Questions and Reflections

March 2018

A Reflection on 4 parts of the Passion Story [ Manuscript]

Click here to read John 18:1-19:42

My sermon from Good Friday (March 30, 2018) on the Passion according to John. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 



One of the insights to faith that I like to borrow from our Jewish siblings involves the Passover. Tonight, Jewish people all over the world will gather together around tables to tell the story about who they are and what God did for them. They are doing more than celebrating sharing a history lesson. Passover is when every Jewish person is invited to re-experience the story of the Exodus. They are binding themselves to the story of who they are. The words, smells, and tastes of the seder meal re-connects them to the words, smells, and history of their own story. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they are emboding and embracing a history, an identity, and a reality that began in the fields of Egypt 3300 years ago and continues into this very day.

So tonight I’m going to invite all of us to do something similar. Let’s spend this moment re-experiencing Jesus’ story. The sights and sounds of Jesus’ story are meant for us. Now, there are moments in tonight’s story that will shock us. And there are words in this version of the passion, especially John’s use of “the Jews” as a catch-all for the small and angry group of leaders opposed to Jesus, that we, as a church, rightly condemn. Yet this is the story that God has given to us. This is the story God wants us to have. And it begins in a garden.

Gardens are powerful places. And in our little part of the world, gardens are stirring. Weeds and bulbs, bushes and branches, are starting to show life. The rich earth of our gardens are the places where life begins anew. The old leaves and vegetation are broken down, providing new nutrients to the soil. And seeds and bulbs use everything in the earth to grow. It is in a garden where new life begins. And since our old life cannot stand the new life that Jesus offers, a garden is the place where the Romans and other political leaders try to end Jesus.


It’s pretty reckless for Peter to be standing by that fire. He just cut off the ear of one of people who arrested Jesus. And now he’s standing with them, trying to warm himself by the fire. It’s hard to know what Peter was thinking. It’s obvious that he will be recognized because, by this point in the story, the disciples are no longer anonymous. People know who they are. They use their network of connections to enter the courtyard of the high priest and then stand, surrounded by the police, around the fire. The text says that it is cold. So Peter probably wanted some heat. But I don’t know if he understood the kind of heat was he getting into by standing next to that fire.

But I imagine that there was something so enticing by this fire that Peter couldn’t help but walk towards it. He had just seen his teacher arrested; he had just cut off someone’s ear; and he’s standing there, outside the rooms, where Jesus is being questioned. It’s probably fair to say that his mind wasn’t in the right place - so when he entered the courtyard, he drifted towards the warmth and the light he thought he needed. Yet that light was not the true light. And the warmth he felt was not as comforting as he thought it would be. He knew he was in a dangerous spot, in a place where he could not be his true and authentic self. So when the heat from the questions finally started to come at him, he denied his relationship with Jesus. How many times do we find ourselves drawn to people, places, and experiences where we can’t be ourselves? How many times do we find ourselves in situations where the light we thought we needed has put us in danger? How many times do we find ourselves being Peter, forgetting that the rooster is about to crow?



Sometimes the words that are not said are the ones that sound the loudest.

Pilate is, to me, the kind of guy who always gets the final word. I’m sure we all know people like that or maybe we, sometimes, do that ourselves. Pilate tonight will race back and forth, from the religious leaders on the outside to Jesus on the inside. Words flow constantly between them and that’s because, in some ways, John is the wordiest of the gospels. It sometimes feels as if Jesus in this gospel uses three sentences even though only one sentence would do. Yet when the wordy Jesus meets the wordy Pilate, it’s the unspoken phrase that speaks the loudest. Pilate finally asks, “what is truth?” And Jesus says….nothing.

That silence in the text is actually even more harsh than that. The text doesn’t record any kind of response. In fact, it doesn’t tell us that Jesus stay silent. All we hear is Pilate asking what is truth - and then we watch as Pilate moves away from it. The truth is right in front of him, yet Pilate can’t see it. The truth is that the values Jesus is bringing into the world are the values the world is not ready to fully embrace. Pilate is busy playing word games while Jesus is busy showing what God’s truth, love, and grace actually looks like. When the Word of God shows up in our world, what we say will not be what defines us. Rather, it’s our relationship, it’s our connection with Jesus, that will carry us through.



