Questions and Reflections

January 2018

Foodies. Negotiating Faith and Life.

If you don't take a picture of every meal you eat, did it really exist?

I know this is a silly question but if you spend any time on social media, you know people love taking pictures of their food. And I love taking pictures of my food too. When I go to a great restaurant, I want to showcase their skill. When I visit a friend’s dinner party, I want to showcase their gifts of hospitality. And when my kids bake cookies, I want to share their hard work. But there’s are food events I don’t take pictures of. You won’t see a picture of lunch leftovers on my instagram and you won’t see the bag of chips I "accidentally" ate for dinner last night. One of the great things about social media is that we get to choose what we share online. But This is also a problem. We usually only share the experiences making us look like we are living our best life. When we showcase the meal at the trendy restaurant, we are doing more than highlighting the skills of the chefs. We're also letting everyone know that we have the wealth, status, time, and "coolness" to visit this kind of place. 

Social Media is an obvious example of what we do constantly: we curate our own life. We choose what to share and what we don't. We choose what to tell our friends and what to keep to ourselves. We make the choice to present a pleasant, happy, rich, and strong side of ourselves. We project a certain kind of image for others to see. And this image is developed through a constant negotiation with the world around us. We identify what the culture values and we try to match it. We negotiate what we can share and what we can't. We struggle with a world that expects us to be a certain way. We want to be ourselves but this constant negotiation means we sometime see wonder if we can. 

In our reading from 1st Corinthians 8:1-13 today, Paul is writing to a community struggling with this kind of negotiation. In their world, animal sacrifices are normal and expected. Animals are killed in various religious temples and the meat is given, or sold, to people. Meat in the ancient world was extremely expensive. For many people, the meat from animals sacrifices was the only meat they would ever eat. Christianity, as we know it, wasn’t a major religion yet. The followers of Jesus in Corinth were small and the only ones in the area. They are learning how live, share, and curate their new Christian identity. And that, even today, isn’t an easy thing to do. 

Paul, I think, is inviting the community in Corinth to be intentional in everything they do. They need to know the truth about who they are, whose they are, and what their wider community is like. They need to know that people will watch what they are doing and they need to know why they do the things they do. They need to negotiate with their culture but always begin that negotiate in, and through, Jesus. Jesus, when he deals with the world, thinks of the other person first. And Jesus always offers a love that is rooted in a God who will never give up on the world.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 4th Sunday After Epiphany, 1/28/2018.


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Start with Love. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, February 2018 Edition

It's overwhelming picking the right Valentine's Day card. Selecting the right card (or cards) needs to follow several rules. The card needs to match the personality of the person I'm giving it to but it also needs to be a card they would expect to come from me. The card needs to set the right tone, convey the right words, and show the person I am giving it to that they are valued. It needs to be funny but not too funny. It needs to be quirky but not too quirky. And it needs to fit my budget. These rules apply for any card I'm buying, including the cards my kids want to give out to their friends at school. I need to know my kids but also their classmates. I need to know what's cool and I need to ask a bunch of questions. Are stickers still fun? Should they glow in the dark or be scratch and sniff? Are temporary tattoos worth giving out or should I stick with candy? Or many they should avoid candy because I throw out all the candy my kids bring home anyways? Choosing a Valentine's Day card can be mentally exhausting.

But one thing that requires no effort this Valentine's Day is the start of Lent. Valentine's Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. On a day when consumerism turns love into a commodity, the church will do something different. We'll start our journey towards Easter by starting with what makes us who we are. We are human. We are mortal. We suffer, hurt each other, and shed tears. We laugh, celebrate, and bring each other joy and hope. We make mistakes. We are sinners. And we are, above all, made in God's image. We are, through Jesus, thoroughly loved.

