Questions and Reflections

Category: Messenger

Thanksgiving 2020 style: Pastor Marc's Note from the October Messenger

Thanksgiving this year will be different. A few months ago, I was looking forward to the virus staying at the low simmer it was during early August so that I could visit (outdoors) with family and friends. But the situation has changed. During the weekend of November 14 and 15, New Jersey reported the highest number of positive cases for COVID-19 so far. Instead of gathering around a friend’s table, my Thanksgiving will be a much smaller affair. One of the things I’ll miss is all the culinary dishes served at these kinds of gatherings. Each guest was asked to bring something festive, fun and super tasty to serve to everyone else. I love discovering new flavors and dishes by sampling other people’s cultures and traditions. My table this year will look like it usually does – some turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce from a can. But I wonder, if this year were different, what dish would my family bring to Thanksgiving? What would we want to share with others?

It’s in that spirit of Thanksgiving and the sharing of food that leads me to offer to you remarks I spoke at a “Unity in the Valley” event in March 2019. In the days before the event, anti-Semitic graffiti was found in several high schools. Leaders from various faith communities, towns and schools met at Pascack Valley High School to affirm our identity as a diverse community and to support one another. The evening was full of wonderful music, inspiring speeches and words that challenged us to listen to the better angels of our nature. I did my best to honor the interfaith nature of the event while staying true to our faith in Jesus Christ. And at the end is an exercise that you may include in your Thanksgiving meals this year. As you Facetime with family and friends, dial up a long distant friend on the phone, or setup super large calls, I invite you to keep sharing and keep connecting. Even though this Thanksgiving isn’t the holiday we hoped it would be, we are connected to each other through a divine love that will never end. The Jesus who has sustained the church through these last 2000 years is with you, even now. I am always thankful for you and the ways you share God’s love with everyone. And I pray that you will have a safe and healthy holiday during a very strange time.

God bless you,

Pastor Marc



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Seeya "in" church: Pastor Marc's Note from the September Messenger

Every month I end my note in the Messenger with the same four words: see you in church. But that phrase sounds a bit different today. The last time I wrote those words, we were gearing up for the season of Lent, Easter, and whatever shenanigans spring break would bring. I wasn't planning for March 8th to be the last time we gathered for worship in the sanctuary. Since then, our outward expression as the church has also changed. We shifted our worship to being an online only experience before returning to in-person outdoor worship in mid July. We had to cancel some of the ways we serve the wider community, rescheduling our Genesis Garden and Trash and Treasure Sale for next year. Confirmation, baptisms, and even memorial services were rescheduled and moved to different settings. And, I have continued to see the amazing ways you've served each other during this difficult time. Instead of seeing you in church, I've seen you be the church even while the sanctuary doors have been closed.

The church has always been more than just the building. You, as living followers of Jesus Christ, are what CLC is all about. Thank you for being the church, no matter what. This edition of the Messenger is a little smaller than usual. Our hope is to provide a snapshot of where we are as a congregation. In this issue you'll find an update from our Finance Committee (spoiler alert: your generosity has been faithfully awesome), our Education team, and a word from the Choir. We also have a few online surveys for you to fill out as we make plans for the fall. For the most up-to-date information about the happenings at CLC, make sure to follow our Facebook Page (facebook.com/clc4u), Instagram (instagram.com/clc4u), and sign-up for our weekly e-newsletter (www.clc4u.com/SignUp) or you may call the church office, 201-391-4224, if internet capability is not available.

One question I've been receiving lately is about when we will return to worshipping in the building. We are entering the fall season, and the weather will be an issue while worshipping outdoors. The Church Council and staff have been in constant conversation about this since the pandemic began. Keeping each other safe and faithfully following Jesus are not mutually exclusive. One of the beautiful things about CLC is how intergenerational our community is. Our worship attendees range from being only a few months old to their mid-90s. We will continue to use the best guidance available, from the CDC and othersources, to keep each other safe. This involves making sure we have the right procedures in place that work for our specific congregation. We are not a faith community that wasn't impacted by the coronavirus, and the risks are very real to us. One of our current benchmarks is to see how our local schools handle in-person gatherings. The church council will discuss this topic at our next council meeting in late September and will keep you informed every step of the way. We will return to in-person worship in the sanctuary, but there's no current timetable in place.

Many of my colleagues, as well as myself, have found comfort during this time in the writings of Martin Luther. In 1527, the plague was going from town to town, and he was asked if one might flee from a deadly plague. The central question in Luther's writing was about our calling in the midst of a crisis. As beloved children of God, claimed by Jesus who lived and died for us, we respond to a crisis by asking: what is in the best interest of our neighbor? Through grace, we become the entire focus of God. And since God has focused on us, we are called to be like God and focus on others. We do this by using the tools of our faith: prayer, Bible reading, gathering over the phone or online and through service. In other words, we model what Luther wrote almost 500 years ago when he wrote:
 

Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others.