I usually can tell when someone has kids that play sports because whenever they give me a ride, the first thing they say as I enter the car is, “I’m sorry about the smell.” And then they point to the duffle bag filled with baseball, soccer, and lacrosse gear. I’ve yet to actually smell anything funky whenever someone says that but I appreciate their concern. I’ve spent enough time in gyms to know what sweat can smell like. I, myself, have sometimes not washed my workout gear as much as I should. Sweat is usually a sign of a body in stress and in motion. And by this point, Pilate must have been sweating. He’s running back and forth, interrogating Jesus and the religious leaders. The author of John writes as if the entire Jewish population is there in the room. But that’s just dangerous hyperbole. The judge’s bench sat outside Pilate’s headquarters and was in a courtyard that could only hold a hundred people at most. The only people who would be in that crowd were the religious and political leaders afraid of what Jesus was up to. The presence of Jesus was upsetting the uneasy social system that existed with the Roman Emperor, who was treated like a god, on top - while everyone else was somewhere below. It didn’t only matter if someone called themselves the Messiah, King, or the Son of God. If other people called them that too, that was enough to disrupt the fragile social order. Jesus, this man who called tax collectors friends, who ate meals with the people he shouldn’t, and who lived a life were service and love was the center of everything - this Jesus was a political problem in a world that believed that violence, power, and might made everything right.



I finished my seminary education at an Episcopal seminary which means people always asked me “what makes Lutherans different anyways?” Every flavor of Christianity has its own uniqueness. We all share the same origin story but we came into our own collective identities at different times and places. For Episcopalians, the marital troubles of a king and the American Revolution itself helped develop who they are. And for us Lutherans, the writings of a German monk / university professor gave birth to our movement. These differences are always easy to point to. But there’s another difference that defines us too. And that difference is centered on where we put our troubles.

It’s odd to talk about putting our troubles somewhere because we usually are told not to do that. Instead, we’re invited to take a deep breath, to get rid of distractions, and to dig deep so that we can overcome whatever issue we’re facing. We live in a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” kind of culture and all our troubles are ones we imagine can personally overcome. But we also know that this isn’t entirely true. There are troubles that we cannot, through our own hardwork and grit, actually overcome. There are troubles in our family members and friends that we can only sit on the sidelines and watch as that trouble unfolds. Our life is going to include moments when we cannot will our self out of the trouble, hurt, and heartbreak we find. Instead, we need to do something different: and that’s learn how to live through it. And that’s why Lutherans, I think, take our troubles and lay them at the foot of the cross. When we admit our own vulnerability and powerlessness, and take everything that we are experiencing and lay it right there at the foot of the cross, we are doing what Mary and Mary did. There was nothing they could do to stop what was what was happening. They couldn’t take Jesus down. Instead, they could only stand at the foot of the cross, stand there in their heartbreak, and look up. Yet in their incredible moment of powerlessness, Jesus made sure they wouldn’t live through this trouble alone. He gave Mary a new family; a new community to help carry her heartbreak. None of us can solve every problem we face. None of us can, on our own, make the troubles our family, friends, and world experience, just magically go away. But when we bring our troubles and lay them at the foot of the cross, we can - with Jesus - find a new community, a new reality, and a new life that will carry us through.





Keep Reading >>

A Reflection for Good Friday

Tonight’s worship is one filled with silence. We begin by entering this sacred moment without speaking. The service then starts abruptly, without the prelude of music we’re used to. The opening of tonight’s worship isn’t designed to break the silence. Instead, we’re invited to live into it. Every word we speak, song we sing, and prayer we offer is a moment filled by a heavy silence. It’s a silence that reminds us of who we are, who Jesus is, and why we share our life with a crucified savior.

I invite you, over the next 36 hours, to hold this silence. Before too long, the silence will end with the rolling away of the stone on a beautiful Easter morning. Easter has already come. We know that the silence will be broken. But we shouldn’t rush to Easter too quickly. The silence that marked Jesus’ final moments on the cross and his time in the tomb is a silence God chose to live through. There are moments of our lives that we cannot rush through. Instead, we need to live through them. Jesus chose to live the moments we cannot rush through. Because when God chose to live a human life, God lived through every part of it.


Keep Reading >>

Table Read: Who Can Love When We Can't? [ Manuscript]

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:1-17,21-35

My sermon from Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018) on John 13:1-17, 21-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


