Questions and Reflections

January 2017

First Acts

The Gospel Reading is Matthew 5:1-12.

What was the first thing you did when you first publicly met Jesus? For me, I probably giggled, laughed, and spit up since I was a baby who was just baptized. In our baptism, we are washed with water united in God's promises. We are sealed with the cross of Christ. In our baptism, we meet Christ in a very public way. So, as a baby, my first act after meeting Jesus wasn't probably the most dignified action. But it was at least authentically me.

Today's reading from Matthew is Jesus' first detailed public act of ministry. Matthew tells us how Jesus traveled around Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing others. Word soon spreads and crowds start to gather around Jesus. As the numbers grow, Jesus escapes up a mountain. His disciples follow. Jesus stops escaping and settles in with his disciples, offering his long Sermon on the Mount. Rev. Karoline Lewis writes in Working Preacher that Matthews takes Jesus' teaching ministry and discipleship seriously. The first public act of Jesus' ministry in each gospel helps to illustrate what part of Jesus each gospel writer felt inspired to share. For Matthew, a disciple follows Jesus by being "the consummate student, a learner." 

Discipleship is more than believing in Jesus. Discipleship involves learning. Jesus invites us to be life-long learners. This, at first glance, sounds like an obvious thing to say. But in practical terms, being a life-long learner with Jesus is hard to do. Most of us are over busy. Our schedules can barely fit all the things we need to do. It seems impossible to add one more thing to our days. How can Jesus ask us to add one more thing to our already overloaded to-do list? 

But maybe we shouldn't look at this learning as just one more thing to do. What Jesus is bringing is an opportunity. A relationship with Jesus is something we can never exhaust. We can never fully cross Jesus off our to-do list because Jesus never crosses us off of his. Through the gift of faith, we are connected to to the creator of the universe who is the source of everything. And that God has decided that you matter and you have value. To learn with Jesus is to learn how God sees us and how we can see the world like God does. And to see how God sees is to be just the kind of disciple this world needs.  


Keep Reading >>


The Gospel Reading today is Matthew 4:12-23.

Did you notice something familiar but different about today's gospel reading? We heard John's version (John 1:29-42) of the same story last week. Today's reading from Matthew describes Jesus calling his first disciples. Last week's reading from John told the same story. There are, however, differences. In John's version, Andrew is a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew follows Jesus after John the Baptist declares Jesus to be "the One." After spending time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother Simon (aka Peter) and brings Simon to Jesus. Today's reading from mentions the same brothers but tells a different story. Andrew and Simon are fishing when they both encounter Jesus. Jesus tells them to "follow me" and they do. The two brothers drop everything to follow Jesus. Both stories overlap but I'm wondering what to do with two different stories of the same event. 

One thing we can try is mix these stories together. This is what we do with Jesus' birth (i.e. the magi and shepherds are not in every gospel). We could say Matthew's account is a "big-picture" approach while John's account has more details. Andrew fishes for a living and is also a disciple of John the Baptist. In Jesus' conversation with Andrew and the unnamed person, the words about being "fishers of people" comes up. Andrew finds Simon and brings him to Jesus. Both abandon their professions to follow Jesus full time.

The mixing approach can help add details to Jesus' story but I'm not sure this approach works today. When we mix the stories together, we lose the details that make these call stories life giving. In John's version, John the Baptist connects Jesus to his Jewish history. Without that connection, we could ignore the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and focus only on the New. We could forget that Jesus lived in a specific time and in a specific place. The connection with John the Baptist requires us to tie Jesus' story (and our story) with the story of Israel. God's activity in history becomes part of our story and our history. Matthew, however, is less concerned with that connection because the Gospel according to Matthew spends a lot of time showing how Jewish Jesus is. From the birth story through the resurrection, Jesus and his family are connected to their Jewish identity. What matters to him is how Jesus' calling interrupts the priorities we set in our lives. When Jesus tells us to "follow him," we are his, forever. 

When it comes to the Bible, conflicting stories are not problems that need to be mixed and fixed. Conflicting stories show how Jesus' ministry impacted many different kinds of people in many different ways. Just like the early followers of Jesus reflected on how Jesus made a difference to them, we are invited to do the same. After all, the Holy Spirit gave us four books about Jesus because we need more than one story to see just how God loves the entire world.  


Keep Reading >>

Pastor Marc's Reflection for the February Newsletter (the Messenger)

February is when I start dreaming about other places. The clouds, the cold and the lack of sun make me long for warmer and brighter places. I close my eyes, and I'm sitting on a beach drinking a beverage out of a coconut. Even though the amount of daylight continues to grow each day, the early evenings drag on me. I want to escape to a place where the sun always shines and the clouds are far away.

This dream is probably one reason why I, along with countless others, enter the HGTV Dream House sweepstakes each and every morning. In 2016, HGTV was the 3rd most watched cable TV channel. People all over the country are watching people fix up their homes, decorate new ones and visit flea markets trying to turn a ping-pong table into an armchair. Two or three times a year, HGTV builds or renovates a home and offers it in a contest. All we need to do is enter our email address on a form twice a day. The homes are always well decorated and full of every kind of tech toy we could want. These homes seem to be free and they're for us. We just need to be declared the winner among the millions and millions of entries cast.

