Questions and Reflections

Until Finally... [Sermon Manuscript]

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 29, 2020) on Ezekiel 37:1-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of the things I’m not doing much of - right now - is driving. My car, on most days, just sits in the driveway. I occasionally turn it on to go to the grocery store or to church. And on sunny days, I move it to the street so that my kids have more space to play with chalk. Since I’m trying to love my neighbors as best as I can, I’m spending most of my time with my feet on the ground rather than on the gas pedal. Now I know not all of us can stay at home like I can. Some of you are doing amazing work as nurses, doctors, and first responders - and others are keeping us fed by staffing grocery stores and making sure all our online shopping orders arrive at our doors. Your lives are really busy and stressful right now - and I pray you can find moments to rest - because you are truly making a difference in the world and I’m so grateful for everything that you do. I, on the other hand, get to stay at home. Yet that doesn’t feel like the privilege it actually is. Because as my car sits in the driveway with its wheels going nowhere - the rest of the world seems to spin much faster than it should. Even in those moments when we find ourselves feeling really bored, the anxiety that’s in our part of the world is very heavy. More and more of our friends and neighbors have officially been diagnosed with the coronavirus. And many of us are worried about our finances because we either lost our job, had to lay off workers, and we have no idea what the stock market is going to do next. No longer are the news reports that made us anxious last week only about other people. Those reports are now about us too. I don’t drive right now because I know I shouldn’t be going anywhere. But I also don’t even feel like getting into the car because there are these other forces around us that seem to be driving the next part of our story. 
 
Today’s reading from the book of Ezekiel was originally spoken to a community full of anxiety and fear because they were living far from home. Ezekiel was a prophet who was maybe 30 years old when the armies of the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, forcing the people who lived there to leave and rebuild their lives hundreds of miles away along the banks of the Euphrates river in modern day Iraq. Ezekiel, who had begun his ministry pointing out the many ways the people of Jerusalem failed to love God and their neighbors, was now living in a land not of his choosing. He and the rest of the Jewish community were in a new place where their old way of life no longer worked. They needed to build new shelters, new routines, and change their expectations of what daily life could be like since they were now living in a future that they didn’t expect. For some, this new adventure was difficult but not impossible - because they had wealth and other privileges that helped them maintain, to some degree, the lifestyle they were used to. But for others, this new reality undercut their sense of security, purpose, and hope. As we hear in today’s passage, the community cried out saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” For these survivors of war, violence, and forced migration - these dried bones were both metaphorical and very real. They thought they knew how their world worked. They thought they knew God. But then something came - an external force - that shook the very foundations of what they knew and it left them feeling vulnerable, scared, and afraid. 
 
And it’s at that moment when God gave Ezekiel a vision rooted in the very words the community was already saying. God placed Ezekiel in a valley full of dry bones. Those bones represented everything the community was feeling and experiencing. All their fear; all their worry; and all their not knowing about what would come next - everything that was draining their life - was there, in that valley. And once Ezekiel acknowledged all that was lifeless around him, God gave him new words to speak. These words were not words that Ezekiel came up with. Rather - God gave him an external word - one that broke through all the things that were taking their life away. Yet this word did not undo what the community and Ezekiel were experiencing. Things weren’t going to go back to the way things were because life doesn’t work that way. The lives we live are real - and we are shaped by every experience that we have including those moments that leave us feeling undone. Yet God’s promise to you is that your undoing will not be what defines you. Instead, God gives to us a new word - rooted in our baptism and in our faith and renewed daily by God’s grace. And it’s this external gift from God that will be what ultimately shapes us and forms us to live that new life that, in God’s eyes, truly defines us. 
 
So on this fifth Sunday of Lent, your bones might feel pretty dry. You might be worn out, empty, and just plain tired - tired of being anxious, tired of being at home, tired of not living the life you wanted, and tired of having something else shape the life that you live. All those feelings are normal; all those feelings are valid. Yet I hope that in your dry bone moments when your patience is thin, and you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of a busy house or by the oppressing silence of being alone - in those moments, I invite you to lean into what God has already given you. This Lent, we’ve been spending time remembering and learning how to share that moment when Jesus was real to us. That is a holy gift meant to sustain you during your dry bone days. So let’s continue to add to the story we’re going to share - a story that began with “Once upon a time there was…” “And every day…” you lived your life a certain way. “Until one day…” Jesus was there. “And because of that…” the life you lived was now shifted in subtle and not so subtle ways. Yet you noticed that as you lived, something new was animating your life. At first, you weren’t sure if anything really changed but then you realized this new thing mattered because your dry bones were no longer the only thing that defined you. Instead, you discovered how Jesus enters into our world; into our anxiety; and into our suffering. Because God knows that we need an external word to cut through the troubles of today and to remind us that it’s God’s love that is driving us and our world. So I invite you to remember your story; remember your baptism; remember your faith - and trust that it’s hope, not anxiety; peace, not unknowing; and love, not fear, that holds your life. Let’s now add to the faith story we’re learning to share. And as you pay attention to the breath of God that still gives you life - finish this sentence: “Until finally…” 
 
Amen. 