I am not an actor. And I don’t know much about what it's like to be one. I’ve never taken an acting class and I couldn’t tell why Frances McDormand deserved the best actress Oscar this year instead of Meryl Streep. I don’t understand the process of “acting” but I love listening to actors talk about their life as an actor. I want to know what their auditions are like, the words they use when they text casting directors, and how they survive emotionally, physically, and spiritually when it takes, on average, 64 auditions before they get a part. I love hearing about the process of life that surrounds being an actor. And one place I go to learn more about the acting life is a podcast called The West Wing Weekly. Each week, this podcast talks about one specific episode of the TV show The West Wing. Now, that show hasn’t been on the air in over a dozen years. But through the power of Netflix, anyone can rewatch the series as much as they want. The West Wing Weekly does a great job digging into the details of each show and reacting to them from a very 2018 point of view. It’s a fun podcast for anyone who’s a fan of the show. But my favorite part of the whole podcast is when they interview an actor who appeared on the show. And they, literally, will interview anyone. They’ve spoken to actors who only had one scene, as well as the main stars of the show like Martin Sheen. Last November, they talked to Clark Gregg, who had a minor recurring role on The West Wing as FBI agent Michael Caspar. I know Clark him better as another special agent named Phil Coulson, who is THE non-superpowered star of the Marvel Comic Book movie universe. Now, Clark Gregg is a guy who has lived the actor’s life. He spent years selling hair accessories on the street while waiting for his career to take off. And he once pretended that he didn’t know the horrible review that appeared in the newspaper so he wouldn’t ruin an opening night party. During the interview on The West Wing Weekly, stories kept falling out of him. They’re just too many good ones to mention. But the one that jumped out at me started with a table. Whether you are a fan of The West Wing or not, all of us have to admit that the calibre of actors on that show was amazing. Clark was honored to be with them on the show. He loved watching them work and seeing what each brought to their roles. Now, on a tv show, not every actor is in every scene. And since scenes are filmed at different times and in different locations, actors usually don’t know how an episode will play out until it’s broadcasted on tv. But one thing Clark experienced on The West Wing was the table read. Before filming began and before everyone headed off to do their own specific thing, the actors, writers, and directors gathered around the table to read, and begin acting out, the episode. Every actor involved in that episode would be there and everyone who hear how their role fit into the wider story. Seeing the big picture and watching each other work made such an impact on Clark that when he became the star of his own tv show, he made sure that every actor would know the full story by starting with a table read.

And tonight, we sort of did a similar thing. Every Maundy Thursday, we hear these same verses from the gospel according to John. The disciples are eating a meal with Jesus; Jesus washed their feet; Peter freaked out; and we’re told to love “one another.” In our culture, washing each other’s feet isn’t a normal thing. But in Jesus’ time, when hygiene was poor, roads were dusty, and everyone wore open-toed shoes, washing feet before you entered someone’s home was completely normal. The foot washer was usually a servant or a slave, the person on the lowest rung on the social ladder because the act, while necessary, was seen as dirty and demeaning. The host at a dinner party would offer to wash your feet but they wouldn’t actually do it. But Jesus, in the middle of the meal, does it. That’s how we, as a church, traditionally choose to remember the night before Good Friday. By focusing on the story of Jesus doing something different, freaking out everyone in the room, and then telling all of us to “love one another.”

But tonight, we did a table read of our own. We expanded our experience of scripture by including some of the verses we usually leave out. After Jesus washed their feet, he shocked everyone again by saying someone would betray him. Everyone in that room was curious - so they asked Jesus, “who?” But instead of name dropping, Jesus gave a cryptic answer centered on a little piece of bread. And once Judas had this crumb, he fled into the night. It’s after this when Jesus says to “love one another.” Judas wasn’t there to hear this word from Jesus. But everyone in that room knew that the love Jesus was talking about was deeply connected to who was there when Jesus washed their feet. When we expand the story, when we have our own table read, we see that Judas was in the room. Jesus didn’t serve only his friends. He washed the feet of the one who would break his trust. Jesus even loved the one who betrayed him.

Most of us, I imagine, know what it’s like to be betrayed. We know what it’s like to hurt. We all carry with us stories, some we can articulate and others we can’t, about the different ways we’ve hurt ourselves and each other. Being betrayed is a very human experience - and one Jesus knows well. Yet tonight Jesus shows us, even commands us, to wash our betrayer’s feet. And that is just...hard. And in certain situations, when we’re under the threat of harm and violence, that command is impossible to do. So what can we do with this command to love and serve even those we know we can’t?

Well, to do that, we need a table. We need to table read. A table read isn’t something that can be done only by one person. A table read needs a community. When Clark Gregg gathered with the cast of The West Wing, everyone was there at the table. Every part of that community was needed to uncover the rest of the story. Jesus didn’t give this commandment to only one person. Instead, he gave it to everyone in that room. Each person is given by Jesus a responsibility to love one another. And since there’s more than one person in that room, the community of Jesus is called to love and serve too. Jesus’ call is a call we cannot fulfill only on our own. We need all of us, gathered around Jesus’ table, to help each of us love like he did. We need people who will take care of us when we are hurt and who will love the one we cannot. And when we hurt others, we need this community to hold each us accountable and to serve those we’ve hurt. Only when we are together, can this community, this part of the body of Christ in God’s beloved world, love and serve like Jesus did. The table we gather around tonight is a table meant for each of us - and is a table where our full story comes more fully into focused when we are apart of it. As individuals, we might not be able to love everyone; but together, as a community, we can love all.   




Keep Reading >>

A Maundy Thursday Reflection

One of the stories I love to tell is about my wife’s grandfather. He grew up in England and moved to the United States after World War II. His dad was a preacher so he grew up in a variety of church communities. Many of his congregations practiced communion that might surprise us. Instead of serving bread and wine every week, they washed each other’s feet. And they did so because of this passage from the Gospel According to John.

