Questions and Reflections

Spirit Born: Who You Are [Sermon Manuscript]

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.' All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others sneered and said, 'They are filled with new wine.'
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: 'Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams. 
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy. 
And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Acts 2:1-21

Pastor Marc's sermon on Pentecost (June 9, 2019) on Acts 2:1-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

****************************

On Thursday night, delegates and pastors from all 160+ congregations in the New Jersey Synod gathered at a Hyatt hotel in New Brunswick to begin our annual synod assembly. A synod assembly is very much like an annual congregational meeting. We gather together in one place to talk about the ministry that went well over the last year, the bits and pieces that didn’t, to vote on budget and finances, and to spend time figuring out what it means to follow Jesus Christ. But unlike our congregational meetings that go on for two or three hours, Synod assemblies last for days. There’s a lot of singing, a lot of prayer, a lot of questions about what is actually going on, and quite a bit of doodling done on coffee stained papers as we work through the assembly’s agenda. A synod assembly can be very boring, sometimes cheesy, and surprisingly exhausting even though we spend most of our time just sitting. But a synod assembly is also one of the few times when we meet, in the flesh, other Lutherans. From across the state, Lutherans of all shades, backgrounds, genders, and ages sit at tables in a hotel ballroom and we are the church, together. So on Thursday night, before we started discussing the business of the church, we acted as the church by worshipping together. And to make that night special, we did something we don’t do every day: we ordained a new pastor. 


Now in our tradition, the rite of ordination takes place during worship, after the sermon and the hymn of the day. The person being ordained is brought up front so that everyone can see them. The bishop then addresses them, asking the candidate to profess their faith and their trust in God’s call. They are asked to make promises - to affirm what they are called to teach, to preach, and what it means to live faithfully in God’s world. They stand in front of everyone affirming the baptismal call to be a faithful witness so that everyone may see and experience God’s love in all that they do. Once the promises are made, the ordination is completed through the laying on of hands. Every ordained person comes forward, surrounding the candidate in a sea of white albs and red stoles. And since a synod assembly is when a lot of pastors are gathered together, over one hundred clergy came forward on Thursday night to support the candidate with our presence. Since not everyone  could lay their hands on the candidate, we formed a kind of human chain with our hands resting on the shoulder of the person in front of us. We, together, created a physical sign, showing that the candidate for ordination was literally connected to a faith and a tradition bigger than themselves. Every ordination is a gift because every pastor and deacon in that room was reminded of the promises they made when they were first ordained. But that moment was for more than just clergy. Because all of us, by witnessing that act of ordination and confirmation, was reminded of what our life of faith is all about. We are who we are because of the gifts God has given us. And we were designed, created, and meant to be a kind of gift to everyone we meet. 


Our story from the books Acts begins on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was, and is still, a Jewish religious festival. So in the year 33 or so, Jerusalem was filled with all kinds of people from all over the Meditterean and the Near East who were there celebrating their faith. Today’s text actually lists 15 different ethnicities,  nationalities, and languages that, I think, probably represented only a fraction of all the different kinds of people who were visiting or who lived in the city of Jerusalem. God’s Holy City was diverse and in the middle of that city full of people who first came from somewhere else, Jesus’ small group of followers gathered together. These first apostles and disciples, who had seen Jesus die and who witnessed the Resurrection and the Ascension, were trying to figure out what being the church was all about. They met up in a house and once they were together, that’s when the Holy Spirit showed up. Now at first, the Spirit rushed in, sounding like a wind coming from a tornado or hurricane. I’m sure that roaring sound peaked the interest of everyone else in the neighborhood so a crowd came out to see what was up. While the wind blew, tongues of fire - something like the flame of a candle but without the candle - appeared. These flames settled on the heads of the early disciples and they found themselves empowered to do a new thing. The disciples opened their doors and their windows and started talking to the crowd. The crowd, the community of people who had mostly first come from somewhere else, expected, I think, to hear these disciples speak in the language common to their city. They expected, to hear Aramaic, the language of Jesus, or maybe Latin, the language of Rome, or maybe even Greek, the language of trade used throughout the Near East. But instead they heard God’s story in the language of where they had first come from. The word about Jesus came to them in the same language their parents first spoke to them when they were just a few minutes old. It wasn’t long before the sound of the wind, the tongues of fire, and all those special effects were basically forgotten. The crowd didn’t stay gathered around that house because of the spectacle they saw. Rather, what surprised them was hearing God’s story in the personal languages that made each of them feel included, known, and loved. The reason why Pentecost matters to us isn’t because the disciples were given a kind of superpower that let them speak any kind of language. No, we care about Pentecost because it reminds us that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t something only for ourselves. God’s presence in our lives is also, in the words of Amy Oden, “about being empowered to connect with others...it’s a gift expressly for those outside the Jesus movement.” We are, through our baptism and our faith, connected to a community and a God that is so much bigger than ourselves. That connection, that relationship, is truly a gift. But we are also called, through that same faith, to be a gift to all - to connect, to include, to know, and to even love those who don’t follow Jesus like we do. 


