Questions and Reflections

October 2015

November's Messenger Article: What's your favorite pie at Thanksgiving?

Pumpkin. Apple. Maybe Key Lime if we want to run away from the cold and pretend that we live somewhere warm. But my favorite Thanksgiving pie is one I never actually ate. 

My friends and I were throwing our own thanksgiving since we were going to be away from family that year. Each person claimed a dish. Potatoes, salads, cranberry sauce - the works. I picked the turkey but I knew that wasn't going to be enough. I wanted to make sure that there was a delicious pie waiting for us at the end of the meal. A few days before Thanksgiving, I left work early, dodged tourists and locals to head to my favorite pie shop to pick up a large apple pie with a lattice crust. On the subway ride back to my apartment, I dreamed up all the ways this meal was going to be great. I couldn't wait to hang with my friends, make new ones, and celebrate the fall season and eating my body weight in amazing foods. When I got to my apartment, I put my pie in a safe space in my fridge, closed the door, and dreamed sweet dreams filled with pie. 

Thanksgiving came and I headed to the host with my turkey and all I'd need to make an amazing bird. And in the hours of cooking, football, and sharing food with old friends and new, I didn't notice that I forgot something. It wasn't until after I rolled myself home and opened the fridge to pile in the leftovers that I saw my special pie. It was still sitting there, unopened and unused. I thought that pie would be that special note to make an amazing meal even better. But when I was with my friends, cooking and creating, what mattered wasn't the product. What mattered was the connections with the people around me. Community. Friendships. Being known and being loved, that's what November is all about. And that's what our God is about too. As Thanksgiving rolls through, know that Jesus is here too. He might not be bringing a pie but he is giving all that he has to you. So I invite you to take a moment this season to look for Jesus' connection to you. You might find something amazing.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc    


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Can't stop. Won't Stop. [Sermon Manuscript]

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-36

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Reformation Sunday (October 25, 2015) on John 8:31-36. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So how’s the Reformation going? 

That’s probably not a question you get asked everyday - but, on this Reformation Sunday, it seems appropriate. Each year, we set the Sunday before October 31st aside to remember how a monk and a professor wrote 95 thoughts about God, Jesus, and the church - and then posted them in the most public place he knew: the door of his local church. He hoped that a few of his friends, fellow professors, might see it and spend an evening discussing what he wrote. But no one did. Instead, he sent a copy of his writing to the local archbishop who didn’t like what this monk said. That’s all it took to start a religious and political firestorm that gave birth to hundreds of denominations, split countries, and inspired countless people to tell God’s story and their own. We’re heirs to a movement that’s almost 500 years old - and that continues to push us to become the people God wants us to be. Reformation Sunday is never only about where we’ve been. It’s also about where we’re going and what’s going to happen next. 

So, for us, what’s next? 

On Thursday, all clergy and police chiefs in Bergen County were invited to a special breakfast, sponsored by the Bergen County Prosecutor's’ office. We were there to talk about a very tough subject: police-involved shootings. Ferguson, Baltimore, North Charleston - these are places and communities where shootings involving cops have left families without loved one and communities without trust. Old wounds have come into the light and fear is making itself felt. Across the state of New Jersey, the Attorney General’s office is working with county prosecutors to organize meetings with community leaders to explain the process of what happens when a police involved shooting occurs. So that’s what Thursday was - pastors, priests, rabbis, and imans broke bread with police officers and police chiefs while listening to the county prosecutor explain a recently updated process of what happens when a police-involved shooting occurs. And the overall, and unspoken goal of the meeting, was to start laying the groundwork making sure a Ferguson, a Baltimore, or a New York City event wouldn’t happen here. 

Now, did this event reach that goal? I’m not sure. I’ll admit I’ve been impressed with New Jersey being pro-active in this area. The prosecutor’s office and even our own bishop has pushed for more conversations about racial justice, police engagement, and just what a just world might look like. And there’s something neat about New Jersey bringing clergy and police officers together, en masse, to name this issue. But there was this statement, said over and over again at the meeting like a religious chant. Police departments and clergy leaders were told that they needed “to trust the process.” By trusting the process, we can limit civil unrest. By trusting the process, police officers can feel protected and supported. By trusting the process, we can explain to family members and victims just exactly what’s going on. And by trusting the process, we can discover a truth that the media can only distort through half-truths and speculation. This impartial process, or as impartial as they can make it, is how justice will be served. And it’s our job, as community and police leaders, to make sure that the process is allowed to work. 

