Questions and Reflections

Category: John

And because of that... [Sermon Manuscript]

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

John 9:1-42

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

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



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But One Day [Sermon Manuscript]

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

John 4:5-42

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

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



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And Then... [Sermon Manuscript]

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

John 3:1-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen. 
 



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Four O'Clock: On Vulnerability [Sermon Manuscript]

The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

John 1:29-42

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 2nd Sunday After Epiphany (January 19, 2020) on John 1:29-42. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So yesterday, I thought I could finish all my errands before the snow became a problem. But it take long for things to start looking iffy. When I pulled into the church parking lot, the roads were already covered by a very thin layer of snow. I knew I had to hurry so I parked my car, ran inside, and was here for at most 15 minutes. Yet that was all the time needed for the new tires on my car to start losing their grip on the road. By the time I left the church, the dusting of snow on my car had become a blanket. And as I drove down the one-way street connecting the church office parking lot with the main lot below, that’s when my car slid off the road. I eventually got back into the main lot and headed east on Church Road over the reservoir. Everyone, it seemed, was having a rude awakening that, regardless of their car or truck, they would be sliding through and around intersections. As I neared the intersection by Broadway next to Oso Buco, I saw several cars sliding backwards as they tried to drive up the steep incline. I knew then that the rest of my errands would have to wait. I managed to inch my way home but others weren’t so lucky. At every major intersection near a slight hill, there were police officers trying to get accidents off the road. Now I knew this storm was coming and that, in the end, it wouldn’t turn out to be that bad. But at its start, when the snow first fell, that’s when everything on the roads became vulnerable. 

Now I’m not sure if there’s an easy way to classify the experience of vulnerability - but being vulnerable is something we’ve all lived through it. I bet each one us could turn to the person next to us and share a dozen different vulnerable moments. But your story about vulnerability shouldn’t be like the story I just told. Nowhere in that story did I initiate vulnerability. Instead, I sort of fell into it and it’s a good story because everything, for me at least, turn out okay in the end. Yet there’s a different kind of vulnerability that we’re not always trained to admit or share. And that’s the vulnerability we experience when we take a risk and we’re not 100% sure how everyone else will respond. It’s the kind of vulnerability we live through when we walk into a new classroom in a brand new school. And it’s the kind of vulnerability that seems to move into our homes while we’re waiting for the doctor to call us with the results from our most recent medical tests. This kind of vulnerability makes us feel and act in all sorts of ways. Brene Brown, a researcher who collects and analyzes the everyday stories we tell about ourselves, defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” And each one of those words is terrifying in its own way. If I had to guess, most of us want more certainty in our lives. And we’d also like less risk - or maybe just a little risk as long as everything turns out the way we hoped it would. Emotional exposure is even more challenging because that means we need to be honest with others about how we really feel. And we don’t get to control what others do with those emotions that we just shared. Taking the initiative to be vulnerable is scary and we spend a lot of time trying to be anything but. 

So it’s sort of interesting that in today’s reading from the gospel according to John, vulnerability shows up. We just heard John’s version of Jesus’ baptism and if you look closely, you’ll notice that Jesus, in this text, was never explicitly baptized. The act of John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus’ head is not - not mentioned but it’s also not spelled out. And that vulnerable moment of having someone else pray for you or perform a ritual with you is simply passed over. Instead, the gospel writer leans into certainty and has John the Baptist, in a very public way, identify Jesus as the Lamb of God. And that certainty is so clear that two of John the Baptist’s own disciples leave his side and follow the stranger they didn’t know before. 