When I tell this story, people react the same way: disbelief. The idea of washing each other’s feet every week is shocking in our context. Our feet are very personal and we don’t want to touch a stranger’s feet. But I think our real struggle is having someone touch ours. When Peter cried out to Jesus, we understand the raw emotion he displayed. When he tells Jesus to wash his entire body, we instinctively feel like Peter is right. Peter knew that Jesus was doing something problematic. In his culture, only slaves washed people’s feet. It was the person who had no control over their own body that was forced to clean other people’s feet. The feeling of discomfort was outsourced to the one who could not say no. And the one having their feet washed would know, even if it made them feel uncomfortable, that at least they weren’t a slave. By the simple act of washing feet, Jesus showed just how intimately connected we are to God. And Jesus modeled how God will always care for us.

I know that foot washing makes us uncomfortable. And some of us can’t easily remove our socks, tights, and shoes during church. That’s why tonight we are offering an additional option. There is a place in tonight’s service where you will be invited to wash each other’s hands. The simple act of pouring water on each other’s hands and drying them will be a sign of your commitment to one another. And we are called to that commitment because Jesus will always be committed to us.


Keep Reading >>

The Off Season. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, April 2018 Edition

Have you ever been some place “off-season?” The times I’ve visited places before they get busy, I’ve always been struck how the energy in the air feels different. There’s a quietness that seems to fill much of the space. This quiet never feels unpleasant. Instead, it feels like the deep calming breath the entire community takes before the large number of people arrive. That deep calming breath requires a peace and simplicity that gives everyone time to prepare for what’s to come. Restaurants and shops have shorter hours and smaller menus. Artisans and entertainers rehearse their craft in an intentional but gentle way. The few visitors that find themselves in these “off-season” places are invited to embody the slower pace, quieting their soul and mind in preparation for the busyness to come. The “off-season” is a perfect time to refresh, recharge and experience familiar places in new ways. And when we engage with places during their off-season, we sometimes surprise ourselves by learning something new about what refreshes our heart, mind and soul.
The Sundays after Easter can sometimes feel like an “Off-Season” for the church. After all the busyness and excitement of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, many of us feel like we could use a break. Lent sometimes feels like a long inhale preparing us for the exhale of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. When the Sunday after Easter comes along, we feel worn out and just tired. But Easter is more than just one day. As a faith community, we experience Easter as an entire season. The Sundays after Easter invite us to re-experience the risen Jesus in our lives. When Jesus’ earliest disciples discovered the empty tomb, their faith wasn’t all figured out. They still needed time to discover what living with a resurrected Jesus was all about. The time they spent with Jesus after the Resurrection was an opportunity to connect with the Jesus they always knew but who they now encountered in a new way. They needed to see Jesus in the garden, meet him in a locked room, break bread with him while meeting him on the road, and eating brunch with him on the beach. The season of Easter invites us to refresh and recharge with a Jesus who is always with us, even when we feel like we could use a break.
And this season at CLC will be filled with a baptism, hymn sing and a joint worship service with First Congregational Church and Pascack Reformed Church. See Jesus in this “off-season” and discover new ways to be recharged.
See you in church!
Pastor Marc


Keep Reading >>

Something New to Learn: A Palm Sunday Reflection

There's always something new to discover in every biblical story.

For the longest time, I've never asked an important question about today's passage from Mark 11:1-11: what does hosanna actually mean? I've always assumed that hosanna was a word about rejoicing, sort of like a biblical version of the word "hooray!" That words seems to fit this context. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and there is a crowd (of uncertain size) following him. They are waving branches and shouting as he rode into the city. They keep shouting that this whole scene and event is blessed. Hooray is the right word for this context. But hosanna isn't just a shout of joy. It's actually a prayer. And it's saying, "Lord, save!" 

Another translation, using the Hebrew words the greek words in this passage are based on, might be "I beg you to save" or "deliver us!" This are pretty forceful prayers. They are the prayers we say when we are under extreme duress. When we are suffering from anxiety, fear, oppression, or illness, we want to be saved. We pray that God will show up immediately. The crowd is doing more than just celebrating Jesus showing up. They are praying, and expecting, Jesus to save and deliver them. They expected Jesus to act. 

But what did they expect him to do? Jesus is entering the city around the time of the Passover. The city of Jerusalem might have double or tripled in size with tourists and pilgrims. The Roman governors would re-establish their physical presence in the city. Religious and civil authorities would do whatever they could to keep the crowds under control. And as the story of Passover was retold, and the people re-experienced their release from the oppressive role of the Pharaoh, many wanted to make that story a reality by overthrowing the oppressive rule of Rome. On one level, everyone was expecting some kind of action to take place. What they didn't expect was for someone to just be acted on. 