“Trusting the process - “ there’s something powerful there. And something relatable too. We all, at some point, what to trust whatever process that we find ourselves in. Our democracy works if we trust that our vote will be recorded correctly and the results of the election will be accurate. When we’re getting a review at work, we hope that the review judges us on the work we actually performed and not on whether the boss likes us or not. And when we take our SATs to apply to school, we, and many colleges, trust that the process of creating, administering, and grading the test can predict just what a student can do. Processes are powerful because we trust that an impartial process will do what we cannot do - and that’s take the sin out of the equation. A right process counters our unconscious biases to support people who look like us. A right process takes out unfair advantages that people might have. A right and trusted process should always be fair, even if the process doesn’t do what we’d like it to do. And processes feel familiar. We can see, and understand, the step-by-step experiences needed to make it work. So “trust the process”, the Bergen Prosecutor was saying, because they believe they’ve built a process that can do what we can’t do. It can take our human emotion - the anger, sadness, fear, and pain that such events can cause - and this process can strip that out, strip out our fear, strip out our sin, so that the truth can come to light. By trusting the process, we can save us from ourselves.  

When Martin Luther walked from his office to those church doors, he knew processes. He knew, as a professor of theology, as a devout Christian and a priest in the Catholic Church, he knew his role and what he was called to do. He knew a process to try and get himself, and others, closer to God. It was a process that wasn’t grounded in fear; it was grounded in love. It was doing what we always do - taking what we know and experience in the real world - these processes that we trust - and bring that idea into God’s world. We know how processes should work. We know that there are steps we need to take. And so when we look to God - read the commandments, read Jesus’ words about following him, we see a process. And we build a process that we live out. If we follow the right steps, God will love us. If we say the right prayers, act the right way, and teach the right thing, Jesus will bless us. By trusting the right process, we can crawl up the spiritual ladder, and bring ourselves up to God. 
But God isn’t a God who works by our processes. Jesus didn’t head to Jerusalem, head to the Cross, after we followed the right steps. Jesus didn’t ask his disciple to trust the process, before they experience God’s love. And Jesus didn’t tell the poor, the sick, the injured, or the hungry to get onboard a program before he fed them. And that’s what Martin Luther saw. He noticed that Jesus didn’t come to save us through a process. Jesus came to just save us, flat out. He came to die for us. He came to show God’s love. And that love is just out there - freely given because that’s just what God does. 

Reformation Sunday isn’t only just about wearing Red. It isn’t aonly bout celebrating being Lutheran and saying bad things about Catholics or other churches. This day, above all, isn’t about celebrating a process of knowing God or seeing Jesus that was born 498 years ago. No, today is about being on the otherside of the process. Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose. And, through baptism, God grabs onto us to say that we’re on the other side. A process can’t save us; saying the right words can’t redeem us; and even saying “I believe” can’t make God loves us. There’s no process in the world that can do what God does because God isn’t impartial. God loves. Jesus lives. And we, through God’s grace, are bound to that Jesus forever. What we trust isn’t a process. What we trust - what we have faith in - is a Jesus who knows us, a Jesus who died for us, and a Jesus who will be with us, forever. 

And that’s why the Reformation is ongoing. That’s why it doesn’t stop. We’re caught up in God’s reality - a reality that isn’t about our process but about God’s. And each process from our experience that we try to apply to God’s reality is, eventually, going to come down. Because the story of God isn’t a story for the past. It’s a story for now - a story we live out, each and every day. It’s a story that turns our trust in ourselves and places it where it belongs: with a God who loves us and sent Jesus to live with us. And since Jesus is still living - we’ve got plenty of living, and loving, left to do. 



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A reflection on Luther's 95 Theses

Today we celebrated the birth of the Reformation.

In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

That's how Martin Luther starts his 95 Theses. After a short introduction, stating his willingness to debate his 95 thoughts about God, Jesus, and the church, he began his words with a prayer. What followed wasn't just random thoughts nor were they only abstract statements about an abstract God. His writings were centered on God and how our practices, thoughts, and actions reveal who this God is. He pinned these walls on the community bulletin board (the church door) in a university town (Wittenberg) hoping that someone would respond to his words. The funny thing is that no on did initially. No professor, pastor, or teacher who saw Luther's thoughts reached out to him to debate what Luther said. But his thoughts struck a nerve. They soon were printed and distributed all over Germany. The church and the government both responded harshly to what Luther composed. His words mark the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, a reform movement in the church that continues to this day. We never stop reforming because we can never fully know who our God is and what Jesus is doing in our world today. The Reformation continues today and all of us, from two to ninety two, have a part to play in living into the faith that God graciously gives us everyday. 

