Questions and Reflections

October 2016


Our gospel reading is John 8:31-36.

"The truth shall set you free" is such a great line and is one of many great lines from the gospel according to John. This line is also beautiful and why we hear this reading every year at this time. As Lutheran Christians, the last Sunday in October is a time when we dress up the church in red and celebrate. But today is more than just the day before Halloween. The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. We remember how, on October 31, a monk posted on a church door 95 thoughts about God and the church. We remember and celebrate all our faith-filled fore bearers who lived their faith out loud and passed this faith down to us. This October 31 will mark the beginning of our 500th year as a community of faith living called Lutheran. Today is a day when we remember how the past formed us and how faith is transforming us and our world. Reformation Sunday is always a Sunday looking into the future and seeing where God is taking us next. Reformation is about relationship. 

Relationship is at the heart of today's reading from John and we see that relationship when we leave these words in context. When we take verses of scripture out of context, we miss what Jesus is saying. Today's reading isn't about freedom as we understand it (personal liberty, autonomy, and the ability to make our own choices). Jesus is speaking  during a conversation with people who followed him and then stopped. Something caused these early followers of Jesus to not buy into what Jesus was doing and saying. These early followers stopped trusting in Jesus' identity and mission. Jesus uses this opportunity to expand our definition of faith. Faith is more than agreeing to a series of propositions or ideas. Faith is more than an intellectual experience and does not resemble the tests we take in school. Faith is, in the words of this passage, about a relationship with God. In the words of Gilberto Ruiz, professor at Saint Anselm College, "the verb translated in the New Revised Standard Version as 'continue' in John 8:31 is meno, a key term in John’s Gospel that is often translated as 'remain' or 'abide' and points to the permanent or enduring nature of the relationship between Jesus and the taking into consideration that Jesus’ language focuses on 'remaining' and that his audience is a group whose faith in him did not 'remain,' we see that this passage presents faith as a continuing relationship. The true disciple 'remains' in a faith relationship with Jesus, and it is this disciple who will be set free by knowing the truth revealed by Jesus." Faith is more than just saying yes to God; faith is walking with Jesus over the long haul. And that's not easy.

Relationships are never easy. Relationships take time. They require compromise, conversation, engagement, give, and take. There are times when our relationships are full of joy and other times when we are angry or sad. And our relationship with God is filled with the same kind of feelings and experiences. Sometimes our relationship with God feels completely unlike what we expect faith to be. But our faith with God doesn't depend on what we feel or think. Our faith is a gift from God. God doesn't wait for us to reach out; God comes to us instead. God starts our relationship through the gifts of baptism, parents, communities of faith, and the Holy Spirit herself. Faith is about what happened yesterday, who we are today, and where we are going in the future. Faith is a relationship and the Reformation is celebrating a God who starts that relationship so we can live into a future God is already preparing. 


