Questions and Reflections

February 2016

White Rapids [Sermon Manuscript[

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 4th Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2016) on Luke 13:1-9. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Two weeks ago, before I went away on a short vacation, I wanted to make sure that Doris (our parish administrator) had all she needed to start this Sunday’s bulletin before I came back. So I started my typical sermon writing routine early. I found read the lessons, opened up my commentaries and other scholarly works, wrote a reflection for the back of the bulletin, and fired up a few podcasts to get a taste of what others were saying about today’s text. With my creative juices well lubricated, I had a mental outline for my sermon, matched it with an appropriate sermon title, and sent it Doris’ way. But when I came back from vacation, looked at the drafted bulletin, and saw my sermon title: I have no idea why I picked this title. In just a few short days, while I was out of state in a new place and a new context, I came back having lost a sermon that I originally drew up. I lost that memory for a sermon that I’ll never get to share. 

That kind of loss of memory - that loss of a story - is evident in our text from the gospel according to Luke today. Jesus, in chapter 12 and 13 is teaching to a large crowd. He talks about God, about faith, about loving others and every time he speaks, he adds these little stories, theses parables, to illustrate a point about God and love. And today’s reading from chapter 13 matches this pattern. Jesus is in the crowd when he receives word about something incredibly violent - where Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem, killed Galileans - people from Jesus’ own neighborhood - and mixed their blood with sacrifices to other gods. Jesus takes this story - and adds to it, pointing to another catastrophe where people were killed when a building, the tower of Siloam, collapsed. We, today, don’t know anything more about these stories. We don’t know who Pilate killed, why he did it, or what sacrifices he performed. We also don’t even know exactly what the tower of Siloam was - just that it was in Jerusalem. But these were events that the people around Jesus knew. When the gospel according to Luke was written a few generations after Jesus told this parable, those who heard Luke for the first time still knew what these events were all about. There was no need for details because everyone remembered - or knew about - Pilate and Siloam. It’s like, today, if we say 9/11, we know what we’re talking about. Or, if I hear the word Columbine, I’m instantly launched back to my high school self, sitting in my high school cafeteria, watching tvs showing students running from that high school shooting just down the road from where I grew up. There are events and catastrophes that we just know. We don’t need to describe them to relive our experience of that time, that event, or its aftermath. We just need to say their name. 

And that’s what Jesus is doing here today. He’s taking catastrophes that everyone knew - that everyone had an emotional response too - and he’s bringing them to the front. And once we’re reinvested - once we relive those catastrophes - Jesus then repeats this one line: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Two incidents of death: one sponsored by the government, the other tragic and random. Two groups of people killed not because they were evil, or disobeyed God: they were just there when death happened. And Jesus gives a warning to repent - a warning to turn back to God and wrap their minds around that God who is talking to them right now - so they won’t perish. But I don’t think this is Jesus telling the crowd that he has a way for them to escape the end. Jesus isn’t selling them a new prescription or a new technology or a new way of life that will allow the crowd to sidestep death. Jesus is pointing out that dying is part of life. And death can show up quickly, unexpectedly, and without rhyme or reason. Death happens - but life happens too. Jesus, today, isn’t offering us a way to run away from death. Jesus, instead, is offering a chance at life. A life right now because if death is part of our reality, than life should be too. In the face of catastrophes - in the face of tragedies that shouldn’t happen - God’s response isn’t to run and hide. God’s response is to bring life. A life that matters. A life that makes a difference, a life that sees evil, pain, and death, but still loves the world anyways.

A life that lives. A life that loves. That’s what Jesus points to. That’s what bearing fruit is all about. Fruit is pretty to look at, smells nice, and looks good as a centerpiece in a table - but if no one eats it, enjoys it, grows stronger and better because of it - that fruit isn’t doing what fruit is designed to do. 

But this life that loves, this life that bears fruit, can’t happen on it’s own. A life that bears fruit for others needs God too. A life that matters needs what God can provide - like a community that’s committed to praying for each other, committed to knowing each other, committed to caring for each other when a crisis strikes. A life that makes a difference needs a God who offers everything, even the building blocks of God’s son’s own - to those who live in the world. A life that loves needs a savior who will always be with us, offering us nourishment, help, and his presence - our spiritual and physical manure that can feed our roots as we go out to love a world as much as God loves us. 