So I invite you today to write your own statement about God. Take the slip of paper in your bulletin and write your own thought about God, faith, and the church. Who is God to you? How does Jesus impact your life? What story to you struggle to share? Why are you a Christian? 

Here are some possible examples:
God is love. 
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent” [Matt 4:17], he willed that the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
I don't know what Grace is. But I know that's the only way I get through life. 
When I was 23, I felt God in my life for the first time and I just can't let go. 
The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last [Matt 20:16].
I sometimes don't believe. But I know Jesus loves me anyways. 

Write your sentence and then, after you receive communion, tape the paper on the door by the rail. 

God is here and God is speaking through you. Let's share that word today. 


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Free [Sermon Manuscript]

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:32-45

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 18, 2015) on Mark 10:32-45. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


The American photographer Eric Pickersgill made waves on the internet this week when he released his newest photo series called “Removed.” This series of 25 black and white photographs showed people just living their lives - getting haircuts, spending time with their significant others, or just watching tv. And everyone held some sort of smartphone or ipad. There’s nothing unique about these photos. But the photographer did something different by deciding to use Photoshop to remove the phone or tablet from the image. So, imagine, a couple together, about to turn out the light to say goodnight, and they’re catching up on their emails - staring at their hands - and there’s nothing there. People of all ages, all races and genders, are sitting on couches and park benches, just staring at this empty space between their hands. It’s amazing. Everyone is engrossed in that little bit of space, appearing disconnected from everything and everyone around them. And what got me was that everyone has the same exact look on their face. And I know you know the look. If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with me or a loved one while we’re reading or watching something on our phones - you know you’re not being noticed. We all know what it looks like to watch someone who is totally disconnected - totally removed - from us. And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how Jesus felt when the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came up to Jesus as seen in our reading today. 

Jesus and the disciples are on the move, heading to Jerusalem, with each step bringing them closer to a Good Friday that no one seems to understand. And I imagine as they moved towards God’s city, the roads they traveled grew busier. They saw more people. The towns felt bigger.  The bright lights and big city vibe of Jerusalem got all of them excited. So James and John, the sons of Thunder as Jesus called them way back in chapter 3, both go up to Jesus with a demand. They want to be Jesus’ lieutenants; his captains; his major generals. “With Jesus leading,” they think, “there’s nothing we can’t conquer. There’s no feat we can’t accomplish. There’s no challenge we can’t overcome.” So they want to be Jesus’ seconds. And once Jesus wins all the riches, glory, and power that the disciples want him to win, they believe that money and fame and power will rain down on them too. James and John think they’re ready. They think they got it. They’re with the Son of God and about to walk into God’s hometown. What could possibly go wrong? 

When I read this text, I like to put a long pause between verses 37 and 38. I see James and John make this request, all giddy and excited, and Jesus just staring at them in silence for a really long time. Like, awkwardly long. So long, in fact, that James and John feel the urge to repeat their request incase Jesus didn’t hear them. But it isn’t Jesus who isn’t listening. It’s James and John. They conveniently seem to forgot what Jesus had just told them: that part about being condemned by their own people, being handed over to the Romans to be mocked, spit on, tortured, and killed? They think they know who is going to be at Jesus’ left and right in glory - not realizing that space is saved for two who will be hung on crosses of their own. James and John see Jesus - but they can’t see the cross. They can’t hear Jesus’ words. They can only see what the next part of the story should be instead of listening to what the storyteller is actually saying. 

James and John are removed from the story. They’re disconnected from what’s going on around them. James and John and all the disciples see what Jesus is doing - they see the healings, the casting out of demons, the amazing feats of power that people just can’t normally do. And they can’t see how this experience of God’s power can line up with Jesus’ words about what happens next. So that’s why my Jesus has that long awkward pause. And that’s why John and James thinks Jesus didn’t hear them. They’re witnessing these amazing things but they’ve removed themselves from what God is actually doing. They’re staring at that blank space, like those photographs with the smartphones and tablets removed, thinking that something important is there, while missing what’s around them. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. Jesus is heading to do something amazing. Jesus is going to show the world that God’s kingdom isn’t about power over others. It’s about the power of being for others. And we can’t be for others if we remove ourselves from the people and the places that make up God’s story - and our own. 