I know many people who love Valentine's Day. I know many who don't. Regardless of how you feel about Valentine's Day, I invite you to take time on February 14 to remember your need for God and how, through Jesus, you are loved forever. Worship with us on February 14 at 7 pm. Keep an eye on our calendar for special ash-oriented events that day. And make a plan to participate in our Soup & Studies starting February 21. We will explore why God's love for us matters and how, through scripture and Martin Luther's On Freedom of a Christian, we can live out God's love every day.


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Change.Your.Reality (Manuscript)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark 1:14-20

My sermon from the 3rd Sundary After Epiphany (January 21, 2018) on Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


I want to start by saying something you might not agree with - but I honestly believe that Keanu Reeves might be one of the most talented actors of the last 25 years.

Or maybe I hold Keanu in such high regards because he was the star of the first movie I saw in a theater without my parents. The movie, of course, was Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.  Bill and Ted are two lovable, if not very smart, teenagers from Southern California who travel through time in a phone booth. Keanu played Ted and I remember being impressed by his 90s slacker style, the hair that hung down and covered half his face, and the fact that he was really good at saying the word “whoa.” The movie is very silly and includes a scene where Bill and Ted recite song lyrics from the 80s hair-metal band Poison to try and convince St. Peter to let them into heaven. It’s a ridiculous film - but it’s my kind of ridiculous. And when my brother and I first saw it, we were in a run-down theater next to the low-rent mall and were literally the only people in the theater. We were kids and we received our own private screening of one of the most ridiculous films ever made. It was awesome and that’s how I met Keanu Reeves. He showed up unexpectedly in my pop culture life, and in the process, I became a fan of his for life. Now, I haven’t seen all of his films and I don’t seek out every interview he gives. But he’s a pop culture icon in my life and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. He’s made such connection with so many different kind of people that when a picture was posted online showing him sitting on a bench looking sad, literally everyone on the Internet created images and sent him messages trying  to cheer him up. When he shows up in our lives, some of us see his work, hear his words, and our one-way connection with him just sort of happens. We become a fan. It’s hard to describe why we become fans. It seems like it’s something we just do. We becomes fans of famous people and not-famous people. We connect in this one-sided way with actors and musicians, and also with colleagues, friends, and even strangers. There are people in this world who we bond with instantly and without effort. And once that bond forms, once we are a fan of them, a part of us, a part of our reality, a part of what we think is possible - actually changes.

And that change of reality is part of what Mark is getting at today. Jesus, at the start of this gospel, keeps showing up in unexpected places. He goes to see John the Baptist and is baptized in the River Jordan. Jesus then spends 40 days in the desert, away from everyone. But once John is arrested, Jesus returns to the place he grew up in: the area around the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus is taking a stroll on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he interrupts Andrew and Simon. Andrew and Simon are busy working, tending their nets. I imagine they expected to spend that day seeing nets full of fish rather than meeting the Savior of the world. But Jesus walked straight into their lives, spoke one sentence, and Simon and Andrew dropped everything to follow him. Jesus then walked a little farther, running into Zebedee and his two sons: James and John. James and John, like Andrew and Simon, are busy working. They’re mending their nets so they can catch the fish they need to survive. And James and John are not alone. Some workers and their father are in the boat with them. Now, scripture doesn’t give us any details about Zebedee or his relationship with his sons. We don’t know if they cared about each other or if they had any future plans for their shared lives. James and John might have been the ones Zebedee expected to inherit the family business, pass on the family name, and be Zebedee’s when he became too frail to work. And then Jesus showed up and James and John left their dad in the boat. Any expectations they had about only being fishermen is now gone. Every plan their father had made for them is suddenly undone. This family is sitting by the Sea of Galilee when they meet the Savior of the world and their reality, their expectations, and their future plans all radically change. When Jesus shows up, he expects more than just fans; he expects followers.