If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns—please know that I'm available. You can reach me at any time via phone - 201-391-4424 or via email at pastormarc@clc4u.com. And I know that I will see you in church because I keep seeing you be the church every day.

Pastor Marc



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Who Is Jesus? Pastor Marc's Reflection in the Messenger: March 2020 edition

One of the ways I serve the wider church is by being a member of the New Jersey Synod’s Candidacy Committee. The Candidacy Committee shepherds people who feel a call to become deacons and pastors. We review applications, conduct countless interviews, and require candidates to write a bunch of essays. The candidacy process isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most fun things I get to be a part of. After every meeting, I leave spiritually exhausted but faithfully full because I got a glimpse of the future of the church. I know that we all, regardless of our age, are members of the body of Christ. Yet there’s a kind of joy that comes when we baptize someone new and when we see someone take their first steps to become a future leader in the church. It’s at that moment that we get a glimpse of the Spirit building a foundation to take the faith someplace new. And that faith is centered in our experiencing, understanding, and belief in who exactly Jesus is.

Who is Jesus? That’s a question the candidacy committee asks all our candidates at every stage of the process. We’ve surprised people by asking this question even though they’ve never been to seminary. And, we’ve asked those who just graduated from seminary that same exact question. As Lutherans, we’re supposed to share our faith, and we believe that words have power. The words we use should be centered on the Word. So, we proclaim Jesus in all that we do, teach and say. The question “who is Jesus” isn’t an easy one to answer. But our ability to answer it is essential whether we’re planning to become ordained deacons or not.

So during Lent, we’re going to learn how to answer that question on Sundays. We’re going to figure out how we, in our own words, can let people know who Jesus is to us. Our answer to that question might not earn an A in some theology class in seminary. But it will be enough to help make Jesus real to the people we’re closest to. My hope is that we’ll use a tool familiar to our friends at Pixar to help us share Jesus. Because when you feel the call to be a future leader in the church – to serve on council, to lead a committee, to head that new project that will help change the world, or to become a deacon or pastor in the church – who Jesus is to you will be the center of your story. And that’s a story that all people want to hear.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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Seeing Epiphanies: Pastor Marc's Note in the Messenger, February 2020

As a person who preaches every week, I’m always on the lookout for sermon material. What I’m looking for is some activity, experience or observation that can reveal a little of what the Holy Spirit wants us to hear. As you might already know, much of my material is autobiographical. But, I don’t usually seek this material out. Rather, I live my life and then notice what might be helpful is this week’s sermon. Not every one of these notes ends up in a sermon, and many that are in the first draft of my sermons do not make it to Sunday morning. Yet, I’ve discovered that the more I share my faith, the more sermon material I can recognize in my every day life. And this sermon material is not merely a good hook to make you think I’m a good preacher. Instead, the material is way for me to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ is with us every day of our lives.

We’re currently in the “season after Epiphany” and will be in that season until Ash Wednesday on February 26th. The word epiphany means “appearance or manifestation” and describes what happened to the magi when they visited Jesus. God revealed to the magi that Jesus was here and how the presence of Jesus made a difference in their lives. When the magi returned home, I do not believe they were the same people they were before they saw Jesus. Instead, the fact that Jesus was in the world invited them to see their world (and their lives) in a new way. The month of February is a good month to look for the epiphanies of Jesus in our everyday lives. These epiphanies can seem small, but they are a symbol of the relationship we have with God. One epiphany that I like to invite people to use is to see how the washing of your face can remind you of the baptism you’ve experienced. The water on your face can feel simple, but the remembrance can change everything.

One of the things I’ve noticed about searching for epiphanies is that it gets easier the more you do it. The noticing of Jesus does not mean that Jesus is suddenly doing more for you. Rather, Jesus is already there – we just need to work our epiphany- seeing muscles a bit to see how God’s love is all around us. As your epiphanies grow, I hope you’ll take a chance to share those moments with your family and friends. You never know how your epiphany might help others find Jesus, too.



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Twenty-Twenty

I received my first pair of glasses when I was about five years old, but I’m pretty sure my eyesight needed help long before that. I don’t remember there ever being a time when I didn’t need help seeing. When I first wake up in the morning, everything is fuzzy. Every light radiates like a star on the top of a Christmas tree, and every object looks like a fuzzy multi-colored blob. The biological lenses in my eye are not quite right so I need help to see twenty-twenty. That’s why one of the first things I do every morning is a put a little plastic lens in my eye. That lens I put on helps me see the world more clearly. Without it, I would struggle to see what’s in front of me.