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And because of that... [Sermon Manuscript]

As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “[Neither this man nor his parents sinned. In order that God’s works might be revealed in him, ] we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
 
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
 
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The [Jewish leaders] did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the [Jewish leaders]; for [they]had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
 
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
 
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-42

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2020) on John 9:1-42. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So right now, the most spoken word in my house is “what?” Now I don’t live in a large home. It’s a one story ranch, all on the same level, and the walls and doors are not very thick. Nothing in my house is soundproof. Which, on most days, is fine. But when everyone is home - including two adults who are working, two kids in school, and a 14 month old who loves yelling at people as they walk by on the street - we’re constantly saying “what?” to each other. The combined noise of conference calls, computers,  online meetings, and educational games on the iPad means we’re always looking for different ways to cut through the noise and get each other’s attention. 
 
Now I know for some of you, this is what your new normal looks like. But even though the state of New Jersey is now under lockdown, some of us are still going to work or are living isolated from our family, friends, and neighbors. You might not be living in a loud house right now - but there could be a different kind of noise clouding and interfering with your world. Every day, we learn about the many additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus that are in our neighborhoods. And many of us can’t visit family or live the way we want to. Each one of us is trying to adjust to this new reality that is overwhelming. And since we don’t know when this virus will dissipate, our new habit of gathering together online feels like it might last forever. Learning how to cut through the noise of news, fears, and anxiety is really hard. And you might find yourself constantly saying “what?” as you try to figure out how to live your life in a new, safe, and sometimes loud kind of way. 
 
Our story today from the gospel according to John is full of people asking “what?” And they do this even though it might seem as if they’re really asking why. When the disciples first noticed the person born blind, they began with a “why” but they assumed they already knew the answer to their question. They wanted Jesus to certify that they knew how God and the world already operated. This type of reasoning is why, I think, the religious leaders threw a fit because Jesus healed on the wrong day. They, like the disciples, were focused on the what. And what they saw was Jesus doing work. He spat on the ground, made mud, and asked the person born blind to do work too. Now on any other day of the week, that might have been fine. But Jesus chose to do this work on the sabbath, on the one day of the week when all of creation was invited by God to rest. Jesus interfered with that rest by asking the person born blind to get up, go, and wash. The what of the healing - the process of how it was done - became what the religious leaders focused on. The parents, likewise, were also focused on the what. When confronted about the identity of their son, they focused on that question rather than asking why he was healed in the first place. And when we step back and look at what the man born blind’s life was like before Jesus saw him, he see that he was beggar. We shouldn’t assume that he was, in some ways, ill or that his blindness caused him to be less of a person. Rather, he lived the way he could live and in the ancient world, that meant he had to beg. No one asked why he begged; they just assumed that begging was the only thing a person born blind could do. When we listen to the questions being asked by all the different kinds of people in this passage, everyone is focused on the what - hoping that their answer to that question could somehow cut through the noise of what Jesus was doing. Their assumptions and expectations of how God operated in the world were challenged by this Jesus who happened to see a person born blind. Jesus, I think, wasn’t interested in “the what.” Instead, he was focused on “the who.” And when he saw that the person born blind wanted to see - which we notice by the fact that he chose to go to the pool and wash - Jesus responded with a loving act that did not care about their what. Jesus, in this moment, just loved. And when the people around him failed to understand what Jesus was doing, he returned to the person who once was blind - and connected them to a community where they would be allowed to become exactly who God was calling them to be. 
 
So I want you to think about your personal faith story. When was Jesus real to you? Now over the last few weeks, we’ve been using that moment in our life as the source for the story we’re going to tell. And we’re using a storytelling method from Pixar to teach us how to share that story with others. We set the stage for our story by finishing this sentence: “Once upon a time there was…” And since Jesus showed up in our lives as they already were, we add to our faith story by finishing this sentence: “And every day . . .” Yet when Jesus showed up, your everyday changed. So we add to our faith story by being specific and finishing this sentence: “Until one day…”  Now, it’s possible that this moment didn’t, at first, cause us to see the world in a new way. We, like the person born blind, might have tried many different things to figure out what this Jesus thing meant. And that part of our story might have been hard, filled with anxious times and unexpected challenges. Or we might have needed to live a lot of life before we looked back and noticed how Jesus was always with us. God’s promise of presence, love, and hope belongs to you even in those moments when your what, your who, and your why are all mixed up. Because your faith and your baptism are the sign that Jesus will never give up on you. Jesus, even now, has already found you. And he promised that he will keep returning to you - leading you into a new reality where you are defined not by what you have done or what you think happened in your life. But instead by the fact that, even now, Jesus is already part of your story. So as you think about the next part of your faith story, I want you to finish and repeat/reuse the following sentence as many times as you need: “And because of that…” 
 
Amen.  



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But One Day [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
 
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

John 4:5-42

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Third Sunday in Lent (March 15, 2020) on John 4:5-42. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So what struck me about this reading today - was how the Samaritan Woman and Jesus both made choices in this passage. When she came to the well, she didn’t expect to meet anyone there. But she finds Jesus - who is sitting there and, in my head, I imagine he’s basically in her way. She needs to go near him to get to that well. And so she does - and that’s when he spoke to her. His words “give me a drink” are not the earth shattering faith-based words we might Jesus to say. But they do stop her in her tracks. Because she knows that what Jesus was doing was really odd - because he shouldn’t be talking to her in the first place. She’s a woman. She’s a Samaritan. And he’s a Jewish teacher. There’s a huge gender and religious barrier between the two that should cause both of them to keep their distance. The Samaritan and the Jewish community had different thoughts about who God is and where God is to be worshipped. Those differences had separated, over the centuries, separated these two communities. Jesus, in that moment, shouldn’t be talking to her. But he did. And that left her with a choice. She should have, according to their cultural expectations, just fill her bucket and gone home. She should have walked away. Yet she didn’t. She talked back. Because, by meeting him, her everyday suddenly changed. 
 