2000 years from now, if some future archaeologist stumbles on a recording of this sermon, locked on some dusty old web server somewhere, the words 9/11 and Columbine might mean the same to them as Pilate’s Sacrifices and the Tower of Siloam mean to us. But the life Jesus gives us is the same life given to them. We all have the opportunity to see the world, to see it’s evil, it’s pain, it’s death, and love anyways. That’s our eternal calling. That’s part of this gift of new life given to us not because we are great, or perfect, or because we’ll always remember every single prayerful thought that God gives us. No, this life is ours because Jesus didn’t run from death. He went to that Cross and gave us, gave everyone, gave this entire world - a life that doesn’t just live by running away from death. Instead, Christ gave us a life that can love. And if Christ gives us a life that loves, how can we do anything but?



Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Numbers

The First Reading is Numbers 20:1-13.

It doesn't seem fair that Moses doesn't make it to the promised land. He was chosen by God to free the Israelites. He faces Pharaoh. He is the mediator between God and the people. And when God desires to affirm their relationship by revealing God's face to Moses, God even shields Moses so that Moses will not die. God continually protects Moses. But in our reading from Numbers today, Moses disobeys God. The people are thirsy and are complaining. Moses talks to God and God tells Moses to command a certain rock to give water to the people. Moses leads the entire people to the rock. They gather around it. And then Moses strikes it with his staff. Water comes forth and the people drink but Moses has sealed his fate. God said to speak. Instead, Moses struck with his staff. And now Moses, like the other leaders in our reading from last week, will not enter the Promised Land.

So what are we supposed to do with this text? In fact, what are we to do with all of the rebellion texts in Numbers and the rest of the first five books of the bible? One way to frame their presence is to examine what happens in many of the cases. The turning away from God is usually tied to an example of idolatry. Now, idolatry can mean many different things. For some Israelites, it meant creating a golden calf and calling it a god. For others, it meant not trusting God's promises and reverting back to their own strengths and fears. And, for still more, it mean putting something other than God at the physical (and spiritual) center of their lives. Wealth, knowledge, pride, and fear are all examples of idolatry. Anything that convinces us to put our trust in ourselves, our resources, or something other than God is just an attempt for us to try to be our own gods. And, like we saw in the Exodus story, the people didn't free themselves from slavery. God did. God brings freedom and life. Everything else, according to the earlier books, just brings us back into a type of slavery and death. 

This explanation isn't designed to excuse the violence in these texts. The violence in the bible is something I will always struggle with. But the question of what gives us life, energy, and purpose is an important one. What's at our center and does it feed our soul or devour it? 


Keep Reading >>

Spring Forward: Pastor Marc's Newsletter Reflection for March

I'm never ready for a time change. The one in the fall is easier to live with—an extra hour of sleep or an opportunity to re-live an hour (if we're night owls) so we can get that one moment right. Falling back is awesome. But in early March, the opposite happens. We actually lose time. In fact, I lose more than just an hour. I spend the entire Saturday before the time change lamenting my upcoming loss of sleep. And then I spend all night worried that my alarm clock will not go off and I'll wake up after church has already started. When I spring forward in March, I don't spring forward joyfully. I feel more like I'm being launched, unwillingly, into a future I'm not exactly ready for.

Being launched into a future we're not ready for is a good foundation for Lent. Lent is a time for prayer, reflection, fasting and repenting. But why? I think one answer is because we don't know exactly what tomorrow will bring. We don't know what adventure we'll be called to embrace. We don't know if some crisis will arise that changes who we are and what we know. We don't know if tomorrow will be different or if tomorrow will feel just like today. And even though we might feel confident today, there's no way we are ever truly prepared for all the possibilities of what tomorrow can bring.

But Lent is an opportunity to more fully experience one part of who we are. We are God's. We are Christ's. We don't know what we'll be asked to spring forward into but we do know that, no matter what, Jesus is there with us. Lent is usually called as a time to repent. But repenting is more than just feeling sorry for doing something wrong. Repent is really about turning back towards God. When we repent, we turn away from where we think we should go and, instead, turn back towards the promises of God that are ours to begin with. When we turn back, we look forward into God's future which has a place for all of us. Spring forward by springing back into God and live into that love that God gives us every day.