Earlier this week, the Stewardship Committee here at church sent out a letter to members and friends announcing our fall stewardship campaign. Every year, at this time, we ask everyone who’s connected to this church, everyone who makes this the church what it is - to make a pledge to financially and physically support what we, together, are doing here. Every year, as we all start thinking about the end of the year - about fall, and winter, about Thanksgiving and Christmas and all those Christmas presents we still have to buy - the church, instead, asks you think about what comes next. That’s what a stewardship campaign is about. And it isn’t just about money. If you want to know how much it costs to run this church, that information is public. We vote on it every February. We know how much it costs to heat the building, turn on the lights, and pay my salary. Money is an important part of what we give to give thanks to what God has first given to us. But a stewardship campaign is always about the next chapter of our story. What we’re kicking off isn’t several Sundays to talk about paying our bills. We’re talking about doing what the Sons of Thunder failed to do. We’re here to listen to all of God’s story - to the listen to the parts of Jesus’ story that we like and those parts we don’t. We’re here to listen listen to our own story, being honest about our sin, our failures, and how we remove ourselves from what God is doing in the world. A stewardship campaign is about seeing more clearly the connection between God’s story and our own. So I invite everyone to step into that connection by actually praying. Take that pledge card, take that time and talent sheet, and ask God what to do next. I don’t know what that will look like for you. I don’t know what answer God will give you. I don’t know if God is going to focus you on this community or turn you towards others. But I do know that we can’t be like photographer Eric Pickersgill and use photoshop to remove what God has in focus - and that’s each of us, as we are. That’s who God loves. That’s who Jesus’ died for. That’s who the Holy Spirit works to keep our connection with our Creator alive. We can’t be removed from God’s mercy, even if we tried. So let’s find out strengthen the connection - and discover where God is taking us next. 



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A reflection on Isaiah

Our first reading is from Isaiah 53:4-12.

One of the problems with translations is that our english can miss the nuance, complexity, and downright bizarre phrases in the Old Testament. This section from Isaiah, a piece of what we hear on Good Friday, is difficult to understand. As scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, "the Hebrew words are unusual and the text is seemingly disordered, so that every translation is to some extent speculative." These words from Isaiah are poetic and filled with images that are hard to put into words. But there are hints of God's love that flutter in and out of the text. Like life itself, we don't always understand what we are experiencing or seeing but we are surrounded by slivers of God's love that we can grab. Those rays of love can carry us through. 

Since the beginning of the early church, we have read texts like Isaiah as a way to understand who Jesus is and what the Cross means. The Cross is a tool of death. It was used by governments as a way to execute troublemakers, revolutionaries, and criminals. But it wasn't designed just to kill. It was designed to humiliate. The goal wasn't just to kill the person. The goal was to make their death horrible by removing their integrity, honor, and dignity. Jesus didn't only die - he was humiliated to the point of being worth nothing. 

Yet it's the humiliated one, who is worth nothing, who is raised from the dead.

Isaiah 53 is a story that God's expectations and our expectations do not match. God will do what God does to love the world. This work doesn't work they way we think it should. We might not fully understand what Isaiah 53 is about but we can grab onto that sliver of truth that God doesn't work like we do. God's sense of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and love is bigger than what we could come up with. The call is to see what God is up to so we can see more clearly just what love looks like.


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What Does Hospitality Look Like?

Pastor Marc's article from the October Messenger.

I think hospitality looks like what happened on Sunday, September 13th. When we started dreaming of packaging 40,000 meals to feed our neighbors in Bergen County, we didn't know how the neighborhood would respond. We couldn't do this on our own but God was calling us to keep making an impact in Bergen County. We spent months coordinating with other churches to raise money and recruit volunteers. Each week another church jumped onboard. As August approached, we knew that this event would catch fire. We knew the Spirit would bring the 160 volunteers we needed. But I didn't expect that the people would just keep coming. People saw our ads. They shared the event with their family and friends. Groups who signed said they were bringing 2, ended up bringing 10. People in Bergen and Rockland County showed up at our doorstep wanting to make a difference in the world.