We might hope and pray that our experience with Jesus might look and sound like what happened to Andrew, Simon, James, and John. We might feel like we’re waiting for that moment when we meet Jesus in a very real and powerful way. We want to see Jesus face-to-face, in a completely unambiguous way, and in a moment where Jesus and life suddenly makes sense and all our doubts and questions finally cease. We’re waiting for a moment when faith will happen to us and we’ll say “woah” like Keanu and actually mean it. We expect Jesus to move us from being only a fan of his - with our doubts and concerns and moments when we don’t even know if we believe - and once we are perfectly faithful, then we can finally be the follower of Jesus we think we’re supposed to be.

And I’ll admit that I sometimes wish my faith worked like that. Because that kind of faith, that kind of spirituality, feels like it would be sort of easy. Jesus shows up, I hear one sentence, and I finally get what it means to be with Jesus. Andrew, Simon, James, and John seem to imply that following Jesus is something that happens in a moment. And we who are faithful but a bit doubtful start making assumptions about what made these four disciples change so suddenly. We assume they must have believed everything about Jesus when they first met him, we assume they knew exactly how the story would turn out. We assume that every question they had was, in that moment, instantly answered. But that kind of easy spiritual moment only happens if we end the gospel according to MarI right here. If this was the last thing we heard about Andrew, Simon, James, and John - we could say that faith is supposed to be a neat and simple and very clean. But we will see that the story doesn’t end here. And as we read the rest of Mark, these four will end up being terrible followers of Jesus. They will seek out power and misunderstand what Jesus tells them about humility, sacrifice, and love. They will try to keep the marginalized and vulnerable away from Jesus, failing to see how Jesus makes caring for the oppressed a primary focus of everything he says and does. These four will cross borders with Jesus and fail to see how Jesus wants them to expand what hospitality looks like. These four will even talk back to Jesus when he tells them about the Cross because they couldn’t imagine God making a sacrifice so that all people, regardless of nationality, gender, race, or citizenship in God’s kingdom, could actually thrive. And these four will, when Jesus is in his greatest need, deny and abandon him.

These four are not perfect followers of Jesus and Jesus didn’t wait for them to be perfect before he made them his own. Following Jesus isn’t about waiting for that perfect faith-filled moment. Following Jesus is about trusting that Jesus’ promise are true. Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to believe everything before they follow him. He simply asks them to trust that he is with them. That kind of trust is a little spooky because it assumes we will have doubts, that we will have questions, and that we will sometimes wonder if we even are a fan of Jesus himself. That kind of trust knows we will not be perfect but it still follows Jesus anyways.

And we start building that trust by noticing where Jesus shows up. He chooses to show up in our baptism, making us his, forever. He chooses to show up in the bread and drink we are about to share. He chooses to show up in the middle of all us, right now, when we gather together in his name. And he chooses to keep showing up to us when we are outside these church walls, leading us down paths he has already trod. We are called not to be perfect but to make our way through our life by following in his footsteps. And we trust that Jesus is making us more than just his fans. He is making us, the imperfect, into his faithful followers so that we can see him, know him, and live like him, and really mean it when we see love face-to-face and say “whoa.”



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The End of the World is Tomorrow

Today's reading from 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is not, in some ways, the best advice to give to others. I wouldn't tell a married person to live as if they were single. I wouldn't tell someone who is mourning to act like they are not. And I wouldn't tell anyone to pretend as if they are not living in the real world. This passage shows us why knowing the context of biblical writings is important. If we take these verses at face value, we would end up making some un-Christian life choices. But if we remember who Paul was and what he believed, this passage makes a little more sense. 

Paul honestly thought the world was going to end tomorrow. The end times were not metaphorical, symbolic, or something that will happen "in the near future." For Paul, if today was Sunday, the world is ending on Monday. He had no idea that there would be a Christian church 2000 years into the future. Paul wrote, preached, and shared Jesus with an incredible sense of urgency. The current structure of the world was about to be undone. Everything, including our relationships, society, and culture was going to change in ways we couldn't imagine. Paul could, in the same breath, encourage slaves to not worry about being free and spouses to act as if they are not married, because the world was about to change. And even when Paul did act like relationships were important, he always assumed they wouldn't last. Living a long and faith-filled Christian life was not something he spent much energy on. 

