Questions and Reflections

One the Level: God's Woe/Woah

[Jesus] came down with [the Twelve] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Pastor Marc's sermon for 5th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 17, 2019) on Luke 6:17-26. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Woe.

 

Woe is one of those words we don’t hear very often. In my social circle, I usually hear the other word that sounds exactly like it but that’s used to express a sense of awe and wonder by people like Keanu Reeves and Joey Lawrence. It’s easier to say “woah” when we see something amazing and unexpected. But I find it much harder to use “woe” like Jesus did. This “woe” wasn’t meant to be awesome; it’s meant as a warning. Jesus told those with enough wealth and food and good cheer and who were admired by their peers to “watch out.” Now, our instinct might be to try and distance ourselves from Jesus’ “woe” groups because we, culturally, like to focus on what we lack. We all can point to someone who is richer than us and we might have that friend on instagram who always looks amazing and whose children seem incredibly well behaved at all times. It’s easy to believe that we don’t have enough, giving ourselves permission to run away from Jesus’ words. But let’s not do that. Instead, let’s sit with the “woe” and notice what Jesus’ words are doing to us. If you’re feeling a little squirmy or if you’re trying to pass these woes on to someone else, hold that. Don’t rush pass it. And if you are hurting, if you have no idea how to pay your bills or if it feels like you’ve forgotten what it’s like to laugh, let Jesus’ woes speak to you. Grab onto whatever you’re experiencing right now and hold onto it. Because I know we are a community filled with all kinds of people, including people who have enough, who are suffering, who are indifferent to the suffering of others, and with lots of us somewhere in between. These words from Jesus are meant for each of us. And none of us are supposed to experience Jesus’ words in the exact same way. Instead, we’re here to hear Jesus. And that means holding onto exactly what Jesus is doing to us, right now.

This reading from the gospel according to Luke is a reading we haven’t heard in church in awhile. Since the date for Easter changes every year and we follow a 3 year cycle of bible readings for Sunday morning, there are weeks when our readings from Luke are cut off because Easter comes too early. The last time this text was read on a regular Sunday morning was in February, 2004. For almost 15 years, we didn’t spend much time with Jesus’ woes. But this text might have reminded us of something we’ve heard before. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus was also followed by a large crowd. He needed to take a bit of a break so he went up a mountain and was followed by his disciples. He began his great Sermon on the Mount with, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:3-6) These words from Matthew are similar to what Luke wrote but did you notice the differences? For me, Jesus’ words in Luke feel more personal. He’s wasn’t talking about “those” or “them”; instead, he talked about “you.” And this you wasn’t only for people who were poor in spirit. Jesus named those who were economically poor, truly hungry, in tears, and who were being excluded. Matthew’s version can sometimes be spiritualized to the point where its connection to our everyday life melts away. But we can’t do that with Luke. Jesus saw the poor and named them. He saw the hungry and promised they will be filled. Jesus did not rush past the sufferings and joys that are part of our everyday life. Instead, he came down from the mountain and walked into them. The diverse crowd that surrounded him came from everywhere. They were sick, suffering, and longing for his words. Jesus did more than just heal them; he offered them a vision of what God wanted life to be. Jesus didn’t run away from the parts of life where suffering, or our indifference to suffering, caused us to look away. Instead, Jesus chose to be there. And while in the middle of the sick, the suffering, and those whom society usually stands against, Jesus knelt to offer blessings and to announce God’s woes.

So, are you still holding onto your experience of Jesus’ words from earlier in the sermon? I hope so. Because I want you to look down and see Jesus looking up at you. Not only were the words Jesus used in Luke more personal; but as we read in verse 20, Jesus didn’t look down on his disciples. We can imagine that Jesus knelt to touch someone who was sick or to hold someone who couldn’t walk. And while getting his hands dirty in the mess of everyday suffering, Jesus looked up. In the words of Thomas Frank, Jesus looked up, “as if to say, what are you doing right this minute? People are sick and dying right here, tormented by spirits. They have come from all over the land, from the coast to the river, from south to north as far as you can go in a few days’ journey. Will you get down here with me and help?” (Feasting on the Gospels, Luke volume 1, page 160). Jesus’s words are an invitation for us to join in with what Jesus is already doing. Because Jesus not only knows the poor, the hungry, and those who are weeping. Jesus also knows you. He knows your hurts and fears. He knows the last time you laughed and he knows what gives you your biggest smile. Jesus knows that, even if you don’t have enough, you are enough. And he also knows that if you do have enough, you can follow Jesus into the crowd and participate in the work he’s already doing. There are times in our lives when we might find ourselves relatively at peace and feeling satisfied. But there will be other moments when we need a warning from God to stop us from assuming that our privilege defines the worth and meaning of our’s, and others’, lives. It’s in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, where we discover that God has already decided that the world, and its people, have value. And when we notice the different ways we run from Jesus’ words, we are, I believe, seeing how Jesus is already transforming our lives. By holding onto our honest experiences, we can follow Jesus through them and into a place where God’s values, rooted in God’s justice, becomes our own. Now, this holding onto is a struggle and one we will have our entire lives. We will often want to run away and rush pass whatever we’re experiencing. But when we don’t, when we hold onto our experiences of Jesus’ words, we discover not only God’s calling for our lives but we also finally see God’s view of the world and God’s view of us. It’s these kinds of moments that give us a sense of awe and wonder at the amazing gift of God’s love; and we are left with nothing else to say except: whoa.