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Re-what? [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 Reformation Sunday (October 30, 2016) on John 8:31-36. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So I don’t really know what a ragamuffin is but yesterday, my family and I joined dozens of other kids and parents to march in a ragamuffin Halloween parade through residential Emerson. I...did not get my act together this year to throw together a costume but my two kids did. They went as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And they weren’t the only Ninja Turtles at the parade. In fact, there were several Leonardos and Raphaels of all ages. Each kid stood tall in their green turtle outfits, with thick foam padding for muscles and stuffed toys as swords and sais. Now, I get a little nostalgic being around little kids in turtle costumes because I was about their age when Ninja Turtles first came out. Teenage Mutant Turtles first appeared as a comic book before becoming an animated cartoon on tv. I remember waking up early on Saturday mornings, sneaking downstairs, and turning on the tv so I could see how Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, these turtle superheroes, would defeat the evil Shredder and his army of minions in the sewers and subways of New York City. I also spent hours and hours playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle video games. I pumped enough quarters into arcade games to possibly fund my entire seminary education and I lost track of the days I spent glued to my tv screen, trying to beat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1, 2, & 3 on my Nintendo. And since I usually lost the game more often than I won, I spent a lot of time staring at one kind of screen. When I lost, the screen would go black and I would have ten seconds to answer the one word question that appeared. The screen would ask me if I would like to “continue?” playing the game. If I said yes, it would cost me a quarter and I could restart at the last place the game saved. If I said no, I’d walk away. The game would be over. That one word question that just asked “continue?”’s an invitation to keep going. It’s an invitation to keep striving. It’s an invitation to stay in relationship as this video game story unfolds. And that question - that invitation - that being in relationship - that, I think, is at the core of what the gospel of John is getting at today. 
    In today’s story, Jesus is doing something strange. He’s talking to a group of people who used to follow him. When we imagine Jesus’ ministry, we usually see Jesus bringing his teaching and healings into new places. The towns and villages he visited might be places he or his disciples knew. But when Jesus is being Jesus, when we see him preach and teach and heal like he does in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - we imagine Jesus walking into a new place and doing a new thing. But today, Jesus is talking to people he already knows. He’s already been to their towns, visited their homes, and shared a meal with them around the table. Jesus has already been Jesus to them - and, for a time, they embraced him. They followed him. They were disciples and apostles and faithful to everything that Jesus said and did. But...then it changed. These followers of Jesus stopped following. The text doesn’t tell us exactly why their belief in Jesus is so short lived. We don’t know if something happened to them or if someone said something or if life got busy and following Jesus just no longer made the difference it once did. All we know is that these people believed. They chose Jesus. They knew Jesus was the Son of God who would fix their world - and then that changed. Their faith in Jesus went to black. That one word question flashed before their eyes - and they didn’t put another quarter into the machine. They didn’t hit the start button. These former followers of Jesus let the next screen in their faith journey come up. When it came to Jesus, they simply said: Game Over.

And that should be it, right? I mean, these former followers experienced something we might long for. They saw Jesus in person. They know how tall he is, what kind of sandal he prefers to wear, and what color his eyes really are. When Jesus healed others, they saw his hands, those probably well worked hands colored with a deep and complex brown and olive matching the people from his part of the world. And when Jesus spoke, they heard the richness of his voice in the Aramaic language his mother and father first taught him. These former followers experienced Jesus in tangible and physical ways - and yet, their faith did not remain. They had an opportunity to continue with Jesus but they didn’t take it. These former followers turned away from Jesus and we assume - we expect based on our experiences in this world - that those who chose the other side, those who choose their Game “Over Screen” - we expect them to just...fall away. We assume they’re no longer part of the story. We know these former followers no longer believe in Jesus - but Jesus talks to them anyways. Jesus keeps speaking. Jesus keeps teaching. He keeps reaching out - showing these former followers and us that faith is more than just having an answer to a question or thinking that something must be true. Faith is a relationship. Faith develops, grows, and matters over the long haul. And when our faith feels low, when our belief is no longer there, and even when we let the Game Over sign show up - Jesus does the unexpected thing and comes anyways. Jesus keeps sharing that we are worth God’s attention, God’s focus, and God’s love. God wants a relationship with us - and God will keep gifting us that relationship even if we walk away. 

And that, I think, is why we celebrate the Reformation today. Reformation Sunday isn’t only a day to eat treats, wear a costume in church, post things on doors, and make snowflake versions of Martin Luther’s seal. One of the gifts of the Reformation is the gift of seeing, of knowing, and of experiencing the unexpected God. We don’t expect God to keep coming to us when we turn from God but, in Jesus, that’s exactly what God does. That’s exactly who God is. God keeps coming to us even when we no longer know, or even care, if we are with God. God keeps building a relationship with us, transforming us through God’s promise of grace, hope, and peace. God isn’t just forming us into who we are called to be. God is also reforming us each and every day, opening us to what God’s love might look like. This process isn’t always pretty. It’s not always easy. And this doesn’t mean we’ll always get everything right. We are not perfect - and the church - the church isn’t perfect either. We will struggle. We will experience conflict. We’ll get some things totally right - and we’ll also get some things wrong. But the need to change and be changed is what being in a relationship with God is all about. We are being formed into who God is calling us to be - and Jesus, in his compassion and love, is walking with us each step of the way. And as Jesus is in relationship with us, we are here to be in relationship with each other - no matter what. Our divisions may make us who we are - but our grounding in Jesus Christ defines whose we are. And when, in our journey through this life, we get to those times when our relationship with Christ, with the church, and with our faith is like looking at a black screen with the one word question “continue?” flashing before us - know that Jesus has already inserted that coin, he’s already hit the start button - and our relationship with God continues - no matter what. 



