Questions and Reflections

October 2015

November's Messenger Article: What's your favorite pie at Thanksgiving?

Pumpkin. Apple. Maybe Key Lime if we want to run away from the cold and pretend that we live somewhere warm. But my favorite Thanksgiving pie is one I never actually ate. 

My friends and I were throwing our own thanksgiving since we were going to be away from family that year. Each person claimed a dish. Potatoes, salads, cranberry sauce - the works. I picked the turkey but I knew that wasn't going to be enough. I wanted to make sure that there was a delicious pie waiting for us at the end of the meal. A few days before Thanksgiving, I left work early, dodged tourists and locals to head to my favorite pie shop to pick up a large apple pie with a lattice crust. On the subway ride back to my apartment, I dreamed up all the ways this meal was going to be great. I couldn't wait to hang with my friends, make new ones, and celebrate the fall season and eating my body weight in amazing foods. When I got to my apartment, I put my pie in a safe space in my fridge, closed the door, and dreamed sweet dreams filled with pie. 

Thanksgiving came and I headed to the host with my turkey and all I'd need to make an amazing bird. And in the hours of cooking, football, and sharing food with old friends and new, I didn't notice that I forgot something. It wasn't until after I rolled myself home and opened the fridge to pile in the leftovers that I saw my special pie. It was still sitting there, unopened and unused. I thought that pie would be that special note to make an amazing meal even better. But when I was with my friends, cooking and creating, what mattered wasn't the product. What mattered was the connections with the people around me. Community. Friendships. Being known and being loved, that's what November is all about. And that's what our God is about too. As Thanksgiving rolls through, know that Jesus is here too. He might not be bringing a pie but he is giving all that he has to you. So I invite you to take a moment this season to look for Jesus' connection to you. You might find something amazing.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc    



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A reflection on Luther's 95 Theses

Today we celebrated the birth of the Reformation.

In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

That's how Martin Luther starts his 95 Theses. After a short introduction, stating his willingness to debate his 95 thoughts about God, Jesus, and the church, he began his words with a prayer. What followed wasn't just random thoughts nor were they only abstract statements about an abstract God. His writings were centered on God and how our practices, thoughts, and actions reveal who this God is. He pinned these walls on the community bulletin board (the church door) in a university town (Wittenberg) hoping that someone would respond to his words. The funny thing is that no on did initially. No professor, pastor, or teacher who saw Luther's thoughts reached out to him to debate what Luther said. But his thoughts struck a nerve. They soon were printed and distributed all over Germany. The church and the government both responded harshly to what Luther composed. His words mark the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, a reform movement in the church that continues to this day. We never stop reforming because we can never fully know who our God is and what Jesus is doing in our world today. The Reformation continues today and all of us, from two to ninety two, have a part to play in living into the faith that God graciously gives us everyday. 

So I invite you today to write your own statement about God. Take the slip of paper in your bulletin and write your own thought about God, faith, and the church. Who is God to you? How does Jesus impact your life? What story to you struggle to share? Why are you a Christian? 

Here are some possible examples:
God is love. 
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent” [Matt 4:17], he willed that the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
I don't know what Grace is. But I know that's the only way I get through life. 
When I was 23, I felt God in my life for the first time and I just can't let go. 
The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last [Matt 20:16].
I sometimes don't believe. But I know Jesus loves me anyways. 

Write your sentence and then, after you receive communion, tape the paper on the door by the rail. 

God is here and God is speaking through you. Let's share that word today. 



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A reflection on Isaiah

Our first reading is from Isaiah 53:4-12.

One of the problems with translations is that our english can miss the nuance, complexity, and downright bizarre phrases in the Old Testament. This section from Isaiah, a piece of what we hear on Good Friday, is difficult to understand. As scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, "the Hebrew words are unusual and the text is seemingly disordered, so that every translation is to some extent speculative." These words from Isaiah are poetic and filled with images that are hard to put into words. But there are hints of God's love that flutter in and out of the text. Like life itself, we don't always understand what we are experiencing or seeing but we are surrounded by slivers of God's love that we can grab. Those rays of love can carry us through. 

Since the beginning of the early church, we have read texts like Isaiah as a way to understand who Jesus is and what the Cross means. The Cross is a tool of death. It was used by governments as a way to execute troublemakers, revolutionaries, and criminals. But it wasn't designed just to kill. It was designed to humiliate. The goal wasn't just to kill the person. The goal was to make their death horrible by removing their integrity, honor, and dignity. Jesus didn't only die - he was humiliated to the point of being worth nothing. 

Yet it's the humiliated one, who is worth nothing, who is raised from the dead.

Isaiah 53 is a story that God's expectations and our expectations do not match. God will do what God does to love the world. This work doesn't work they way we think it should. We might not fully understand what Isaiah 53 is about but we can grab onto that sliver of truth that God doesn't work like we do. God's sense of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and love is bigger than what we could come up with. The call is to see what God is up to so we can see more clearly just what love looks like.



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What Does Hospitality Look Like?

Pastor Marc's article from the October Messenger.

