Questions and Reflections

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.



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discipleship with a capital D: Tabitha Was [Sermon Manuscript]

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Acts 9:36-43

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2019) on Acts 9:36-43. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Can you imagine what would your life would be like if you only had one shirt?

 

It’s difficult, I think, to imagine life without all our clothes. Just a few days ago, our big Trash and Treasure rummage sale made sure that space outside the church office was filled with clothing racks packed tightly with every kind of clothing. You could have purchased shorts, jeans, dresses, jerseys, leggings, evening dresses, suits, motorcycle jackets, hats, bags, ties, scarves, winter coats, and so much more. Half the church contained all the items you would need to look professional while at work and to keep yourself comfortable while binge watching your favorite tv show. What held all of us back from buying everything we wanted had less to do with the amount of clothing available to us and more to do with our budget, sizes, and personal style. We live in a moment of history and in a cultural context when we can personally own a lot of clothing. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for most of human history, people didn’t own much clothing at all. Because until the invention of factories, all clothing was really expensive. Everything needed to make our favorite shirt or favorite hat had to be grown, harvested, and created by hand. There weren’t any online businesses where you could upload an image for your church vacation bible school and have it printed on a thousand shirts. Everything was made one at a time and most items were made at home. As a person, you were financially well off if you had more than a couple of shirts. And you were super fancy if your day look and your night look wasn’t always exactly the same. In the ancient world, there were laws that dealt severe punishments if you were caught stealing someone’s shirt or outfit. Because most people had only one of anything and you could tell a lot about where a person stood in society based on what they wore every day. In a world where every piece of clothing was expensive, the gift of clothing was priceless. And in our reading today from the book of Acts, we meet Tabitha who was known by clothes she freely gave.

We don’t know much about Tabitha. And in fact, this is the only place she appears in all of scripture. At some point in her life, she devoted herself to Jesus but we have no idea when that happened. She might have seen him when he started his ministry in Nazareth or when he spoke in the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s even possible that Tabitha first met Jesus through his friends as they shared their faith with her. We don’t know why Tabitha followed Jesus. All we know is that she did. And she was more than just someone who believed in what Jesus had to say. She, as we read in verse 36, was a disciple.

Now that word disciple might not jump out to you as much it should. Because, throughout scripture, everyone who followed Jesus was lumped into the group known as the disciples. A disciple was typically thought of as a student. They would, through prayer, worship, and scripture reading, study under their teacher Jesus. But a disciple was more than just someone who tried to get information out of Jesus. They were trying to live a life that took seriously everything that made him, Him. Jesus lived as if God’s kingdom was truly near and so disciples were invited to live that way too. A disciple, through the help of the Holy Spirit, walked where Jesus walked; prayed where Jesus prayed; and lived a life that believed God truly loves the world. A disciple takes seriously Jesus’ promise that eternal life starts now.

Tabitha, then, was a disciple and she devoted herself to love. When she died, the community gathered around her to make sure she was buried well. They washed her, laid her in a room upstairs, and surrounded her with their presence. In grief, they sent word to Peter. And when he arrived, he saw that Tabitha wasn’t alone. The community, especially widows, stood around her. Widows were more than women whose husband had died. They were people who, because of patriarchy and systems of oppression, had no usual way to earn money to keep themselves and their family fed. They were vulnerable to abuse, poverty, and homelessness. And they were there, mourning Tabitha. But they were also doing something a little different that we don’t usually hear in the Bible. These widows made sure Peter saw everything Tabitha had made. They showed him the tunics she sewed. They showed him their clothing. They made sure he saw every expensive gift she personally made for each of them. Peter stood there, bearing witness to the life of a disciple rooted in an abundant and consistent generosity. Tabitha, because of her faith, made sure that the vulnerable had the clothing they needed to thrive. She did the hard work to make sure those who society chose to ignore or push aside received the gift of dignity, care, and love that can come from a new piece of clothing. For Tabitha, the widows were not going to be defined by what they lacked. Instead, she gave them a taste of what God’s kingdom was all about. Tabitha didn’t horde, stockpile, or keep for herself the gifts and resources God gave her. Instead, she lived her life as a disciple - and she made sure that others might know that God loved them too.