Now it didn’t take long for Jesus to realize he was being followed. So he turned around and asked both of them a question. But his question wasn’t “Who are you?” or “Why are you following me?” or “Do you believe what John said about me?” Rather Jesus asked them to say out loud what it was they were looking for. And that’s a risky question because it doesn’t really an easy answer. Jesus is, at this point, a stranger to these two disciples. There’s no real relationship between them. Any “who” those two were looking for had to be colored and influenced by what they imagined “the lamb of God” or the “Messiah” would be. So what Jesus really asked them was to be honest about everything they wanted Jesus to be. And that admission would include sharing their hopes and their dreams; their thoughts and experiences; and what it felt like to leave John, the person they knew, to seek out the person they didn’t didn’t. By sharing their “what,” the two disciples would have to admit their vulnerability. 

hich might be why the two disciples, when faced with Jesus’ what, instead asked a question of their own. And that question, at least as it reads to me today, seemed to wonder if Jesus would be vulnerable too. Because they asked Jesus to reveal more than the place where he was keeping his spare pair of sandals. They wanted Jesus to tell them where he was sleeping - and where we sleep can sometimes reveal a lot about who we are. Our bedrooms can be the places where we for eight - or more likely six - hours a night sleep while the rest of the world keeps happening around us. And where we sleep, whether in our home, a hotel room, in a sleeping bag, on the couch in a friend’s apartment, or on cardboard on a city’s streets - where we stay can reveal a lot about the story we’re currently living. Revealing that story means being vulnerable. And Jesus’ response to those who asked him to be vulnerable too was simply: “come and see.” 

Being vulnerable is scary. Yet letting ourselves show vulnerability is a strength that invites us to live a different kind of life. It’s the kind of vulnerability that lets us do really hard things - like saying “I love you” first or finally admitting to our family and friends that we need help. Being vulnerable lets us shed tears of sadness and tears of joy, embracing our feelings instead of building a false wall around them. And being vulnerable is lets us admit that we are worth being fully seen. The call to be vulnerable is a call to admit that uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure is already a part of our lives. Yet that kind of vulnerability doesn’t have to limit what’s possible in our lives because we have a Savior who lived a vulnerable life too. There were times when even the Son of God wasn’t listened to, was rejected, and was abandoned by those he loved. Yet his willingness to be vulnerable with others created opportunities for all of us to be vulnerable with Jesus. And our vulnerability with Jesus is one of the ways Jesus transforms us into the people and the community God wants us to be. When we embrace vulnerability, we create a community where vulnerability is accepted, cherished, and is never taken advantage of. Instead, it recognizes that in Jesus, God’s love for us chose to be vulnerable, letting us say no by putting Jesus on a Cross. Yet God refused to let our fear of vulnerability end the story God wanted for us. Because being vulnerable lets us give up living the false story we think we should live and instead live deeper into God’s story - one where grace, love, and hope are ours - forever. 

Amen. 
 



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Many Things: What Jesus Says [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus said:] " I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

John 16:12-15

Pastor Marc's sermon on Trinity Sunday (June 16, 2019) on John 16:12-15. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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Earlier this week, I met with my colleagues in the Upper Pascack Valley Interfaith Clergy group for our monthly luncheon. As we sat down to break bread over kosher deli sandwiches, we talked about the things we’ve been up to. Since it is graduation season, one member of our group was asked to give the keynote address at a religious school’s graduation ceremony. She had actually been at the school that morning and she shared with us a bit of what she said. The graduating class, it seemed, had a bit of a reputation and she was hoping her words would leave a lasting impression. She wanted to inspire those youth to make wiser, more compassion, and more caring decisions. She hoped that the youth would leave that place ready to be something better than they had been before. That hope, I think, is what we all want when we deliver a keynote address as a graduation ceremony.  Yet personally, I don’t remember anything a keynote speaker says at a graduation ceremony. Part of that is due to how my brain works. Unless I’m taking notes and literally writing down what someone says, I struggle to retain it. I can feel a deep emotional and spiritual connection to the words they shared but by the time I toss my hat into the air, I can no longer quote what they said. When we stand in front of a group of people who are at a transitional moment in their lives, we want our words to make a difference. But we sometimes, I think, hype up the importance of the words we’re trying to use. We believe that every noun and verb and even every punctuation mark that we speak matters because we think everyone at that graduation ceremony will remember what we said. We often forget that there’s also that person sitting there who wished their graduation gown wasn’t so clunky so that they could reach their phone and take notes about what was actually being said. Our words in every situation do matter. But there are times when it’s what our words point to that ends up being the life-giving gift that helps carry everyone through.