Now in a few moments [at the next service], we are again going to be reminded of who we are. James, who is being confirmed today, is going to stand up in front of all of us. He is going to be asked questions, asked to profess his faith, and he’s going to be invited to live into the promises God has already made to him. That doesn’t mean that we are asking him/you to never ask questions, to never doubt, or to never wonder if Jesus is truly with him/you. Life is too hard, filled with too many fears and too many unknowns, for us to make certainty the point of faith. But we can, instead, invite each other to lean into God’s gifts: the gift of God’s presence; the gift of God’s Spirit; the gift of God’s community; the gift of a faith big enough for all our fears, all our joys, all our sorrows; and the fact that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can, together, figure out what it means to include, to know, and to love. And we can trust that the Spirit from Pentecost is the same Spirit here today - and with us through our entire lives. In those moments when we can’t remember or see the gifts God has given to us, we can still be exactly who God made us to be: a gift to each other, a gift to ourselves, and a gift to the entire world. 

Amen.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Reflection: My Spirit on All Flesh

Since today is Pentecost, a day we set aside to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, our worship is a little different. The church is decorated in red, we're confirming James at our 10:30 am worship, and we lit the baptismal font on fire. We're joining with Christian communities all around the world by stepping into the story of the Spirit descending onto the disciples as depicted in the book of Acts. We, together, are playing with tongues of fire. Today's first reading (Joel 2:22-32) is not the reading assigned for this day, but it is a text quoted in our story from Acts. When Peter realized the diverse community around him, regardless of their native languages, could understand him, he told them about Jesus. And Peter did that by quoting from the book of Joel.

The book of Joel is, compared to other books, pretty short. Its three chapters are attributed to a prophet named Joel who lived sometime in the fifth or fourth century BCE. Joel regularly quoted other biblical books, even obscure ones (aka Obadiah) that we rarely read. The book of Joel is filled with dramatic images including an entire army of locusts. It's also a book rooted in a very specific promise: God is at work in the world, and we see that through the gift of the God's Spirit.

God's Spirit is more than just a thing. God's Spirit is an energy, a life force, that moves in, through and around us. The Holy Spirit is how God is a verb in the world. And God's "verb-ing," God's activity, is incredibly inclusive. As we hear in Joel, God's Spirit will be given to sons, daughters, old, young, free and enslaved. These verses are not meant to describe the limit of who will receive God's Spirit. Rather, they are signs of the way God reaches out to everyone, regardless of the ways we choose to categorize each other. God's generosity is manifested in the inclusive diversity of who God names as God's beloved. Through the gift of baptism and faith, we are just one small vision of how diverse God's kingdom truly is. To really see what God is about, we are called to step back and take a look at the church worldwide. The amazing thing about the Spirit is not only that it continues to inspire the church to be Jesus in the world. The Spirit has also made sure that this church includes even you.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Reflection: Bound

Today's reading from the books of Acts 16:16-34 is a story filled with tension that would fit in something like Game of Thrones. If we let the words from this text fill our imagination, we can watch a vivid drama filled with special effects. A slave girl, possessed by a spirit, follows Paul and Silas for days. A dark dungeon is filled with the sound of hymns and the crashing of bricks as an earthquake shakes the entire city. A jailer considers suicide before a faith-filled intervention causes an entire household to be baptized. There is a lot going on in this text. So what part of the story jumps out to you?

