Questions and Reflections

April 2016

Pastor Marc's Message for May 2016

I have a small red book that I carry with me everywhere I go. The binding is worn, the cover is in leather, and some pages have folded corners with a little candle wax obscuring the words. This little red book is my Pastoral Care book, filled with prayers, scripture readings and worship services. When I visit a hospital, the book comes with me. When I'm sharing holy communion with someone at home, this is the book I use. And when I'm blessing a house or an apartment that someone has moved into, I'm holding this in my left hand and turning its pages with my right. This book holds prayers, but it also holds memories. It holds the memories of people I've known, buried, blessed and celebrated. This little book is more than just something to read—it is a physical reminder of who Jesus is and that Jesus is with us, always.

How do you remember that Jesus is with you? Do you carry a cross around your neck or maybe keep your grandmother's Bible on your nightstand? Or maybe a physical object isn't what stirs your faith. Maybe there's a song you hum, a melody that is always in the back of your mind. And with springtime in full force, maybe getting our hands dirty in our gardens connects us with our God who constantly creates. Or maybe we're inviting friends to sit on our porch or join us for a picnic. By being in each other's company, we give thanks that God brings friends, neighbors and even strangers into our lives because God is love. When we proclaim that God is with us, God is experienced in more than just one way. God is here. When we see the world, we're seeing more than just the scene in front of us. We're also seeing God's presence, too.

This May I invite you to see God's presence. Take a look at your children playing and notice God. Even when we're caught in traffic, God is there among the honks. Stop by the church on Tuesday nights, enter our Genesis Garden, and see God in the planting of vegetables that will feed our neighbors in need. And when our day is done and silence surrounds you, know that the air is filled with Jesus' love for you and for the entire world.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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A Reflection on Elijah

Our First Reading is 1 Kings 17:1-16.

The kingdom that David founded is now split in two. After Solomon's death, the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom split. In book of Kings (1st and 2nd Kings) shares the history of both kingdoms. Both Kingdoms will ebb and flow in the world of politics. They will occasionally fight against each other, unite against common enemies, and sometimes sit on the sidelines while the other kingdom is at war. Located in between the large empires that develop in what is now Iraq and Egypt, the kingdoms are always at war. And it's in the middle of this reality that Elijah appears.

Elijah appears suddenly. We don't know he's coming until he shows up. We know nothing about his childhood and we're still not sure exactly what town he came from. Instead, he heads to the Northern Kingdom and visits King Ahab. He stands before the king and says, because of the Northern Kingdom's idolatry, no rain will fall. He's pronouncement made, Elijah runs for safety while a drought and famine strike the land. He then receives a word from God to leave his hiding spot and cross into enemy territory. He heads to Sidon (in modern day Lebanon) and meets a widow at the entrance to the town. Her food supply is short but Elijah demands that she share. She does and her oil and grain refuse to run out. God not only provides for Elijah. God also provides for this foreigner and her child. 

Elijah and his student Elisha are the center of the story of the book of Kings (1 and 2 Kings) Elijah is a larger than life figure who becomes the herald to the Messiah (see John the Baptist). His prophetic voice and story will focus on who the God of Israel is. This God, for Elijah, is a God who provides. In the prophetic battles between Elijah and the prophets of other gods, the God of Israel always provides while the others do not. Elijah's mission, in some ways, is to turn people away from themselves and towards the one who provides life. His mission is still our mission as we struggle to turn ourselves towards the source of our life. May Elijah's voice continue to speak to us, turning us to Jesus, our center and our life.  



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A Reflection on the First Temple

Today's First Reading is 1 Kings 6:1-2,11-14, 19-22, 37-38.

Today's first reading depicts the building of the temple. One of David's sons, Solomon, has ascended the throne. The kingdom is still united and Solomon's reign will be filled with giant building projects. God tells Solomon to finally build the Temple. The Temple will replace what the tabernacle was before. Instead of God promising to be only where the people go, God is now promising to be with the people as the live, and die, in cities and villages. Our reading today covers the construction of the outside of the complex. In parts we don't hear today, the measurements of the walls, the type of wood, and the kind of stone are described. A rear-chamber, an inner-sanctum is described, where the ark of the covenant will be placed. The room will be covered in gold and cedar, both very previous in the time of ancient Israel. It takes 7 years to complete the temple (7 is usually the biblical number for 'perfection' and 'completeness'). 

During the building, God makes a promise we've heard before. God promises Solomon that, as long as they keep God's ways, God will be with the people. If the situation changes, then God will leave. That idea of presence is central to the biblical narrative. Being in the presence of God matters. Without God's presence, the promise for life falters. This was already seen in the story of the Exodus where God doesn't just lead the people with a pillar of fire but has a tent built so God can live among the people. Now with the people settled, a more permanent structure is built. 

The Temple isn't, however, the only place God can be. Rather the Temple is (in my reading at least) the spot where God promises to be. If we want to see God, that is where we go. If we want a relationship with the divine, we head to the Temple. If we want an assurance of being in God's presence, we go to the spot where God promises to dwell. God can, and does, interact us in many different ways and in many different places. But when our soul needs a grounded assurance, a physical place we can go to helps. 

As Christians, the physical place we go to experience God isn't at a temple. Isn't only at a church. Instead, as Jesus claims, where two or three are gathered, God is there. Where people gather intentionally to be in the presence of Jesus, Jesus promises to join them. God's presence isn't just a place. God's presence is also tied to the people who gather. Without people, a church building isn't a church. Community, gathered around God's words and what Jesus gives us, is where Jesus promises to be. So let's experience Jesus in this place today.