 

Amen.

 



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Reflection: How Can You Say?

We're at the point in our Confirmation class where we invite our 7th and 8th graders to ask themselves: what do I believe? We frame this through the Apostles' Creed. A creed is a list of things that a community of faith teaches. They can be short (like the Shema Yisrael for Jews which is only 1 verse long) or long (the Athanasius Creed, which we don't recite often, is pages long). We spend each class period going through one section of the Apostles' Creed. We spend time with God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier (aka Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and how these statements of faith help frame all the questions we might ask. The Apostles' Creed isn't, I think, designed to provide us answers. Instead, it's a framework to help us see how our faith is central to who we are and where we are going.


Paul's text from 1st Corinthians 15:12-20 today is part of that wider question of "who we are" Rarely do we, I think, spend time thinking about the Resurrection of Jesus. We name it, celebrate it, point to it at funerals, and use trumpets to announce it at Easter. But do we, in our everyday life, think about what the Resurrection means to us? For Paul, the act of Resurrection is fundamental to what it means to follow Christ. Without it, we are merely listening to the words of some beloved teacher. With the Resurrection, we see the beginning of a new creation that God is bringing about. The Resurrection is more than just what happens after we die. The Resurrection is God's way of saying that a new life is possible right now. Even though we will die, we will be embraced by an endless God and an endless love that will not leave us. And, we will be joined together with all who are caught up in that love. Without the Resurrection, Jesus is a good man who was executed for what he believed. With it, we see that God acted through Jesus to create a new world that invites us to see God's love that's all around us.



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Reflection: Send Me?

One thing I do when I read Scripture is imagine the story as it unfolds. I like to see, in my mind, the entire scene, filling in the details as I go along. Our reading from Isaiah 6:1-13 today is one of those stories we think we already know. In seminary, this story was so central to our identity, the school gave out t-shirts quoting verse 8. Isaiah received a vision of an over-the-top God. God, sitting on the throne, is high above Isaiah and wearing a long robe. The robe is so large; the Temple can only hold its hem. Isaiah was so overwhelmed by this vision of God; he could only confess who he truly was. God's presence was a mirror for Isaiah, showcasing how far from perfect Isaiah was. God, however, had a plan for Isaiah and didn't let Isaiah's imperfection stop Isaiah from spreading God's word. God transformed Isaiah, touching his lips with a burning piece of coal. After God did this, God asked, "Whom shall I send?" And Isaiah responded, enthusiastically, "Send me!"

Or did he? Our translation gives us an exclamation mark at the end of Isaiah's statement because, I think, we want Isaiah's response to be enthusiastic. We want to believe that experiencing God's presence will make us want to say a big "yes" to God. But, as you were imaging this scene, how many other people were in the Temple with Isaiah? We have seraphs flying around, the hem of God's robe, Isaiah... and that's it. In this vision of God, there is no one else present. So when God asked the question, there's no one else who could answer. We could imagine this scene with Isaiah looking around, noticing he's by himself, and saying, "Here am I...send me?" And God, whether Isaiah was enthusiastic or not, still commissioned him to bring God's word to all people.

I honestly believe that we want an experience of God to propel us into a new Christ-like way of life. We want to meet God face-to-face and, without thinking, shout out, "send me!" We want this so badly, we end up using this desire as an excuse to do nothing. If we don't feel this kind of enthusiasm, we assume we haven't met God. Or, if we do meet God but we're left doubting, confused, or worried, then we assume we haven't had an authentic "God-moment." We end up believing that God will always have an exclamation point. Yet we know that's not, necessarily, how God works. God comes to us when we need God. And that experience can feel like a lightning bolt or be so subtle, it could feel like a little wine on our lips and a crumb of bread in our belly. We are called to be aware of the God who is always with us. And since God is always with us, we are also called to bring God's word to all people, whether we're enthusiastic about it or not.