For me, I find myself drawn to the slave girl. On one level, she embodies the theme of bondage found throughout this passage. Everyone is bound by something: either by a spirit, the violence of the Roman Empire, or the lure of wealth and money. She is, however, the only one who lives her life enslaved in a non-metaphorical way. She has no control over the violence done to her body and she remains nameless throughout this story. The spirit compels her to annoy Paul and Silas for several days by affirming what they already know. After a few days, Paul casts the spirit out of her. His annoyance at her actions frees her from her bondage to the spirit but the act also endangered her. She's still a slave and her physical condition did not change. We never learn what happens to her and she leaves the scene still in bondage.

This text can help us ask difficult questions about the legacy of slavery, faith and freedom. We tend to define freedom based on the choices we make as individuals. Yet the community around us matters as well. The jailer, wrapped up in a way of life that demanded his death when a supernatural event freed every prisoner, ends up being freed from that system because every prisoner stayed. By working together, the community around Paul and Silas broke down a sway of life that had no problem inflicting violence on others. The life we are called to live is a life wrapped up in the people God has surrounded us with. The prisoners, together, refused to let the rules of violence be what defined them. Instead, they lived into the life God had freely given them. And we can see, I think, that if the slave girl had been truly freed, Paul and Silas would have seen more clearly the kind of life God wants everyone to have.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

2000 Years to You [Sermon Manuscript]

Jesus prayed: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." 

"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John 17:20-26

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (June 2, 2019) on John 17:20-26. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

****************************

What was a high and a low from your last week?

At the start of every class of Confirmation, I have this habit of asking everyone in the room that question. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the youth in our 2 year program or if you’re a parent sitting in - everyone who’s in that space is invited to share their high and their low from the week. The high could be something that went really well, like winning your soccer game or going to an Ed Sheeran concert. And your low could be something that didn’t go so well, like doing poorly on a test or dreading something that’s coming up next week. It’s not easy for everyone to share what brings them joy and what hurts so we work hard to create a space where everyone can share what they’re most comfortable with. Since confirmation class is mostly filled with 7th and 8th graders, a lot of the highs revolve around school vacations and snow days while the lows are about the piles of homework they still need to do. But sometimes someone in the room shares a high or a low we didn’t expect. Over the last two years, we’ve been honest about health scares, missing pets, worrying about money, and about that fight we recently had with friends. We’ve also shared with each other the many new adventures we’ve undertaken; the ways we’ve served individuals and communities in need; and how love can sometimes appear even when we’re stuck in our deepest lows. After everyone in that space had finished naming their highs and their lows, I or Pastor John Holliday who I teach Confirmation classes with, then took everything that was said and everything that was left unsaid - and we surrounded all our highs and our lows with prayer. Because when we spend time with each other, we’re also spending time with Jesus. And when we spend time with Him, sometimes the least we can do is pray.

For the last few weeks, our reading about Jesus has come from John’s version of what happened when Jesus gathered his friends together before his arrest, trial, and death. In the gospel according to John, Jesus always knows what’s going to happen next. So before he took his last steps towards the cross, he gathered his friends for a large meal and he tried to prepare them for what’s about to come. After washing their feet, Jesus launched into a three chapter long conversation with everyone around him. He wanted to lay out a kind of expectation of what their lives will be like after their experience of him changes. For some of Jesus’ followers, they had experience Jesus for years. They were there when he fed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish and they were among those who saw how he kept a wedding party going by turning 7 gigantic jars of water into wine. For them, Jesus was a tangible reality. Jesus was someone they could literally touch, walk next to, and even see cry and laugh. He was as physical to them as you and I are to each other. And Jesus knew that was about to change. Their experience of Jesus was going to become more real and more mysterious, all at the same time. Jesus, through the Cross, would step into his role as being our Savior, the God who is literally with us wherever we are and yet our experience of him will still give us moments when we wonder if he’s truly here. The Jesus they could touch 2000 years ago while hanging out in the city of Jerusalem was also going to be same the Jesus we get to meet, experience, and know in the year 2019 in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. The disciples, like all of us, struggled seeing Jesus in this new way. So he ended his great long conversation with them by doing what Jesus could do in that moment: he prayed.