But this connection wasn’t the only choice these two made. We also get a fun back and forth where Jesus and the Samaritan woman take a risk to reveal a bit of their story to one another. She revealed, even though she didn’t have to, a little bit about who she was. Yet she didn’t reveal her whole story - just a bit - just enough to make you wonder why she’s revealing her marital status to a strange man she just met at a well. She, in that moment, showed who she was - a person with a story worth telling but one she would tell on her own terms. And so Jesus, in his own way, did the same. He says, in this passage, something he hadn’t said before. He said, “I am he” - the Messiah. But the words he spoke were even bigger than that. He said “I am” - words that matched the ones God used when God revealed Gods-self to Moses way back in the book of Exodus. Moses asked for God’s name and God said “I Am.” Jesus chooses to reveal his identity to someone he shouldn’t be talking to. And she, at the same time, revealed who she was too. There is, in their relationship, a mutual revealing - a mutual sharing - of who they are. And in that sharing, she was invited into a new life - a new reality - where God revealed all the different kinds of stories from all the different kinds of people who belonged to God. 
 
This Lent, we’re working on telling our faith story and we’re using the Pixar model of storytelling to do it. A few weeks ago, I invited you to think about a moment when Jesus was real to you. Savor that moment and then try to put that into words. First, set the stage for the story by finishing this sentence: “Once upon a time there was…” And once the story is set, spend time describing what made that day like every other day by finishing this sentence: “And every day . . .” Yet when Jesus showed up - when Jesus made himself known to you in a real, tangible, ordinary, and  extraordinary kind of way - your everyday changed. Maybe not at first. Maybe not in a thunder and lightning kind of way. But your everyday changed because the promises made to you in your baptism and faith - of God’s presence, love, and hope - were no longer just words. They were made visible in your life - and revealed that those promises were already part of your story. Because once upon a time there was a Samaritan woman. And everyday she went to the well for water at noon. But one day, she revealed to someone she wasn’t supposed to a bit of her story. Your story, like the Samaritan’s woman, is worth telling. Your experience of Jesus is part of who you are. And so I invite you, in the middle of this weird time when we might struggle to feel as if Jesus is really here - lean into the promises that are already part of who you are. Then add to your Jesus story by finishing this sentence - But one day . . . 
 
Amen. 



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Reflection: The Next Part of the Story

Last week I introduced our topic for Lent which is all about how to tell your faith story. I want you to think about a moment in your life when Jesus was real to you. Try to remember everything that happened before that moment and everything that happened after. And see if you can recall where you were, who you were with, what you were going through, and even what smells your nose picked up. Sharing this story isn't easy. But I know you can learn how to share that story with others. Part of our calling as followers of Jesus is to tell others why we have faith in him. And being a faith-based storyteller is a skill we can learn at any age.

During this season, we're using Pixar's method of storytelling as a way to frame the story we want to tell. Our first lesson involved setting everything up. Once you have your personal faith experience in mind, I asked you last week to finish this sentence: Once upon a time there was . . . You might have finished that story by describing a family member, an event, or just a word about yourself. You want to use enough words to let someone imagine that moment in their minds. But, you don't want to use too many words or else you'll overwhelm your audience. You only need one or two sentences to set your story up. For example, it could be as simple as: "Once upon a time there was a young man living in New York City who was couch surfing between apartments." I hope you saved what you wrote last week because we're going to add to it now.

Now that the scene is set, what was a regular part of that moment? Were you going to work, commuting school, walking in a hallway, or hiking in the woods? What happened in that moment that started you on your road to experiencing Jesus face to face? Once you have that in mind, finish this sentence: "And then . . ."



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And Then... [Sermon Manuscript]

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

John 3:1-17

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Second Sunday in Lent (March 8, 2020) on John 3:1-17. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of skills I’ve never really developed is learning another language. And I consider that a problem because there are words in other languages that better describe certain experiences. For example, if you’ve ever dreamed up a comeback long after the other person has walked away and it’s no longer helpful - in German, that’s called, “Treppenwitz.” Or if you woke up this morning feeling completely unmotivated - in German, “Blaumachen.” The German language has a habit of having these kinds of great words that capture a moment in our life and I wish I could pronounce them correctly. Because there’s another German word that I first discovered two days ago that seems to fit our current moment here in Northern New Jersey as we face the reality of the coronavirus. And that “Hamsterkäufe” (Hams-ter-käu-fe).