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Who Are the Tax Collectors?

Our Gospel Reading is Luke 18:9-14.

Tax collecting in Jesus' era was a messy business. The system we use today is different. Many of us first experience taxes when we buy something. A sales tax is added to the bill. We also might have taxes taken out of our paycheck and spend hours trying to figure out a tax system that changes every year. Our system includes lawyers, accountants, and others who help us figure out the taxes we pay. Our system is not perfect but this system provides the money for roads, schools, hospitals, the military, and countless other institutions and activities that connect us as a community.  

Tax collecting in Jesus' time didn't work this way. Kings and emperors set a target for how much money they wanted to collect. These leaders did not have the institutions or the human resources to travel around and collect the taxes themselves Instead they hired tax collecting firms to collect the money for them. Tax collectors could even sub-contract to other tax collecting firms. These firms were legally empowered to collect the tax along with a "commission."  People who were taxed had to pay the original tax and the additional "commission." Tax collectors did more than collect taxes: they collected their own paycheck as well. 

The tax collectors Jesus called as his disciples were hated for a variety reasons. People did not like paying the tax and being connected connected to an occupying army (the Roman Empire) who set the taxes. Tax collectors worked "on behalf politically oppressed and economically exploitive system of imperial domination." (Gregory Allen Robbins in Feasting on the Gospels, Luke Volume 2). Tax collectors supported and sustained an empire that invaded Israel, conquered it, and determined who its leaders were. 

No one liked tax collectors. People avoided tax collectors and religious leaders rightly saw tax collectors as problems. But today's text is powerful because Jesus does more than talk about tax collectors. Jesus calls one as an apostle (Levi) and he'll eat with them in their homes. Jesus doesn't avoid the tax collector. Instead, Jesus loves them. 


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Pastor Marc's Message for the Messenger, November 2016 edition

For the last year, I've been working with colleagues to revamp and upgrade the amazing work done at the Tri-Boro Food Pantry (formerly known as the Pascack Food Center). For decades, this food pantry (housed at Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge) has served people in our community who are in need. Recently, we've seen more people using the pantry's services. Even in an area as wealthy as ours, food insecurity still exists. People in Northern New Jersey are suffering the effects of poverty. And this food pantry continues to grow to meet the needs of all who are looking for milk, eggs and other food for themselves and their families.

Each week, many of the pantry's new volunteers are busy organizing and sorting food donations as they come in. October, November and December are the busy times for food drives. As we give thanks for our blessings, we feel compelled to help others. Cub scouts, schools and fire departments are busy collecting food and delivering hundreds of items to the pantry. This generosity is amazing and saves lives. We can't be thankful enough for all who feed people during this time of year.

In the middle of this generosity, however, we need to remember that hunger never takes a vacation. Food insecurity can strike people and families at any time. New people who have never used a pantry before will be visiting the Tri-Boro Food Pantry for the first time in the spring and summer when an unexpected job loss, medical expense or change in lifestyle makes their next meal uncertain. As a church, we do more than feed people during the season of thanksgiving; we feed people all year long. The snack packs we packed to feed elementary school kids, the Genesis garden growing vegetables in the summer, the hunger appeal during Lent, and the dedicated box in the narthex that collects food all year long is just a sample of how we take care of people no matter what time of year it is. At this time, I am thankful for you because of all you contribute and do to fight hunger all year long. I am thankful that the love Jesus showers on you is expressed through your dedication in making a difference in our neighbor. I pray that your November is full of thankfulness, generosity and unbridled grace.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc


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Meet the Widows

Our gospel reading is Luke 18:1-8.