Keep Reading >>

Candy Hearts [Sermon Manuscript]

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house. These are the names of the men who shall assist you: From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab. From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar. From Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon. From the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni. From Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. From Asher, Pagiel son of Ochran. From Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel. From Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan. These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the leaders of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the divisions of Israel.

Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, and on the first day of the second month they assembled the whole congregation together. They registered themselves in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, individually, as the Lord commanded Moses. So he enrolled them in the wilderness of Sinai. The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Reuben were forty-six thousand five hundred. The descendants of Simeon, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, those of them that were numbered, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Simeon were fifty-nine thousand three hundred. The descendants of Gad, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Gad were forty-five thousand six hundred fifty. The descendants of Judah, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Judah were seventy-four thousand six hundred. The descendants of Issachar, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Issachar were fifty-four thousand four hundred. The descendants of Zebulun, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Zebulun were fifty-seven thousand four hundred. The descendants of Joseph, namely, the descendants of Ephraim, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Ephraim were forty thousand five hundred. The descendants of Manasseh, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Manasseh were thirty-two thousand two hundred. The descendants of Benjamin, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Benjamin were thirty-five thousand four hundred. The descendants of Dan, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Dan were sixty-two thousand seven hundred. The descendants of Asher, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Asher were forty-one thousand five hundred. The descendants of Naphtali, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Naphtali were fifty-three thousand four hundred.

These are those who were enrolled, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled with the help of the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each representing his ancestral house. So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war in Israel— their whole number was six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty.

The Levites, however, were not numbered by their ancestral tribe along with them. The Lord had said to Moses: Only the tribe of Levi you shall not enroll, and you shall not take a census of them with the other Israelites. Rather you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the covenant, and over all its equipment, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its equipment, and they shall tend it, and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And any outsider who comes near shall be put to death. The other Israelites shall camp in their respective regimental camps, by companies; but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the covenant, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the Israelites; and the Levites shall perform the guard duty of the tabernacle of the covenant. The Israelites did so; they did just as the Lord commanded Moses.

Numbers 1

Pastor Marc's sermon on the First Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016) on Numbers 1. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So today isn’t only the First Sunday in Lent. It isn’t only a day when a dozen roses all of the sudden cost 4x what they did last week and when Candy Hearts are a language all it’s own. No, today is also, according to the movie Ghost Busters 2, the end. Dr. Peter Venkman, ghostbuster, has his own tv show called World of Psychics. He’s interviewing a woman who claims that an alien told her about the end of the world while she was staying at a Holiday Inn in Paramus. She was sitting on the bar when this alien approached her, bought her a drink, and told her about the end of the world. The alien gave her the date and a detailed account of what the end of the world would look like. She spills the beans on Dr. Venkman’s show, giving everyone a foretaste of what’s to come. Now, aliens, ghosts, the End of the World, and Bill Murray:  that’s one entertaining narrative for what an unknown, for what a wilderness might actually look like. Without that unknowning, without the unexpected and the unexplained, a wilderness can’t be a wilderness. We probably know what a Holiday Inn looks like. We might even have stayed in one once or twice. And if we all carpooled for a field trip after church and headed down Route 17 - we would, in fact, find a Holiday Inn in Paramus. When we walked through its front doors and headed into the hotel lobby, I’m sure the Holiday Inn would meet our expectations of what a Holiday Inn should be. But if it just so happens that we might meet an alien there - or discover that today is the end of the world - well - that Holiday Inn starts being a wilderness. It starts being a place where the unexpected happens. In fact, that Holiday Inn becomes a place where the only thing we can expected is the unexpected. So if we did head over to the Holiday Inn in Paramus after church, maybe we should take the time to prepare ourselves for anything that could happen. Maybe we need to invite Peter Venkman and the rest of the Ghostbusters team to come along. When we’re about to face the unexpected, it makes sense to take stock of what we have and muster our strengths so that we’re as ready as we can be to face anything that comes our way. And that’s what our first reading from Numbers feels like. God orders the Israelites to take a census before they move on from their camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They’re going to discover just how many military fighting men they have available. The Israelites are about to take a new journey, heading into the a new wilderness, towards the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people prepare themselves by counting their strengths - because they have no idea what their future might bring. 