“Hamsterkäufe” is literally a hamster with so much food in its mouth, its cheeks are bulging. But the word isn’t really about hamsters - it’s about people. It describes how, when faced with uncertainty, we try to soothe ourselves by buying more and more things. “Hamsterkäufe” is what happens when we use retail therapy to deal with the uncertainty of a pandemic. And this came to life for me two days ago when I went to Costco for my weekly shopping trip. At exactly 3 minutes after it opened, the store was in complete chaos. Gigantic lines snaked through the store, trying to buy bottles of water. And everyone grabbed anything that looked like it could be used as a disinfectant. People were buying anything they could to lower their fears - but I could tell that people didn’t really know what they should buy in the first place. We don’t really have a protocol or a default check-list of what to buy when facing an unknown virus. So instead, we default to what we do know: which is buying for a snowstorm or a hurricane. I wasn’t planning to buy any cleaning supplies on Friday but I found myself getting caught up in the moment and ended up a little “Hamsterkäufe” myself. When it comes to the coronavirus, there’s a lot we don’t know and that’s scary. It feels like we have to figure out, on the fly, how we make living through a pandemic part of our new normal. 

Last week, I introduced our Lenten focus on learning how to tell your faith story. You, I truly believe, have a story worth telling but I know telling stories isn’t always easy. Over the next few weeks, we’re using Pixar’s storytelling process as a way to help tell our own story. We began last week by thinking about a moment when Jesus was real to us - and we set the stage for our story by finishing the sentence: Once upon a time there was . . .  If you remember what you thought about last week, great. We’re going to build on that today. But if you need help, let’s use as an example our current coronavirus story. We should keep it personal - and so if I was sharing my story, I could begin with our worship committee working to make today’s worship safer for all of us. But I might want to start my story with what I saw at Costco. So my opening would be: Once upon a time there was. . . me - shopping on my weekly trip to Costco. That kind of start is simple, short, and introduces you to the person in the story that’s going to experience something. We might imagine that our faith story should start large and with something that seems important. But since it's our story, it’s okay to start with the person who’s going to experience Jesus in the first place. 

So now that our storytelling has started, what’s next? Well - today’s sermon title can help. We can use the phrase, “And then…” or something like “And every day…” as a way to share with others what’s our everyday reality. For example, In my coronavirus story, I could make the next part read: “And then...I tried to do my usual thing of getting whole milk out of the cooler.” There’s nothing big about that statement. But it does point to a moment in my life that looks like a thousand other moments that I’ve had. And that, I think, is the point. Because when we tell our faith story - we’re not just talking about Jesus. We’re also revealing a bit about who we are - and how Jesus, somehow, changed our everyday way of being in the world. 

And we see this conversation about a new normal in our reading today from the gospel according to John. In a very Pixar kind of way, the story basically began with: “Once upon a time there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus.” Now Nicodemus was a leader in his Jewish community. He had, over the years, devoted himself to the study of the gifts of God - which includes the Torah, the law - and how that describes a way of being in the world. Nicodemus took seriously God’s call to love his neighbors and we should assume, I think, that Nicodemus kept God involved in all the parts of his story. If we were telling his story the Pixar way, we might next the part read: “And every day Nicodemus kept close to the promises of God.” And I think that’s exactly who Nicodemus was because when he heard Jesus was nearby, Nicodemus went to see him. He recognized that Jesus’ actions were signs of what life with God was all about. And those signs already matched Nicodemus’ experience of leaning into the promises of God. But when Jesus started talking about being “born from above,” Nicodemus was thrown for a loop. Nicodemus had grown old and had lived a life full of God and God’s promises. Jesus’ words were not working to replace Nicodemus’ Jewish identity. Rather, Jesus was laying out a vision of another gift from God - one rooted in the relationship Jesus was choosing to have with Nicodemus. This part of the story ends a few verses after John 3:17 and we never hear Nicodemus’ response. Instead, as Jesus’ story plays out - Nicodemus sort of fades into the background. Yet his story continues to grow - and we see him two more times in John. In chapter 7, he is with a gathering of the Jewish Sanhedrin - a leadership council - reminding others that a person must be heard before being judged. And then, near the end of the story, he pops up in the middle of chapter 19, helping Joseph of Arimathea give Jesus a proper burial. There’s actually a lot of Nicodemus’ story that we don’t know. We have no idea what his thoughts were after he heard verse 3:17 nor do we get the reason why he came back to Jesus in chapter 19. But what we do see is how the promise of God never left Nicodemus and that his connection to Jesus didn’t fade even when they were apart. Instead, it took time for Nicodemus to discover the new everyday way of being in the world Jesus already gave to him the moment they first met. 

The German word “Hamsterkäufe” is a good word for how we try to make peace when we’re facing uncertainty. But there’s another word - an English word - that we can turn to when we’re unsure of what comes next: and that’s loved. We are, through Jesus, loved. And the love Jesus gives is not a one-time thing. It’s a love designed to last, helping to carry us through the trials we’re going through. It's a love that is in the background, working on you even when you don’t know it's there. And it’s a love that will always be of your story. In the face of uncertainty, like the coronavirus, we’re not sure what our story will look like. But we do know that, through Christ, we already have God’s love as our new normal. Our call is to lean into “Hamsterkäufe” as a way to find peace. Rather, we’re invited to lean into that love that Jesus has already given us. Like Nicodemus, it might take years before we realize what this love has done for us. But when we do, we will discover how love is the sign of who God - and you - really are. So as you keep writing the faith story you’re going to share - take a moment to think about what’s next. Go ahead and finish this sentence: “And every day . . .”

