - the Popes) are central to church leadership. Martin Luther disagreed, seeing Peter's confession ("You are the Messiah") as the true cornerstone of all church leadership. There is also debate over what the "keys" actually are. Is this passage an invitation for the spiritual leaders of the church to decide who gets forgiveness and who doesn't? Is this a passage letting us tell other people "I'll pray for you" as a way to be passive aggressive with other people? Can priests, pastors, and Christians actually claim who are true Christians and who are not? It's a powerful passage that has inspired debates and schisms for 2000 years. We should remember the history of interpretation because it shows how the interpretation of this passages changes depending on our cultural, historical, and political context. This passage invites us to remember why we need  the Holy Spirit to open up God's word for us because what the Holy Spirit gives us might not match, 100%, with what came before it. 

When I look at scripture, I spend time putting it into context. Where does this passage appear in the wider story? What message is the author trying to get across? And what would the original hearers actually hear? A big part of my interpretation process also involves real estate. Location matters and location plays a big role in what Jesus is saying today. 

The city of Caesarea Philippi was at the edge of northern Galilee, the tip of Israel's ancient homeland. In Jesus' day the city was new but the location wasn't. For hundreds of years a temple located at the city site was dedicated to the Greek god Pan. The temple sat next to a large spring that provided water for the Jordan River. Over time, the temple complex grew. Images of Pan and other pagan gods were carved on the rocky hill behind the spring. When the city was finally established a few years after Jesus' birth, the city became very Roman. Even it's name, Caesarea Philippi honors the Roman Emperor - Caesar. This was a city that treated the Roman Emperors as gods.The rocky hill behind the spring was soon the Mt. Rushmore of the area, including images of Pan and the Roman Emperors as a sign of what was the rock, the foundation, of the wider world. 

Today's passage takes place with Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples overshadowed by images of the Roman emperor and Greek gods. It's under the watchful eye of these rocks when Jesus calls Peter his rock. We can argue about the details of Jesus' command to him mean but we shouldn't ignore the impact such words would have made. Peter's confession is a direct refutation of the government surrounding him. Jesus tells Peter that he will be a leader of a different kind of kingdom. These words are revolutionary words. They are powerful words. And they are words that remind us that no government on earth can be seen as the end all, be all, of the kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus' followers are invited to see the world as it is, a place that struggles with sin, injustice, inequality, and power, but live as if Jesus makes the difference that we know he does. 



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Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Event: Prayer Rally for Love & Solidarity

Pastor Marc joined clergy from throughout the Upper Pascack Valley for a Prayer Rally for Love and Solidarity. More than 100 people from at least 8 congregations (Christian and Jewish) attended the event at Veteran's Park in Park Ridge. Pastor Marc offered a reading and a reflection during the event.

A Reading from Micah 6:6-8.

With what should I approach the Lord

       and bow down before God on high?

Should I come before [God] with entirely burned offerings,

       with year-old calves?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

       with many torrents of oil?

Should I give my oldest child for my crime;

       the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

[God] has told you, human one, what is good and

       what the Lord requires from you:         

to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

Was anyone else outside this afternoon watching the solar eclipse? Did anyone else forget to put on sunscreen before they climbed on the roof of their church to watch the moon move in front of the sun? I know I’m going to be a tad sunburnt tomorrow but I'm glad I was able to participate in a celestial event where people from all over this nation posted jokes and memes about it online, ate moonpies and other lunaresque treats, and we all looked a tad dorky wearing those paper sun filters over our eyes. And even though the glasses made us look silly, we needed them. Without them, the UV rays and light from the sun would literally burn our eyes. In the days leading up to today’s event, news articles and tweets and Facebook posts said the same thing over and over again. Don't look directly at the sun. Don't take a #selfie with the eclipse in the background because that won't stop the UV rays from reflecting off your phone and harming your eyes. We needed to get the right kind of NASA recommend polarized shades. And if any of this is news to you right now, just keep the information in your back pocket as preparation for the next eclipse in our neighborhood in 2024. These warnings about observing the eclipse shows us how intense the sun actually is. We needed to do a lot to prepare ourselves to engage and observe and witness such an event. Solar eclipses happen without any input or help from us. They are a product of the dance the moon and earth and sun do together. We witnessed today something that is part of our world and our universe right now. We know eclipses happen - but we have the choice in how to engage with them.