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Go Away: the Imperfect Disciple [Sermon Manuscript]

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.​

Luke 5:1-11

Pastor Marc's sermon for 5th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 10, 2019) on Luke 5:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Some days a superficial reading of Scripture is the best we can do. And it sounds a bit weird to admit that. When we gather together to worship, we want to take this moment seriously. We want to be ready to experience God and to see Jesus in God’s own words. But there are some Sundays when we’re a tad more zonked out than we’d like to be. As we sit in our pew, listening to these texts from the Bible, we might find it hard to follow a long. A big yawn, a crying family member, or thinking about all those things we need to do later today - on days like these, we only hear every third or fourth word. Or maybe there’s something else going on in our lives and just being here is really the best we can do. We pray that the Holy Spirit will, somehow, break through to us, overcoming everything that is stopping us from being fully present right now. But when that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean God is ignoring us. It just means we’re tired, exhausted, distracted, and wrapped up in a situation that is taking up all the space available in our brain. On those kinds of Sundays, we’re being exactly who we are. And that’s okay. God’s Word is still for us even when we’re not in the mental, emotional, or spiritual state to discover some deep theological meaning about Jesus telling Simon Peter where to fish. We can, instead, do what we’re able and that might mean only noticing a rough outline of the story itself. Jesus started our reading from the gospel according to Luke surrounded by a large crowd, pressing in on him. But by the end of it, that crowd was replaced by a band of 3. And those 3 didn’t press in on Jesus. They left everything and followed him.

On one level, it’s a bit disappointing to start with a crowd and end up with 3. That’s not usually a recipe for success. Rarely, in the church, do we celebrate those programs or events or moments that, at first, bring in a ton of people but eventually peters out at the end. We remember the initial crowd and we assume we have to hold onto that. Because when we do anything, we want the numbers to validate why it should exist. A faith-filled ministry that’s exactly what were supposed to be doing doesn’t seem worth it if the numbers don’t back it up. We try to tell ourselves that numbers don’t matter but the reality is that they do because we are culturally ingrained to quantify success. We have no problem sitting on the shore, remembering the crowd, seeing the 3, and wondering what just happened.

But there is one system we’re used to where the winnowing of a crowd down to a small number makes sense. And we can see this process most easily in sports, where millions of young kids run onto their local soccer fields but, by the time they’re adults, only a very few end up playing in the World Cup. We like to imagine that the narrowing of the crowd through competition and challenges is how we, together, find the most skilled among us. Yet this winnowing process is never as objective and fair as we would like it to be because there are systems embedded in our society that limit who has an opportunity to compete in the first place. When we watch Jesus being confronted by the crowd on the lakeshore, we assume some process of shrinking is being used by him to chose his disciples. Since Simon Peter is named and we would later identify him as one of Jesus’ original apostles, we assume Jesus used some kind of process to determine why Simon Peter would be one of the “best” disciples for him. Even though the text doesn’t identify any competition between Simon and the rest of the people in the crowd, we might subconsciously add some in. In fact, we use his little excursion with Jesus out into the water as the test to why he was chosen in the first place. And we see the amount of fish that he caught as a quantifiable sign of the kinds of special gifts Simon Peter had. We narrow the crowd to 3 through a competition of our own making because that’s how we can turn Jesus’ moment at the lake of Gennesaret into some kind of success. He came surrounded by a crowd but ended up with 3. And we say that’s okay because those three were, compared to the rest, the very best three there could be.

Except there’s nothing in the text that resembles a competition. In fact, when we consciously or unconsciously insert that experience into this story, we’re no longer doing a superficial reading of the text. We’re reading our experiences into Jesus instead of letting the experience of Jesus read into us. Jesus didn’t ask for Simon Peter to compete for his attention. Jesus just called him. He told Simon Peter to go out into deeper waters. And even though Simon Peter grumbled, he did it anyways. The amazing number of fish wasn’t a sign of the amazing skills Peter had; it was a sign, instead, of what Jesus was about to do. The person Jesus called as his disciple, this Simon Peter, was not really the kind of disciple most of us would like to have. As we will hear in the rest of Luke and throughout the book of Acts, Simon Peter was the kind of disciple who grumbled, who called Jesus a liar to his face, and the one who even denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’ greatest hour of need. Simon Peter was the type of person who always spoke before he thought and he let his personal expectations of Jesus confront the Jesus he actually knew. Simon Peter was the kind of disciple we wouldn’t mind leaving in the crowd and who, if we look at his whole story, we couldn’t imagine as being in our final 3.