So at the start of chapter 17, Jesus prayed for himself. He then prayed for those gathered around the table with him. But his prayer didn’t end only for those who were with him in that space 2000 years ago. No, Jesus kept praying - and he prayed for all of those who would come to know him through the witness, words, and actions of those first disciples. In other words, Jesus prayed for all of those would come to believe because those first disciples didn’t keep Jesus only for themselves. They shared him with their family, friends, and everyone they met. Jesus prayed for those who knew those first followers - Peter, James, Simone, and Mary personally. And Jesus also prayed for those who met Jesus through those who came next. Jesus ended his great farewell discourse by praying for all the faithful who would come after them. Which means, when Jesus prayed this prayer almost 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed for you.

We often imagine our prayers as being something we give to God. We share with God what we’re thankful for, what we’re concerned about, what our highs were, and what are lows are. And even though we say prayer is a two way street, it can often feel as if it’s we’re the only ones doing the talking. Yet before each of our stories began; before our parents met; before our ancestors grew up, immigrated to, or were taken to this land, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed that the intimate relationship he has with the Father would be the kind of experience of God - you and I would have. It’s an experience that is big enough to hold all our highs, all our lows, all our doubts, questions, joys, and fears. It’s a relationship that holds our entire life - and can transform it into something new. Because through him, through the gift of baptism, and through the gift of faith, the connection Jesus has with the rest of the Holy Trinity is the same kind of connection we have with him. And it’s that kind of connection, that kind of relationship, that kind of support, care, and love - that’s a big part of what the Christian life is all about.

A colleague of mine, Rev. Hayley Bang of Christ Lutheran in Paramus, told me that there’s a Korean proverb that goes something like this: “You cannot hide a cough or love.” If you’ve ever tried to stop yourself from coughing, you know that never works. And when it comes to real love, you cannot hide that either. The love Jesus has for you is a love that began at the moment of creation and is a love he lived through the life he gave for you. His love comes through the myriad of ways he sustains us in our daily lives, especially in the little ways we don’t even think about. And in those moments of our lives when we are overcome by our fears, worries, and anxieties, he stays with us and carries us through. His love was manifested in the way the Spirit inspired countless generations of Christians to share the story of Jesus so that we could hear it, learn of it, and in the case of Matthaus, spend these last two years talking about it. And that love is designed not to end with us but to move through us, into everyone that we meet - because that’s how they’ll see Jesus in the care, support, and love we give. 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed for you. 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed for Matthaus too. But that prayer wasn’t meant to only get us to today. Rather, it’s a prayer that Jesus is still praying, so that we can be the ones who carry his love into every high and low of every person that we meet.

Amen.

 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Tell Me More [Sermon Manuscript]

Jesus answered [Judas - not Iscariot], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

John 14:23-29

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 26, 2019) on John 14:23-29. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

****************************

If you were given the chance, would you question the Son of God?

Now, on one level, the answer to that question seems obvious. If Jesus, aka part of the Trinity, aka God, showed up in a form we could easily talk with, why wouldn’t we ask him a question? Scripture tells us that he was there in the beginning; that all things were created through him; and that he’ll be there at the end, shining bright in the everlasting city of God. Who else could tell us more about whatever we have questions about? Yet that reality of Jesus might also be what causes us to sort-of hesitate when it comes to questioning God. Because, as we just heard, Jesus is connected to everything. And since he’s connected to everything, that also means he’s connected to you and to me. Jesus can do more than merely recognize us from across a crowded room. Jesus’ relationship with us means that he already knows us, including everything that makes us who we are. Jesus not only knows the questions we want to ask; he also knows why we want to ask those questions in the first place. Any answer Jesus gives us is also going to address all those other questions lurking underneath the surface. All our insecurities, all our fears, and all those things that make us vulnerable - everything that’s part of why we wanted to ask Jesus that question in the first place - is going to be included in Jesus’ answer. Our attempt to get Jesus to tell us more about what we want to know might also, in the end, tell us more about ourselves than we’re quite ready to understand.

