Questions and Reflections

January 2016

A Reflection on Moses' Shining

Our first reading is Exodus 34:29-35.

Next week (February 7) is Transfiguration, the Sunday when today's reading from Exodus is usually read. On that Sunday, we witness a story in the gospels where Jesus meets Moses and Elijah on a mountain top. The disciples watch as Jesus talks to these two prophets, with everyone lit up like the sun. Jesus is transformed. His typical wardrobe is replaced by a brilliant white robe. The disciples see Jesus as Jesus truly is: God's light in the world. This light Jesus shines is the same light that Moses experienced during his 40 years in the wilderness. Nothing we make or touch can truly radiate the true divine light that God gives. God's light is more than just a fancy firework show. God's light gives life to whatever it touches, causing God's servants to radiate that light as well. Moses, when he comes down the mountain after being on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, can't help but reflect what God has given him. 

Last Sunday, as I dug out from the snowstorm, I noticed that the bright sunshine was giving me a tan. The brilliant sun was reflecting off the two feet of snow, right onto my face. The light was overpowering and I wish I had shades. Even in the depth of winter, after a snowstorm so huge we canceled church worship services and towns up and down the east coast canceled school for days at a time, the brilliant light still shined. That light left its mark on me while I tried to dig out of my driveway. And it lingers because my face looks like I went to the beach. 

This brilliant light is the God we want. We want a God that shines. We want a God who lingers and who gives us a piece of this divine light to share with others. Even when we're bogged down in the storms of our lives, we have this God who still shines. But this God doesn't only shine. This God isn't only restricted to the mountain tops. This God is a God who is heading to the Cross - a story we'll experience once Lent starts on February 10. 


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Pastor Marc's February 2016 Messenger Article

Lent is coming. And I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

Christmas just finished. We've put away the tree, wrapped up the lights, and we’re trying to avoid looking at our credit card statement for the new few months. We're finally exhaling after the busy Christmas season. But here we are with Ash Wednesday about to arrive. On February 10, at 7:30 pm, we'll gather in the sanctuary to worship, pray, and feel ashen crosses made on our forehead. We'll start our 40 day journey towards Easter by reflecting on God's story and our own. These 40 days bring to mind the 40 days Jesus was in the desert before he began his public ministry (see Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus fasted, listened to God and was tempted by the Devil before beginning his journey to the cross. Lent is a time when the church slows down, reflecting on who we are and what Jesus has done for us. It's a time to breath-in God before the celebration of Easter. 

But how do we breathe-in God? One way is through our mid-week Lenten soup and worship services. We'll gather on Wednesdays at 7:00 pm to eat delicious homemade soup and participate in a worship series called "Sensing the Gospel." We'll continue our weekly Bible studies as we read through the entire Bible in a year. We'll raise money and support for ELCA World Hunger and the Center for Food Action in Englewood and gather toiletries for the homeless in New Jersey. We'll sing, laugh, cry and celebrate a God who doesn't just know us. We'll celebrate a God who walks with us. This Lent, I invite you to breath-in God. Take up a discipline to pray first thing in the morning or right before bed. Join us at worship or study. Serve your neighbors through the church or trying something new. Find what you need to breathe-in God, and let's breathe-out God's love in everything we say and do.

See ya in church! Pastor Marc


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A reflection on Jesus' One Sentence Sermon

Our gospel reading today is Luke 4:14-21.

Last week, the gospel of John opened Jesus' public ministry by turning water into wine. Today, the gospel of Luke opens Jesus' public ministry with a sermon. He walks into a synagogue, opens up a scroll, reads scripture, and preaches. This is similar to what we do on Sunday mornings. We open up our texts, we read and hear scripture, and Pastor Marc preaches a sermon. This sermon, 1500 words or so, takes 12 minutes to share a piece of God's story and a piece of what the good news of Jesus (the Gospel) is all about. Jesus, on the other hand, doesn't prepare a manuscript and his sermon is just 9 words long. 

So if you had to share the good news of Jesus, what 9 words would you use? 

As we continue our year reading the bible, we're discovering just how complicated and layered God's story is. The text is relating a story that involves people who lived in a world different from ours. They didn't have cars or airplanes, smartphones or computers. The idea of a printed bulletin containing a worship service would have blown their mind. Jacob, Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar live different lives. But their experiences, emotions, and life is filled with stories and feelings we can relate to. They struggle to find their identity in their world. They struggle to live a life faithful to their beliefs and their God. They do what they need to survive and to pass on their story and their legacies. The more we discover their stories, the more we need to flesh out their world. A sermon covering their story requires more than 9 words. It requires books, articles, archaeology, and knowledge. The good news of God in their lives can add up to a mountain of words.