Being a disciple is not only about being a student; instead, it’s a title and a way of life. And if we knew ancient Greek, the language the book of Acts was first written in, Tabitha’s status as a disciple would have truly jumped out at us. In Ancient greek, language is gendered which means some words are considered male, some female, and others can shift from a male or female form. The word disciple is, throughout the bible, typically always male because any group of people that had at least one male in it, would force that word to always be male. It didn’t matter if a group was 99 women and 1 guy; the word disciple would be, in that case, gendered male. Yet in verse 36, we find ourselves confronted by the only time the Bible uses the feminine version of the word to disciple to describe who Tabitha was. She wasn’t just someone who believed in Jesus; she was a disciple. Which means she was just like Peter; just like Mary Magdalene; she was just like Paul. She lived her life as if Jesus mattered and she knew that Jesus’ generosity of love, grace, and mercy, needed to be reflected in the generosity she gave too. She followed Jesus and that made her love others like Jesus did too. Tabitha wasn’t afraid to do the hard, expensive, and most generous thing possible because she trusted that, no matter what, she belonged to Jesus and Jesus belonged to her. She gives all of us, regardless of our gender, a model of what living the faith looks like. Because all of us, through our baptism and through our faith, were given the same title she shared. We are, right now, disciples of Jesus. So can we imagine how our lives would be different if we, like Tabitha, lived as if being disciple was the only thing we had?

 

Amen.

 



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I Will: Saul and the Promises of God

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Acts 9:1-20

Pastor Marc's sermon on Third Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019) on Acts 9:1-20. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So I’m going to begin today with a bit of a pop quiz and I’d like you to shout out the answers to my questions. How many books are in what we call the New Testament? 27. How many of those books are considered to be epistles - i.e. letters? 21. Of those letters, how many were attributed to a guy named Paul? 13. And what was Paul’s original name? Saul. If you counted up all the words in the New Testament, roughly â…“ of them are attributed to a guy who began his career trying to stop people from following Jesus. In the book of Acts, we first meet Saul, aka Paul, briefly in chapter eight. He’s there, in the background, when a crowd killed Stephen, an early follower of Jesus who wouldn’t stop sharing his faith with those around him. Saul then became more active, trying to stop the people who followed the Way, who followed Jesus, from practicing their faith. In the words of Amy Oden, Saul saw Jesus’ followers “as [people] within his own faith [tradition that needed] rescue from their error.” Saul loved God and he wanted to stamp out anything that, in his view, dishonored God. Saul began going house to house, throwing into prison anyone he found practicing the Way. Jesus’ friends responded to this and other acts of violence by fleeing from their homes, becoming refugees searching for safety. Saul chose to follow them, leaving the land of ancient Israel behind as he headed towards Syria and Damascus. He carried with him letters giving him the authority to not only interrogate the religious beliefs of the people he met. But he could also arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem. As he neared the city, a bright light suddenly surrounded him. Saul fell to the ground, met Jesus, and found himself to be blind. For three days, he neither ate nor drank. He was a vulnerable visitor in a city that wasn’t his home and the letters of authority he held in his hands were ones he could no longer read. His mission was now in jeopardy. His status as a defender of the faith was almost gone. He was in the exact opposition position than where he was at the very start of today’s text. And it’s then when we meet Ananias, a follower of Jesus who Saul, just a few days before, would have arrested and taken to Jerusalem.

Which is why, I think, Ananias response to Jesus is a pretty good one. After falling asleep, Jesus sent Ananias a vision, telling him to visit Saul. Now, Saul’s reputation had preceded him. Ananias not only knew what Saul had done but he was also aware of Saul’s mission in the city of Damascus. Even though Saul couldn’t necessarily read the letters of authority he carried, the people around him could. It’s safe to assume that Judas, the owner of the house Saul was saying in, knew who Saul was and what kind of authority he had. If Ananias’ visited Saul, it would be as if he was walking into a trap. Any attempt to heal Saul through the laying on of hands would require Ananias to say the name of Jesus out loud. Saul, at that point, would only need to say a word to have Ananias arrested. Ananias knew the kind of trouble a visit to Saul would bring. So, in an act of deep faithfulness, he laid out all his concerns to the Lord. Ananias tried to negotiate with the Lord but Jesus wouldn’t back down. His command to Ananias remained the same. Ananias’ visit to Saul who be part of a mission to spread Jesus to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews. But Jesus also chose to not let Ananias’ anxiety get the best of him. Jesus kept talking. And as depending on which words we chose to emphasize in verse 16, we can change what Jesus’ call to Ananias actually means.