Now, each tribe is given a general and each tribe is counted. Everyone, minus the Levites, are counted to try and figure out how large of an army they might have. Now the number counted is huge - 600,355. And that doesn’t include women, children, senior citizens, servants and slaves. If we tried to add those unknown people into this miltary number, we suddenly have millions of people marching through the wilderness. This is mind boggling since, at this time, cities were huge if they had 10,000 people or more. Even if we think this number is accurate or if it’s impossible, our take on the number doesn’t  undo the vision of what is being laid out here. An entire people are on the move. Everyone is going. This army isn’t just keeping an eye on itself. It’s guarding, protecting, and leading this mass of humanity into a new place. The numbers are large because the magnitude of what’s going on is massive. And the Israelites have no idea what’s coming up ahead. These lands were originally crossed by their ancestors but, for 400 years, Egypt is all they knew. They knew Egyptian government, ate Egyptian food, and lived as Egyptian slaves. But now they’re free, heading into a place filled with people and dangers they don’t know. They’re heading into a wilderness so they arm up - preparing themselves for whatever they might run into. 

And that whatever just might be the devil. 

But this devil might do more than just tempt them and tempt us to do an unexpected thing. The devil might do more than invite us to make an immoral choice. The devil we meets in the wilderness - in our unknowns and in places outside our comfort zone - that devil devil might try to get us to forget who we are. When a difficulty arises and our food runs short, or when an opportunity to become rich and powerful shows up on our doorstep, we just might forget who called us to enter this wilderness. We might fall back on ourselves, looking to our own own strengths to overcome our fears. We might believe that we’re here in this wilderness alone, with no need for the Ghostbusters, or anyone else’s help. The devil’s great trick, as we see in Luke 4, isn’t when the devil tries to tempt us to make an immoral choice. The devil’s great trick is trying to convince us that we’re in our wilderness alone. The devil wants us to believe that God isn’t with us in our wilderness. As we take a step into our unknowns - our new adventures, our new challenges, and even our new tragedies - when we believe that God isn’t there, we forget who we are. We forget that we were made in God’s image. We forget that we are loved. We forget that God didn’t tell Moses to bring the people to a Holiday Inn but took them straight into the wilderness, into their unknowns. God took them there because that’s where God is too - in those unknown places and our unknown journeys - because God is too big to stay confined to only what we know. We head into the wilderness, into that place where devils lie in wait, because we know that God is there too. 

When the Israelites move, God is with them, right in the center of their formation. When they end up somewhere new, God is with them. When they face a new challenge, God is with them. God is right besides them when some tragedy and loss makes them wonder just what they’re going to do next. Even when Faith is hard, God is right there because God knows that our lives are more wilderness and knowns. Jesus came to live and see our wildernesses first hand, and when the devil tempted him to stop living that human life, he said no. He knew that a God in the wilderness means that we’re never alone. 

We might not have the Ghost Busters on speed dial. We might not have access to our own alien who knows just what unknown thing will happen next. We, sadly, might not have Bill Murray hanging with us as much as we might like. But we don’t live our lives alone. Our wildernesses aren’t places where only we are allowed to go. Our God is there with us too. The way through the wilderness isn’t easy. The path might be difficult and hard. We might need to take bold new step to find out just exactly why Jesus brought us to this place. We know that the path forward isn’t always clear - but we also know that One who’s there with us - is clear. Jesus: a child of God, a child of Mary, who loved sinners enough to make us all into struggling saints - Jesus is our known. Jesus is who we belong too. Being with Jesus is part of who we are. And no matter what wilderness we find ourselves in, even if it’s in a Holiday Inn in Paramus, Jesus is there too because no matter where we are, Jesus will be there too. 



Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Numbers: war language and temptation in the Desert

Our first reading is Numbers 1. Our gospel reading is Luke 4:1-13.