This is where we showed true Christian hospitality. The smiles from the greeters at the door, the amazing spread of refreshments put together and continually refreshed to feed 230 of our newest friends, and the army of men and women directing people, plugging people in and making sure they had what they needed to get the job done. Debbie, JoAnn, Tom, Bill, Carla, Jim, Meredith, Jim, Ann, Bill, Doris, David, Florence, Katie, Dot and the countless others who stepped up to lead. You were inspirational and made our new friends feel valued and appreciated. Thank you for that!

And I saw many of our members doing the difficult thing by letting a volunteer from another organization take their place. I know that wasn't easy. It's hard to give this opportunity up. But you showed true Christian hospitality by giving someone you didn't know an opportunity to love and serve. You gave up your spot to train others to serve. You served the servants, living out an important aspect of the Christian life. We created these 41,124 to feed others because we know that Jesus feeds us. We wanted to join in God's work in the world of feeding and nourishing the hands of those who are called to be a Christ to their neighbors. Christian hospitality isn't only about being a good host. Christian hospitality is also helping others live out God's love.

We'll have several opportunities to share our Christian hospitality over the next year from "Walk Thru the Bible" on October 24, Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship in November, the Advent dinner and more. Let's keep living out Christ's hospitality.

See you in church, Pastor Marc


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The World Goes Round [Sermon Manuscript]

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10:17-31

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 11, 2015) on Mark 10:17-31. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” This verse - right here in chapter 10 - is the only time in the entire gospel of Mark where we hear that Jesus loved someone. Odd, right? None of the disciples, Jesus’ family members, not even the little children are described as being loved by Jesus. Instead, the one who gets this honor is a guy who, in the end, leaves Jesus’ presence in tears. This isn’t the typical story we share when we tell our family and friends about our faith. When we talk about Jesus’ love, we usually don’t say that meeting Jesus caused us to run away in tears. Instead, we talk about community. We talk about love. We talk about a faith that gives us a sense of wholeness that makes us complete. We usually avoid the tears. But that’s what happens here. Jesus meets this guy for the first time. He loves him; he teaches him; and Jesus causes tears. 

Now the word “shocked” in verse 22 isn’t the best word in our translation today. The word in ancient greek really implies immense sadness - a kind of immense disappointment. It’s a shocking feeling but it’s less about being surprised and more about feeling like our foundation has been ripped away. That’s what the man feels after meeting Jesus. His sense of self is completely undone. Now, from our eyes, this might seem like a little overreaction. Sure, he’s rich. He has many possessions. He has the money to not only afford things - he also has the money to store them and protect them. In his world, people just don’t have things. People had just what they needed because they couldn’t afford excess. Having a different fork to use at every meal isn’t something the average person in Jesus’ time experienced. One dish. One bowl. One knife. That’s what they used and expected to have. If someone had more than that, they needed to have the money and status to access the places where such things could be made, bought, and stored. Without that access to be in the right places with the right people at the right time - this man is just like everyone else. Being rich isn’t just about what we own. Being rich is about having access to where things are. It’s about having the freedom to choose who we are - what we’re going to do and to have a sense of control and purpose about where we are going. This man who comes to Jesus knows how to do good. He knows his commandments. He knows how to live with others. He doesn’t kill. He doesn’t break promises. He doesn’t lie or get rich at the expense of others. Jesus doesn’t argue with how this man describes himself so maybe he really is that good. Maybe he really is that good person we all want to be. He’s someone who seems to know how to love - and not someone who should be sent away in tears. 

The tears - the grieving - that’s a weird twist in the story. It’s so weird that I think that’s why I asked our Confirmation students last year to comment on this story. Part of their work involved reading the entire gospel of Mark and answering questions that I came up with about the text. And, I’m happy to report, that Iasked them about this story. Now, I’m going to totally blame the Holy Spirit for letting this text show up today. I didn’t know B., A., K., and C. were going to have this text today when I was devising what questions to asked. And they all did a wonderful job seeing what’s in the text and what isn’t. They knew the question that the man asked. They knew what commandments Jesus named and what commandments he didn’t. They heard Jesus’ biting words to sell what they own and give everything to the poor. And they even heard Jesus’ call to always follow him. 