In today’s reading from the gospel according to John, we find ourselves listening to Jesus as he, once again, answered a question. Jesus had gathered his friends together for a meal knowing that he about to be arrested, tried, and killed. He wanted to prepare his friends for what life would be like when their experience of Jesus changed. So Jesus spent several chapters talking to his friends. Now, we might imagine, based on Jesus’ other sermons, that this preparation would involve Jesus talking at people while they, primarily, just listened. Yet that wasn’t the case here. In fact, the first parts of Jesus’ long conversation was filled with the disciples asking questions. “First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (a different Judas - not the Judas who would betray Jesus) (14:22) [asked] for clarification about what Jesus [was] telling them.” The disciples knew that there was a time to be silent and a time when they had to speak up. So after listening to Jesus talk about what life would be like once he died, rose, and ascended into heaven, Judas asked Jesus to tell him more. In the verse right before the ones we just read, Judas asked: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Judas, I think, wanted some kind of sign letting him and the rest of the community know that Jesus was still with them. If their experience of Jesus changed, how would they know that their time with him mattered? How could they learn to accept the three years they spent following Jesus throughout Galilee and Judah only to watch him die on a Cross? And how would they justify their relationship with Jesus if the only thing they were left with were memories while they sat locked in a room, afraid?

A few days ago, I found myself listening to the author Kelly Corrigan while she was being interviewed on a podcast. Kelly is the author of several books including The Middle Place, a memoir describing her and her father’s simultaneous experience of cancer - an experience she survived and he didn’t. She’s also a parent who, like many of us, has developed phrases she uses all the time to help her with her kids. The interviewer, after listening to Kelly describe her own story, asked her to talk more deeply about one of her go-to phrases: “tell me more.” It’s a phrase Kelly has used over the years to uncover those questions under the question. Like many of us, when someone comes to us upset, frustrated, or a little hurt - our instinct is to try and fix whatever problem they have. So within the first ten seconds of the conversation, we find ourselves immediately giving advice or feedback or our opinion on how they can “fix” whatever it is. Instead of waiting to hear their whole story, we jump in at the very first thing they said. We end up leaving those kinds conversations feeling proud ourselves for the advice we gave while the other person feels as if we didn’t listen to them at all. The first words in these kinds of conversations are rarely the real question that needs to be answered. When we find ourselves interjecting and immediately trying to “fix” the problem we think we heard, the phrase “tell me more” helps us listen more deeply and completely. Those three little words can create a safe space where the other person can reveal their vulnerabilities, their fears, and their insecurities. And as the rest of their story unfolds, an opportunity for more meaningful questions and connection comes to light. When we say “tell me more” and when spend time asking clarifying questions, we might even help the other person discover the solution they didn’t think they already had. Or when a situation arises where no solution is possible, the words “tell me more” can create an experience where a person feels heard, valued, and above all, loved. When we seek out the “more” of the story, when our questions are less about looking for a solution and more about forming a deeper connection, then something holy is created. We end up being more than just a good friend; we find ourselves living into our identity as followers of Jesus because the love He gives shines through the lives we live.

Throughout Jesus’ story, we see disciples, religious leaders, gentiles, moms, dads, the sick, the poor, the wealthy, and even demons asking Jesu  questions. As scary as it might be to ask the One who knows you that one question burning on your lips, asking questions is what the faith-filled life is all about. We are called to not only ask questions in our prayers or at Sunday school. We’re also called to ask these same questions to each other as we all struggle to figure out what following Jesus is all about. The questions you ask are holy, beautiful, and exactly what they should be. And the rest of us gathered around you are called to treat your questions well and to invite you, in a spirit of love and care, to tell us more. Because when we safely share our story with one another, we discover that our real love for each other is the true sign of Christ’s presence that Judas asked Jesus for.

 

Amen.