As Paul aged, his writing slowly changed. His ministry lasted over twenty years and the amount of urgency in his writing dropped (but only by a hair). He never lost the hope that he would see Jesus' return in his lifetime. And in some ways, the Christian life is rooted in that expectation. Every Sunday, we say out loud that Jesus will come again. And we, as a congregation, mean it. But the questions we ask about daily living are different. We don't assume that because Jesus will return tomorrow, we can ignore today's responsibilities. Instead, because we know Jesus will come again, we live everyday as he did. We heal what needs to be healed. We repair what is broken. We take seriously our relationships. We care for the earth like God does. We bring good news to the poor. And we think about others before we think about ourselves. Since we expect Jesus to return, we live as if he is already here. And, in away, he already is because he is present whenever we gather together. 


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How Does God Love the World?

This morning's gospel reading (John 1:43-51) is unexpected. We are in the year where we focus on the gospel according to Mark but today we detour to the gospel according to John. In John's narrative, this scene takes place after Jesus meets John the baptism. Jesus begins to find his disciples. Peter and his brother Andrew are two of the first disciples Jesus calls. And then Jesus goes to Galilee to find Philip. Exactly where Philip was,  scripture doesn't tell us. In fact, scripture doesn't tell us much about Philip at all. We really don't know who Philip is or what he was doing when he met Jesus.  We don't know if Philip was religious or if he attended synagogue every week. We don't know if Philip was seeking the Messiah or if faith was important to him at all. All the gospel according to John tells us is that Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip. For John, what Jesus does here and what Philip does next is what being a follower of Jesus is all about. 

If we want to follow Jesus, we need to trust that we cannot follow Jesus unless Jesus comes to us. And that visit by Jesus happens in a variety of ways. Jesus comes to us in the moment of our baptism, when we gather to worship in church, when we sing together as a community, and when we share Jesus' body and blood in communion. Jesus also comes to us when we are praying for a friend, when we are hiking far from civilization, and when we are stuck on a crowded subway car. Jesus makes himself known to us by by sending us a feeling of peace when peace feels impossible. He sometimes speaks words of hope that only we can hear. And he shows up by pushing us to love our neighbors even when we don't want to. There's no "right" way that Jesus comes to us. Rather, Jesus comes to us over and over again wherever we are. Jesus finds us because we are worth being found. 

And once we are found, we are sent to find others. As we see in this text, following Jesus means living like Jesus does. Jesus finds Philip and so Philip finds Nathaniel. Our faith isn't a commodity only  for ourselves. Our faith, instead, compels us to share it with others. We are called to invite folks to know Jesus. We are called to invite folks to church. We are called to listen to the questions others have, to answer them as best we can, to be honest if we don't know the answer, and still to be brave enough to tell them to "come and see." We are called to be like Jesus and to be like Philip. Because when Jesus finds us, we become more than just ourselves; we become part of Jesus himself (aka the body of Christ). And when we find others, God is using us to love the world (John 3:16).


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Who Do You Listen To? (Sermon Manuscript)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:1-10

My sermon from the 2nd Sundary After Epiphany (January 14, 2018) on 1 Samuel 3:1-10. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


When do we stop listening to new pop music? 

A few years ago, a study was released asking that question. The study took several years of data from the online streaming music service called Spotify, matching the songs people listen to with their actual ages. And the authors of the study noticed that consumers of pop music follow a pattern. Pop music becomes important to us when we are teenagers. We’re developing our own cultural tastes but, since we’re young, we don’t know what our options are. We first listen to whatever is popular on the radio or the Disney channel or whatever we see on YouTube. And then, as we transition into our late teens and early twenties, we start expanding what we listen to. We discover bands and genres that are not on the radio. We affirm our own sense of independence and our own unique identity by becoming that person who tells their friends that we know what’s cool before they do. And then, in our mid 30s, our search for new music typically stops. We keep listening to the bands and albums we already love and we go back to re-discover the music that was popular when we were teenagers. While the rest of the world invents new musical styles and new sounds, we stay in the place we already are. Now, I know that this pop music generalization doesn’t work for everyone. I’m sure you have a friend who always knows what the kids are listening to these days, or you might be that kid yourself. But this pattern of what we listen to feels like it might make sense. And I’ve been thinking about this lately because something happened in our local media market that made me wonder if I’m on the other side of the pop music listening curve. 