Jesus' parable (a parable is a short story with a religious or moral point) from Luke is not focused on the unjust judge. Instead, the story is about a widow. Widows appear throughout scripture, interacting with prophets, kings, and Jesus. Widows are women who are alone because their husbands have died. These women were in a dangerous situation. It was assumed that women should not have access to money, jobs, or a family inheritance. Rather, women were an extension of their husbands and fathers with no financial independence. A woman's financial security depended on their husband. Even though scripture has many examples of women who inherit property and who are wealthy, this was the exception rather than the rule. When a woman's husband died, her financial security vanished. Poverty and hunger loomed. These women would do all they could to take care of themselves and their family but their lack of resources is a major problem. When a widow is mentioned in scripture, she represents the poor and the hungry. She represents those without power. She is one of the many who are suffering today and will be suffering tomorrow. Being a widow in scripture is a very dangerous thing. 

As we listen to this gospel reading today and reflect on this parable throughout the week, we should notice what the widow asks for. She doesn't ask for money or a job or security. What she asks for is justice. So what is justice? In this reading, justice lis the opposite of who the judge is. The judge does not fear God and he does not respect other people. In fact, his response to the widow is to grant her justice because he doesn't like to be bothered! For this judge, his needs matter more than the needs of others. For this judge, his point of view matters more than God's. Justice is fearing God and respecting the other. Justice is something that God desires and demands. Justice is something God promises to all. When we hear the word justice, what does it look like? How is this justice experienced? What is justice for someone without power or security? What is justice for someone with power and who knows where their next meal is coming from? These are just some of the questions this parable invites us to ask and prayerfully seek answer for. Justice, in scripture, isn't an abstract ideal. For Jesus, and for us, justice is real. 


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Brother God [Sermon Manuscript]

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Luke 18:1-8

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 16, 2016) on Luke 18:1-8. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


[i don't know about you, but I'm still finding mosquitos in my backyard when I go outside. That...buzzing...I usually hear after I'm bit. And as the bite swells, gets red and starts to itch, the buzz is that annoying and persistent reminder that I was someone's afternoon snack. Trying to speak these words from the gospel according to Luke with that buzzing in the background was hard for me. I kept...feeling itchy. I wanted to scratch. ]

[So at the 9 am service, I've been trying to do something new on the weeks we have Sunday School. I'm trying to present the gospel in a slightly different and more experiential way. But I’ll admit I struggled with today's text from Luke. I knew I wanted to highlight the widow’s persistence and the judge’s desire to do anything to just get her to go away. The judge is annoyed; he's bugged; he just wants to swat her. And that gave me an idea. I invited everyone at that service to listen to the gospel while a super annoying, super persistent, super buggy noise was in the background. I read Luke while  the sound of a buzzing mosquito filled sanctuary. I don't know about you, but even thinking about a mosquito makes my body itch.] 

It's like I'm pre-programmed to be bugged if I sense or imagine there's a mosquito nearby. That buzz buzz buzz, that persistent noise, helps, I think, to unlock one of the central points of today's text. The widow isn't just bugging the judge, she's bugging the judge over and over again. She repeats herself like a mosquito which is buzzing constantly around us. So as interpreters of this text, we need to see what buzzes, see what in today's story repeats: and by looking at the repetition we discover just heat justice is.

Now Jesus, as he introduces the story, actually tells us what repeats. And that repetition is usually a sign of what's important, what matters in the story. Jesus starts by describing the judge as someone who doesn't fear God. He's someone who doesn't hold God is awe and doesn't keep God in mind in all that he says and does. This judge also doesn't respect people. He doesn't treat all people well, instead probably treating some better than others because being a judge gives him that power. This judge, according to Jesus, is a terrible judge. He doesn't care about justice; he only cares about his own wants and desires and his position grants him the authority to proclaim judgments that are devoid of justice. He's terrible - and he knows this about himself. In his internal monologue, he admits he doesn't fear God or respect people. He knows he's terrible. He knows he doesn't care about justice but, because of this persistent widow, justice is what he'll do. He proclaim a judgment that is different from what he usually does. For Jesus, this judge is the opposite of justice which means justice is the opposite of him. He doesn't fear God and he doesn't respect people. So justice includes fearing God and respecting people. This, in some ways, is the minimum standard for what justice. But Jesus isn't letting justice remain as merely a definition or an abstract ideal. By linking these two phrases together, fearing God and respecting people, Jesus is showing that respecting people is how we fear God. As Rev. David Lose, president of the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia writes, “the root of all justice is to demonstrate your fear/awe of God by respecting those around you.” Justice, like love, isn't a noun. Justice is a verb. “The beginning of justice, according to Jesus, is when we show our awe for God by respecting those around us, by granting them a measure of dignity, by being willing to view them as fellow children of God who are worthy of our respect and fair treatment.” Justice begins when we look at the person in front of us, especially that person who doesn't look like us, sound like us, or think or believe like us, and when we see them, we see someone worthy of our respect and fair treatment. The respect we offer isn't dependent on the other person respecting us first. Respect rests in knowing that we are made in God’s image, that God loves us, that Jesus died for us - and that Jesus died for that other person too.