On one level, I think we are drawn to the second half of verse 16, where Jesus said that Saul must suffer because of  Jesus’ name. As we saw, the author of Acts wanted us to see how Saul caused so many others to suffer because they dared to utter the name of Jesus. If they had to suffer than it only seems fair that Saul, a person who caused suffering, should also suffer as well. When we put our emphasis on the second half of verse 16, we end up making God into some kind of balance act. If a follower of Jesus ends up suffering, than the one who caused that suffering should experience some kind of suffering too. This idea of balance, while not protecting us from being hurt, at least makes us feel a bit more comfortable because we know, in the end, that a cosmic balance of suffering will even out. We tend to not spend too much time thinking about this balancing act when we, ourselves, cause others to suffer. Rather, when we are hurt or are in pain or even when we just don’t get our way, we want, at a minimum, for our feelings and our experiences to be balanced out on those who hurt us. A Saul who caused suffering ends up becoming that Saul who suffers.

Yet, that’s not the only part of verse 16 that we can emphasize. We can, instead, go to that verse’s very first word: I. Jesus makes a very specific claim about what God will do in this moment. God will not ignore what Saul had done nor will God fail to listen to the concerns Ananias has. God will be faithful to everyone in this moment - including those who follow Jesus, those who don’t, and everyone else who’s in-between. God promises to be involved in the nitty gritty details of our everyday lives which means God knows our fears, our struggles, and our sufferings. God promises to be with us, no matter what, and that, in the end, will carry us through. It’s not our responsibility, when it comes to God, to decide who has and who hasn’t suffered enough. Our call isn’t to enhance or increase the suffering in the world but, instead, to heal it. So Ananias, after hearing what God promises, responded by doing the only thing he could do: he went and visited Saul. And after laying his hands on him, he stayed with him - feeding his body, his soul, and his faith while connecting him to a wider community so that Saul would know he wasn’t alone.

The call of the baptized, the call of those who have encountered Jesus, and the call of those who have even a tiny bit of faith is to always let God be God while, at the same time, inviting us to live into the promises God has made. Through the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own not because we know how to perfectly emphasize every sentence in the Bible. No, we belong to God because the body of Christ, the church, and this community of faith couldn’t be what it’s supposed to be without you. Your past is not a summation of your future and your sufferings are not the limit to what God has in mind for you. You belong with Jesus, not because you are perfect or because you’ve never tried to negotiate with God. You belong because, through baptism and faith, God has made a promise to never give up on you.

 

Amen.

 



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Reflection: A Moment of Recognition

Have you ever been heckled by Jesus? That's an odd question because we usually see heckling as something negative. When someone interrupts our speaking as a way to troll, attack, or harass us, that kind of heckling is unwanted, unnecessary, and unChristian. But there is a different kind of heckling that, even unintentionally, ends up distracting us. I bet many of us have had situations where our train of thought was derailed by another person. If you've spent any time around young children, you know what it is like to have your serious thought interrupted by someone noticing the color of your shoes or wondering what unicorns eat. This kind of heckling might feel like a disrespectful interruption. But, in some cases, it really isn't. Rather, it's a reminder that the person we're communicating with isn't only here to receive the words we say. Rather, we are in a relationship that requires our give and take.

When Jesus talked to the disciples (John 21:1-19) while they were in the boat, they had no idea who he was. The disciples, after meeting Jesus in the locked room, had returned to everyday life. They sail onto the Sea of Tiberius (aka Sea of Galilee) in a small 15 foot boat and fish all night long. The work was exhausting, dirty, and everyone got wet. It was normal to work naked or only in your skivvies. After a busy night, the dawn comes and they have nothing. They see a man cooking breakfast on the seashore and the man called out to them, wondering what they caught. The disciples, I assume, were probably feeling a little defeated. They knew they worked hard and had nothing to show for it. Without any fish, they might not have food for breakfast or anything to sell in the marketplace. They might have been dwelling in the defeat of a worthless night. Jesus' question could be considered a kind of heckle, a reminder of their failure. They could have reacted badly to Jesus' question. They could have rejected his invitation for them to try again. But, for some reason, they don't. They toss their nets into the sea one more time and, this time, everything changed.

When the disciples finally arrived on shore, they noticed Jesus cooking breakfast. On a charcoal fire was bread and fish. Jesus had no need for any of the fish the disciples had caught. Instead, Jesus already had everything they needed. When our train of thought is interrupted by a heckle we didn't expect, we are invited to pay attention. The word we receive might be exactly what we need to hear to get out of our own head and notice the relationship of love, grace, and abundance that is already around us.



