Questions and Reflections

Reflection: Or/And

What are the biblical texts that are constantly rolling around in your brain? For me, one of those texts is today's reading from Galatians 3:23-29. It's one of the passages that has become one of the “keys” I use to read the Bible. Scripture interprets scripture and Galatians 3 helps me do that. In this passage, I see questions about what faith, the law, and life are all about. I find myself sitting in awe at the phrase "justification by faith." And I feel joy knowing that I am a child of God. But I’m a bit terrified at what exactly that means. I see in these verses a challenge to live a life that is much easier said than done. Not every piece of scripture we find rattling around in our brain is going to, necessarily, give us answers. Instead, these texts might continually challenge us as we figure out what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

Paul, in the two and three decades after Jesus' death and resurrection, was on a mission to form Jesus communities throughout the Roman world. He believed that Jesus' was about to return to earth so he tried to create communities that related to each other "as though they were in the very presence of God.*" Paul created "outposts of life 'in Christ'" which were communities living as what he imagined life with God looked like. Our lives, in Christ, change the social distinctions in our community. Human relationships would be re-oriented. Those at the lower social statuses would be brought up while those with higher social status would come down. Through baptism and faith, we would be leveled out by God.

Paul, in verse 28, does something very subtle. In a series of binaries, he shifts from "or" to "and." In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. In the letters scholars believe Paul wrote, he appears to regularly critique the male and female binary within the church. Women were identified as house church leaders, interpreters of letters, prophets, and leaders of prayer. The binary deep within Roman culture was broken down through a universal call grounded in spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Leadership, for Paul, was not limited by gender. For him, the Cross has already replaced our divisions with a different story. God loved all of us too much to let us experience life alone. Our unity with God is a unity that should be reflected in our treatment of each other. The binaries and distinctions we put into place are not necessarily from God. But God’s call to listen, follow, and cling to Christ is a call that trumps all.

*The Rev. Jane Lancaster Patterson, Commentary on Galatians, Working Preacher.



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Reflection: She

One of the more difficult things I find as a parent is learning when to step back. Often my kids run into a problem or situation where they need help. And as their dad, my first response is to fix it. I do not want my kids to get bogged down or stuck. I want them, instead, to move on to the next thing. But when I step in, my kid's do not always grow. There is a value in being stuck and learning how to figure out what to do next. The best thing I can do as a parent is to know when to step back and let my kids figure things out. And the book of Proverbs was written with this idea in mind.

Proverbs is a book of poetry and these poems are filled with parallelisms. Parallelism is when the second line of a verse restates, in some way, the first. This restatement can sound exactly the same or it can be very different. Proverbs prefers to use these two lines to contrast each other. This is how the book of Proverbs helps us to see "what is good and approved and what is not*." We are invited to puzzle over the meanings - to get stuck in each verse. Because this book wants to show us how, when we are overwhelmed by different voices and opinions, we "can choose the wiser course**."

But what, exactly, is wise? That's a question currently up to debate. We can all name people who we know who think they are always right. And we might think that our opinions and decision making abilities are always top notch. We can find ourselves supporting any opinion that affirms what we already think is right. And we surround ourselves with voices that keep us comfortable while shutting down the people who do not agree with us. We have no problem labeling something "Fake News" if what we're reading doesn't support what we believe. We struggle to know what to trust because even videos can make people say what they didn't really mean. It can feel as if wisdom is in short supply. But we might not agree where such wisdom can be found

The Book of Proverbs (today's reading Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31), then, offers a chance to see what God considers wise. Yet this wisdom, I think, is less about what each individual verse says and more about who the book of Proverbs describes. Throughout this book, we meet the character of Wisdom. Wisdom is typically personified as a she and she is imagined as being present when the universe was made. Wisdom is a master craftswoman, who joyfully celebrates God's holy work. She is God's Spirit in the world, the voice of what is always true. She is the One who advocates for justice and love. And she has seen it all while still delighting in the diversity of our world. She is, for Christians, the Holy Spirit. She is the energy that opens us to learning what it means to fear God, to cling to Jesus, and to experience the gift of faith. When other voices want to turn us towards what is comfortable, she is already speaking to us and showing us a more holy way. When we are stuck, she is Jesus' presence as we struggle to find our way. She is God's energy in the world. And she, as the Holy Spirit, is how God's love helps us find a way through.

* The Fortress Press Commentary on the Old Testament, 2014.
** Anne Stewart, Commentary on Working Preacher, 2019.



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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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Spirit Born: Who You Are [Sermon Manuscript]

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

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

Acts 2:1-21

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

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


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


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


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

Amen.



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Reflection: My Spirit on All Flesh

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

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

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



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Reflection: Bound

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

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

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



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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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Reflection: Hospitality

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

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



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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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