The other part of today's story that repeats describes what the widow does. She doesn't stop. Jesus says she keeps coming and the judge says she's keeps coming too. She's persistent, determined, a fighter who won't give up. She wants her experience to be made right but she's also asking the judge for more. She's telling the judge to embody and express justice. She's asking him to love God by loving people and to fear God by respecting all people. This widow is telling the judge to act justly. And she's going to keep calling him out until he does. Anything less than justice, anything less than treating everyone with respect, is to be an unjust judge in a world of Justice that God desires. The widow isn't what annoys the unjust judge. She's not the mosquito buzzing around us in our world. What bugs us is what she calls for: she calls for justice, love, and respect. And her call is loudest when we want to show the least amount of justice, love, and respect we can. Our words matter. Our actions matter. And how we embody and live out God’s justice matters too. God doesn't call us to judge like God does or try to claim that we can. God calls us to love. God calls us to act justly. God calls us to seek justice not only for ourselves, but also for the widows of our world - the powerless, the suffering, and those who are afraid to speak up because they don't know what will happen after their stories are told. We, as Jesus’ disciples, seek justice, we act justly, and we love because justice and love are more than just a feeling, justice and love are who God is.



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Samaria and Leprosy

Today's reading from Luke (Luke 17:11-19) is also read on Thanksgiving Day. We might believe believe that thankfulness is the primary focus of this text but there's more we need to notice. To understand the power of this story, we need to know Samaria and leprosy. 

When the Gospels mention Samaria, they're describing a region north of Jerusalem that was once a separate kingdom. When King Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel split into 2 sections. The Southern Kingdom (called Judah) was centered around Jerusalem while the Northern Kingdom (which kept the name Israel) created a new capital called Samaria. Both kingdoms co-existed for almost 200 years and both communities worshiped and believed in God. But both communities believed God was telling them to worship in different places. Judah claimed (and the prophets and other religious leaders supported this) that God wanted to be worshipped in the Jerusalem. Samaria, however, built new temples in places where God's presence was felt in different ways. This caused major friction and disagreement between the two communities. Overtime, both communities grew to dislike each other. By Jesus' day, they despised each other and would discriminated each other whenever they could. Jesus, as a Jew, was supposed to avoid Samaritans at all costs. 

Leprosy is a disease that's mentioned in the bible often. We don't know exactly what kind of disease people in Jesus' time called leprosy but it was probably a skin disease that left people visibly sick and contagious. When someone developed leprosy, they were seen as unclean and were no longer full members of the community. They became outsiders. 

So where is Jesus in today's text? He's on the border. He's walking with Samaria on one side and Judah on the other. He's busy visiting villages where lepers live on the outskirts, away from everyone else. Jesus is conducting ministry between the 'regular' folks and the people who the 'regular' folks want nothing to do with. And, at the end of the story, it's not the 'regular' folks who notice who Jesus is. The one who finally notices that God is present is the person who, as a Samaritan and as someone with leprosy, is despised and rejected by everyone around them.