But no one talked about the tears the man shared. And that’s because I didn’t think to ask about them. The grieving, the sadness is odd, but I didn’t ask about them because when I think about Jesus, I don’t usually point to tears. When I’m sharing my faith, I don’t point to sadness. And teaching, like so many things we do, is not just an act of faith - it’s also an act of sharing faith. And when I share my faith, my default is to talk about the positive - the energetic - the beautiful things. I tend to skip the sad. But maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe we shouldn’t run away from the tears. Because this man, after meeting Jesus, left feeling sad. He left feeling broken. He understood what Jesus was asking him to do. He knew that Jesus was asking him to give up those benefits that the world gave him because of his wealth and those privileges that he internalized as part of his very identity. Jesus wanted him to sell what he owned. Jesus wanted him to give to the poor the kind of status that he enjoyed - and that he would lose once his wealth was gone. His wealth didn’t stop him from doing good - but there’s more to faith than just being kind. There’s something about faith - about being a follower of Jesus - that is bigger than behavior. Living into being a disciple of Jesus isn’t about seeking an end point. It isn’t about somehow doing all the right things and graduating into a nicer, gentler, life. Following Jesus is really about following - about moving - about being on a journey that we can’t always understand or know exactly where we are going. 

And that’s because being a follower of Jesus is sometimes going to be easy. Being a believer in God is sometimes going to be as simple as not lying and helping out others when we see them in need. But this journey with Jesus is also going to lead us to tears. It’s going to lead us into unexpected places. We’re going to find ourselves wondering who this God is and why it feels like everything we knew and understood about the world and ourselves is being undone. And this is different than just having doubt and questions. This is an unravelling - an undoing of who we are and our not knowing where we’ll end up. 

But even in the unraveling, even when the man in our text runs off in tears, Jesus loved him. Even in the questions, Jesus loved him. Even in the doubts, Jesus loved him. And even if this man, who we never see again and whose name isn’t even recorded - even if he ran as far away as he could from Jesus - Jesus still loved him. We aren’t loved because we are perfect. We aren’t loved because we know all the right answers. We aren’t loved because we follow the commandments. No, we’re loved because that’s just what Jesus does. 

In our sadness, in our doubt, in our brokenness, and in the moments of our unraveling - Jesus loves us. And that’s Jesus’ continuing confirmation to us. The worship we share, the meal we eat, and the prayers we say - it isn’t about where we’ll end up but it’s always centered in the journey we are undertaking. We are centered following the one who was born in a barn instead of a penthouse. We listen to the one who hung out with tax collectors and fishermen rather than princes and media moguls. We cling to the one who knew where he was going and yet, he died for us anyways. The uneven, rocky, sometimes sad and sometimes beautiful journey of faith - that’s what every Sunday confirms. That’s what every Sunday proclaims. That’s what each one of our prayers asks and points to - that the God who claims us is always with us. Our lives are a journey. It’s filled with things we do, things we don’t, pain, joys, questions, doubts, and days when it feels like we’re just making it up as we go along. And we can’t confirm that we’ll never struggle. We can’t promise that we’ll never have our heart broken. We can’t proclaim that we’ll never doubt. But we can say that even when the journey gets rocky, even when the journey gets bumpy, even when we try to quit the journey all together and walk away in tears - Jesus is with us.

And that’s what today is about for each of you - B., C., K., and A.. Your journey matters. Where you go is entwined, deeply, with where we go. We can’t be who we are suppose to be unless you are with us. And even though we don’t know exactly where life and the Spirit will take you - we do know that God loves you. Jesus is with you. And where you go, this church goes too. May God bless the journey that you began in your baptism and that we are confirming today. Your questions are never too big for God. Your doubt can never push God away. And you will always matter more than you can know because Jesus didn’t come to live and die for other people. He came to live, die, and rise for you. And he’s never going to let you go through this journey, alone.



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A reflection on Amos

Our first reading is from Amos 5:6-7, 10-15.

Every time the first reading is from one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the question of purpose always comes up. In my mind, prophets are always some version of John the Baptist. Prophets live in faraway places, wear clothes made out of terrible fabrics, and eat unhealthy diets of bugs and honey. They are wild, holy, and trouble makers. This, of course, is my bias. Prophets come in all different shades, ages, sexes, and come from all sorts of places. Prophets exist throughout history and are all around us. One of their primary functions, I believe, is to be a mirror. They show people who they really are and what they are really doing. Prophets highlight greed, injustice, and suffering. They show all the ways we fail to live the way God wants us to live. This, in a sense, is what "speaking truth to power" means. Prophets show the world how it truly is even if, as we see in John the baptist's case, that can lead to their death. 