As we read through the bible in an entire year, today we're four books in. We call this book Numbers but it's Hebrew name is Bemidbar, "In the Wilderness." And that's a good title for this book. Since the last third of Exodus, the Israelites have been camped at Mt. Sinai. They escaped Egypt, received many different teachings from God while at Mt. Sinai, and they are now about to journey to the land of Canaan (modern day Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan). We call the book Numbers because the book, as we see in our first reading, starts with a census. They want to know how many soldiers they have for war. The journey into the promised land requires moving through territory filled with people who do not want the Israelites to be there. The people are heading to war. 

I've always struggled with the war imagery that is part of Scripture's story. War is violence and that's never been part of my experience of Jesus. Wars involve struggle, loss, hardship, and the death. They involve entire nations and peoples committing themselves wholly towards a goal of victory against their enemies. There is excitement, energy, and a huge amount of resources that are devoted to a goal of victory. Soldiers, their families, civilians, and innocent bystanders are required to make, and sometimes be, a sacrifice. Even necessary wars, where evil is fought against and destroyed, are costly. So when we hear stories about God's people being an army with descriptions of God as a general ('the hosts of heaven' means 'the armies of heaven'), I struggle with what I hear. God's army is on God's side but why does God need an army in the first place? 

Our gospel reading today might help with that. The story of Jesus' temptation by Satan can be framed as a moral struggle. Satan is trying to trick Jesus into making an amoral choice when Jesus is weak from hunger and thirst. But what if Satan is trying to do something more? What if Satan wants Jesus to make a choice that denies who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do? Jesus' journey involves the Cross and Satan offers him away out. Jesus doesn't fall for it even though Calvary isn't far away. Jesus doesn't make a moral choice; he makes the only choice necessary to save the world. I don't know why God needs an army and I don't have a satisfactory answer for why this kind of violence happens. But I do know, through Jesus, God does what is necessary to love the world. Numbers has an army. Jesus will be killed by one. God, in so many ways, is a mystery and this season in the church called Lent is an invitation to ask these kinds of questions even if no satisfactory answer comes to us. 


Keep Reading >>

Visible - Ash Wedneday [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus said:] “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6

Pastor Marc's sermon on Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016) on Matthew 6. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Over the last six weeks, we’ve heard a lot of different beginnings while in worship. We started everything off with the story of creation, Genesis 1, where God took dust and formed us. We’ve watched as Jesus, in the gospel according to John, started his public ministry when the wine at a wedding party ran out. The very next week, Jesus walked into a synagogue and began his public ministry in the gospel according to Luke with a 9 word sermon. So today, on this first day of Lent, we’re in the middle of Matthew’s beginning. Jesus is on a mountain, surrounded by his disciples and a large crowd. Jesus begins to speak - sharing a sermon about what being a disciple of God actually looks like. Creation, a party, a religious gathering, and a sermon. These are good ways, holy ways, to start first things. But when it comes to the ashes in this little bowl, ashes that I’ll use to mark our foreheads in the shape of the cross, my first things weren’t nearly as holy. The first things I grabbed were an old, red, signed coffee can, a box of matches, a dusty old sieve, and a lime green fruit smasher with the name of a bar written on it. I then trudged out to the fire pit, next to the picnic tables behind the Genesis Garden, and set up my ash-making station. I was ready to burn but I still need to find some fuel. 

Now, for me at least, it’s strange to think about burning, about fire, during Lent. The season of Lent is always a time for quiet and reflection. It’s a time for us as a church to slow down, take a breath, and see Jesus. We’re not here to see Jesus as we want Jesus to be. We’re here to spend these 40 days and six Sundays proclaiming Jesus as he truly is. We’re here to see him teach, to hear his words, to see his struggles, and to stand at the foot of his Cross. Lent is an opportunity for us to step back from our busyness and step into how God is busy in our lives. Lent, in a sense, is a time to try to breathe God in. 

But when I try to breathe God in, I don’t usually want to breathe in God’s fire. Breathing in fire - that flame and heat - is something I’d like to avoid. I have no problem imagining breathing in a God who is like a cool mountain breeze or maybe an Irish spring. Even a God who is ice cold, in the middle of a snowstorm, is easier to breathe in than a God of fire. I’ve been in the middle of the desert, where there is no humidity. There’s dust, there’s heat, and each breath entering my lungs burns. There’s something punishing about that kind of air. But ashes can’t be formed by a cool mountain breeze. They need fire. They need flame. And when we breathe in God, we need that flame too. 