But being acted on is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was arrested. He was put on trial. He was convicted. He was hung on the Cross. A prayer for saving is a prayer asking for God to act. Yet it was the Jesus who refused to act in the ways we expect that ended up saving everyone. 


Keep Reading >>

Humility as life: Stumbling into Jesus' Parade [ Manuscript]

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1-11

My sermon from the Sixth Sunday of Lent (March 25, 2018) on Mark 11:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


When was the last time you stumbled onto a parade?

Since I moved to New Jersey, the number of parades I’ve randomly run into is zero. But when I was living in New York City, I wandered into parades all the time. In fact, I can’t even count how many times I left my apartment in the Washington Heights neighbor of Upper Manhattan and ended up in the middle of something like the Dominican Day Parade. I would suddenly find myself stuck between a giant float blaring reggaeton music and dozens of traditional male Dominicans dancers wearing full body beaded costumes with the head of a bill. All I wanted to do was to get to the other side of Broadway but police barriers, bachata dancers, and sidewalks full of people waving tiny American and Dominican flags always stopped me in my tracks. My first response to this little setback was usually the normal New Yorker and New Jerseyan response when someone or something gets in our way. But when you run into a parade with tens of thousands of participants and parade-watchers, getting mad never changed anything. I would just refocus, look for a break in the parade and an open police barrier, and then try to dash to the other side. Yet in that process of wiggling and squeezing and maneuvering my way through the crowds, I found myself actually watching the parade. The bright colors on the floats, the grace of the dancers, and the boisterous wordplay from every single float based entertainer, enticed me. I would always end up stopping, usually at the front of the crowd, and watch everything just go by. Someone near me would hand me a tiny Dominican and American flag, and I would wave them to beat of every song from every float that went by. Then, after a bit, the alarm bells of my internal to-do list would remind me that I was super late - and I’d dash across the street, getting to the otherside. My time table for that day was usually shattered. I would be late to everything that day. But, for all intents and purposes, that’s the only thing about my day that would change. My to-do list still got done. I’d still get to where I needed to be. And as much as I was enthralled by the parade, I always left it pretty much as the same kind of person I was before. That unexpected parade ended up changing very little of my everyday-kind-of-life.

When I hear Mark’s version of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem, I often wonder about that person who unexpectedly stumbled onto his parade. Imagine for a moment being a shopkeeper, or a farmer, or a beggar, or a pilgrim, visiting the city for the great religious festival of Passover. You’d try to cross a busy city street but you couldn’t because of this man riding a colt. In front of him would be people waving palm branches and putting their clothes on the ground to minimize the people kicking up all dust. Others around them would be shouting a very odd kind of phrase: saying Hosanna - which could mean “rejoice” but also means “save us.” On first glance, this parade would appear like it was pretending to be something bigger. Unlike Matthew and Luke’s version of this story, Jesus’ parade isn’t really puffed up. No where in Mark’s text does it talk about a large crowd being there. And Jesus doesn’t make any grand statements about prophets or judgments against the city. Mark keeps Jesus’ parade small because, in some ways, that’s who Jesus appears to be in this moment. He isn’t, like a great general or king, riding a big and powerful horse. He’s surrounded by followers who are waving palm branches and who don’t own swords or weapons or armor. And when Jesus’ parade is finally finished, Jesus does a small thing. He does teach or speak or tell a story. He takes a tour of the Temple, sees everything, and then immediately leaves the city. The grandness of this moment is very tempered in the gospel according to Mark. For the traveler or begger or city-dweller watching this “pretend-parade,” I imagine they would be annoyed that they were being delayed. But that, to them, would be all this parade was. They would still get to do everything they needed to do. And this vision of a man on a colt would shortly fade, barely registering as a memory the following day. The smallness of this Jesus moment would be, for the person interrupted by it, just a tiny blip in the story of their everyday life.

Now, as a church, we tend to treat this Palm & Passion Sunday as an opportunity to highlight a truth about who we are. We are, as human beings, the same people who shout with joy when God shows up, and then respond with “crucify!” the minute God’s values suddenly clash with our own. By holding together these two events that are separated in Mark by several chapters, we imagine that Mark is making a statement about the one kind of person that exists in the world. Yet the smallness of Mark’s parade introduces to us another option. We are the ones who shout “crucify” but we are also that person in the crowd going about their daily life. We are living in the only way that they can and we barely notice the parade that interrupted our day. We saw a man on the colt but since he didn’t seem important, we didn’t ask for his name. We saw the others waving of branches but didn’t ask what was it those people hoped for. We heard the cries of “Hosanna!,” of people asking to be “saved,” but we didn’t care enough to ask what they wanted to be saved from. We were there instead, on the sidelines, possibly intrigued by what we saw - but not enough to ask who this Jesus is. Rather, we were so caught up in our everyday life, that we didn’t even notice when Jesus rode in.