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A Reflection on David and Jerusalem

Our first reading is 2 Samuel 5:1-7,9-10.

Jerusalem wasn't always an Israelite city. Even after the Israelites moved into the Promised Land (Canaan), Jerusalem remained a city in someone else's hands. When David arrives at the gates of the city, it is own by the Jebusites. Not much is known about them but scholars believe they were not the original founders of the city and probably lived in the city only a short time before David arrived. David, after a successful series of military victories, is crowned king at the city of Hebron. Although Scripture doesn't tell us initially why he marched to Jerusalem, later chapters will make evident that David was being politically astute in this choice. He picked a city that no one tribe had claim over. The city, also, is close to the traditional border between the Northern and Southern tribes and is also very defensible. With the city secure, David begins to fortify his new capital, turning Jerusalem into the city of David. 

With Jerusalem's capture, the city begins to be the political and religious center for ancient Israel. Even after a later civil war and the splitting of the kingdom into two (The Kingdom of Judah, centered around Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Israel centered in the North), the religious focus for the rest of scripture is Jerusalem. Even when we meet prophets who preach only in the Northern Kingdom, we read their stories with Jerusalem-oriented eyes. As Christians, we hold Jerusalem close because it was the site of Jesus' death, resurrection, and where the early church community first gathered. We also see in Jerusalem a hope for tomorrow. The end of Revelation, the last book in our scriptures, points to the heavenly Jerusalem descending to the earth. 

Jerusalem is more than a city. Jerusalem is where Jesus walked and God promises to dwell. Jerusalem is a city of hope, a vision of what God is working in us and in our world through Jesus Christ. David's capture of Jerusalem is leading us to the vision of Revelation 21, the new Jerusalem, where God dwells among us. This vision of the future isn't only for the future. It's also a vision for the present. We aren't only Christians. We are also a people of the Resurrection and of God's unfolding future. Jesus isn't just for tomorrow. Jesus is also here, today, in our world and in our lives. The heavenly Jerusalem started with David's work but continues in us because we are, through baptism, bound with the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The new Jerusalem is here so let's live like it truly is.



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A Reflection on 1 Samuel and the Rise of David

Our Year with the Bible reading (reflected in our first reading in worship today) is bringing us into the kings of Ancient Israel. After the confederation of tribes collapsed at the end of Judges, Saul is eventually crowned as the first king of Israel. However, his rule does not last long. Originally chosen by God, he's eventually rejected. His descent is not about being evil. Instead, he is a tragically marred character who, near the end of his rule, obsesses with the next king in line: David.

Our reading from 1 Samuel begins with God speaking to Samuel, telling him to go and find the next king of Israel. God doesn't tell Samuel who that king will be. Instead Samuel, like the reader of the text, has to discover who God has chosen. Samuel visits a household filled with 7 sons. Each son, eldest first and descending through birth order, parades before Samuel. When Samuel sees each son, he is sure that God has appointed this one as the next king of Israel. But each time Samuel sees a son, God doesn't speak. Samuel hears nothing. After the parade, Samuel speaks up. He asks if there's another son. The youngest son is shepherding the flock. He is young, with no hope for an inheritance. Instead, while the other sons are entertaining Samuel, David is taking care of others. This imagery of a king as a shepherd is an important one. A king was, by default, a shepherd of the people. Even Moses, when he ran into the wilderness after he struck an Egyptian, became a shepherd. When Samuel arrives to discover the next king of Israel, he forgets to look where a king is supposed to be.

The story of David isn't only the story of the birth of a king. The story of David shows the complexity of the human life. Even as a beloved servant of God, David is not perfect. Once his hold on the monarchy is secure, he will fall victim to a lust for power. He will forget who he is and his relationship with the one who chose him to be king. The life of David becomes the model for how each of the future kings of Israel will live their lives. Power, control, and sin will cause each of them to forget God. And when God is forgotten, sin starts to win.



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A Flower Surprise: Pastor Marc's reflection for the April Messenger

Spring is starting flower! As I write this, the first blooms of the season are appearing at the house where I live. The grass is turning green, trees are starting to bud, and yellows, blues, whites, and purples are making themselves known. The signs of new birth are all around. It's beautiful.  

This new birth is also exciting. This is my first spring in my new house which means I have no idea what plants are going to come out of the ground. The previous owners planted bulbs and shrubs during their fifty years there. Even though the lawn started to overgrow these last few years, their tender love and care for where they lived is now mine. My family and I have inherited their handy work. Each day, as we watch robins, blue jays, and cardinals fly through the trees, my kids and I discover a new flowering gift. Each flower is unexpected. Each bloom is brand new to us. Each plant is an opportunity to give thanks for the hands that planted it and to celebrate the new life that has come forth. 

Unexpected flowering gifts; that's what the Easter season is about. The door to the tomb is open. Jesus couldn't stay locked inside. Like the flowers blooming in my garden, Jesus' coming forth from the ground was unexpected and exciting. Even his close friends didn't know what would happened. Even Jesus' followers didn't really believe him when he said he would return. When the cold ground covered him up, the disciples thought they knew what would come next. They didn't expect that the new life given to us by Jesus is going to be exactly that: life. 

This Easter season, let's give thanks for those unexpected gifts in our lives. Let's see the flowers, the buds, and notice that God's future is already here. Jesus has broken through the ground so we, in our lives and in our world, can too. 

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



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