This January marks more than a new year; it’s also a new decade. From now on when we hear someone mention the “20s,” they’re talking about today. A new decade means new possibilities and new opportunities. But it also lets us reflect on where we have come. Some of us weren’t even born ten years ago. Others were still in school, college, or had just started our first job. Some of us were happily married while others knew they needed to separate. And many of us were surrounded with loved ones who will not be entering this new decade with us. Even if we do not feel that January 2020 feels any different than January 2010, our lives and our world have changed. Yet, regardless of whatever change we’ve gone through, God has been with us through it all. And the Jesus who loved you in January 2010 is the same Jesus who loves you now.

This new decade provides us an opportunity to look forward. We can be honest about everything we’ve gone through. We can admit the ways things haven’t turned out they way they should. And we can take time to worship, pray, and be with Jesus – and to discover how he’s been with us through it all. When we notice that Jesus has always been part of our lives, I believe that’s when we gain a new perspective on the life we’ve lived. That new perspective then becomes a new lens as we look forward to the future that’s about to come. The new lens helps focus us, noticing the ways God is in the world and in our lives. And when we see God more clearly, we might also learn how to love ourselves, world and neighbors in a deeper and more meaningful way. The 2020s won’t be entirely the same as the 2010s. But maybe we can choose to live through the 2020s with our eyes seeing the Jesus who is always there.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



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Re-Re-Learning This Advent Season: Pastor Marc's Note in the Messenger, December 2019

For the last two years, CLC has been participating in an initiative by the New Jersey Synod called "Equipping for Vitality (E4V)." This initiative connects us with other congregations in our area to find new ways to live out our faith in our neighborhoods. Over the last two years, leaders from CLC have been involved in workshops touching on hospitality, sharing the faith, ministry to people in the first third of their lives, the practice of generosity and more. The conversations, prayers, worship and Bible study that was part of these workshops will fuel our ministry into the future.

At our last workshop, the E4V team shared a fun video called: The Backwards Brain Bicycle. It was the first time I saw this video even though it has almost 24 million views on YouTube. I want you, if you can, to go watch the video right now at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0 or by googling The Backwards Brain Bicycle - Smarter Every Day. Once you're done, come on back and read the rest of my message for this month.

I know not everyone can ride a bicycle or lived in an area where learning to ride a bike was safe and easy to do. But I'm going to imagine you've heard the phrase "like riding a bicycle" once or twice before. Like the video says, we say that whenever we want to talk about a life skill we, in theory, never forget. The idea is that once we click into a habit, the habit stays with us - forever. We might not use that habit every day or even for years at a time. But we trust that the habit will always be a part of us and that we'll be able to access it whenever we need it in a future.

Now when you think about your time with Jesus, how much of it depends on habit? Habits aren't a bad thing, and I encourage you to have faith practices that are things you do over and over again. I invite you to pray when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed, before meals, and to make reading the Bible part of your daily routine. But when life gets busy like it might be this month, how much do we let God sit in the background while we take care of the other priorities we have in our life? And when our life suddenly ends up being different, like a bicycle that turns right to go left, is our faith up to the new challenge we find ourselves in?

The season of Advent is, for me, a season rooted in expecting God to do a brand new thing. God's faithfulness and love are always present but it isn't, I think, merely a habit. Jesus' presence in your life is a radical relationship that is dynamic, passionate, and full of unbelievable grace. Can we, as we light candles on Christmas Eve during our 5:00 pm and 10:30 pm worship, re-re-learn just how amazing God's love is so that we can grow into being who God knows we can be?

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



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Living in our Worship-filled Space - Pastor Marc's Message in the Messenger, November 2019 edition

There are two things I think people notice when they walk into my office. First, I assume people wonder how I get anything done since I have a lot of clutter on my desk. Second, once people stop looking at my desk, I’m pretty sure they notice the bookshelves behind my desk. Besides being covered in comic book bobble heads and pez dispensers, my bookshelves are filled with books. I know it does not look like it but there is a method to the madness. Most items are organized by subject and I (usually) know where every one of my books is. Some of the books on the shelves I’ve had since I was in elementary school, but others are new-to-me, gifts from friends, my family, or rescued from our incredibly well-run Trash and Treasure book nook. I love being surrounded by books, and my office is my ideal reading space. The spot is filled with all the things I’ve read, all the books I’m going to read, and is a record for all the different things I’ve learned. I love discovering the amazing insights others have come up with. Now that the school year is well on its way, my kids’ school recommended creating reading spaces for our kids. According to recent research, kids can learn to love reading by watching how their loved ones read. When we surround ourselves with a variety of books, children learn that there’s more to learning than using google. One simple way we can make our own reading spaces is by keeping a basket of books wherever we love to hangout. These well-curated and well-used baskets can sometimes be all someone needs to learn something new about themselves and the world.