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Receive: The Embodied Jesus (Sermon Manuscript)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31

Pastor Marc's sermon on Second Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2019) on John 20:19-31. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of the things we don’t always notice about Jesus is just how physical he was. We have no problem remembering him as the Son of God but we forget that he was also the son of Mary. Jesus was fully divine but he was also fully human which means he had a human body that did all the things human bodies do. So let’s take a second - and pay attention to what our bodies are doing right now. Notice whatever it’s feeling. Pay attention to what aches. Listen to your stomach as it rumbles. And accept that the yawn you’re about to make is a sign you stayed up way too late. Your body is, for better or worse, doing exactly what bodies do. And Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, had a body that did those things too. He knew what it was like to ache. He knew pain. And I also believe there were times when Jesus laughed so hard, he literally fell off of whatever he was reclining on. God chose to be bodied and through that body God showed how Love can be embodied too. Jesus’ body wasn’t a costume God wore while Jesus moved from Christmas to Good Friday. Instead, God became incarnate, became human, because our body is where we meet God.

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John is a reading we hear every year on the Sunday after Easter. After walking in the early dawn hours with the women who discovered Jesus’ tomb empty after his crucifixion and death, we take a week before listening to John’s version of what happened later on that first Easter day. The disciples had locked themselves behind a closed door, afraid that the authorities who killed Jesus might soon come after them. We know that many of the disciples heard that the tomb was empty because Mary Magdalene told them about her personal encounter with the risen Jesus. But we get a sense by the actions of the disciples that Mary’s story wasn’t enough. Her words, by themselves, were not able to bring peace because the disciples were filled with anxiety and fear. Some might have been sitting by the cooking fires, eating their feelings while others hadn’t felt hungry in days. Even if some of the disciple were able to tell a joke, their laughter couldn’t hide just how broken and weary their hearts actually were. The disciples didn’t know what to do next - so they ended up staying together. And while they were locked in that room by themselves, Jesus entered and said “peace be with you.”

But the Jesus in John does more than just speak. He’s, instead, completely there. Everything that made Jesus, Jesus, showed up to those disciples behind that locked door. At first, we might be a little skeptical, seeing as how he either walked through a locked door or materialized out of nothingness in front of his friends. The Jesus we know was embodied and the last time I tried to take my body through a locked door, I didn’t get very far. Jesus’ first movement in this scene made him appear to be immaterial or to have at least transcended beyond what we know the physical world to be. We expect him, then, to be something like an angel or maybe a bit more like we imagine God to be - more divine, more healed, and more perfect. We don’t expect Jesus to keep doing bodily things. And yet - he did. He stood among his friends instead of floating or hovering above them. He showed everyone the spots in his hands where the nails were driven through and the part of his body where the spear pierced his side. Jesus’ resurrected body wasn’t scared. Instead, it’s still hurt, still wounded, and marked by what life had given him. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then breathed on everyone in the room…. which sounds a bit gross. How often do we like being breathed on? The smell, the dampness, the sound, and just the act of being breathed on can make us squirm, especially if it’s unexpected or unwanted. And the act of being breathed on is incredibly intimate and very personal. Yet that word “on” probably isn’t the best English translation of the original greek this passage was first written in. We don’t have to worry too much about what kind of Altoid would be able to deal with death-and-resurrection breath because that word should really be “into.” Jesus breathed into his disciples, not just on them. This kind of breath is more than a few bits of exhaled air hitting our face. The breath Jesus gives is the same breath God used way back in Genesis 2 to give life to all of humankind. The disciples, as they see the resurrected Jesus in their midst, do more than bear witness. They are, instead, caught up in a moment of new creation. The very breath of God that formed the universe - now lives in them. The Holy Spirit, the life-energy of God that sustains, creates, and makes all things new, is now part who they are. No longer are they merely people with bodies that are broken, aging, and never doing exactly what we want them to do. Now their bodies, while unchanged, are brand new because they are filled with everything that God uses to give life.