That sense of fire - of flame - of a burning for God - is why I think the disciples and crowd gathered around Jesus. They knew that there was a passion, an energy, in Jesus and in what God is doing in the world. None of Jesus’ words in his sermon can be described as a cool mountain breeze. Jesus is telling them what it means to be a follower of Christ, what it actually looks like to be a disciple. Those early followers want to be a part of what Jesus is doing - and Jesus lets them know that being a disciple means we might get burned.  

So back to that old, red, burnt coffee can, sitting in the fire pit, ready for its fuel. I trudged back into the building, down the ramp next to our library, walked through our fellowship hall and into the storage room in the back. After I turned on the lights, I looked up to the very top shelf, way above my head, and saw a little bundle wrapped in black plastic. I knew that’s what I needed and I also knew I needed a ladder to get that down. But, of course, I couldn’t find a ladder. So instead, I climbed on a chair, crawled onto a large metal cabinet, reached up and pulled that little bundle down. With my fuel in hand, I walked back to the fire pit, unwrapped these long, dried out stems, bunched them, crunched them, and stuffed them into that coffee can. And then I lit a match - watching as these palm fronds, the same palms we used last Palm Sunday, ignite. They burned quickly, with the wind blowing the smoke into my face, and the leaves becoming ashen memories of what they were before. After the fire went out, I gently crushed what was there, straining out the big pieces so that only these little ashes remained. I added a few drops of olive oil, mixed it, and that’s it. That’s the ashes for Ash Wednesday. This is what I’ll use to gently mark your forehead in the shape of a cross. It’s a reminder of what these ashes were originally for - a symbol of what Jesus did in Jerusalem on the Cross - and a reminder that this Jesus who loves us, who lives for us, who lights a fire in us, and who died for us, will never let us go. 

Now, there’s a risk to being a disciple. There’s a risk in carrying God’s flame. But in Jesus, God’s fire, God’s love, God’s mercy for us and for this entire world - that’s implanted in us. Inhaling God means we’re going to add oxygen to fuel that love that God has already given us. We can feel like we’re an old, red, signed coffee can. We can think we’re just a dusty sieve, without a sense of purpose or point in our lives. We can want a God who keeps us cool to the touch. But a God who is cool to the touch isn’t a God who can change us. Tonight's a night to remember who we are. We are God’s. We are Christ’s. Lent is a time to see Christ, to hear God’s story, and see that Jesus’ Cross is given to you, to me, and to the world. We inhale so that, when we exhale, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness that is given to us, will go out, covering the world. 



Keep Reading >>

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

When you get home tonight, I invite you to not wash your face right away. Instead, do your normal evening routine. Put the kids to bed, wash the dishes, and watch your favorite shows on Netflix. Have a late dinner or an early snack, continue that book you read, or if you're reading the bible in a year, try to catch up on your reading. I invite you to be yourself after church tonight because, even in your normal evening routine, Christ is with you. 

Ash Wednesday is a day when we make Christ's promise to us visible on our foreheads. When this congregation baptizes an infant, child, or adult, we mark each baptized individual with the sign of the cross on their forehead. The pastor takes a little oil, places it on their thumb, and gently marks their head. The oil doesn't last long. The water from the baptism usually makes the oil hard to stick and, in the pictures and celebration that follows, the oiled cross vanishes. But even though the visible sign vanishes, the promise doesn't. When we are marked with Christ's cross, we are marked with the promise that God is with us. Christ's willingness to live and di for us is given to us even if we never step foot in a church again. We might give up on God but God promises to never give up on us. This seal is ours forever and the ashes on Ash Wednesday serve as a visible reminder for God's eternal promise. 

Tonight kicks off the season of Lent. This is the night to remember who we are and who's we are. When the time comes to wash your face, to remove the ashen cross from your forehead, let the water remind you of our baptism and that God's love is all around you. 