But even though we didn’t see Jesus, Jesus saw us.


Because Mark’s gospel, on this Palm Sunday, created something that Rev. Benjamin Dueholm calls a “null moment.” A “null moment,” to me, are those moments in Jesus’ story when a “lukewarm” or “inattentive” experience of Jesus is something that we can totally have. I don’t know anyone who can spend every second of every moment of their life focused on God alone. Instead, we live daily lives full of experiences, struggles, and joys where when we don’t intentionally engage with our faith at all. All of us are caught up in the everyday busy of everyday living. And when some random parade unexpectedly crosses our path, that doesn’t always change what comes next. But just because we have these “null moments” with Jesus, doesn’t mean that Jesus has “null moments” with us. Because as we hear in today’s story, Jesus looked around at everything. He saw what was in God’s Temple. He knew where that colt would be. He saw the people in the crowd who responded to him and those who’s daily life was barely interrupted by his presence. Jesus saw all of us in all the ways we can possibly be - from the fervent disciple waving palm branches to the member of the crowd shouting “crucify” and even being that indifferent person hanging out on the sidelines. Jesus saw all that we can possibly be - and he still loved us anyways.

Because, as we will shortly hear, the God who knows all the different ways we will react to God’s presence is the same God who will react to us in the way only God can: with a love that will meet every cross we build, with mercy for every violent act we embrace, with a hope that will overcome every injustice that we ignore, and an offering of peace for every broken part of our body, soul, and spirit. Jesus is here, not letting our reaction to him end up being the limit to how he will love and serve us. Instead, he will march us through, into a new reality, where our everyday kind of living will be totally changed.





Keep Reading >>

A Life that Trusts God

Where does faith happen? For Luther, faith happens in us. Faith is not an abstract concept or an idea detached from everything. Faith is a gift from God and that gift is given to people. We have a tendency to talk about faith as if it's separate from actual people. We act as if there's some kind of "true" or "pure" faith that we could store it in a bottle. We would point to that bottle of faith to show others what true faith looks like. But that's not how my faith works. Faith is for people which means faith needs people. We can't reasonably separate faith from the people who experience it. So faith is more than something we have. Faith is, above all, lied. 

And that lived faith is, for Luther, expressed in our relationships to one another. As we heard earlier in his writing, faith is the source of who we are. Faith is a deep seeded trust in God and God's care for you. And how do we know that God cares about us? Because, through faith, we discover that God sent Jesus not only for the world; but for you too. Faith is a gift that trusts in God's promises. And that trust is makes us free. There is nothing we can do to earn God's love or God's attention. There's nothing we can think up that might  bring us closer to God. Rather God comes to us, freeing us from the need to cross the uncrossable chasm separating us from God. So God, through Christ, builds a bridge across the gap we cannot cross. 

Since we are free from trying to get God's attention, we are then freed to live a life that trusts God. And that life, as we see in our reading today, is one that looks to our neighbor's needs first. This life lives for other people before it lives for ourself. As Lutherans, we know that a Christian is more than someone who accepts a certain kind of belief. A Christian is also someone who lives the faith out loud. This kind of living is not easy and it does ask us to do difficult things. But being a Christian means we have a new name that invites us into a new way of living. "Without a doubt we are named after Christ - not absent from us but dwelling in us; in other words: provided that we believe in him and that, in turn and mutually, we are a second Christ to one another, doing for our neighbors as Christ does for us." pg 525.  


Keep Reading >>

Last Time Forever: What If You've Already Changed? [ Manuscript]

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

John 12:20-33

My sermon from the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 18, 2018) on John 12:20-33. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


How far would you go to change who you are?

Now, that sort of change needs clarification. I’m sure there are parts of ourselves that we are fine with but we might want to change something. Maybe we want more patience or a slower temper. There could be an experience in our past that’s still affecting us and we don’t know how to move forward. We might need a new sense of purpose and meaning, hoping that a new job, new career, or a new perspective on life might give us what we’re missing. Each of us might have these bits and pieces of our personality and our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being that we would like to change. Luckily, we live in a world where we can take that kind of change on. We’re surrounded by therapists, psychologists, medical professionals, spiritual directors, life coaches, self-help books, and more. Each one of these resources can be an amazing gift from God that helps us grow into who we want to be. But there are parts of ourselves that feel like it’s too had for us to change. And then there’s biology. All of us are made up of DNA - the biological blueprint that determines a bit of who we are. And DNA, this core part of who we are, is something none of us can really change...or at least that’s what I thought until a bunch of headlines flashed by me earlier this week. Changing our DNA, according to these reports, might be possible. But it would take a little work. All we would need to do is jump on a rocket ship, head into space, and live on the International Space Station for nearly a year.