 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Reflection: Hospitality

Today’s reading from the book of Acts 16:9-15 introduces us to a woman named Lydia. We meet her outside the city gates of Philippi, a Roman city in northern Greece. Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, the most expensive kind of cloth one could buy in the ancient world. The color purple was only for the wealthy and those with immense political power. The process needed to create purple dye was expensive, time consuming and very smelly. Those who made the dye were sometimes pushed out of polite society because the work was so harsh and tainted. Lydia was the owner of her own business which invites us to think of her in a few different ways. We can imagine her as strong, independent and wealthy - someone with status and power. Or we can imagine her as someone pushed aside who was not considered part of the Philippi community. Lydia’s name is even a little bit odd because it seems to identify the place she was from (a region in modern Turkey). Lydia could have been a former slave, an immigrant or a migrant. The text does not let us limit Lydia to only one identity. Instead, I think the author of Acts wanted us to realize that we shouldn’t expect Lydia to be where she was. Paul shouldn’t be meeting Lydia. And we should think of her as having whatever identity makes us recognize just how odd this moment was.

Paul had a dream that God was calling him to bring the gospel to Europe. He saw a man asking him for the good news. But what he found instead was a group of women. These women, after experiencing the gift of faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit, then do something unexpected: they offered hospitality. When we talk about sharing our faith, we point out how we need to offer hospitality to others. At CLC, we model this hospitality by printing our entire worship service in a bulletin, saying hello to everyone visiting for the first time, inviting everyone to the Lord’s table, and making sure our faith isn’t lived out only within these eight walls. Part of our calling as followers of Jesus is to offer hospitality to everyone. But another aspect of that calling is that God wants us to accept hospitality too. When you accept hospitality, you create a moment when you can strengthen a relationship. And once that relationship is strengthened, you will find yourself doing what you never thought possible: you will share Jesus through words and deeds.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Color This: Pastor Marc's Messenger Article for June 2019

On May 18th, Pastor Marc, M.Z. and C. H. sat at the Christ Lutheran Church tent at Woodcliff Lake’s 2nd Annual Pear Blossom Festival. Located on the causeway in the middle of town, CLC invited passersby to do more than learn about the church. Instead, we invited them to color. Using large posters depicting different verses from the Psalms, kids and adults of all ages added color to these visual representations of God’s Word. Christ Lutheran Church has been a part of the community for 60 years, and we invited people in the community to help create art that will decorate our chapel space. At one point, Pastor Marc found himself coloring with two pre-teen girls and their moms. Around the table were two Roman Catholics, two Hindus, and a Lutheran pastor coloring with colored pencils. We talked about faith (i.e., what’s Lutheran?), our commitment to being faith-filled people and our desire to make a difference in the wider community. Coloring can be a very meditative and relaxing experience. It invites us to stop, be patient and reflect on who (and whose) we are. When we color together, we learn about each other. And when we learn about each other, we discover that the Holy Spirit is already present, deepening our faith and our commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As we celebrate this month by welcoming two new voting members via Confirmation (M.T. and J.C.), we invite them to make a commitment to pause, reflect and discern their commitment to the One who is always committed to them. Let’s give thanks for following a Jesus who knows us so well and who helps color in our lines through grace, love, service and hope.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

By This: Expectations vs Experience

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:31-35

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 19, 2019) on John 13:31-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

****************************

So I don’t really know a lot about geese and most of my experience with them has been pretty superficial. I usually engage them at a distance, watching as they flying overhead in the shape of a giant V or by stepping gingerly over and around the little...digested gifts they leave on sidewalks and on soccer fields. If close contact between me and them can’t be avoided, I know I need to be careful. A goose who sees me coming near, always assumes I’m either a threat that needs to be honked at or that I work in a bakery and my pockets are full of bread. Geese, like all of God’s creatures, are beautiful in their own way. But I’m not always thrilled to see them waddling around here at church. So far, the church has seen hordes of new geese making a seasonal stop on our property since we’re right next to the reservoir. Every one of these large groups of gooses has done all the things geese usually do. They ate. They honked. And they digested. Geese are always just themselves and feels as if they’re everywhere.