So what is Amos doing in our text today? Amos is a prophet, a resident of the kingdom of Judah (around Jerusalem) who spent his ministry preaching in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (When Solomon died, his kingdom split in two: Israel in the north and Judah in the south). He's a landowner (a herder) which means he is wealthy. He knows what it means to have money and, above all, he knows what the culture is like at the top. When he looks around, he sees greed devouring people and communities. Those with wealth are getting wealthier at the expense of those around them. Their desire to gain wealth is at odds with the desire of God for all to thrive. Amos is telling those around him to stop focusing only on what they want. God's wishes and desires should not only be named; they should be seen in all that we say and do. 

Amos' words extend beyond money. In everything we do, God is there. God desires justice. God desires equality. God desires and continues to work for a world where everyone experiences abundant and thriving lives. God wants us to each have a life filled with abundance and God wants us to work so that our neighbor, family, friends, and strangers have abundant lives too. Amos' words are about more than money but it includes our money too. So how is our handling of wealth reflecting what God is doing in the world? 


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Justice: A sermon on Divorce [Sermon Manuscript]

Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:2-16

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 4, 2015) on Mark 10:2-16. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


The gospel according to Mark doesn’t pull punches. And I like that because life doesn’t pull punches either. Today, we have a doozy because Jesus takes on divorce and I really don’t know what to do with this. For half a second, I thought about bypassing the topic entirely and heading straight to the little children again. And maybe that’s why the churches and scholars who crafted the lectionary, the system of readings we hear on Sunday, left these two stories together. Those bright folks gave preachers a way out so they wouldn’t have to deal with what Jesus said. But we all heard the words. They’re floating there, in the air. We can’t unhear them - and Jesus’ harshness might even be tugging at our hearts. 

Jesus is asked the question. The Pharisees find Jesus away from his home turf. He’s now, as told in the verse we didn’t hear today, traveling in the territory owned by King Herod. Now, this king had his own issues with marriage and divorce. He did something some folks didn’t like: he married his brother’s wife. But most who were concerned about it kept quiet except for a prophet who liked wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey. John the baptist spoke out so Herod imprisoned him and, eventually, killed him. So Jesus is in a dangerous place, where talking about marriage and divorce can get a person killed. That’s why, I think, the Pharisees asked him the question. They’re trying to get him in trouble. And it kind of works because Jesus responds in an unexpected way. Jesus re-writes one of God’s old rules, one recorded in Deuteronomy that comes from the mouth of Moses. Jesus takes that rule, that tradition that allowed men, and only men, to divorce their wives - and Jesus replaces that rule with his own. He refuses to let a woman, in a culture where she’s considered property, be left on her own. The food she ate, the roof over her head, and the ability to take care of her family, depended on her husband and her male family members. She could be cast out, made homeless, with no job to earn any money, just because her husband decided to. Women were vulnerable. Women could be mistreated. Women were never secure, because, at anytime, they could be sent away. So Jesus ends the loophole. He doesn’t let the vulnerable be sent away just because those in power want it so. Jesus reiterates a teaching he has been sharing for a long time that the vulnerable, no matter who they are - even if they are poor, even if they are slaves, even if they are middle class women - the vulnerable are always to be cared for, no matter what. 

But today, when Jesus speaks these words, what do we hear?

I believe that Jesus’ words can cut. They can pierce. These words take our relationships, our marriages, our divorces, and even our singledom - and these words can feel like putting salt on a wound. Even my voice almost gave out trying to finish today’s reading with the phrase: “this is the gospel of the Lord” because, in my head, what I said was “really?” This is the gospel - the goods news - of the Lord? Where is the good news for the divorced? Where is the good news for children with divorced parents and who spend their weeks shuttling between different homes? Where is the good news for those in bad marriages where one side won’t even try to attend counseling? Where is the good news for those where divorce was the exact right thing to do? And where is the good news for the church which has struggled since Jesus spoke these words to understand just what Jesus is talking about? 

And, finally, how can I, a relatively young guy, without the years of life experience and divorces others have, really stand up here and preach with the wisdom, nuance, and grace that the reality of divorce actually needs?  

I don’t think I can. So I’m not going to. Instead, I will do what I always do when a topic - or an experience - or a situation comes along that leaves me with no real words. I grab it, hold it, place it in my mind and in my hands, and I bring it - whatever it is - and lay it at the foot of the cross. Because I know our God isn’t afraid of brokenness. I know God’s Son wasn’t afraid to be broken. And when the world tried to kill him, he hung on that tall piece of wood with his arms spread, taking what the world saw as death, and turning it into life. 