In a few moments, I’m going to invite G. and her family up to the front. She’s pretty young, with a lifetime ahead of her to see what bodies can do. She’ll start small, working on getting her fingers into her mouth. But then she’ll crawl, climb, and feel what it’s like to have grass between her toes. She’ll learn to laugh, to feel love, and to hold onto hope. She’ll discover what it’s like to reach her limit and what happens when she goes past it and makes a new personal best. She’ll also learn what it’s like to fail, to mess up, to be anxious, and to sometimes be afraid. G. will soon discover what our life with our bodies is all about. Yet, no matter what, the God who created her will always love her. We will, in a few moments, join everything that makes G., G., with everything that makes Jesus, Jesus. She will hear, in the words we share, how God’s story of salvation includes even her. She will feel, with water pouring over her head, how the gift of faith, hope, and love belongs to her. She will smell the olives in the oil that marks her forehead with the promise that Jesus will be with her wherever she goes. And she will see the bright light of a lit candle, knowing that God’s life-giving light now burns in her. She won’t always remember this - but she will have an entire community alongside her as Jesus leads her on the way. Because all of us meet God through our bodies. And it’s these bodies, exactly as they are, that God uses to make everybody discover just how much they are included, welcomed, and loved.

Amen. 

 



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Surprising Things: The Pastor's Message for the May 2019 Messenger

"People are surprised when they see me, a 16-year-old male high school student, talking about ovaries. My baseball coaches look at me a bit weird when I need off from practice to talk about ovaries. They don't ask much, and I'm always excused."

One of my favorite regular features in our denomination's monthly magazine (Living Lutheran - www.livinglutheran.com) is "I'm a Lutheran." This monthly article series shines a light on members of the ELCA who are living out their faith every day. Past articles have included an NPR reporter, a musician, a chef, an astronomer, a college student, a jewelry designer and an undocumented migrant. The May 2019 issue introduced me to Ryan Walton, a sophomore from Tucson, Arizona. His mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while she was pregnant with him. Since a very young age, he's been attending 5k’s and charity events to support researchers, survivors and those undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. Even his project for confirmation was about raising awareness for the disease. In 2018, he became a speaker at national events, including at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition's annual conference. And he was recently named an "Ovarian Cancer Hero Award Winner" by Cure Magazine.

He knows it surprises others when he speaks about ovaries, and yet he keeps doing it. He uses what he has been given—a voice, an experience and his faith—to make a difference for others. He won't feel the physical effects of ovarian cancer, but he still advocates for those who will.

When we follow Jesus, we will find ourselves doing surprising things. We will advocate and support those who are undergoing struggles we don't have to. Jesus, as a member of the Trinity, didn't let his divinity deny his humanity (aka Philippians 2:5-11). Instead, he used his gifts to love the world. What gifts do you have? When was the last time you advocated for a cause that didn't impact you personally? And how does your faith shine bright for others?

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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Reflection: The Gracious Surprise of Mercy

For the next six weeks, we'll read selections from the Acts of the Apostles (aka Acts). Acts was, most likely, written by the same person who wrote Luke. The gospel according to Luke focused on Jesus' ministry while Acts told a story about the beginning of the church. At its center, Acts used the ministry of Peter and Paul as the pillars of their story. Through them, we discover who the church spread throughout the Roman world. Each faith community was very small but they popped up in the inner cities of what ae now Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Acts shows us how the Holy Spirit made the people who followed Jesus into a united and loving body of believers designed for the benefit of the world.

Today's reading (Acts 5:27-32) begins in Jerusalem. Jesus' followers had continued to pray in the Temple and shared their faith with their family, friends, and neighbors. The religious authorities were not thrilled with this behavior and had a nasty habit of throwing them in prison. Yet the community kept preaching. Those in authority were not quite sure what to do about this new movement. But they were afraid of it. Jesus' followers proclaimed how the religious and political authorities had killed Jesus. And those with power assumed Jesus' disciples would seek vengeance for what had happened. They hoped that arresting Jesus' followers would protect themselves from whatever wrath might come. Those with power were afraid. And that fear drove them to react harshly to what Jesus' disciples were doing.

But wrath, revenge, and giving into fear were not what the good news of Jesus was all about. In the words of Rev. Brian Peterson, "The gracious surprise of this text is that the result of Jesus’ resurrection, even in the face of continuing posturing and self-protective threat, is not vengeance but mercy." Often, fear of the 'other' is used as an excuse to punish and harm them. We distort the message of the gospel when we use it to encourage violence against 'those people' because they threaten our authority, power, or sense of (false) security in some way. Yet today's text, "from beginning to end, is the unsurprisingly constant story of human fear and self- protection even if it costs others everything, and the surprisingly even more constant story of God’s mercy. What Peter is preaching to the council is not vengeance, but the gospel." And that gospel is centered on the gift of repentance, forgiveness, and love.