Now, living in space might not be something you can do. But an astronaut by the name of Scott Kelly did exactly that. He lived in space for nearly a year and when he came back, he was a little different. Scientists ran all sorts of tests, trying to see how he changed. They took those test results and compared them to the same tests that they ran on his identical twin brother, Mark, who stayed here on earth. The test results were published and articles, earlier this week, said that Scott Kelly’s blueprint, his DNA, had changed. They said that the test results showed that Scott’s DNA was now 7% different than his twin brother’s. Now 7% doesn’t sound like a lot. But when it comes to DNA, that’s...huge. When Scott Kelly first went up, he had an identical twin. There was someone on earth just like him. But if these articles were right, when Scott came back to earth, he was no longer a twin and instead was a brand new person.

Going into space seems like a pretty far journey for us to take to change who we are. It’s probably easier to change what we eat, sign up for a community college class, or visit a therapist to grow in the little ways we want to. But there are times, I think, when going to space feels like it’s the only thing we can do to make that big change we need. There are times when everything in our life seems to be going wrong. There are moments when brokenness is all we feel. There are periods in our life when we don’t know what to do next so we keep doing the same old thing even though we know we need to make a change. Some of that hesitation to change comes from an anxious kind of fear. It’s hard and scary taking that first step, not knowing exactly how everything will turn out. And that first step might ask us to do something hard, like ending a bad relationship or moving to some place new. We might need to quit our job even though we don’t have our next one lined up. Or maybe commit ourselves to spending the next few years talking to someone, maybe even taking some medication, so that we can see and engage our world in a different way. All of this is hard. And going to space might seem, in comparison, like it might be easier. We would head up, into the sky, stay there a year, and when we came back down, we would be 7% different. That difference, we tell ourselves, would be all we would need to finally take the hard first steps. We would come back to earth as a that brand new person who could finally become the person we’ve always wanted to be.

But it turns, those initial articles were wrong. They misinterpreted what the test results actually said. Scott Kelly’s DNA didn’t change. What changed was his genes, those little biological components made up of DNA. And we expect genes to change when someone is in a highly stressful environment. Scott’s core - his blueprint - his DNA didn’t change. So we can’t just hop on a rocketship, head up to space, and become that new person who can live out the change we want. We’re stuck with who we are. But that doesn’t mean that our limits, our lack of change, is the end of our story. Because our story and our lives have already changed.

But that change is sometimes too simple or too small for us to think it’s really the change we need in our lives. We imagine that a brand new person needs something big and over the top, like living in space for a year, to finally grow. We can’t imagine that our newness could be, instead, something that is already given to us. We can’t always trust that our baptism, our faith, and Jesus on that Cross has already made us into something new.

Today’s story in the gospel of John is dense. It crams a lot into a very small space. We have Greeks, disciples, and a moment where Jesus claims his heart is troubled but he then shows a God-like amount of self-confidence, There’s a lot going on in this passage - but there’s also a lot that isn’t. And it’s what the Greeks don’t do that jumped out at me this week. Because if we look closely at the text, it doesn’t tell us if they actually meet Jesus. These Greeks went to the disciples, asked to see Jesus, and when the disciples go to tell Jesus about them, Jesus launched into a sermon about his death. When he was approached, Jesus talked about what he was going to do for them.  The hard work of seeing God, the hard work of knowing that God is with us, and the hard work of trusting that God will experience everything we do - including death itself - is what God finally does. Jesus, in a surprising way, doesn’t make his journey to the cross conditional on us changing who we are. Instead, Jesus goes to the cross so that we can, through him, discover who God is calling us to be. We’re invited to lose that life, I think, that doesn’t take seriously how we, through Christ, have already been changed. We are now part of a new story; we are part of Jesus’ story; and that’s story already a new and different ending. When we live into that change that Jesus has already offered to us, every aspect of our life becomes different. Our blueprint might be the same. We might feel like the person we’ve always been. And we will live through situations and experiences that will break our heart and God’s. Yet the new life God gives us is not about being more of who we think we should be. Instead, we can grow into the person God knows we can become. We are here, through Christ, to live into a brand new reality that sees ourselves, our neighbors, and our world differently. We are here to change where we look; to look beyond ourselves and instead to keep our focus on the Jesus who is lifted up; and who - through love - draws you, and me, and everyone else into a new world, a new reality, and a new humanity that will, in the end, change.