Because about two months ago, I was driving home after a meeting at church when I stumbled on a new radio station. And this station was doing something different. They were playing all the music that dominated the radio waves in Denver, CO in the late 80s and 90s. This new radio station is devoted to “alternative.” Do you remember alternative? It’s bands with names like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Crash Test Dummies. I was a bit shocked, to be honest, when I stumbled onto this station because this...this was my childhood. And I know I’m totally revealing my age here and there’s a chance you have no idea who these bands are - but I want you to imagine, for a moment at least, stumbling onto the music that you grew up with, this music that spoke to you, the music you hummed to yourself as you were trying to fall asleep every night. And if you’re young and what I’m talking about hasn’t happened to you yet, I’m hopeful that this experience of discovering your personal soundtrack will come. And then, in twenty years, you can be like me, and stumble onto the songs that matter to you while you are living in a new place and at a new point in your life. And then when that happens, will the songs you used to sing sound just like they did when you were 15? Or can we hear them in a new way? 

I don’t know what music Samuel listen to when he was young. And in our first reading today, he actually is still young - probably just ten or eleven years old. When he was born, his mother entrusted him to the Temple in Jerusalem and that’s where he grew up. So it’s probably safe to say that the music of the Temple was the soundtrack to his early life. Psalms, hymns, trumpets, and various string instruments became, I think, Samuel's songs. And as he tried to fall asleep in our first scripture reading today, I imagine that he hummed these Temple songs as he laid down after a serving God. 

And then, suddenly, Samuel heard a sound he already knew but one that couldn’t really place. So Samuel did what he always did when he heard his name: he went to Eli, the spiritual and political leader of Israel. Eli lived in, and tended to, the Temple and he was Samuel’s caregiver. The words Samuel heard as he fell asleep were words he knew well. The person always singing this kind of song, always shouting his name, was Eli, so Samuel got up, ready to reply. Samuel, I think, was doing what we all do, sort of just half-listening to the words that were spoken. He heard his name and he instantly went into his own personal pattern of finding Eli and offering Eli a reply. Samuel, at this moment, struggled to understand what was happening. He didn’t pause and listen for that kind of understanding. And he probably didn't even think he had to pause at all. The words he heard were, he assumed, from a song he already knew. But this time, the Lord was calling. And God, whose voice and breath gave Samuel, life, was speaking to Samuel in a new way. God wasn’t asking Samuel to listen like he always did. God wasn’t  looking for Samuel’s usual reply. God need Samuel to pause, to listen for understanding, because God had a new word to share.

I wonder how many of us have said something, only to know by the responses that we weren’t understood. I wonder how many of us have been so focused on our reply that we didn’t understand what was actually being said. If I had a guess, I imagine that everyone in this room could share dozens of stories about the times when they weren’t listened to or when they failed to listen to others. It’s not hard to just react to what someone says. It’s not hard to be so focused on our reply that we end up being defensive, we lose our empathy, and we attack whatever the other person just said. We sometimes spend too much time trying to “win” whatever conversation we’re in, rather than actually listen and understand the words we hear. And that’s because, I think, listening for understanding is very hard. And it’s scary. And it forces us to be vulnerable. When we truly listen, we discover the ways we hurt others. We learn hear how our in-actions caused pain to those around us. When we listen to understand instead of just listening to respond, we discover how powerful our words actually are. And we are forced, in that moment, to put our own ego aside. Because when we listen, we let the other person lead and we become their servant. 