But if a stranger came up to you and wondered why Jesus matters, what would you say? Could you say that the captives are free, the blind can see, the oppressed are free, and that poor are receiving good news? And if we can, what exactly does that look like? Today's sermon from Jesus is sharing that God's kingdom is happening right now and we're invited to share what God's kingdom looks like while, at the same time, pointing to where God's kingdom is being lived out in our lives and in our world.


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Jesus and Wine

Our gospel reading is John 2:1-11.

There's an image floating around the internet that captures today's gospel reading well. The picture is a group of shelves at a supermarket. The shelves are neat, tidy, and well organized. We see bottles of white and red wine, all labeled, priced, and where they're supposed to be. There's nothing out of the ordinary here (if we lived in a state where supermarkets were allowed to sell wine). But, when we look up, over the bottles of wine, there's a green label with white lettering. It's says "Water." The image is captioned, "JESUS WAS HERE." 

Our gut reaction when we see that image for the first time is to chuckle or laugh. It's surprising. It's funny. It's delightful. And I expect that's exactly how the guests at the wedding felt when, after a long party, Jesus' wine was served. After days of celebration, the guests expected the most delicious food and drink to be gone. The longer the party goes, the less money, time, and energy is available to make sure that the best stuff is served. People expected to be fed but they didn't expect to be treated to something new. 

Jesus' actions at this wedding party is miraculous but John doesn't call Jesus' actions miracles. They're always signs. What Jesus is doing is pointing towards who God is and what God does. God celebrates. God provides abundantly. God shows up in unexpected places. God values relationships, friendship, and connection. The wedding is a sign of what God desires for humanity. God desires our friendship and connection with each other. God desires everyone to be well fed. God desires that all have an opportunity to thrive and experience the best that we have to offer. The wedding at Cana is Jesus' first public act in John. This water-into-wine starts his journey to the Cross. God's abundant reality and desire for God's world runs into a world where resources are hoarded, opportunities restricted, and where divisions are promoted and practice. But God will not let our limited reality overcome the limitlessness of God's love.


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A reflection on John's Baptism and Christian Baptism

Our gospel reading today is Luke 3:15-22.

Luke's portrayal of Jesus's baptism differs from the other gospels. There's no explicit mention of John baptizing Jesus (the text only says that Jesus is baptized) and, in Luke, Jesus is baptized with other people. Luke paints a picture of Jesus being part of the crowd, one of many different kinds of people who come to participate in what God is doing in the world.

But why would Jesus need to be baptized? That's not an easy question to answer. But one way to examine this question is to make sure that we are clear about the baptism that Jesus received and the baptism we receive when we are welcomed into the body of Christ. The baptism practiced by John centered on repentance and forgiveness of sins. John was telling people to turn away from the behaviors and thoughts that were taking them away from what God is doing in the world. The baptism we practice is focused more on how God is working on us. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God's name is put on us. God's name is washed over us, sealed on our foreheads, and poured into us. God gives us God's own name to carry into the world. Our Christian baptism doesn't ask us to participate in what God is doing in the world. Our Christian baptism makes us active participants in how God loves the world. 

Jesus takes John's baptism and makes it his own. He expands John's witness so that we are reborn as something brand new when we are baptized. After the water pours over us and we pat ourselves dry, we might feel just like we did before. But we are changed because God's name has been publicly given to us. We are beloved. God trusts us with God's own name and love. We're called to live differently, to feed the hungry, advocate for the poor, and love the neighbors God gives us. We're called to be a Christ in the world because we belong to Christ today, tomorrow, and forever. 


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A reflection on Creation and the Magi

Today's first reading is Genesis 1:1-5.

This is how our Bible begins - with the beginning of the world. What better way to begin our year of reading the bible than with the first words in our Bible? These weren't the first words of Scripture ever created but they are the first words of our sacred story. And that's how we begin worship today, with a translation by Everett Fox. Fox crafted a translation that's brings out the poetry and motion of the original Hebrew. Our English translation can sometimes feel too dry and wooden when we're talking about God's creative act. God, in the act of creating life, is living out God's sense of creativity and beauty. And when God creates the world, describing what God does requires poetry. 

What strikes me today is how this text from Genesis matches with the story of the magi. The magi, scientists and scholars from the east, are observing creation and looking for God's activity. They are looking for a beginning. As the story unfolds, we hear how a light (star) leads them, how darkness (Herod) tries to over take them, and how a new day is created (God's love is opened to the Gentiles through Jesus). 

When God does new things, God acts like the beginning of our sacred story. God sees what's going on, speaks, and acts. God risks entering our chaos to bring love, forgiveness, and hope. How God acts and what that help will look like is difficult to predict. But we know that, like the beginning of the world and the beginning of Jesus' story, God is in the business of creating new things. And God is busy with us, right now, creating us into being a new people for the world. 


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