These contests can limit the dreams we think are possible. We think the only dreams worth having are winning highly unlikely events and that this win is all we need to make our lives okay. But the story of Jesus Christ , when it comes to our relationship with God, is that we've already won. In our baptism, our name has been selected. We are the winner. We are part of God's family. This family includes people with homes bigger than ours and homes that are smaller. This family is made up of mansions, apartment buildings, tin shacks and people with no homes at all. God did what we could not do and decided we were worth living and dying for. God wanted to be with you today, tomorrow and always.

So when it comes to Jesus, we've already won. So what kind of dreams can dream up with God today?


Keep Reading >>

Come and See

The gospel reading is John 1:29-42.

On Sundays, the scripture lessons we hear are from a three year cycle we call the lectionary. The gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke headline their own year in the cycle. However, like every good rock show, sometimes an opening band needs to sneak in and play a longer set when we least expect it. And that's how the gospel according to John operates in the lectionary. John pops up on different Sundays, sometimes showing up for an entire season and sometimes showing up for only one day. This is the year we focus on Matthew but our reading today is from the very first chapter of John when Jesus tells two followers of John the Baptist to "Come and see." 

The event that triggers today's story is the proclamation the Baptist shares. Jesus walks by and the Baptist says, "that's the guy." Andrew and an unnamed follower of the Baptist take these words seriously. They follow Jesus, trying to see what he is up to. When Jesus notices he's being followed, he turns and asks them a "what" question; asking them to name the thing or idea they are looking for. The two respond with a "where" question but the question is really a "who." They want to know who Jesus is. And Jesus, reading between the lines, invites them both to come and see. 

"Come and see" is more than just an invitation to get to know Jesus because spending time with Jesus causes things to happen. After spending one day with Jesus, Andrew knows. I don't think Andrew understands everything about Jesus and I don't think he knows that Jesus' journey will lead to the Cross. But after just one day, Andrew has to share Jesus. He finds his brother Simon (aka Peter) and invites him to "come and see" too. Jesus' invitation is more than an invitation to meet Jesus. Jesus' invitation is an invitation to share Jesus to the people we know and love. Jesus is not only our Messiah. He is a Messiah who calls us to share him with whoever we know because spending even a few moments with Jesus changes everything.


Keep Reading >>

Images of God

The gospel reading is Matthew 3:13-17.

One of the strengths of Lutheran Christianity is our love of questions. Even Martin Luther's Small Catechism is built around the question "what does this mean?" Lutheran Christianity, to me, has always embraced questions because questions help us explore the gifts of faith and grace that God gives us. Questions, in a way, are a gift from God too. 

But questions are not always easy; some questions, especially when we ask them for the first time, are very hard. One of these kinds of questions is about our image of God. This isn't a question focused on what God looks like (or what kind of cloud God sits on, how long is God's beard is, what eye color does God have, etc). This is a question wondering who God is and how do we experience God. Do we focus on God's power, control, and might? When we think of God, do we see God like a king of old, with ultimate authority? Or do we focus on God's use of power through care and love? There are many different images of God and our images of God will change. Our images of God do not limit who God is. Instead our images of God let us relate to God so we can live our lives.

Today's readings display different images of God. In Isaiah 42, God's power and majesty is shown through the act of creating everything. This power is tempered because God calls God's servants to not damage bruised reeds or snuff out burning wicks. The sermon in Acts 10 is about knowing God because we know Jesus.  And Jesus' ministry, life, death, and resurrection paint God in a very human and personal light. 

The baptismal story in Matthew shows another image of of God. Jesus doesn't need to be baptized (because why would God's Son need to be connected to God?) but Jesus wants to be baptized. Jesus chooses to walk into the River Jordan and let John pour water over him. God lets humans do something to, and with, God. That's an image where God is not just with us but desires to be impacted by us. That makes God, in Jesus, vulnerable just like we are.


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on 8 Days

The Gospel Reading is Luke 2:15-21.

When was the last time you used "eight days" to signify something new coming up? I can't remember the last time I did that. When I talk about things happening in the future, I might say "next week" or "in one week." I rarely say "in eight days." But according to Luke and Leviticus, a baby boy who is Jewish is to be circumcised eight days after birth. So why the number eight?

In the Bible, the number seven represents the idea of wholeness. When God created the earth, it took God six days and God rested on the seventh. The entire creation event took seven days to complete; seven days to be whole. In Leviticus 12, a woman remains ritually unclean for seven days after giving birth. The idea of being ritually unclean is not an easy concept for Christians to understand. We sometimes say being unclean comes from the Israelites lack of medical knowledge and access to modern hygiene (like indoor plumbing). But ritual uncleanness was deeper than that. The Israelites had a sense that certain experiences changed us, making it difficult to approach the holy and perfect God. By following certain rituals, we are made clean, and our ability to approach God is reaffirmed. When a woman gave birth to a baby boy, she's "unclean" for seven days. It takes time for her to be made whole again. And then, once she's whole, her son is circumcised on the eighth day.

As Christians, ritual impurity when it comes to childbirth is something we do not teach. But there is something compelling about the symbol of the eighth day. The eighth day is the day after something is made whole and complete. The eighth day symbolizes something new; a new cycle; a new creation. At the end of a week, a new opportunity arises. As Christians, this is who Jesus is. Jesus is a new creation. And as followers of Christ, we are more than just individuals. We are part of Christ himself. We are living in his eighth day. So, in this time of something new, what is God calling us to do?


Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>