Questions and Reflections

November 2015

A Reflection on Advent

"Why Advent?" That's how Luther Seminary's professor of preaching, Karoline Lewis, began her weekly reflection this week. And as we start a brand new church year today, "why Advent?" is our question too. What does this season mean since we've been buying giant Christmas inflatables of Santa with a jetpack and the droids from Star Wars wishing us a Merry Christmas since before Halloween? 

It's easy to skip to Christmas because so much of our schedules are devoted to what's coming: holiday concerts at school, scheduling trips to visit family and friends, buying special gifts, and digging through our piles of boxes finding that one with the Christmas star for the tree. Christmas is coming. We all know it is. And we all have a to-do list a mile long to make our Christmas happen. 

But God's Christmas has happened. Jesus already showed up in a manger. We might think December 25th is a month away but the Christ-event, from birth to Cross to Resurrection, is part of our reality. Advent is not a season where we're preparing for Christmas. Advent is a season where we are honest about our world and our lives. We live our lives in a paradox. Christ has come and Christ is coming. We are claimed by God but still living into God's unfolding future. God loves us but we still struggle with what that love means. Advent is four weeks where we are honest about the brokenness of our reality and our lives. And Advent is four weeks where we proclaim that God enters into our brokenness because that's just who God is.  So "why Advent?" Because we're still here, living broken lives in a broken world, and living into God's promise that we are loved anyways.


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A reflection on Revelation: who is, who was, who is to come.

Our second reading today is Revelation 1:4b-8.

How do we describe God? That's probably one of the hardest, and most central, questions in the entire Bible. As Christians, we see this story play out and be expanded in trying to discover who Jesus is, why he came, and where Jesus comes from. The disciples believe him to be the Messiah but they don't fully understand what Jesus is doing. The Romans and religious leaders view Jesus as a political revolutionary who is undermining their power and authority. And many experience Jesus as a miracle worker who keeps telling them to be silent about the work that he is doing. God is full of mystery, but a mystery that is revealed to us in God's Son, who reveals what God is doing for us and for the world. Today, 2000 years after Jesus' death, we are still on that journey, looking at Jesus' story to discover the God who is with us and with the world. 

The book of Revelation is the last book in the New Testament and our bible. It's also very odd. The images and descriptions in this book are filled with dragons, mystical creatures, giant thrones, and flying cities. The author is named John who is describing a vision of heaven. He's trying to give hope to churches in Asia who are being persecuted for their beliefs. As the Romans try to destroy their beliefs and practices through violence, torture, and death, John offers a vision of hope for them. God hasn't abandoned them. Christ is, right now, with them. The Romans can't pull them away from the Lord who loves them and who won't let them go. 

In our opening verse today, John describes God as the one "who is and who was and who is to come..." This is an odd way to describe time. The present comes before the past and the future. But that's a perfect way to describe God. The stories we read in Scripture aren't stories only for the past. They are stories about today because they show, over and over again, that God cares about us now. God is here. God is present. God is with us today. That's grace. That's good news. And that's God's commitment to us, always.


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Ask Pastor Marc: the Apostles' Creed and Jesus coming again

When the confirmation students (i.e. confirmands) first dissect the Apostles' Creed, the first question I ask them is just what a creed is anyways. Each Sunday, we recite one of three creeds. I usually introduce our recitation with the words "Let us confess our faith in the words of..." But creed (besides being a rock band from the 90s) is a word we don't usually use. So what's a creed? A creed is simply a group's statement about who God is and how God acts. In other words, a creed is what we teach, preach, and teach. It is a condensed explanation of the mystery of faith and who God is. 

It wasn't long before creeds started to show up in the early church. Some creeds appear in Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:4 ("Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone") is a creed. It is a statement about God and who God is. "God is love" is another one. Creeds are everywhere and help us explore just who God is. 

Our Apostles' Creed started to take shape in 215 AD/CE. During the 100s, the church was struggling with the mystery of God. Different views took shape and  different kinds of Christianites developed. As the groups engaged, argued, and talked with each other, there arouse a desire to lay a foundation on what our faith says. A Roman named Hippolytus wrote a creed that looks a bit like our Apostle's Creed. Overtime it was refined and reshaped as new experiences, conversations, and controversies arose. A legend developed that each clause in the apostles' creed was composed by one of the original apostles. Our current version of the creed was mostly formalized by the year 800. The English translation we use in worship today was translated and composed in 1988 by "English Language Liturgical Consultation," a group representing english speaking churches and denominations Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and more)from all over the world. 

I was asked recently about why the current translation dropped the word "again," in line 12 of the creed ("and he [Jesus] will come to judge the living and the dead.") The word again was included in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW - the Green Book) from 1978. I wasn't able to discover the notes behind the translation choices but I believe the word "again" was dropped because of the flow of the text. That paragraph of the creed describes Jesus: where he came from, what happened to him, where he is now, and where he will be tomorrow. At the end of the paragraph, we hear how Jesus ascended to heaven (after Easter) and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. That is where Jesus sits, at the point of God's power, able to pierce into our lives, transforming us, so we can live into God's future. And that's what the last line of the paragraph is about: God's future. Jesus will come, from God's hand, to judge the living and the dead. An older translation of the Apostles' Creed, from 1941, highlights this point: "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." From Jesus' present location, God's future and Will will be done. 

Of course, we know and experience Jesus in our lives right now. In holy communion, holy fellowship, and in the holy moments of our lives, we discover a Jesus who comes over and over again. And, through us, God blesses the world. Creeds aren't designed to wipe away God's mystery, making faith a set of thoughts we just agree to. Creeds highlight the mystery because God loves us, Christ walks with us, and the Spirit works through us, even when we're doubt and struggle to believe. That's an amazing mystery that can never be reduced. It can only be pointed to, celebrated, and leave us in awe.