Amen. 
 



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Once Upon a Time There Was... [Sermon Manuscript]

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Matthew 4:1-11

Pastor Marc's sermon on First Sunday in Lent (March 1, 2020) on Matthew 4:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of the quirks of today’s story from the gospel according to Matthew is that we never hear why the devil chose this moment to tempt Jesus. There’s no flashback scene showing us the many ways the devil and Jesus didn’t get along. And there aren't even a few words giving us insight into the devil’s planning for this moment. All we know is that after Jesus was baptized, God’s Spirit led him into the wilderness. Now, if we were writing this story, we might want to make the characters’ motivation more explicit. We could, for example, start our version of the story before the world was even made - and include some great battle between good and evil. Jesus and the devil would, at some point, stare at each other and then fight, sharing a few one-liners that would make any Marvel Superhero Movie proud. After the initial fight, we would then see the devil always lurking in the background. But we would also try to make it clear why the devil went after Jesus as an adult instead of, say, when Jesus was 9 or 10. We would make each temptation connected to the back Jesus and the devil both shared and each one would feel more personal and deadly than the last. I’m pretty sure that if we were the ones telling this story, we would use way more words than Matthew did. Because telling stories and making them come alive for others is actually hard. Storytelling is something that we can all do but it’s a skill that takes time for us to develop. And one of the core elements in storytelling - focusing on what’s central - isn’t always an easy thing to suss out. 

So that makes me wonder, what do you think is central in this temptation of Jesus story? Now, I plan to share what I think is central but before that, I want you to answer that question for yourself. If you had to make this story real for someone else - where would your focus be? 
[pause]

Now, if you didn’t come up with an answer, that’s okay. Because, like I said, storytelling is hard.  And there’s a lot of things in this story about Jesus that we could make the center. It would be helpful if we had a model for storytelling that we could easily use to re-tell this Jesus story. Lucky for us, we see storytelling at work everyday. And some of these storytellers, we pay lots of money to watch their movies, buy their t-shirts, and own their toys. One of those kinds of storytellers that’s popular in my house is the animation studio Pixar. Since 1995, they’ve made some of the most popular movies in the world including Cars, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Coco. Their use of computer animation is pretty unique and defines their signature styles. But they also have a pattern they follow when it comes to telling their stories. And this method of storytelling that is what makes their movies about what toys do when we’re not looking or what jobs the monsters in our closets have - actually work. From what I’ve been told, their format follows a basic six part outline. It begins with: “Once upon a time there was…” They then expand their  initial environment by adding “And every day…” But then something happens and they move into “Until one day…” The story then cycles through its ups and downs by repeating the phrase “And because of that…” over and over again. Eventually, the story then moves towards a resolution with “Until finally…” The story ends not with “and happily ever after,” but it sets up for a sequel with: “And ever since then…” This six part outline of telling a story is something we’ll spend time doing during Lent. And since today is the First Sunday in Lent, let’s focus on that first part: “Once upon a time there was…” 

Because that opening, I think, is what sets the tone for what’s central in the story. It helps reveal the characters, the setting, and gives hints at what’s possible. Today’s reading from Matthew isn’t at the start of the book but the devil, I think, knows what’s central to the entire story. And the tempter revealed why he reached out to Jesus now by repeating the same phrase at the start of the first two temptations. Although it’s possible to act as if the tempter was asking a real question when they said “if you are the Son of God,” I find the tempter’s words in that moment to be way more sarcastic. The tempter knew who Jesus was because, right before this moment, Jesus was publicly identified by God as God’s Son during baptism. That declaration wasn’t hidden and it wasn’t meant only for the crowd gathered around Jesus that day.  It was a word that made Jesus the center of the world’s story - and so, in response, the forces that wanted to be at the center instead, had to respond. The temptations, I don’t think, were not the central element of this story. Rather, it was Jesus himself. The tempter wanted to challenge Jesus’ own self-understanding. By poking at his very identity, the tempter was hoping Jesus would stumble. Instead of keeping himself at the center of the story, the tempter tried to make personal desires, a sense of self-importance, and the lust of power and control, be that focus instead. The devil knew Jesus’ story would end if there was anything else that stood at its center. But Jesus, instead, refused to let anything else stand in the place where he belonged. 

Yet I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with what it’s like to live lives where isn’t always at the center. We can get so wrapped up in the busyness of our lives that we end up giving permission to something else to define the heart of who we are. This shifting away from Jesus is something we can choose to do - but this shift also happens without our being aware it has. It sort of sneaks up on us and we find ourselves living lives where self-interest, personal desires, and power over others defines the choices we make as individuals and as a community. Instead of living in love, we live in fear. Instead of taking a risk and showing mercy, we ignore those in need. Instead of staying open to the diversity within the body of Christ and in our world, we close ranks around those who already think, believe, and act like we do. We think Jesus is at the center of our story - but we end up putting our trust, focus, and identity into everything else. 