And yet Jesus called him anyways. This man who complained to Jesus about having to go and fish is the same disciple who spent the rest of his life giving Jesus to others. Simon Peter was an imperfect disciple which might be exactly why he was chosen because none of us can follow Jesus as perfectly as we would like. There are days when we’re zonked out, preferring to stay in the crowd, and hoping that we don’t have a starring role on Jesus’ dream team. Yet, through your baptism and through your faith, you have exactly that. If Jesus wanted perfect disciples, he never would have called Simon Peter and he never would have called you and me. Yet, Jesus did. Because he knows, through him, you can be the faith-filled success you don’t realize you can be. Success, for Jesus, isn’t measured by numbers. Instead, success is always about love. We are his because he first called us and he knows that we can love others just like he loves us. When we, through faith, finally discover whose we are, we will no longer be limited by our definition of success. Instead, we can leave that all behind and truly follow him.

 

Amen.

 



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Who You Are: Breaking Entitlements [Sermon Manuscript]

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:14-30

Pastor Marc's sermon for 4th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 3, 2019) on Luke 4:14-30. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of the difficult things about reading scripture is knowing when to pause. Our translations try to help by including periods and commas and other kinds of punctuation. But that doesn’t mean we always get it right. In fact our experience of Scripture can sometimes get in its own way. When Luke, with the work of the Holy Spirit, compiled his version of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he expected people to interact with his words via their ears. The Christian community, at that time, was only two or three generations removed from Jesus’ public ministry. And small assemblies, of maybe a few dozen people, were scattered around the Mediterranean sea. On Sunday mornings, these groups would meet in a private house to pray, to talk about Jesus, and to eat. When they worshipped, someone was usually elected to read a piece of text from either a book or a letter or a scroll - out loud. No one else, in that gathering, would have those words in front of them. Instead, everyone would listen. Now, this pattern for worship is something we continue to this day. But our context has changed. We, in this church, pretty much expect everyone around us to know how to read. We print everything we need for worship in our bulletin, in a font size we hope you can see. And when someone at our church reads Scripture out loud, we can physically see each others’ heads and eyes bounce from one word to the next as we follow along. Our experience of Scripture in this place, and in other areas of our lives, happens via reading. And we have, as a community, become somewhat bound to how we read this written word. When we come to the end of a sentence, we hurry to the start of the next. And if we don’t run into a paragraph break, one where we have to physically shift our eyes down and to the left, we end up zooming through pauses that we’re not supposed to miss. When we read through Scripture, trying to get to the end of the text, we sometimes miss seeing those gaps of drama where we discover the long pause of new life that Jesus gives to all of us.

Now I already gave a hint of where I think the pauses matter in our gospel reading today. And those pauses bookend the second half of Jesus’ sermon. As we heard last week, this text is Luke’s version of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After gaining a positive reputation while preaching around Galilee, Jesus headed back to his hometown of Nazareth and visited the synagogue he grew up in. While there, he was handed a scroll from the book of Isaiah to read out loud. So Jesus unrolled it, found a few verses from different chapters in Isaiah, merged the texts together, and summed everything up with a one sentence declaration. Everyone in the synagaoe was pretty impressed and they started to say really good things about him. But after a few moments, at the end of the verse 22, there’s this odd little pause and what the people thought they heard started to change. It’s as if the weight of Jesus’ words, after having a moment to linger in the ears of those who heard them, started to work on them in a different sort of way. No longer did they only hear the good things they thought they were entitled to. Instead, they realized that Jesus’ words were also convictng them. Jesus kept that energy going, upending their unspoken desire for him to make good on everything he said since he was the hometown kid. Instead, he pointed to examples in Scripture where God’s love went to places it wasn’t expected. Jesus brought up the prophet Elijah who traveled across the border, into a hostile and non-Jewish land, to bring healing to a non-Jewish woman and her family while the rest of the people of Israel suffered. And then, Jesus named another prophet, Elisha, who met up with Naamen the Syrian, a successful general who regularly won battles against the people of Israel and Judah. Neither the widow nor the general were seen as the ones who should receive the Lord’s favor. And yet that widow was fed in a time of famine and that general was restored to wholeness. Each of them were given a new opportunity to thrive while still participating in a non-Jewish way of life that challenged God. The king Naamen served and the kingdom where the widow lived would be a thorn in the side of the Israelites for generations to come. And yet God’s love went out to them, to a place and to a people where God’s love wasn’t supposed to be found.