And that, in essence, is part of what it means to be follow Christ. We are called to listen for understanding. And this call starts the moment God calls our name. That call is made public, for all to see, when the waters of baptism are first poured over us. This call to listen is a call meant for us and for little William Lintner in his baptism today. And even though the words of this call do not change, the meaning for us changes as we change. The words and songs that set us on fire as a teenager and helped us grow up in our 20s always stay the same; But we, the ones who are listening, change. We grow older. We gain new experiences. We run into new challenges and we find new joys. And so we’re not asked to just respond to things like we always did. We’re not here to only focus on our replies. God invites us to listen for understanding. God invites us to lose our ego and know that God’s voice and words will come to us from unexpected places and through unexpected people. And we are called to trust that the God who called Samuel is still calling us. Our God is still speaking. Our God is still singing a song just for us. And we can, right now, turn towards God and our neighbor and truly listen. 



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Torn Open: Baptism are Events (sermon manuscript)

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:4-11

My sermon from the Baptism of Jesus (January 7, 2018) on Mark 1:4-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Did you ever wonder what it’s like to be baptized in the Jordan River?

Now, I know I’ve shared the following images and video before but on a day like today, when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the upcoming baptism of Shane Kurtz, I felt like I needed to share these images again. A few years ago, an old friend of mine served as an assistant for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (aka the ELCJHL). She lived in Jerusalem and spent time in the various congregations that make up the ELCJHL. One of those churches is this one (show image) - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This church serves mostly as a pilgrimage site because it overlooks a spot on the Jordan River where tradition says Jesus was baptized. The Jordan River, as you can see here (show image), isn’t really much of a river at all. It’s more of a muddy stream at this point. And the track the river follows isn’t exactly the same as it was 2000 years ago. In fact, Jesus’ traditional baptism site is sometimes like this - (show image) - dry. But it occasionally fills with a little water (show image). The tent like structures in the back serve to keep visitors safe and out of the sun. The stone stairs and pillars are old, and were used by the ancient churches that once stood on this site. One thing visitors to this place like to do is to actually step into the Jordan river itself. But what would that look like? Well - it might look something like this: (show 15 second video)

Now, doesn’t that look...I dunno...warm? Last I check, it feels like it’s -5 outside here in Northern New Jersey. And I’m sort of tired of wearing multiple pairs of socks, long underwear, and winter hats while walking around my own house. I am ready to be somewhere warm. And looking at these images of Jesus’ baptism site - with its bright sun, white sand, and plants full of green leaves - I sort of want to just jump into that river - and let the sediment rich waters - full of yellows, oranges, and reds - wash over me. That water, from here at least, looks warm and inviting. But we all know that looks can be deceiving. And my friend who took that video told me that the water in the river was ice cold that day. 