Keep Reading >>

I Am [Sermon Manuscript]

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen..

Luke 9:28-36

Pastor Marc's sermon on Transfiguration Sunday (February 7, 2016) on Luke 9:28-36. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


I’d like to start today with a question: what’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had while in a cloud?  What happened? 

Well, for me, I was about twelve. I was in a car and my dad, brother, uncle and I were in Rocky Mountain National Park, heading up Trail Ridge Road. Trail Ridge Road is a mountain road. It starts around 9000 feet up and then goes up, up, and up the side of a mountain. At 12,183 feet, it turns, flattens out, and heads back down the otherside. The road is narrow, a single lane on each side and, like many Colorado Mountain roads - there isn’t much of a shoulder between the road and the edge below. So there we were, heading up the road, and it wasn’t too long before we were in a cloud. At first, it resembled fog. The air was misty and light. But then the fog got thicker. And thicker. And thicker. Even before we got to the timberline, the point on a mountain where trees can no longer grow, the trees and bushes along the edge of the road simply disappeared. The high wooden poles used to tell the snowplows where the edge of the road is during springtime vanished. We couldn’t see the edge. We couldn’t really see the road. And I I remember looking out the window, straining my eyes with all my strength, trying to see something, anything, that was out there. But I couldn’t. Everything, including the edge, was gone. I knew that edge was out there. I knew, if we weren’t careful, we would end up finding a spot where there was no road. So up and up we went - and there was nothing to see but this brilliant cloud all around us. 

I imagine that’s what talking to God in a cloud looks and feels like. 

And that’s what the apostles, I think, experienced in our gospel reading today. They are enveloped by the cloud of God - a cloud that shows up over and over again in the early books of the bible. This cloud descends onto mountains, leads the people as they march in the wilderness and lights their way at night. This cloud engulfs Moses when he’s on Mt. Sinai and given the ten commandments - and this cloud also covers Moses when he’s in the tabernacle, standing in front of the Ark of the Covenant, inside this giant moveable temple designed by God to be a place where the people can talk to God, no matter where they go. It’s in this cloud, in this experience, when the teachings in Exodus and Leviticus are given. And it’s also this cloud that comes down to cover the apostles’ after they finally get confirmation of just who this Jesus is. 

Now when Jesus is up on that mountaintop, praying, and Moses and Elijah come to speak with him - Jesus is lit up. He’s transfigured, changed, so that he shines - like some cosmic disco ball or really intense neon sign. This is the Special Effects kind of Jesus Jesus - a Jesus from a Michael Bay movie - who looks awesome. There’s no one who could see this - and not realize that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. It’s no wonder, when Peter sees this, that he wants to grab onto it - capture it - hold onto what he is seeing. They don’t have cameras - there’s no iPhone in Peter’s pocket to snap a picture, sending that image and experience into another cloud - the cloud of the internet - where it can be posted, shared, and seen. Peter, instead, tries to capture the truth that he’s seeing in the only way he knows how. And so he wants to build a dwelling, a monument, a temple to mark this event and hold what he sees. He wants to capture Jesus as he is, right there, lit up like Times Square. In Peter’s mind, this is the proof the world needs that Jesus is the Messiah. This is confirmation that Jesus is able to do the impossible. This is evidence that Jesus is like some superhero, with nice threads, special abilities, and the power to make their nation great again by tossing the occupying Roman army into the sea. Peter wants to keep what he sees. And that’s when the cloud descends. 

It’s when Peter praises this Jesus - praises the special effects, the glory, the bright lights, and the neon signs - it’s after that when God moves. The words Peter uses might seem odd but they’re really not. They’re our words too. We want this kind of Jesus. We want a Jesus who is easy to see, powerful, who looks like some cosmic Silver Surfer who will do our impossible things. And so when Peter speaks, giving voice to our desire to trap Jesus in what we think God’s power, hope, and love actually looks like - that’s when the cloud descends. That’s when everything is covered up. The disciples are hidden. The night sky is blotted out. The trees and bushes and edges that marked the boundary for this mountaintop - that’s all gone. They’re engulfed, surrounded, and terrified. Peter, James, and John grow silent. Their words stop. So God speaks instead, saying, “this is my Son - listen to him.” 