So the community got mad because they felt entitled to a promise that Jesus knew was bigger than them. They heard about captives being freed, the oppressed being liberated, and good news being given to the poor but they missed how these promises undercut any sense of entitlement they thought they had. These promises weren’t theirs only because of who they imagined themselves to be. Instead, God’s promises always begin, and end, in what God does. And what God does is love which means the sense of entitlement found in Jesus’ hometown and the sense of entitlement found even in the church cannot limit what’s possible with God. When Jesus said, “today this scripture has been fulfilled,” he meant it. And a promise of good news for the poor does not mean that the financially secure will somehow get off scot free. Jesus isn’t interested in defining his life by what we think we, or others, deserve. He, instead, is our Savior which means the entitlements we articulate and those we silently hold onto don’t stand a chance. When we define our relationships to each other, our neighbors, and our world by what we think we deserve because of what we’ve done or because of whatever opinion we happen to hold, we suddenly find Jesus on the other side of that border we created, serving the widow we refused to see. Everytime we believe we are entitled to Jesus, Jesus pauses, giving us the space to get out of our own way so that we can see what God’s unentitled love actually does.

And that, I think, is what the second pause in our text gives us. At the end of verse 29, the crowd should have thrown Jesus off the clift. But they don’t. Instead, there’s this pause where, I think, the full weight of Jesus’ words became real to them. Because even though good news for the poor isn’t, initially, good news for the rich, Jesus’ words challenge all of us towards a way of life where even those who don’t expect God’s love actually receive it. Jesus isn’t bound to whatever entitlements, words, or experiences we find ourselves wrapped up in. Instead, we, through our baptism and through our faith, are offered a pause from our way of life and, instead, gifted his. Through his words, his presence, and his story, we discover a Savior who isn’t interested in what we think we’re entitled to. But rather, he’s much more interested in giving us a new way of love where the poor are entitled to good news, where the oppressed are entitled to freedom, and where all people, including a widow, a general, a member of his hometown synagogue, and even you and me are gifted a new life that finds its fullness, when we, like God, just love.

Amen.

 



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Reflection: Love Does

To understand 1 Corinthians 13, we need to read 1 Corinthians 12:31: "But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way." Paul, in this passage, is getting in touch with his inner Bill and Ted. He is showing the community a way for them to be more "excellent" together. And that "excellence" is centered in love. We have to remember that love in the Bible is never a noun; love is a verb. Love does something and that love always has someone it interacts with. Love is the one thing (compared to faith and hope) that we can't do on our own. For Paul, love needs a beloved or else love isn't present. That is probably why we read this passage often in weddings. But when Paul wrote this text, he wasn't thinking about two people getting married. He was writing to a community in conflict. He was showing them how to love and take care of each other. I wrote last week that Paul understood faith as a team sport. We need each other to fully believe in the God who is already with us. But a team that can't love each other is a team that cannot feed the faith God gives us. A community is a life-giving community when it loves. And when it can't, faith and hope fade away.

When we read 1 Corinthians 13 today, remember that love isn't a noun. Paul isn't writing about what love is; Paul wrote about what love does. Love practices patience. Love isn't rude. Love doesn't assume it is the only expert in the room. Love works with others. Love is open to possibilities. And it's love that helps us serve, listen, and carry each other's burdens together.

Love, then, is the foundation for the life of a community. As followers of Jesus Christ, our faith is what makes us distinctive. Without our faith and without our hope in a God who keeps promises, we are not Christians. But we can't be Christians unless we have a community that loves. The community is called to love us and we are called to love each other in our community. This does not mean that we'll always like each other. But we can promise to hold each other in prayer, to help each other thrive, and to be a Christ to one another. The more we love each other, the more we can love the world. And the more we can love the world, the more we can discover the Jesus Christ who has saved it and us.