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What do you expect this December? Pastor Marc's newsletter article.

December is a month full of expectation. I expect to wake up Christmas morning and to find at least one present under the tree for me. I expect to find myself shoveling snow. I expect to wear sweaters inside my drafty house. And I expect to be stressed out trying to negotiate gift buying, holiday parties, and trying to hold everything together during a very busy time at church. I expect a lot from December and I think December expects a lot out of us. 

For the four weeks before Christmas, starting on November 29, we'll be in the season of Advent. Advent is a time of expectation but it's more than just expecting large crowds at the mall. Advent is a march towards Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of God in the incarnation (birth) of Jesus. God chose to live a human life, to walk, talk, cry, and celebrate like we do. God came to bring us life but this life isn't limited to a past event 2000 years ago. Christ didn't just come on one Christmas morning. Christ comes, over and over again, into our present life, transforming us to live into God's unfolding future. During Advent, we expect that Christmas will come and we expect that Jesus is coming to us right now, in the church and throughout our lives to bring life to our world. Advent is about celebrating that God will do what God promises by loving us and the entire world.

This December, I invite you to look for the God we expect to come. Discover how God is working at Christ Lutheran Church and in your life. Notice God at your workplaces, school, in your families, and even while you're waiting in line at Old Navy. Look for God because God is there, with you, loving the world and showing you how to love the world too.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc


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Healing the Outsiders: A reflection on 1 Kings 17:8-16

Today's first reading is from 1 Kings 17:8-16.

Sometimes the lectionary (the 3 year cycle of readings we use for worship) doesn't make sense. Today's first lesson from 1 Kings doesn't really match with the gospel lesson. Professor Rolf Jacobson from Luther Seminary says that this pairing of texts is really just trying to find a text about a widow in the Old Testament to match the widow in the Gospel. And I think he's right. These two stories are related because they have widows but that's about it. 

The story in Kings takes place during the time of the prophet Elijah. He's just announced the start of a 3 year drought, running off into the desert because people are mad. God tells him to travel outside Israel, to head into a foreign land, because God has a widow who will take care of him. However, God doesn't let the widow know what's going on and so we have this exchange today. The widow is near the end of her resources but she is actively doing what she can to survive. When Elijah asks for water, she offers hospitality and goes to give him something drink. But before water is given, Elijah asks for bread. She has no bread to give him and, in verse 12, is honest about her current situation. She is near the end of what she has and she's cannot see where her next meal will come from. Elijah makes a promise that God will do something amazing for her. She goes home, makes a little cake out of her meager supplies, and delivers it to Elijah. And, for the next three years, her jar of flour and her oil do not run out. She and her son can now survive and thrive. 

But it's at this moment of abundance that something happens. The widow's son dies. This is devastating. Not only did she lose a son but, in her world (generally), husbands and sons were the ones who made money and generated wealth. Without a son, she has no opportunity to receive an income and no security net when she grows old. By bringing her son back to life, Elijah secures not only her present but also her future. 

In 1 Kings, Elijah is a miracle worker. But his miracles come from God. And God is doing something that Elijah always struggles with. In these stories, Israel is suffering a famine while God is bringing life and a future to a non-Israelite. God is doing an odd thing by expanding who is part of God's family. And by expanding God's family to include people who aren't like us, God is showing just how big God's family should be.


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A reflection on Isaiah: Swallowing Death

Today's first reading is from Isaiah 25:6-9.

In the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Anthony Quinn plays the role of a bedouin chief named Auda abu Tayi. T.E. Lawrence, a British army officer arrives to convince abu Tayi to join the side of the Allies during World War 1. Their discussion takes place in the evening during a feast. Everyone in reclining, laying down on the ground with pillows and chase lounges propping them up. As the talk turns to money, abu Tayi proclaims his poverty because, in his words, "I am a river to my people!" The wealth he receives is turned over to his people. He claims to have nothing. 

This is a great line for a movie and also a foolish one. Auda abu Tayi is a ruler. He has power, weapons, and is famous. He always receives the best. Even in the scene, he is eating an amazing meal while his followers wait to receive what he doesn't eat. He's rich, powerful, and showcases his prestige by hosting a giant feast. 

As Professor Anathea Portier-Young writes, "In the ancient near eastern world, such feasts provided opportunities for mighty rulers to display their wealth and power, foster loyalty, communicate their protection and providence, negotiate treaties, and render judgments. The feast was a hallmark of empire. But the shared meal also has a sacred and intimate character. It brings pleasure and satisfaction. It engages the senses. It establishes and strengthens relationships."

Today's text from Isaiah shows God throwing a feast where everyone attends. The powerful and the weak, the oppressed and the oppressors, the rich and the poor, all gather at God's table. God assembles the best food for this amazing meal. But at the meal, God does not eat. God doesn't touch the food or the drink. Instead, God swallows something else entirely. God devours death. 

But God doesn't just consume death. The language of shroud and sheet in verse 7 is more than a reference to a death shroud. God is swallowing up all that covers, shapes, and defines us. Our cultures, way of life, thoughts, and actions are consumed by God at this Holy Feast. By taking everything we have and experience, God is opening us up to a new future where God, and not our experiences, will define what happens. And that's what today, this All Saints' Day is about: a God, as Prof Portier-Young shares, "de-creates the order of life and death and makes possible a future for God’s people beyond death and destruction." God is giving us a new future and inviting us to live out that future today. 


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