Because Jesus didn’t come into the world to be that perfect little baby who never cries or runs around when others think he shouldn’t. Jesus didn’t grow up in a palace. He grew up in working with his hands. Jesus didn’t spend his ministry hanging out with the right kind of people. He visited the sick, the lost, those in pain, and those who carried their demons with them. When the disciples tried to push Jesus to only do the proper thing, Jesus pushed back, becoming like a slave, to wash their dirty feet. Jesus doesn’t avoid brokenness. He heads straight into it. The ideals of the world - the hopes and dreams and expectations of his world - couldn’t limit where he would go. Jesus came to know the broken, the hurting, and those who suffer publically and in private. Jesus came to them to say that God sees you. God loves you. And God, above all, is with you, from the beginning to the end. The brokenness we carry, the brokenness we’ve caused, the brokenness that inflicts itself on us in ways we know and in ways we don’t - that brokenness can’t keep us from the one who felt the brokenness of the world against him. The faithfulness of us and others in our world might not last but God’s faithfulness towards us will never end.

The Cross isn’t a sign of God’s love of brokenness; it’s a sign of God’s fidelity to us through the brokenness that we experience and carry with us. The hurt, fear, sorrow, and even joy that we carry can never be pushed aside and separated from the rest of who we are. We are the sum of all our parts, of all our experiences, and of all our responses to the brokenness. Our brokenness tries to define just exactly who we are. But God defines us differently. We aren’t defined by our brokenness, by the things that we have done, and by the things we haven’t. We are, always, defined by God’s love, whether we feel it or not. Laying our brokenness, our fears, our realities, and our unknowns at the foot of the cross isn’t just a passive action. It isn’t just a way to, somehow, get us off the hook, to shrug our shoulders, and just say that “stuff happens,” and go back to acting like we always did. Laying what we are struggling with at the foot of the Cross is a prayer. It’s a request. It’s a shout to Jesus to take this - to hold this - and do something with this. It’s a plea for Jesus to see us as we struggle, as we hurt, and to do something with us too. 

So, Jesus, take this. Take our marriages. Take our divorces. Take our single lives. Take our brokenness. And help us see ourselves as loved. And we ask that you lead us - lead us into the places where you were never afraid to go. Lead us to the vulnerable, even if we are the vulnerable. Lead us to those who are hurting, even if we are trying to put on a good face and not reveal the turmoil inside. Lead us to those who don’t have enough, even if we have too little compassion and too much fear. Lead us into the brokenness, our brokenness and the world’s, and let us walk there like you do. Our prayer to Jesus is simply asking Jesus to be Jesus and for Jesus to help us be that faithful, spirited, and healing love that we, and this world, desperately needs. 



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A reflection on Genesis 2:18-24: Creation and Helpers.

Our First Reading is Genesis 2:18-24.

If you were going to name all the animals, what names would you come up with?

I love the story of creation because of the details. At first glance, the story of Genesis seems to be focused on the creation of the universe but the meat of the story is in the details. In the first account of creation (Genesis 1), God makes the earth, the sky, the animals, and humankind and God calls each thing, person, or creature good. All the parts of creation are related to God and grounded in a relationship with God. And this idea of relationship continues into Genesis 2, which is a second account of how creation happened. 

When I read Genesis 2, I focus on God's relationship with what is in the world. In verse 18, "man" isn't a full enough translation of what is happening here. Gender and sex haven't been created yet. Instead, we just have one earthling, who is on the earth. God notices this earthling and wants this earthling to have a "helper." The word helper tends to mean "assistant," someone who isn't quite as talented, clever, or as high up on the corporate ladder as the one who will be helped. When we see helper, our minds might jump to some kind of hierarchy. But that's not the full story here because, throughout the Old Testament, God is described as the helper. When God seeks to create a helper for the original earthling, God isn't seeking an assistant. God wants the earthling to have a partner in a mutual relationship of trust, love, and understanding. So God brings all these different kinds of animals to the earthling and the earthling names them. But the earthling doesn't find the partner that they need. They need an equal so God makes an equal partner out of the earthling. 

It's easy to see in this text our concept of marriage but this text is a model for all our relationships. In our relationships, with our spouses, children, parents, friends, or coworkers, we aren't all equal in talent in all things. But, in God's eyes, we are all equal in a need for relationships that are grounded in mutual respect, love, and trust. A relationship that only takes isn't healthy nor is it what God desires. The same relationship God has with humankind and with creation is the same kind of relationship we should have with each other. 


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