Today’s story, I think, is less about avoiding temptation and more about keeping Jesus at the center of our story. It’s the belief that the story of who we are cannot be fully told unless the Jesus who claimed us in baptism and in faith is part of the story we tell. And we need to learn - and relearn - how to tell it. Our faith story is exactly that - our own. It doesn’t have to be as big and wild as a Pixar movie to be meaningful and true. Instead, it just needs to be ours - honest, authentic, and that names the moments when Jesus felt present and when he didn’t. Our faith story, as we grow, will change and evolve. But by telling the story, we give witness to the truth that Jesus refuses to give up on us, no no matter how many other things we make central. So, this Lent, let’s learn how to re-tell your faith story. Think about your faith and that moment when Jesus became real to you. It could start with a parent, a grandparent, or yourself. It could involve a specific place, a specific time of your life, or a specific experience you had. Start thinking about who Jesus is to you - and let’s have the Pixar model of storytelling help you tell your Jesus story. And we can start by using that space in the back of the bulletin by my reflection to finish that sentence: “Once upon a time there was…”

Amen. 
 



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Reflection: The Stories We Tell...

Are you the kind of person who tells the same story over and over again? If you are, that's great because I'm one of those people, too. My family has spent a lot of their lives patiently listening to me tell a story they've already heard. On days when they're feeling generous, they let me keep talking. But sometimes they let me know I'm acting like a broken record. The re-telling of stories is one reason why I write and store all my sermons in Google. When I pick a story to use in a sermon, I first need to search through the hundreds of sermons I've already written. Sometimes I discover that I haven't used that story in a sermon since the days I was on internship in New York City. Yet, there have been times when I had forgotten I used that story just three weeks before. I consider the stories I tell over and over again to be stories worth sharing. But even I know a story can sometimes lose its meaning when it’s told too often.

One of the ways the church is unique is that we re-tell the same story every day. We are constantly dwelling in and sharing the story of Jesus. We remember how he casted out demons and offered healing to all. We celebrate the stories around his birth and how he saved the host of a wedding reception from being embarrassed when he turned water into wine. We also proclaim to each other and the world that Jesus refuses to give up on them. Unlike the stories I share, the story about Jesus never grows old because it's a story that always speaks to us in new ways. We re-tell the story of Jesus because His story helps us become the people God knows we can be.

So during this Lent, we're going to take some time to learn how to share Jesus' story. We'll do this by using Pixar's model for storytelling. In the space below and in the margins on this page, I want you to think about a moment when Jesus made a difference in your life. Hold that moment in your mind. Replay it over and over again. Relive that life-giving moment. Then I invite you to complete this sentence: One upon a time there was. . .



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For Our Sake [Sermon Manuscript]

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
   and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’

 

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Pastor Marc's sermon on Ash Wednesday (February 26, 2020) on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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When I read the Bible for myself, I read it assuming it was written seriously. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of the Bible that are absurd, silly, shocking, or funny. But in my head, I imagine that when the words for the Bible were first written down, the physical act of writing happened in a reverent and serious way. The original authors who recorded or wrote these words probably didn’t know they were crafting scripture that would last thousands of years but I think they must have known they were writing something holy and important. When I read the Bible, I assume the reverence I bring to the text is something the original authors experienced too. 

But my assumption is just that: an assumption. And sometimes a text comes along like tonight’s reading from 2 Corinthians that needs more than just reverence. The text needs passion and energy and a little theatrics because that’s probably how Paul composed this text nearly 2000 years ago. He was caught up in a pattern of writing letters back and forth with a Christian community he founded in the Greek city of Corinth. From what we can tell, Paul had established a shop in Corinth’s marketplace as a kind of leather worker. As people came to his shop to place orders for the different things he could make, he talked to them and eventually shared who he knew Jesus to be. Through persistence, grace, and a lot of help from the Holy Spirit, a group of maybe two dozen people started gathering together for worship and prayer. Paul stayed maybe 18 months before moving on to a new city. But his relationship to the Corinthian community continued. And it wasn’t long before the community started to split into different cliques. People argued about who had the right understanding of Jesus and they started valuing people based on the amount of spiritual gifts they had. These disagreements got so intense that people stopped worshipping together and they kept only to their friends. As these splits grew, someone finally wrote to Paul asking for his thoughts. We don’t have the letters that were written to Paul but we do have Paul’s responses - and they were eventually arranged into what we know as First and Second Corinthians. These two books were his actual responses to actual people trying to figure out what it actually means to follow Jesus Christ, together. Paul didn’t think he was writing the Bible. Instead, he was addressing people who were trying to embody the grace God had already given them. 

And since this grace was embodied, we should see Paul’s words in this letter as embodied too. Because he didn’t physically put these words on paper or vellum. Instead, he probably hired a scribe to write down these words as he said them. So instead of imagining Paul, a Jewish scholar sitting in a quiet room, writing a letter in the most reverent way possible; it’s better to see Paul speaking and how he became more animated as he spoke. He was, most likely, walking around the room and gesturing wildly with his hands. And when he got to the middle of verse 2, he exploded with energy because he knew what it was like to hold onto hope even in the middle of hopeless moments. We can almost hear him speaking faster and faster as he connected so many different and competing experiences with one another. His words rolled off the tongue because he was giving voice to what his life with Jesus was all about. It wasn’t a life that was easy or simple or that focused on his being comfortable. Rather, it was a life that lived into everything it was given because it trusted in a promise: a promise that our life is not evaluated only by our health, wealth, age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social class, or any of those things we use to keep our communities apart. Rather, our value is defined by God - and God loves you. 
But God doesn’t only love the best version of you or the version of you that’s always reverent all the time. God loves all of you - including the parts that are over-the-top, passionate, and full of theatrics. God loves the parts of you that you do not like; the parts that don’t work like they should; and all those things that you push off to tomorrow when they really should be taken care of today. God’s love isn’t reserved for the best version of who God wants us to be. God loves you. And it’s a love that makes a difference in the world - and in you. 