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Climate: Don't Mistake the Weather for It [sermon manuscript]

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Luke 4:14-30

Pastor Marc's sermon for 3rd Sunday after Epiphnay (January 27, 2019) on Luke 4:14-30. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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It takes about three or four cold spells to hit our area before I start dressing correctly for the weather. Now, to be sure, I’ve never been the kind of guy who wears shorts when it’s snowing out but it takes time for me to adjust my wardrobe once the temperature drops below freezing. What I do first is switch out my summer newscap for my winter one, pretending that I’ll be warmer even though my ears, face, and neck are still totally exposed. I then put on a thin hoodie under my fake leather jacket so that when I’m standing outside my kids’ school in the middle of December, I can tell myself I’m “feeling fine.” But when the temperature finally gets cold enough to freeze the pipes in my house, I just give up and I start layering my shirts and my pants correctly. After each weather event, it takes time to adjust to the new climate we’re in. We might try to hold onto the weather we’re about to lose, acting as if our fashion choices are powerful enough to change mother nature itself. Or we might be so wrapped up in our own lives that we miss seeing the pattern each individual weather event is pointing to. When we don’t step back and re-adjust our perspective, we end up mistaking the weather for the climate. And this mistake ends up giving us a false picture of the world. So, for example, our experience of the cold caused by a polar vortex might blind us to the reality of climate change. As we busily wrap ourselves up in our down winter jackets, we might miss seeing how, over the last fifty years, our warming climate has caused trees to literally move, shifting their natural habitat further north. We might complain about having to wear heavy wool socks while sitting in our homes yet we don’t realize that our homes were never designed for the new climate were already in. Camp Koinonia, an outdoor ministry that we’ve supported for almost sixty years, had to temporarily close last summer because a wetter and warming climate their buildings were never designed for left them with a ton of mold. We can be so wrapped up in our personal moments that we end up missing the bigger picture we’re already in. When we mistake the weather for the climate, when we act as if our personal perspective is the only perspective worth having, and when we start saying that our opinions are really the only true facts there are, we end up placing ourselves at the center of the universe. And when we put ourselves at the center of it all, we do more than just fail to see the climate we’re already in. We end up missing Jesus, who came to upend our climate once and for all.

So as a way to keep Jesus at the center of it all, we’re going to do something different for the next two weeks. Our lectionary, the three-year cycle of Bible readings we read in worship every Sunday, decided to turn this climatic moment from the gospel according to Luke into two smaller events. The first part sets the stage, which takes place in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus, according to Luke, began his public ministry there. After gaining  some reputation as a teacher while visiting the surrounding communities, Jesus returned to Nazareth and, as was his custom, went to worship. He attended the synagogue he grew up in which means he was surrounded by people who thought they knew exactly who he was. Jesus, as worship got underway, volunteered to be a lector, a reader of scripture, and so they gave him a scroll to read outloud. After unrolling the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus found the specific pieces of scripture he wanted to share. He read those verses outloud, rolled the scroll back up, and handed everything back to the attendant. Jesus, then, sat down, signalling to everyone that he was about to teach. Everyone in that synagogue turned their eyes towards him because they expected him to speak. And so, after reading about bringing good news to the poor and letting the oppressed go free, the lectionary chose to end this first part with Jesus’ one line sermon at verse 21: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now, that verse is really at the middle of the story. There’s still a lot of text that follows. But if we chose to limit our story to what took place between verses 14 and 21, we could imagine this moment as a happy one. Jesus is at his hometown synagogue, he’s got a good reputation, and he seems to be saying that God is about to bring the community good things. The people in that synagogue heard Jesus say that the blind will see, captives will be released, the oppressed will go free, and that Jesus will bring good news to the poor. Jesus’ words here are very specific, not only implying that these things will happen in the future; he says they’re going to happen in the here and now as well. Nothing in Jesus’ scripture reading and short sermon, on the surface, imply that he might be doing anything that upsets or challenges the people around him. And at first glance, Jesus’ words don’t seem as if they are going to cost those in the synagogue practically anything. And yet, when we go through the whole story, finally grasping the full climate of what’s going on, we see everyone filling with rage and trying to throw Jesus off a cliff.

When we focus on the weather and miss the climate, we end up with an incomplete picture of what is going on. We let ourselves get wrapped up in smaller stories that end up derailing the wider narratives that demand our attention. We find ourselves chomping at the bit whenever some event dominates our short national attention span, choosing to fight over the details of that story instead of addressing the systematic and social realities that allowed such an event to happen in the first place. We see this lived out whenever a discriminatory act is described as fake news or whenever an ugly act of hate is downplayed as an act of “a lone wolf” or “someone who didn’t know better.” Our fights about the weather are our way of ignoring the climate we live in yet the more we ignore this climate, the more unpredictable and scary our weather becomes. The people listening to Jesus in that synagogue assumed they knew what weather Jesus was living in. What they didn’t expect was that Jesus was here to change the climate that impacted everyone. No longer would we be bogged down in whatever weather we are caught up in. Instead, Jesus promised a new reality where restoration, care, and justice was the focus of us all. That kind of climate is a one that knows we can’t decenter ourselves from our universes on our own. So Jesus, at the Cross, did that for us. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God made all of us the center of God’s universe so that we, through our baptism and faith, could make God the center of ours. That new center, rooted in a God who anoints; a God who sets free; a God who restores; and a God who brings good news to the poor; grants to us a new climate where the weather of love, hope, and mercy rules. And since we are part of God’s climate, we can live as if God’s climate truly matters, helping ourselves, our neighbors, and our world change into the place where God’s weather always reigns.