I think hospitality looks like what happened on Sunday, September 13th. When we started dreaming of packaging 40,000 meals to feed our neighbors in Bergen County, we didn't know how the neighborhood would respond. We couldn't do this on our own but God was calling us to keep making an impact in Bergen County. We spent months coordinating with other churches to raise money and recruit volunteers. Each week another church jumped onboard. As August approached, we knew that this event would catch fire. We knew the Spirit would bring the 160 volunteers we needed. But I didn't expect that the people would just keep coming. People saw our ads. They shared the event with their family and friends. Groups who signed said they were bringing 2, ended up bringing 10. People in Bergen and Rockland County showed up at our doorstep wanting to make a difference in the world.

This is where we showed true Christian hospitality. The smiles from the greeters at the door, the amazing spread of refreshments put together and continually refreshed to feed 230 of our newest friends, and the army of men and women directing people, plugging people in and making sure they had what they needed to get the job done. Debbie, JoAnn, Tom, Bill, Carla, Jim, Meredith, Jim, Ann, Bill, Doris, David, Florence, Katie, Dot and the countless others who stepped up to lead. You were inspirational and made our new friends feel valued and appreciated. Thank you for that!

And I saw many of our members doing the difficult thing by letting a volunteer from another organization take their place. I know that wasn't easy. It's hard to give this opportunity up. But you showed true Christian hospitality by giving someone you didn't know an opportunity to love and serve. You gave up your spot to train others to serve. You served the servants, living out an important aspect of the Christian life. We created these 41,124 to feed others because we know that Jesus feeds us. We wanted to join in God's work in the world of feeding and nourishing the hands of those who are called to be a Christ to their neighbors. Christian hospitality isn't only about being a good host. Christian hospitality is also helping others live out God's love.

We'll have several opportunities to share our Christian hospitality over the next year from "Walk Thru the Bible" on October 24, Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship in November, the Advent dinner and more. Let's keep living out Christ's hospitality.

See you in church, Pastor Marc



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A reflection on Amos

Our first reading is from Amos 5:6-7, 10-15.

Every time the first reading is from one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the question of purpose always comes up. In my mind, prophets are always some version of John the Baptist. Prophets live in faraway places, wear clothes made out of terrible fabrics, and eat unhealthy diets of bugs and honey. They are wild, holy, and trouble makers. This, of course, is my bias. Prophets come in all different shades, ages, sexes, and come from all sorts of places. Prophets exist throughout history and are all around us. One of their primary functions, I believe, is to be a mirror. They show people who they really are and what they are really doing. Prophets highlight greed, injustice, and suffering. They show all the ways we fail to live the way God wants us to live. This, in a sense, is what "speaking truth to power" means. Prophets show the world how it truly is even if, as we see in John the baptist's case, that can lead to their death. 

So what is Amos doing in our text today? Amos is a prophet, a resident of the kingdom of Judah (around Jerusalem) who spent his ministry preaching in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (When Solomon died, his kingdom split in two: Israel in the north and Judah in the south). He's a landowner (a herder) which means he is wealthy. He knows what it means to have money and, above all, he knows what the culture is like at the top. When he looks around, he sees greed devouring people and communities. Those with wealth are getting wealthier at the expense of those around them. Their desire to gain wealth is at odds with the desire of God for all to thrive. Amos is telling those around him to stop focusing only on what they want. God's wishes and desires should not only be named; they should be seen in all that we say and do. 

Amos' words extend beyond money. In everything we do, God is there. God desires justice. God desires equality. God desires and continues to work for a world where everyone experiences abundant and thriving lives. God wants us to each have a life filled with abundance and God wants us to work so that our neighbor, family, friends, and strangers have abundant lives too. Amos' words are about more than money but it includes our money too. So how is our handling of wealth reflecting what God is doing in the world? 



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A reflection on Genesis 2:18-24: Creation and Helpers.

Our First Reading is Genesis 2:18-24.

If you were going to name all the animals, what names would you come up with?

I love the story of creation because of the details. At first glance, the story of Genesis seems to be focused on the creation of the universe but the meat of the story is in the details. In the first account of creation (Genesis 1), God makes the earth, the sky, the animals, and humankind and God calls each thing, person, or creature good. All the parts of creation are related to God and grounded in a relationship with God. And this idea of relationship continues into Genesis 2, which is a second account of how creation happened. 

When I read Genesis 2, I focus on God's relationship with what is in the world. In verse 18, "man" isn't a full enough translation of what is happening here. Gender and sex haven't been created yet. Instead, we just have one earthling, who is on the earth. God notices this earthling and wants this earthling to have a "helper." The word helper tends to mean "assistant," someone who isn't quite as talented, clever, or as high up on the corporate ladder as the one who will be helped. When we see helper, our minds might jump to some kind of hierarchy. But that's not the full story here because, throughout the Old Testament, God is described as the helper. When God seeks to create a helper for the original earthling, God isn't seeking an assistant. God wants the earthling to have a partner in a mutual relationship of trust, love, and understanding. So God brings all these different kinds of animals to the earthling and the earthling names them. But the earthling doesn't find the partner that they need. They need an equal so God makes an equal partner out of the earthling. 

It's easy to see in this text our concept of marriage but this text is a model for all our relationships. In our relationships, with our spouses, children, parents, friends, or coworkers, we aren't all equal in talent in all things. But, in God's eyes, we are all equal in a need for relationships that are grounded in mutual respect, love, and trust. A relationship that only takes isn't healthy nor is it what God desires. The same relationship God has with humankind and with creation is the same kind of relationship we should have with each other. 



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