Because for our sake, God moved into this world. And in a verse Paul might have rushed through as he geared up for the high energy of verse 2 and beyond, Paul revealed what his experience of Jesus was all about. He knew Jesus as a gift - a gift of love because God came to us. This gift wasn’t something Paul earned after he was already the faithful person God wanted him to be. Rather, Jesus came to him as love incarnate first because that’s just what Jesus does. This love isn’t meant only for our comfort or to make us feel better about ourselves. Rather, God’s love comes with an energy, passion, and theatrics of all its own. Jesus moves us into a new reality where the love we receive becomes the love we give. And this love, like Jesus’ himself, knows no bounds. 
The love God gives us is a love that is always honest about who we are. It doesn’t run away from our faults, our fears, and the ways we don’t love each other like we should. It doesn’t ignore the ways we, as a community, sometimes limit who we offer love too - holding back from those who might not act, or think, or carry themselves in the ways we think they should. This love also doesn’t ignore the ways our wider community- the neighborhoods, towns, state, and nation we call home - acts as if this love from God is, someone, limited. We have no problem saying that Jesus’ love is for us but then we act as if God’s love stops there, letting us remain as we are instead of seeing how God’s love transforms us into something more.

Which is why, I think, we celebrate events like Ash Wednesday. It’s why we will use ashes in just a few minutes to remind us exactly who we are. Yet we are also different because we are marked by the sign of the cross. We do these things, as a community, so that we can help one another realize that Jesus has inserted himself into our lives, helping us be the more generous, more inclusive, more compassionate, more merciful, and more loving people God knows we can be. The love we feel and the love we give is not only for our own personal benefit but it’s also meant to be, like Jesus, a gift given for the world. There will be times when we’ll need to be reverent, serious, and all that those words means. But there are other moments when the love we give needs to be animated and full of energy. We are not the keepers of God’s love. We are the ones called to give that love away. And so tonight, as we remember the whole truth about who we are - we will also remember the new truth that God’s love says about us. And how, through Jesus, God’s love is made visible in our reverent and not-so-reverent lives. 

Amen. 
 



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The Christian Life [Sermon Manuscript]

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 23, 2020) on Matthew 17:1-9. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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It’s hard to talk about today’s story - the Transfiguration of Jesus - without including all the verses that come before it. So that’s what I’m going to try to do now; I’m going to paraphrase what happened in Matthew before Jesus, Peter, James, and John went up the mountain. And to start off, we’re about 12 chapters further into Jesus’ story than we were last week. Jesus’ ministry around the Sea of Galilee is almost over. But before he took his final steps towards the city of Jerusalem, Jesus visited the city of Caesarea Philippi. Now Caesarea Philippi was the political, religious, and economic center of the entire area and it was built at the base of a mountain covered in religious shrines and temples. For centuries, people gathered there to worship non-Jewish gods and goddesses. Yet during Jesus’ lifetime, something new showed up and there were suddenly statues honoring and celebrating the Roman Emperors. By this point, the Roman Emperors were declaring themselves to be either gods or the sons of gods. And they claimed they had a kind of divine permission to make the entire world their own. In the city of Caesarea Philippi, the streets were filled with Roman soldiers and their allies; and the marketplaces were covered in images declaring Rome’s greatness at the expense of everyone else. Caesarea Philippi was a place that tried to convince you that it was Rome that gave your life meaning and purpose. And so Jesus brought his disciples there. And while standing in the shadow of a mountain filled with statues dedicated to the Roman Emperor, Jesus asked those who followed him: “who do you say that I am?” Peter, even though he could literally see the political, economic, and religious might of the Roman Empire in front of him - quickly said: “Jesus, you’re the Messiah; you’re true center of our world.” Jesus, in response to Peter’s confession, started sharing more of his story. He told them of his decision to head to Jerusalem and how, instead of overthrowing the Roman Empire, he would be arrested and killed. This wasn’t how Peter thought the story of the Messiah should turn out - so Peter challenged Jesus’ own words. And in a sudden shift, Jesus seemed to turn on Peter. He called Peter Satan - and said he was stumbling block for Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus then turned to all his disciples, telling them that they needed to deny themselves, take up their cross, and be ready to follow him. 

And that, according to Matthew, is the last sort of detail we get about what Jesus was upto until he and his friends go up a mountain. For six days, we hear nothing about the direction Jesus walked in or if he visited any other towns. We have no idea if Jesus cured anyone during this break or if took some me-time and maybe visited a spa or saw a show. For six whole days, we have nothing in the story that can distract us from the twist and turns that came right before. And instead we can imagine the disciples replaying this conversation they had with Jesus over and over again in their head. They tried to make sense of Peter’s confession, Peter as Satan, and this cross that seemed to involve them all. They had heard Jesus confirm that he was exactly who they hoped he was. And yet his words also left them confused, worried, and full of doubts. 