 

Amen.

 



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Reflection: Team Sport

I usually write a longer reflection but in the rush and busyness of this week, I’m finding myself writing this at the last minute. I typically have a lot to say but I’m grateful that this passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a says more than I ever could. I invite you to read it and then read it again. Take your time with it. Read it slowly. Make sure to follow Paul’s grammar and logic in its fullness. Pay attention to the connections. Notice what Paul doesn’t say. And after all of that, listen to what he’s saying to you. You, right now, are essential. You, right now, matter to the church. And the church can’t be the body of Christ without you.

For Paul, faith is always a team sport. Rarely does he write about belief in terms of what individuals do or think. Instead, faith is always centered in a community and without that community, faith doesn’t exist. We, I think, don’t speak of faith in that way. We focus on what “I” believe, what “I” think, and what “I” say about God. Faith is personal, private, and ours. But faith, to Paul, finds its fullest expression when we’re with other people. Faith is how we trust that God loves us and how we realize just how important other people are. Faith connects us to God and helps us see how we need other people to do the things we can’t. We need their prayers. We need their attention. We need others to point out the ways we are trapped in sin. And we need others to help us live. Jesus calls us to be his church and that church needs you and me. Because without each other, we can’t truly love the world like Jesus loves us.



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Interruptions: The Pastor's Message for the February2019 Messenger

Some days feel as if they are primarily designed for interruptions. I’m currently writing this message in my home, late at night, with the family safely in their beds. Outside, gusts of wind are hollowing by, shaking the icy tree branches above my head. Every gust of wind causes another garbage can to blow over, sending it careening down the street and making an awful racket as it blows by. All day, I tried to work on this edition of the Messenger, but I kept being interrupted by garbage cans being blown over. Every few minutes I’d look out my window to see my blue recycling can on the ground and I would rush out, hoping to secure every empty soda can and plastic milk jug before they blew out of reach. Every time I was outside, I would find another piece of plastic representing a food item that I didn’t buy or consume. I would pick it up, place it in my blue recycling can and pray that someone else was doing the same with those items that escaped my yard. Eventually, I grew tired of this game and gave up, placing the recycling back into my garage. And as I shut the garage door, I ended up seeing the garbage truck speeding by.

There are days when interruptions dominate what we expected to do. Some of these interruptions can be silly, like chasing recycling as it blows down the street. Others can be more serious, such as an unexpected crisis or accident. These interruptions end up interfering with our routine, upending our plans and sometimes throwing us off course. We can find ourselves suddenly off kilter, wondering if we’ll ever get back to the way we were before.

Yet, I’ve found every interruption comes with something that is uninterruptable: and that’s Christ’s love, mercy and forgiveness for each of us. I like to imagine Jesus was with me as I chased after that empty soda can, encouraging me to find ways to reduce my consumption so that I can help care for God’s creation. I also know that he is present with you, no matter what interruption you are going through. As we spend this month in the season after Epiphany, and before we face the truth of Lent, I invite you to hold tight to Christ through regular prayer, worship and study. Your life will be interrupted, but God’s love for you will not be. Enjoy this long season after Epiphany and look for the many ways Christ is always with you.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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First Things [Sermon Manuscript]