Yet this year, the giant invasion of geese has been a little different because no large group has decided to make CLC part of their extended stay in the neighborhood. Instead, they come for a quick bite before flying or waddling down to the reservoir. The geese flying through Northern New Jersey this year has made CLC a minor pit stop on their journey - except for two. Over the last few weeks, every time I pulled into the church parking lot, I stumbled onto the same two gooses. They were there, walking along Pascack Road, hanging out by Joe’s shed, chatting with our groundhogs by the picnic tables and bbq, and even paying their respects to all who rest in our memorial garden. Instead of a bazillion grease calling CLC home - we, at this moment, have only two. Now, they’re still geese. They’re still eating, honking, and doing their best to digest whatever they can. Nothing they’re doing, on the surface, feels weird. Except our expectations are undone because the bazillion geese we promised ourselves would be here is now reduced to two. Their presence here feels as if we’re watching something new. The fact they chose to eat, hang out, and help each other makes what we were witnessing feel special. I have no idea if these geese are mates, siblings, or just good friends who met each other during one of their routine flying trips. All I know is that they are here being who they are - and I find myself experiencing them in a new way.

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John are four verses from a story we heard a little more than five weeks ago on Maundy Thursday. In John’s version of the last supper, Jesus gathered his friends together in a room to eat, talk, and do all the things we expect at a great dinner party. I imagine there was plenty of food, comfortable seating, and that the room was filled with conversation looking forward to the upcoming festival of Passover and wondering what Jesus might do next. Jesus’ friends, I think, had no problem dreaming up what they thought Jesus’ next actions should be. Yet their dreaming about the future usually caused them to miss seeing what Jesus was already doing in the here and now. In the gospel according to John, Jesus is the only one who knew what the next part of his story would be. So while his friends talked, drank, and ate, Jesus stood up and hung a dish towel from his belt. He then chose to take on the role reserved for a slave, washing the dirty and dusty feet of all who ate. Jesus, their teacher, went to each of the disciples, his students, and washed their feet. Peter, realizing what Jesus was doing, tried to stop him from embracing the role reserved for a servant or a slave. Yet Jesus still knelt - and he, the Savior of the World, washed their feet. The disciples’ expectations for Jesus were running head-first into their actual experience of Jesus. Yet Jesus was always just himself. And the disciples found themselves experiencing Jesus in a new way - and discovering, once again, what God means when it comes to love.

The word love, as we see in verse 34, is preceded by the word “new.” Which forces us to ask what’s actually new with what Jesus said? On one level, the commandment Jesus gave here was not really new at all. Those same words appear in the book of Leviticus and the call to love is one that’s found throughout all of Scripture. The commandment Jesus gave was something the disciples already knew as something they were called to do. So that command to love wasn’t new. But maybe the experience of that love and how we see it - is what makes Jesus’ words brand new.

Because the commandment to love is not defined by what we think love is. Rather, the love Jesus points to is the love God gives. In the words of Rev. David Lose, “[Jesus says this] just hours before [he] will be handed over, tried, beaten, and crucified…all for us. Not as payment against some wicked debt God holds against us. Not to make a just and angry God satisfied or happy. Not because this was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath and make it possible for God to forgive us. Rather, Jesus goes to the cross to show us just how much God loves us. Jesus has been extending God’s forgiveness and love throughout the Gospel.. ‘And having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (13:1).”

Like seeing two gooses instead of fifty, sometimes the only way we can see the new thing God is doing in our lives is by letting go of our expectations for God. When we, overtly or subconsciously, make our experiences of God the limit of what’s possible with God, we miss all the signs of love, mercy, and forgiveness God gifts us each and every day. Your encounter with God is not the limit to what is possible with God for yourself and for those around you. Rather, Jesus is in the business of “...reminding us ... how much he loves us… so… that we might be empowered to love others, extending God’s love through word and deed, and in this way love others as Jesus ... loved us.” These reminders might appear to us in a form that will match our expectations. But they can also be so subtle, so unique, and so odd - that we find ourselves surprised to know that such love, for us, is truly possible. Jesus’ love for you is already present in your life. And it’s up to all of us to help one another discover what that love can actually do.

 

Amen.

 

 



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Reflection: You Are Who You Eat With

What was the last thing God revealed to you that you struggled with?