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Reflection: Rise Up!

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

One of my favorite moments in Luke's version (Luke 24:1-12) of the empty tomb is the interaction between the women and the two men. The women, who just witnessed Jesus' death, were visiting the tomb to perform a burial ritual. They expected to walk to the tomb and find it exactly as it was left. However, once they get there, the tomb was already open. The women, confused, peaked in and nothing was there. Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes (aka angels) appeared. The women, shocked and terrified, recognized these men to be divine so they bowed down, shielding their eyes and faces. We could (and maybe should) read the words the two men spoke to the women as meant to be reassuring and comforting. But I also like to imagine these divine messengers being a bit shocked by the women's reaction. These women were the most faithful followers of Jesus. They stayed when every one else fled and made plans to tend to him after he was dead. The women knew Jesus, followed Jesus, and loved Jesus. And even when they didn't know what God was up to. So the divine messengers invited them to remember. As Jesus' most faithful disciples, they should have expected the unexpected Yet in their shock and grief, their expectations got the better of them.

If we're honest about our faith, there are times when we struggle to see what God is up to. We don't always see Jesus clearly, nor do we always know exactly how faith should make a difference in our lives. It doesn't really matter how often we attend church or how often we pray; it's normal to have a moment when we feel as if God has left us alone. This kind of experience doesn't match up with expectations we have for our lives or the expectations we have for God. Yet, it's maybe at those moments when we should remember the words the two men shared in Jesus' tomb 2000 years ago. When we are trapped by our dead-end expectations, we're invited to remember that our Savior is alive. Our limitations are not how God defines us nor are our expectations the limit of what God has in mind. When the women went to the tomb, their mission was to bury Jesus properly. But after they were met by the empty tomb, they suddenly became brand new. The women were the first to proclaim the resurrection, the first to proclaim that Jesus was raised, and the first to say that God was undoing our expectations. They became, in that moment, the first Christians. We don't always know what Jesus is doing in our life. But we can trust that Jesus is alive - and that he will, in the end, always carry us through.



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Amazed: Entering the Story (Sermon Manuscript)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Luke 24:1-12

Pastor Marc's sermon on Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) on Luke 24:1-12. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of the joys about being a parent of three small kids is that I get to spend a lot time with the middle of the night. I’m there when someone’s a little fussy, a little sick, or when they’ve decided that 3 am in the morning is the right time to start their day. Now that phrase, the middle of the night, can be used many different ways. We use it to describe those moments when we’ve stayed up way past our bedtime or when we’re talking about what we saw, felt, and experienced while working on the graveyard shift. The middle of the night tends to be exactly that - a time designation used to identify when something happened. But that’s not the middle of the night I know. When you’re awake when you don’t want to be, time stops being time - and instead the middle of the night becomes a character in your own story. It usually has its own look - maybe gloomy, dark, and damp - and it comes with its own sounds - like a single car driving down street or the creak of the floor as you walk across it. The middle of the night comes with its own thoughts - including moments of inspiration, an opportunity to re-experience old embarrassments, and time to focus on our current anxieties. That kind of night is more than just a moment in time. It’s a presence that we meet when we can’t sleep or when our 3 month old just has to get up.

I have no idea if the women who followed Jesus slept those first few nights after he died. Scripture doesn’t go into detail about what they felt, thought, or experienced. Instead, we’re given this space - this gap in the story - that invites us, I think, to use our imagination. Whenever we come across a moment in the Bible that could use a little more detail, that’s God inviting us to use the gift of our imagination to put ourselves into the story. But to do that faithfully, we need to remember the parts of the Bible around that gap. We need to remember what happened before the first day of the week.

Now, over the last week, we’ve spent time listening to Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem. We heard about his arrest, trial, and his eventual execution. But Luke also gave us one verse letting us know that when Jesus was on the Cross, the women who followed him, stayed. They kept their distance - but they were close enough to see his final moments and to know where his body was laid. The women kept watch while the rest of the disciples, including Peter, James, and Thomas - scattered. Those men who followed Jesus didn’t see the rest of the story and Luke doesn’t tell us when they finally learned that Jesus had died. But I think we can assume that, once they saw Jesus arrested and handed over to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, they knew how Jesus’ story would turn out. The Roman authorities would never tolerate anyone who gave others a different kind of life where the Roman Emperor wasn’t the ultimate decider of what was true and right. So once Jesus was put on trial, some of the disciples already knew what to expect. The tale they told themselves about Jesus didn’t need any outside confirmation. Jesus had been arrested by Rome - and so they thought they knew what would happen next.