With those words, the cloud vanishes. Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus’ fancy robes, his changed face, and his discoball appearance disappears. The disciples find themselves left with this plain and ordinary Jesus they always knew. Now I imagine that the disciples looked at Jesus differently after this. They probably wondered where those white robes went. But when this Super Bowl kind of Jesus vanishes and only an ordinary Jesus remains, Peter, James, and John don’t know what to do. Jesus could be with them like some cartoon action hero, but he’s not. Jesus could have the fancy clothes, but he doesn’t. This Jesus meets them in ordinary ways, in their ordinary lives, turning them so they can live out God’s extraordinary love. It’s this ordinary Jesus who called each of them by name, brought them together to form a new community, and to do new things, together. It’s this ordinary Jesus who cast out demons and cured the sick - which is pretty extraordinary really - but he also ate and drank with them, sharing in their meals, and promising to be their bread and drink. This is a Jesus who can wear the white of the angels - but who promises to walk with the disciples wherever they go. This is a Jesus who is going to walk down that mountain, knowing that his upcoming departure is about to come. He knows his journey - his Exodus - is leading him to another mountain just a few chapters from now. And that mountain, we call Cavalry. 

After the transfiguration - after the powwow with Moses and Elijah - after the cloud engulfs the disciples, replacing their vision of God with what God has in mind, we’re left with just one thing: Jesus. No fireworks. No special effects. No brilliant clothes. Just a Jesus who heads to the only place now where he can go - and that’s down, over the edge, into the valley, into the world, and into our lives. Jesus goes down because our mountain tops are few and far between - but our valleys are long, deep, and hard. The Jesus we get isn’t the summer blockbuster movie version of the Jesus that we want. The Jesus we get is the Jesus we need - a Jesus who lives for us - a Jesus who lives in us - and who dies for us - because that’s what the great I AM does. The Jesus we want can’t force us to love our neighbor like ourselves - but the Jesus we get, in our baptism, in our communion, in our community, changes us so we can. It’s on a mountain top that Jesus is transfigured - but it’s only through the Cross that Jesus can truly transfigure us. 



Keep Reading >>

A reflection on Holy Circles & Leviticus

Our first reading is Leviticus 19:1-18.

Leviticus is a biblical book is one of those biblical books that can be difficult to have a healthy relationship with. The book is in the middle of the Torah, the first five books of the bible (with Moses claimed as its author), and contains very few narrative details. We don't have the grand stories of Genesis and Exodus with people moving to new places, arguing with each other and with God, and with visuals that would make any summer blockbuster movie proud. Instead, we have a lot of words, delivered by God to Moses while Moses and the Israelites are camped at Mt. Sinai. The story stops but the words from God don't. 

And these rules can be weird, especially to our reading. It's easy for us to focus on the language that has filled recent social debates (such as the debate on human sexuality) but skip over the volumes devoted to animal sacrifices and what they do. We might want to remove text from Leviticus so we can use it in the way we want but we really shouldn't. This text should be taken as a whole with the parts we claim to understand kept alongside the parts we don't. We don't get to cherry pick Leviticus. 

So what do we do with Leviticus? One way that helps us is to draw circles. As you read the book, imagine a blank page with God as a dot in the center. Then draw concentric circles outward. Each circle represents a boundary of holiness. We see this in the story of creation (i.e. the 7 days) and in the construction of the tabernacle (the holy of holies in the center). The closer you are to God, the closer we (and the world) match God's divine sense of order and purpose. These rules about what to eat, drink, dress, and sacrifice help us get a sense of which circle we're on. Much of this language is focused on the action of the priests, the ones who mediate between God and people. The overall goal is to try to match God's sense of order. That's why Leviticus is so concerned with boundaries. By establishing boundaries, Leviticus works to establish a sense of order and purpose that helps match our lives up with God. Boundaries and order help us stay in tuned and in touch with God. 

But how do we read Leviticus in light of who Christ is and what he did? If boundaries are important, what do we do with a Savior who crosses boundaries, ate with the unclean, conversed with the unwanted, and even appointed Gentiles as his disciples? There is an order to God's creation - but just what does that order look like? 


Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>