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11

Pastor Marc's sermon for 2nd Sunday after Epiphnay (January 120, 2019) on John 2:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of my favorite verses in all of scripture comes at the very end of the gospel according to John. It reads: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” It’s a verse that, on its surface, makes sense. No one book could possibly contain all the actions, thoughts, and experiences that happen in any one person’s life. The best we can do is point to a few moments that highlight who we are. Yet, that’s not why I like this verse. I like it because it’s completely over the top. John wasn’t saying that we needed one, four, or even ten books to describe everything Jesus did. John wrote that world itself couldn’t contain every story coming out of Jesus’ few years of public ministry. Now, according to some estimates, we currently know of around 135 million unique books that have been written throughout history. If we assume each of these books could be published as a 6” by 9” paperback, and if we placed those 135 million unique books end-to-end, they would stretch out over 19,000 miles. That’s only ¾ of the way around the earth so we would need an additional 40 million books to circle the earth one time. That’s a lot of books. And the author of John wrote that even these 175 million books couldn’t contain everything Jesus did. That’s an incredible number and if we take it at face value, then the author of the gospel according to John had a lot of material to work with. They could, with the help of the Holy Spirit, pick and choose from all those different stories to come up with their definitive word. So after looking at everything Jesus did and after examining everything he taught and said, it’s sort of amazing that the first thing John highlighted was Jesus’ party trick. John didn’t start with Jesus casting out a demon or teaching or even preaching. Instead, John’s version of Jesus’ public ministry began at a wedding where the big problem was that the party had run out of wine.

Now that actually was a big problem because weddings in Jesus’ day lasted an entire week long. The bridegroom provided all the food and beverages needed to keep everyone in a celebratory state of mind. A bridegroom who ran out of wine after only three days would spend the rest of their lives being known as the one who couldn’t provide. The society around Jesus expected an abundant wedding feast and if the bridegroom couldn’t provide, they would be shamed. Jesus’ act of turning water into wine rescued the bridegroom from this fate. And Jesus does all of this almost secretly. Only a few people, at first, knew what he did. Jesus chose to not seek out credit or acknowledgement for his actions. Instead, Jesus stayed in the background. He let others be  the center of the story. Jesus was a guest at someone else’s wedding and even after providing the equivalent of 1000 bottles of high quality wine, Jesus let someone else’s story take the lead. Jesus’ first act of public ministry wasn’t designed to show off how amazing he was. His first act was to extend a celebration and let that kind of life, and joy, keep going.

Which is an odd way to start the story of Jesus’ public ministry. If we were compiling the gospel according to John, we might want to start with something a little more interesting, like Jesus having some kind of fight with demonic forces or with Jesus being super dramatic while challenging the status-quo. It feels a bit underwhelming for the Son of God’s first public act to be hidden in someone else’s story. Jesus wasn’t even the host of the party; he was merely a guest. Yet it’s as a guest when God’s abundance, through Jesus, first flows.

By the time the third day of the wedding rolled around, Jesus had probably already gotten to know many of the people at the party. He might have swapped stories of the bridegroom’s younger days with the newly minted mother-in-law and he probably tore up the dance floor by grooving to Ancient Israel’s version of “The Cha-Cha Slide.” Jesus was already at the party before he turn water into wine. And that, I think, is how Jesus introduces us to what an everyday life with God looks like. A life with God doesn’t mean that we’ll receive 1000 bottles of our favorite celebratory beverage every third day. A life with God means that we already have a guest with us who is present in every part of our story. This guest is sometimes a silent partner as we go through the uneventful days of our lives. But sometimes they’re a bit more like the mother of Jesus, prodding us to action. We might, during a crisis, be like the servants and catch a glimpse of God at work in our lives. And there are still other moments when we’ll be like the bridegroom and take credit for something God had already done. A life with God is a life that’s lived and a life that’s lived needs a God who knows what our lives are like. Each of us, through our baptism and through our faith, are united with a guest who does more than just understand the human story. He’s lived all parts of it, from the joy of a good wedding party through even the terrors of death on the Cross. You, as you are, are not left to travel the days of this life alone. You have with you a guest who is with you every step of the way. This gift, this Jesus, was given to you not because you had perfected and prepared everything you’d need for a life of faith and goodness. This gift was given to you because Jesus loves you and he loves you abundantly. That’s why, I think, the gospel according to John started Jesus’ public ministry with a wedding party at Cana. It’s in the very middle of our story when God’s abundant care, support, and mercy shows up. Jesus comes to us, as we are, so that we can become exactly who God knows we can be. This act of abundance is an act of grace; and this grace knows no bounds or limits. Grace upon grace is how God acts and this act can never be fully described no matter how books we write about it. Instead, this grace can only be lived out - which is why we live with Jesus and why Jesus lives with us. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we realize how we can be changed from vessels of water into vessels of love and grace. And Jesus does that by being a part of who we are, a guest in our lives who promises to never let us go. Jesus gives us grace and we carry his grace into the world so that the world, through us, can be a little more joyous, a little more loving, a little more like a wedding party where God’s abundance always flows.

 

Amen.

 



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