Yet the women stayed. They’re the ones who looked on. They saw their teacher, their friend, the One who had healed the sick, welcomed the unwelcomed, and who reconciled our relationships with our God and with each other - end up being arrested and mocked by an Empire that could only say no: no to a way of life that valued peace over violence; no to a way of life that focused on healing rather than competition; no to a way of life that didn’t celebrate winners but instead invited the marginalized, the poor, and those we ignore - to thrive. Jesus was doing more than offering life lessons to those who followed him. Instead, He gave them a new life that wouldn’t let the world’s values of power, control, dominance, and injustice be, in the end, what finally defined them.

So - the women stayed - and they’re the ones who witnessed all of Jesus’ story. After his death, they returned to the places where they were staying, and they started preparing the spices needed to give Jesus a proper burial. All Luke tells us is that the women “prepared.” But I like to imagine that, as they worked, the women told each other the story that mattered to them. Which means they admitted their heartbreak. They shared in their confusion. And they made sure all knew that none of them could really sleep. And how, even during the day, it felt like night.

We can, as we are right now, sit with the women in that moment. We can share with each other, our stories - including all our hopes and dreams and even those moments when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We, along with those women, can admit our heartbreak, our worries, our fears, and what’s causing us to spent too much time with the middle of the night. Regardless of who we are or where we’re from; whether we come to church every Sunday or if we’re visiting for the very first time - God wants us, right now, to be exactly who are. Because those women, 2000 years ago, were exactly who they were too. They were caught in the middle of their night and they weren’t sure what to do next. So they did what they could. They gathered together. They leaned on each other. They shared their story and, above all, they loved, cared, and served one another. They were the body of Christ, they were the church, together. And even though they were living in the middle of their night, these women - Mary, Joanna, Mary, and others - would be the ones who followed Jesus to the end. Because they knew - that Jesus had never stopped loving them.

And so on the first day of the week, they got up in the middle of the night so that they could be at the tomb at dawn. They took everything they had prepared, even though they had no idea how they were going to open the tomb to see him. I imagine they were still in grief and were afraid that the Empire of No would deny them the chance to go to the tomb. But unlike the other disciples, unlike those who were already telling themselves a tale about Jesus of their own choosing, the women showed up, together. And when they got to the tomb, the stone door was rolled way. Their fears changed. They were filled with new questions. And they suddenly discovered that the middle of their night would not be what finally defined them. They were the first to be given Jesus’ full story. And that story - that Jesus - has been, through our faith and through our baptism, given to us too. The idle tale we tell ourselves that’s filled with all the things that keep us up in the middle of the night will not be the limit to who we are. Because, on Easter morning, in the middle of the night, a new chapter for Jesus - broke open. And because of Him, a new chapter in our story has already begun.

 

Amen.

 



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Reflection: Good Friday

When was the last time you started anything in silence? Most mornings, I’m greeted by the noise of a truck driving by, the alarm on my phone beeping, and my kids playing games in the living room. Silence doesn’t always happen organically. We occasionally need to work to create some silence around us. Today, we will create silence to start our worship. There will be no prelude, announcements, or handshakes. Instead, we are invited to show up as we are, in silence. The Good Friday liturgy isn’t designed to break that silence. Instead, we’re invited to live into it. Every word we speak, song we sing, and prayer we offer is a reminder that God, through our crucified savior, is filling even the silence with something new.

I invite you, over the next 36 hours, to notice the silent moments in your life. Track those moments when you can’t hear the birds outside or cars driving by. See how long those moments last. And while you reflect on the silence, use that opportunity to pay attention to what you’re experiencing. How are you feeling? What are you sensing? What fear, anxiety, or worries are bothering you? What joy is filling your soul? Good Friday is a day when we discover who we are and who God is. We shouldn’t rush to Easter. We should spend time with the horror, suffering, and grace in the Passion of Jesus. Hold onto the silence you hear. Pay attention to yourself. And let’s get ready to meet the God who is already filling your life with mercy, hope, and love.



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