In today’s reading from the book of Acts 11:1-18, Peter recalled a moment in his life when he did not understand what God was telling him. Peter, after he saw God at work in people who were not Jewish, began to include them in his ministry. He entered into their homes to teach, baptize, and eat with them. At the time, the early church was debating about what to do with non-Jews (or Jews who were also Greek) who believed in Jesus. These new converts to the faith did not share Jesus’ faith tradition or follow all of his cultural practices. They did not keep kosher (i.e. follow food laws) or participate in the every rite that defined the Jewish community as Jewish. As more and more Gentiles began to follow Jesus, the church wasn’t sure how to (or if they even should) include them. At first, they established new ministries (aka deacons) to oversee the faith life of Jewish people with a Greek ethnic background. But then came the moment when the Holy Spirit told the church to include all who follow the Jesus. While at a meeting with the church community in Jerusalem, Peter’s practice of eating with non-Jews was questioned. He responded by sharing with the other apostles what the Spirit had showed him.

What struck me about Peter’s vision how honest he was about how long it took him to understand what God was doing. The Spirit gave Peter a vision of a divine banquet where ritually uncleaned animals were being served. Peter, who kept kosher, knew be couldn’t eat these animals. But a voice kept inviting Peter to eat. Peter, at first, said no but the voice was persistent. After being prodded by the Spirit three times, Peter finally understood what God was telling him. God was already at work with those who were not keeping kosher and the Spirit was already making them followers of Christ. Peter’s job was to help the church become more inclusive by including those God had already made God’s own.

If we’re honest, we know it sometimes takes two, three, or a dozen messages from God before we finally understand what God is telling us. When we look back at our life, we find moments when God was at work and we did not know it. That does not mean we were failures. Rather we, like Peter, needed time to embrace what God was already doing. In Paul’s version of today’s story, even Peter occasionally reverted to not being as inclusive as God wanted him to be. One of our responsibilities as Christians is to admit when we do not understand what God is doing. We are called to share every part of our story. Because when finally we see what God is already up to, we can then meet Jesus where he already is.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Reflection: Tell Us

Today's reading from the gospel according to John (John 10:22-30) takes place during the holiday known as Hanukkah. The Festival of Dedication (aka Hanukkah) is about the rededication of the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Leaders from the Seleucid Empire placed idols and other statues of gods in the Temple. After rising up against their rule, the idols were removed and the Temple was rededicated to God. This festival became a holiday that Jesus also celebrated.

Today’s story starts during one of Jesus’ many visits to Jerusalem. As was his custom, he went to the Temple. While there, the religious authorities came to him with a question: who are you? They aren’t interested in a theological debate. What they want is clarity. I imagine they hoped Jesus would say something like "I am the Son of God" or "I am God" or "I am the Lord." Such a response would get Jesus into trouble (how would we respond to anyone claiming to be God?) and clear up the almost cryptic language Jesus seemed to us. And I think we get that. We, like them, seek clarity. When we say, Jesus is Lord, we want that phrase to be so clear that all questions and concerns other have are removed. We want any doubts we have to finally vanish. The search for clarity is a search for certainty. And we want that certainty to remove all the doubts and fears we might have.

But Jesus doesn't speak plainly. Instead, he seems to talk around the issue. In the words of Dr. Karoline Lewis, "[The religious authorities] are not able to believe because they are not Jesus' sheep. They are not sheep because they do not listen to Jesus. They do not listen to Jesus, so therefore they are not Jesus' sheep. While this may appear to be yet another example of Jesus orbiting around the issue, it is meant to reiterate that to be a disciple means to be in a relationship with Jesus." The kind of certainty they seek isn't what Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t want you to know who he is; he wants you to experience how knowing him makes a difference in your life. What Jesus wants is relationship. A relationship with Jesus has space for all our questions, doubts, and fears. A relationship with Jesus can hold joy and worry. A relationship with Jesus lets us know that, no matter what, Jesus will never let us go. Jesus' identity, while important, is less important than who he is for us. And that clarity means that, no matter what, God will always be faithful and that we will always have Jesus.



0 comments

Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>