So after six days, Jesus took Peter, John, and James up a mountain. And as they climbed, the three disciples carried all of their stuff with them. Every doubt they had about Jesus; every question about their choices in their life; and this conversation they had repeated in their minds over and over again - all of that went up that mountain with them. Jesus didn’t invite his most perfect followers to journey with him up the mountain. Rather, he took the doubters; the ones with questions; the ones who, even after following Jesus for some time, still weren’t exactly sure what their faith and this Jesus was all about. Jesus, in other words, basically invited us to go up that mountain with him. Because we, like Peter, James, and John also doubt; and worry; and sometimes wonder if this Jesus thing matters for us as much as it should. We, like them, still find ourselves living through moments where we don’t see Jesus as clearly as we should. And in periods of our life that last much longer than six days, we’re not sure exactly what we should believe. We find times in our lives where every prayer we utter, every worship service we attend, and every piece of bread or drink we share at the Lord’s table feels - a little bit too normal - and no where near divine. God, for us, starts feeling too strange or too mundane; too over-the-top and unrealistic or maybe too down-to-earth and really small. God stops feeling like God. And we find ourselves going up the mountains of our lives not really sure why we’re going up at all. 

Yet it’s then, right before the disciples got to the top of the mountain, that Jesus transfigured. His face glowed brighter than the sun and his clothes turned white. Suddenly two others appeared with him and the disciples instinctively knew that Moses, the one who received the law on another mountain top, and Elijah, the great prophet, was there with them. Peter, being Peter, interrupted this scene with his words - and so God spoke. And the disciples fell to the ground, afraid. Matthew doesn’t tell us exactly what they were afraid of - but we can fill in the details ourselves. The disciples, In the words of Joseph Harvard III, “had their eyes opened, and they saw a new reality. It was revealed to them that the way of Jesus was God’s way in the world.” Yet their eyes saw more than just Jesus. They also, I think, came to realize a truth about themselves. Jesus is. They really were disciples who doubt, who wonder, who get confused, and they realized they’re the ones who do not get Jesus right. And so they fell to the ground, covering their faces and their eyes, because they saw the truth about Jesus collide with the truth they knew about themselves. 

Yet before they could uncover their eyes and see Jesus looking like his own unshiny self - Jesus first came to them. He came to those who were afraid; to the ones who doubted; to those who didn’t know what to do with this Son of God. Jesus came to them first, and with a gentle touch and world, invited them to “Get up and do not be afraid.” These words were not meant to be harsh or to be a command for the disciples to not feel what they were truly feeling. Rather, it was a word of comfort that Jesus knows we are exactly who we are - right now. Jesus knows we doubt and that we’re sometimes confused. He knows we feel fear and that our fear will sometimes block us from seeing the truth that’s around us. Jesus knows we are exactly who we are - yet he also knows whose we are too. We are already in a relationship with him. And he comes to us not because we are perfect but because his love for us is. He reaches out to us - in baptism, in communion, in our gathering together for worship, and in our prayers - and he continues to remind us that nothing can separate us from God’s steadfast love. Our doubts; our fears; our confusion; and even our lack of an unwavering faith - will not stop Jesus from coming to us. Instead, his commitment to us lets us do a hard thing and that’s follow him. We get to get up, to head down the mountain into our very ordinary lives, and to trust that Jesus is with us even when we are afraid. We follow because we choose that love, not fear, will be at the center of our lives. And Jesus, in our journey on mountains and through valleys, promises he will never let us go. 

Amen. 
 



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Reflection: Being Honest About Intrepretation

Let's spend some time with 2 Peter. It's a letter we don't read often. Most scholars believe that the letter was written many years after Peter's death. In the ancient world, it was acceptable for people to write in the name of people who had died. This was the author's way of letting people know their point of view and earlier readers would have recognized the references to Peter "as literary devices used in this type of writing" (Lutheran Study Bible). The author used Peter's point of view to address a major issue in the early church: what does unity look like? There was then, as there is now, many different perspectives about what it means to follow Jesus. And the author of 2 Peter wanted us to lean into the promises of Jesus more than assuming that our interpretation of Jesus was what faith was all about.

So how do we recognize an interpretation from the promise of Jesus? That's sometimes hard to do because we, as humans, are in the business of interpretation. We are constantly processing new experiences through the entirety of our story. If you've ever gone through something a family member or friend, we're often surprised by the slight differences that show up when we talk about the experience afterwards. The things that popped out to us didn't matter to our friend or the feelings our friend had were emotions that were nowhere near our radar. Even though we went through the exactly same experience, our interpretation of that experience is always different. We are not objective nor are our opinions facts. Rather we use our interpretation as a way to make sense of our world. And even though there are facts that never change, how we interpret those facts will be how we follow Jesus into the world.

The author of 2 Peter wanted, I think, for us to admit that we do interpretation. We should never be so hard-nosed about our own views that we refuse to listen to other people. When it comes to faith, our experience of God's grace is not the limit to what's possible with God. Our faith is exactly that: ours. And it's God who gives the gift of faith to us and to others in the exactly way that they need. It isn't our job to show people what they need to believe. Rather, we are called to share what we believe. And that begins by living into our experiences of Jesus - experiences we have in worship, in prayer, and in our daily lives. Center your faith in where you have met God. And let that fact fill you with a love that will sustain you all of your days.



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