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John is, once again, part of Jesus’ Farewell discourse. We’ve been here for a number of weeks, listening to Jesus as he talked to his friends before his arrest, trial, and death. We’ve already heard the beginning of Jesus’ speech, when he washed his disciples feet. And we’ve already heard it’s end when he prayed for himself, his friends, and all who would eventually follow him. We find ourselves, at this moment, smack dab in the middle of his words. Jesus has, up to this point, tried to reassure his disciples over and over again that the Cross won’t end their time with him. His love for them is stronger than anything that life will bring their way. But the disciples were a bit confused. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water into wine, and even raise Lazarus from the dead. It seemed to them that Jesus already had the power and the wisdom and the might needed to overcome anything that life might send against him. Their dreams about Jesus saw him triumphing over all that was around him. So his Farewell discourse didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. The disciples, I think, searched Jesus’ words, looking for some kind of confirmation that Jesus wouldn’t really experience what he said he would. Yet Jesus knew that his disciples were at a transition point. So Jesus tried, once again, to help his disciples understand  what his words were all about.

The one graduation speaker I do remember didn’t actually speak at my graduation at all. I was a Junior in High School and I helped herd the seniors during their graduation ceremony. I made sure they were all in the right seats and that they knew where to go when it ended. I don’t remember all the speakers who spoke at that graduation. But I do remember the one who began his speech with silence. My high school had, over the years, decided to work through its racist past by confronting its offensive caricature of its mascot, the Arapaho Native American Warrior. They had worked with the Arapahoe Nation to redo their mascot and they formed new relationships rooted in respect, empathy, justice, and affirmation. Part of that relationship meant that, every year, a member of the Arapaho tribe would speak at our graduation. For several years, the chief of the tribe who was instrumental in forging that more life-giving relationship was the person who spoke. But after he died, his son came to speak in his place. I witnessed his first time speaking to all 500 high school graduates whose way of life differed from his own. He made his way across the stage, sood at the podium, looked out at everyone in front of him and said...nothing. He stood there, quietly, for several minutes. His silence started to make us uncomfortable. We began to shift in our seats, pretend to clear our throat, even started whispering to each other, wondering if everything was okay. We expected him to immediately start talking when he came to the microphone but he didn’t. So we filled that silence with any noise we could make. When he finally did speak, you could feel the entire audience get comfortable since he met our expectations. But I found out later that his silence was anything but. As he stood at the podium, looking over the graduates before him, he was waiting for the right time to speak. The clock and our schedule wasn’t going to manage his words. He would wait until he knew it was time to talk. Now, behind the graduates, at the edge of the field, was a wooded area along the banks of a small creek. None of the graduates could see it since we were looking the wrong way. But he could. After a few silent minutes, an eagle suddenly flew out from those woods into the air. That was a sign to him that the presence of his father, his ancestors, and his people were now there. It wasn’t necessarily the words he chose to speak that mattered. Rather, it was the fact that he speaking those words within a life-giving relationship, one that transcended time and place. That presence is what ends up making a difference.

Jesus, in our passage today, makes a promise that there are many things he wants to say to each of us but that the time isn’t quite right because we still have some living to do. All our joys and all our sorrows, all our graduations and all our moments of transition, are part of what makes us who we are. The life we live is a life that must be lived and through it all, we won’t be left on our own. Instead, our Jesus will be there because, through our baptism and through our faith, we have a Savior who is always with us. He is, even now, speaking to us, and he will say what we need to get us through. When the words becomes too much or too confusing or when we find ourselves unable to recall what anyone else has actually said, we can always lean into who is always with us. And into that promise that Jesus, through the Spirit, will, no matter what, keep guiding us through.

Amen.

 



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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. 

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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.

 



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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. 

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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.

 



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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. 

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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.

 

 



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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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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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