As a church, we’re used to a faith-filled space. If we had to describe what the church is in one sentence that might be how we would describe it. But in the Bible, the word “church” never described a building; it always described an assembly of people. The church is always the group of people the Holy Spirit brings together to follow Jesus. A building is never the church, but a building can be a tool we use to spend time with God. In these holy spaces, we are reminded about Jesus’ love for us and his promise to never let us go. The church does not need a building, but we can use our building to discover the kind of church God wants us to be.

During November, we’re launching a special children sermon series on Holy Communion. The gift of Holy Communion is one of the ways God feeds us grace, mercy and love. Yet communion, as we can see in its name, requires a community. There needs to be an assembly of people, a church, who are committed to being with Jesus, together.

I know November is traditionally a very busy month filled with our 2020 Pledge Drive, many worship events and the Thanksgiving holiday. But we’ll find time this month to remember what makes our building a worship-filled space. We are who we are because Jesus continues to come to us in Word, worship, prayer and communion. And when we embrace our commitment to the gift of Holy Communion, we can then show everyone what living in our worship-filled space is all about.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



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Please - Let Me Remind You. Pastor Marc's Monthly Note in the Messenger

Please – May We Remind You

Those five words opened the CLC’s first Messenger. Published in November 1959, the four page monthly newsletter advertised events at the church. A speaker from the now defunct Luther Bible Institute was going to talk to parents and Sunday School Teachers. A special screening of the movie Martin Luther was going to take place in the sanctuary. A worship service on Thanksgiving Eve was highlighted as well as a fellowship dinner for new members. That last event was particularly interesting as the chairman of Stewardship planned to let people know the work of the church. After the dinner, teams would visit the new members the next afternoon and ask for their pledge. Some of the events and ministries displayed in the first Messenger are similar to what’s in the pages of this current edition. But some things have changed. The amazing gift of God’s love means that the church can, and does, change. Yet the heart of our mission – the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ – is still central to everything we do. It’s God’s gifts of kindness and grace that lets us be the church in Northern New Jersey. We are here on the corner of Pascack and Church Roads because God knew we needed to be here. We are grateful that, for the last sixty years, CLC has been who it needs to be so that all people can witness what God’s kingdom is all about. Love, grace, service, justice, growth, change, and peace – are some of the themes of faith that have shaped generations of Christians at CLC. And these same focuses of faith will shape us for the next sixty years as well.

As we look forward into the future, we know that CLC will be different in sixty years. New people, new opportunities to serve, new gifts, and new challenges will shape this community into a church that will be exactly who Jesus is calling it to be. This change will not be easy but it will be faithful because God’s gifts of kindness and grace will always be with us. With the Holy Spirit guiding us and Jesus Christ leading us, CLC will radiate God’s love in new and profound ways. The church sixty years from now will be different. But I believe they will be thrilled that we, through our faithful witness, helped lay the groundwork for the amazing ministry they are doing in 2079. Let’s keep becoming the community God knows we need to be. And please, may we continue to remind everyone that Jesus loves them, and he will never let us go.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc



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What We Do: Pastor Marc's article in the Messenger, our Monthly Newsletter, for Summer 2019

What is it that makes Christ Lutheran Church what it is?

I’ve been thinking about that question quite a bit as we near our 60th Anniversary. This church on the corner of Pascack Road and Dam Road (which is what Church Road used to be call) first met in the local school house before purchasing the land it now sits on. The land used to be an apple orchard with a farmhouse that might have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. After receiving seed money from a church in Brooklyn, we have spent the last 60 years showing what God’s love, grace and kindness are all about. Countless people have been fed through worship, study, and through the many social action ministries (like the Genesis Garden) that help all people thrive. We are, I believe, a community that spiritually and physically feeds others. When the church council looked around to see what other faith communities we should support with our 60th anniversary thank offering, we used our own history as a guide. We looked for a developing congregation active in feeding people’s spiritual and physical needs. Santa Isabel Lutheran Church in Elizabeth is feeding not only the Latinx community in its neighborhood but is also meeting an unmet spiritual need for those currently in the Elizabeth Immigrant Detention Center. We see in Jesus’ own ministry a model for our own. The way we feed others is just one of the parts that make Christ Lutheran Church what we are.

This August, we’re going to try an experiment during worship on Sunday mornings. Each Sunday, we’ll participate in a “prayer exchange.” You’ll be invited to make a commitment to intentionally pray for someone else in the congregation. You’ll be given a name (chosen at random) and asked to pray for them during your daily prayers. If you are able, we ask that you connect with that person during coffee hour to ask them what they need prayer for. We invite you to only share what you are comfortable sharing and to respect the sacred responsibility that comes with prayer.

One of the ways we feed the faith life of the people around us is by praying for them. I’m looking forward to trying something new with you this summer.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc



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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



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