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Traveling Along the Boundaries [Sermon Manuscript]

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Luke 17:11-19

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 9, 2016) on Luke 17:11-19. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Last weekend, I found myself sitting in a train car. The seats were green, comfortable, and looked like they did when this train car was originally made - over 100 years ago. The train was being pulled by an old steam engine, it's boiler pumping out white hot steam while a man shoveled coal, by hand, into a blazing fire. The train was traveling on one of the oldest still functioning rail lines, one established in 1832 to bring the vegetables and crops produced around Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the markets of Philadelphia and Harrisburg. As the train kept chug-chug-chugging along, we passed 14 different farms. Some of these farms used state-of-the-art tractors and harvesters. Others still used horses and plows, their homes lit by candles rather than electric lights. And I was there, with my two kids and spouse, trying to catch all of this moment, all of this intersection of the past and the present, by taking a group  #selfie with my phone. Visiting Lancaster, PA is like being caught in two places at once. In one place, I’m experiencing the most up-to-date technology. In the other, I'm stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy, looking out my window at houses with clothes drying on clothes lines and fields full of watermelons and soybeans being pick by hand. Being a tourist among the farmers and the Amish means walking in the space where two different ways of life meet. And in our reading from Luke today, that's where Jesus is. He's in that in-between space, with the land of Samaria on the right and his homeland, Judea, to the left. In this space, no one story or culture dominates. No one point of view is the only way of seeing the world. Jesus is walking in a muddled place, a place with no firm borders, and a place where anything can happen. 

Now, these in-between places are not static places. They're dynamic, vibrant, and full of movement. When we run into one of these places in scripture, our job as interpreters is to notice the movement. It's like if you're having brunch in New York and sitting at a sidewalk cafe, watching the different kinds of people as they walk by. We wonder where they’re going, what they're doing, who they are going to see, and what their lives are like. These  questions are the same questions needed for our text today. Jesus is on the move, nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus finds himself walking along the border between Samaria and Samaritans on one side and Judea, with Jesus’ Jewish sisters and brothers, on the other. In Jesus’ day, 1000 years of history, beliefs, and culture separated these two groups of people. Even though they shared belief in God, they saw God differently. They worshipped God in different ways and in different places. And their history made sure that division, rather than unity, kept the Samaritans and Judeans apart. Both groups didn't just dislike each other, they viewed each other as alien, foreign, and wrong. They were not supposed to speak to each other, associate with each other, or even live next door to each other. And no self-respecting religious teacher would ever find themselves hanging out in this kind of in-between space where they might, just might, interact with the “wrong” people. Jesus isn't supposed to be in this space. He's supposed to be with his kind of people, the ones who worship God the right way, and who look and sound like him. But Jesus’ mission requires him to go to the places we don't think God should go. So Jesus is walking in the place he shouldn't be - and ten lepers notice - and shout his name. 

Now, did you notice that these ten kept their distance? They see Jesus coming but they don't run to him. They stand apart. They don't want to get too close. The diseases scripture calls leprosy isn't just a skin disease that might be contagious. It's a disease that pushed people out of their communities. The sick would be declared ritually unclean, forced to live on the outskirts of the village while waiting for a cure. Once the disease was gone, they could go to a priest who would declare them clean, and then, and only then, could they return to their community. The lepers in our story stay away from Jesus because they know the rules. They know that if Jesus gets too close, he might be declared unclean just like they are. These ten are following the rules, so they keep their distance, and ask for help. Now, they’re asking for more than just a cure; they're asking for wholeness. They want to be reconciled to their communities so that they can live a life full of meaning, relationships, and connection. So Jesus, in his response, follows the rules too. He doesn’t heal them, not yet at least. Instead Jesus sends them to someone who can declare them whole. And these ten have faith - they trust Jesus’ word. They trust his promise. So they go, heading out of the scene, away from these borders lands and into a safe place where a priest can be found. And it's on the way to this safe space that one notices he's well.

I've always wondered how this one figured out that their illness was gone. Did their skin just stop itching? Did that open sore finally close? Or, when they passed someone on the road, did that other person not run away because the sign of the their sickness, the sign of their being different, was finally gone? The text doesn't give us an answer but it does tell us that of the ten, 9 follow Jesus’ command. 9 keep heading to the priest. But decides to break the rules. He, instead, comes back - he moves towards Jesus - and does an unexpected thing. He falls at Jesus’ feet. This healed man, a Samaritan, says “Thank You” to a Jewish rabbi because this Jewish rabbi, this Jesus, did the unexpected thing and healed a Samaritan. And this healing came without pre-requisites. Jesus didn't ask the Samaritan to change his beliefs, become Jewish, or prove his status as a “good Samaritan” before he was healed. Jesus just healed him. Jesus didn't ask the Samaritan to become like Jesus before a relationship was offered. And the Samaritan didn't ask Jesus to become a Samaritan before he said “Thank You.” In the in-between space where all kinds of people meet, in this space where Jesus should be, Jesus healed. Jesus encouraged community. Jesus brought wholeness. Or, to sum up, in everything Jesus did, he just loved.