This evening, as we gather together as neighbors and friends, as we unite to say yes to peace and love and unity - and as we say no to hate, anti-semitism, racism, homophobia, nazism - and to anything and anyone that tries to split us apart, I am personally grateful for each and everyone of you. I am grateful for the intensity, the power, and the love and hope each of you brings here tonight. I am grateful for the shared witness my colleagues and friends from the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Group show by being here in body, mind, and prayer. And I'm eternally grateful for the same Spirit that compels each of us to be here right now. This Spirit, I believe, is embedded in God’s good creation. It’s a Spirit that’s moved over the waters, breathed life into our souls, and is even now, moving among us. It’s the same Spirit that moved the prophet Micah to speak out against those who oppressed the people and it’s same Spirit, I believe, that brought us here together tonight. This Spirit wants us here so that we can speak, with one voice, loudly proclaiming that  the rallies, movements, and groups supporting Nazism, Confederate ideology, white supremacy and terror are not who we are and this isn’t who God wants us to be. The evil lurking in the hearts of those who use cars, trucks, and vehicles to cause death, violence, and destruction is not something God endorses, supports, or believes. Those who drive into crowds, march through college campuses with lit torches, and who shout words that deny the very human diversity that God intended are not living in God’s Spirit. They are trying to make fear and violence the cornerstone of our human community and they hope we will just accept it, as if this kind of evil is part of the universe that we choose not to engage with.

Yet the Spirit that lived in Micah is a Spirit that refuses to let fear win. It’s a Spirit that compels us to engage with this evil forcefully, honestly, and with an intensity that cannot be blocked. As a Lutheran, I am mindful of how communities bearing the Lutheran name worked against the Spirit of God and were part of some of the worst violence in living memory. As an American, I am mindful of the different ways own communities push our neighbors to the margins. I am mindful of the ways Christians throughout history have twisted the true and expansive vision God has for our human community. Yet I also know this Spirit that lived in Micah refuses to give up on us. I know that this Spirit, when she recorded the words “love your neighbors as yourselves, ” truly meant it. I know that this Spirit is active right now, empowering us to uncover the ways we fail to match the unlimited love God has for each of us. And I know that this Spirit helps us do more than just gather together. The Spirit inspires us, strengthens us, and compels us to know what justice is and to seek it; to know what love looks like and to go do it; and to walk faithfully and humbly with the God who will never stop showing us what God’s vision of the world truly looks like. May our love for our neighbors burn with an intensity matched only by the sun. And may the moments we share this evening, moments reflected in anti-hate rallies in Charlottesville, Boston, New Orleans and in vigils and rallies locally and nationwide, reflect that Spirit of hope, love, and unity that God wants everyone to share.

Amen.



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The Persistent Canaanite Woman

It's strange for Matthew to call the woman in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28) a Canaanite. By the time of Jesus, the Canaanite culture was long gone. The land of Canaan included parts of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. When the people of Israel fled Egypt, they came into a territory dominated by Canaanite kingdoms. Gradually as the Philistines took over the coast and the kingdom of Israel dominated the interior, the Canaanite culture shrunk. By the time of the Exile, when the people of Jerusalem were taken to live in Babylon, Canaan no longer existed. Wars, invasions, demographic changes, and migrations mixed the Canaanite communities wither others. By Jesus' time, after years of Greek and Roman rule, Canaanites didn't exist. But we know, based on modern science, that the Canaanites never left. Recent DNA studies show how modern people living in Lebanon and the surrounding areas still have DNA matching skeletons buried 3500 years ago. By calling this woman a Canaanite, Matthew is making a statement. This woman is related biologically to Jesus and his disciples. But she is defined as someone who is completely different. She is a woman set apart, an outsider living in the old Philistine territories of Sidon and Tyre. She's unworthy of Jesus' time. And yet, she's a mother who persists because her daughter is in trouble. 

Jesus is a bit of a jerk in this passage. The Canaanite woman believes Jesus is who everyone says he is. She knows he has cured others and she wants her daughter to be cured too. Jesus hears her shouts but chooses not to answer. Even the disciples are annoyed by her persistent shouting. Since her words are failing, she takes the drastic step to get in Jesus' way. She physically uses her body to disrupt his path. And once she's stopped Jesus, she asks for help. Jesus responded harshly but she will not give up. She knows who Jesus is and will not let Jesus ignore her. Her faith is her persistence. She won't let Jesus be anything but Jesus. Her persistence is also a description of who her God is. Her God cares. Her God heals. Her God will not let her family go and will keep God's promises. She refuses to let Jesus be anything but Jesus. And if she can be persistent with Jesus, we can be too. 



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