Now, we have no idea what season it was when Jesus went to visit John in the wilderness. We don’t know if it was spring or summer, winter or fall. Scripture doesn’t really give us many details when it comes to Jesus’ baptism. And our reading from the gospel according to Mark spends more time talking about John the Baptist than it does about Jesus’ baptism itself. This gospel doesn’t really pause and reflect on what this baptism of Jesus is all about. Details that might help explain this event are just not there. Instead, the text moves really fast. Jesus shows up and the first thing he does is go straight into the water. And as he comes out of the river, with the red, yellow, and orange waters dripping off him, Jesus sees the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit coming down. The inherent separation of God and humanity is broken, it’s torn apart, by this Jesus who walks into the water. But the text doesn’t linger on this point. You would think that Mark might want to spend a little more time describing what the heavens being torn apart might actually look like. He could have spent at least one or two sentences explaining or making more plain what was going on here. But he doesn’t. Mark doesn’t give us any time to really linger on Jesus’ baptism. Instead, Mark wants to move on. He’s rushing us through this moment, trying to get to verse 12 and beyond. Jesus’ baptism is important - but Mark doesn’t slow down and try to explain what this event is all about. We might have questions about this moment, like why would Jesus need to be baptized? And why would Jesus, the Son of God, the one who had no sin, need a baptism for the forgiveness of sin? We might want to pause, reflect, and try to uncover and explain everything about this moment. And in some ways, we’re invited to do that because I stopped reading the story at verse 11. We assume we’re supposed to linger on this moment. But looks can be deceiving and Mark is in a rush. He doesn’t want us to explain this moment; this baptism of Jesus; he wants us to experience it and to recognize the event it actually is. 
So what if we let Mark take us through Jesus’ baptism as fast he wants to? There’s no time for us to linger. There’s no time for us to wonder why Jesus was at the River Jordan once he shows up. Instead, once Jesus arrives, he’s down there in the river , submerged in the yellow, red, and orange waters that make up the Jordan. And when he stands up, we suddenly see something new. Because we are, at that moment, witnessing an appearance of God [working preacher, Karoline Lewis] that we have never seen before. Because at this moment, God is standing right there, in the water. And God is surrounded by more than just water, and sand, and lush green leaves. God is surrounded by people of all kinds and from many different places who are there, confessing their sins. All of them were yearning for God. And God unexpectedly showed up and walked into the water with them, letting everyone know that they are not going through this life alone. 

Jesus’ baptism is, above all, an event. And the baptism that we practice, the baptism that we experienced, are events too. Now our baptism might not have been filled with the special effects like Jesus’ was. And the water used to cover us might not have been full of red, oranges, and yellows. But as the gospel according to Mark shows, our baptismal moment is focused on what comes next. Because God knows that there are verses to our own story that are still being written. None of us can predict exactly what our future might bring. And none of us know where life might take Shane or us next. But we do know that, in special moments that are filled with water and prayer, God makes a promise to each of us that we will never go through our life without Jesus by our side. When Jesus stood in the River Jordan, everyone saw God in a way they hadn’t seen before. And later today, when the waters of baptism are poured over Shane, we will see God doing a new thing. Jesus will become Shane’s companion, guardian, and friend forever. And as we bear witness to God doing a brand new thing for him, we are all reminded that the God who walked into the muddy waters of the Jordan is still here, walking alongside each of us and he is our companion, our guardian, and our friend - through this life and beyond. 



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The Light was Good: Genesis 1

In the beginning, a lot of things were called good. The motion of the sun and moon, the monsters in the sea, and the critters on the land are all called good in the first verses in the book of Genesis. God does more than just create; God also gives everything in the universe worth and value. Water, land, animals, and people are created by a God who loves and values them. And since God, without prompting, has decided that everything in creation has value, we are called live lives that value everything. Much of what God creates in the book of Genesis are orders: systems of relationships where everything has a place and everything takes care of everything else in the system. But there is one thing, standing on its own, that God called good. We discover that goodness in our reading from Genesis 1:1-5 today. God created light and calls light, in itself, good. 

Genesis, I think, invites us to play around with light. We don't have to, at first, immediately place light in competition with its opposite. Even before darkness is created, God called the light good. Light does not need to be defined as the opposite of darkness. Instead light, on it's own, has value and worth. We should explore what light is and does before we try to see what light struggls against. 

So what does light do? Light illuminates. Light exposes. Light uncovers what we try to hide. Light, above all, shines. There is a reason why so many of our hymns and songs talk about light. When we focus on the light, we learn how we can act like the light. What, in our own lives, is God's light trying to expose? What, in our world, is God's light trying to uncover? How can our community let God's light shine? 

The light God called good is a light that is still in our universe and in our lives. And God gives us that light at different moments in our lives. When we were baptized, we were united with the light that was there at the beginning of creation - God's true light - God's Son, Jesus Christ. This light is a light we all carry. This light that God called God is a light that leads us. And we are invited to be just like this light to everyone we meet. 


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