[Today's text is more than a story about being thankful. It’s a text inviting us to see the In-between spaces in our world and in our lives. These are the places where we don’t think God is or maybe are the places and times in our lives when we can’t feel God’s presence by our side. In those places and at those times, our lives are anything but static. We can feel the tension, the energy, the emotions, the push and pull that keeps everything fluid, moving, and unsteady. We feel uprooted, off balanced, like trying to take a group #selfie on a bouncy, rickety, and moving old train. But even at those times when we can’t feel God’s presence, Jesus is there. Even when we feel off balanced, even when we don’t know the way forward - Jesus is there. When we find ourselves stuck, with our Samarias on one side and our Judeas on the other, remember that there is no place God will not go and there’s no place where Jesus will not meet us. No matter where we are, what we feel, or what we are experiencing - the inbetween spaces of our lives - can never get between us - and God’s love - mercy - and forgiveness. ]

[Now, confirmands, today is an awesome day because we get to affirm something that God started a long time ago when you were first baptized. Before you even knew what the Exodus was, before you ever recited your first creed, or learned that your pastor would ask you to take scripture and mash-it up with what we hear on top 40 radio, God knew that the church couldn’t be the church without you. Today might feel like a graduation but unlike a graduation from school, the next step for you isn't off to a new school or new grade or off to try something new. The next step after confirmation is...these pews..the places you were already in before your confirmation journey began. These last two years of classes, service hours, and discovering that there really is a book in the bible called Obadiah, wasn't only about giving you answers. It was about showing you where God is in your own personal story. It was about showing where we might find that God that says you matter each and every day. Each one of you is amazingly talented, compassionate, and authentically you. But your story isn't finished. You’re still becoming who you are supposed to be. That's a journey that will never stop. Everyone lives in that in-between space between where we've been and where we are going, between the things we've done and the things we hope to do, and between the story we've written and the story we’ve just started writing. And when life gets confusing, difficult, joyous, or even scary - when the in-between spaces become very real and we don't know what's going to happen next - know that God is right there, with you. When your Samarias are on one side, your Judeas on the other, and you’re stuck there in the middle - remember - there is no place God will not go and there's nowhere Jesus will not meet you. God doesn't run away from the uncomfortable spaces. God is already there. And when you find yourself in those places, and run into someone who is there too - maybe someone who is sick, or worried, someone who is different from you, or someone who you think is completely foreign to everything you believe and stand for - don't forget that being like Jesus and loving like God loves you - is always an option. ]





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"Seeing" in Luke

The Gospel Reading is Luke 17:5-10.

Last week, I invited us to "see" the people we do not normally see. Who we see and who is being seen are major themes in the gospel of Luke. Each time we read a text from Luke and Acts, we need to ask ourselves if sight is involved. We do this by quickly identify the major characters, their names, and what visual images are being used. We try to notice if anything is happening in the daytime (light) or is taking place at night (dark). On this first glance, we might not understand what this text is about but if we look for what's seen and what isn't, we can unpack what this text might mean for us. 

So let's take today's text from Luke and ask these questions. If we remember last week's commentary, Jesus is still traveling to Jerusalem. He's teaching on-the-go and there are no large crowds following him today. As they talk, the apostles ask for their faith to increase. For them (and us), faith is not abstract. It has weight, value, depth, and height. If the apostles had enough faith, if they trusted in God enough, they might receive a blessing of some kind. What the apostles want is more. 

This is where, I think, "seeing" plays a role. The apostles have a vision, an idea, of what their faith should look like. They've quantified their faith, created a measurement for it, and that's what they are looking at. They "see" an expectation for their faith and how they are not meeting it. The apostles see failure so Jesus points their eyes to something else: what they actually have. We want to measure faith but we can't. Instead, faith is something God gives us and even a little faith can do amazing things. We don't need more faith to love like God loves us. We have Jesus and that's more than enough. 


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