Keep Reading >>

Labelled With Love: A Life of Owning Our Mistakes

[Jesus said:] "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

John 3:14-21

My sermon from the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 11, 2018) on John 3:14-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


I never knew that Batman was a member of one of my favorite neighborhoods. But earlier this week, there he was, hosting a special on PBS about a man who lived in his own magical neighborhood. Michael Keaton, the actor who played Batman in the late 80s and early 90s, spent this week honoring the 50th anniversary of the national broadcast of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That neighborhood, filmed in Pittsburgh, is where Michael got his start so it was fun watching him narrate the world Mister Rogers created. Together, we remembered all the guest stars who appeared on the show, including the amazing musicians who showed kids that the cello was pretty neat. We reconnected with Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, and Prince Tuesday by taking a trolley into the land of make believe. And we wondered if we could ever look as cool as Mr Rogers did in those brightly colored cardigan sweaters. My favorite moment from the PBS special was when Mr Rogers was learning how to play Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. That game, if you’ve never played it before, is exactly what it sounds like. You touch your head, shoulders, knees, and then your toes. It’s the perfect game to teach toddlers where their different body parts are. And it’s also a fun game to watch adults, with their sore knees, bad backs, and lack of flexibility, try to play too. Now Mr Rogers, in this segment, couldn’t keep up. He kept messing up the order. And when his guest did something new, Mr. Rogers made a ton of mistakes. The director wanted to refill the scene so that Mr Roger could get the game right. But Mr Rogers said no. He wanted kids to see him get the game wrong. He wanted everyone to watch him make mistakes but also see him keep trying. Mr Rogers did what so many of us don’t do. Mr Rogers wanted everyone to see him own his mistakes.

Which, if you think about it, is really hard. Because who wants to show their mistakes? We usually don’t mind telling other people what they got wrong. But not many of us enjoy admitting when we messed up. I don’t know many kids who brag about doing poorly on a test. And when we shrink our spouses’ favorite sweater in the dryer, we sometimes hide it and hope they forget that they ever owned it. Even professional athletes, who are some of the most hardworking and talented people in the world, rarely celebrate their mistakes because they know that mistake will be broadcasted a million times on ESPN sportscenter. Even when we learn how to use our mistakes to help us grow, we don’t usually want to do that in public. It’s scary admitting our mistakes because we know what mistakes can do. They can be silly and meaningless, like touching our toes before our knees. But our mistakes can also be very serious. And the consequences of those mistakes can hurt ourselves or the people around us. Being honest about our mistakes, even the ones we made in the past, asks us to do something we usually refuse to do: and that’s admit we were wrong. So we run away from being honest about our mistakes. We avoid facing the consequences that come up when we admit we messed up. And we hide the vulnerability we need to show when we own the mistake we’ve made. In a world where we’re supposed to present our very best, owning our mistakes is a terrifying thing to do.

But what would our lives look like if we admitted everything we got wrong? What if we owned the mistakes we made to our spouses, friends, and each other before we tried to hide them? What if we lived a life that proclaimed that our mistakes are supposed to be seen in the light? But not in a way that tried to avoid the consequences of our mistakes. But a life that acted like those consequences actually mattered? What would that kind of life look like? Well, in some ways, that life might look a bit like John chapter 3.

Because even though these verses are some of the most famous verses in all of the New Testament, their context is usually unknown. We forget that these verses came from a conversation that Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus, in the middle of the night, found Jesus alone. He showed up, unannounced, and didn’t even knock on the door asking for Jesus’ permission to visit. Instead, Nicodemus just walked in and found Jesus already there. The two of them talk and there’s no one else in the room. And when we get to verse 3:16, we usually interpret this passage as if Jesus is offering Nicodemus a choice. Believe in me, make that right choice, and you’ll have eternal life. We focus on the last part of 3:16 and we assume Nicodemus understood these words the same way. But if he did understand what Jesus said, then Nicodemus made a mistake. Because the Bible doesn’t record him saying anything back to Jesus. Instead, the Bible lets us assume that Nicodemus, after he heard these words, just left. This guy, who literally saw Jesus face to face, walked away, into the night. That feels, on some level, like it would be a mistake. If the point of this passage is to help us choose Jesus, than Nicodemus messed up. He vanishes from the story and we never expect to hear from him again. And we don’t...until two years later. But this time, Nicodemus doesn’t say a word. Instead, with the help of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus takes Jesus down from the cross and the two of them, almost silently, bury Jesus in a tomb.

Nicodemus came back near the end of the gospel according to John story. So it seems that he did choose Jesus at some point. But scripture never shows us that moment. We actually have no idea when Nicodemus chooses Jesus. All we get is this “mistake” and then the burial. And I wonder why that is. Why keep this mistake in? Because, according to John, only Jesus and Nicodemus we’re in the room when John 3 happened. Now Jesus might have told others what happened that night but what if Nicodemus was the one who shared the story? Would we expect him to keep it just as it was? Most of us, i think, if we were in Nicodemus’ sandals, would act differently. We would tell our friends and family that we followed Jesus way before it was cool. We would try to cover up whatever mistakes we made. And we would make sure that everyone knew when we made our choice. But if Nicodemus is the one who shared this story, he doesn’t do any of that. He doesn’t hide his “mistake.”

Nicodemus, like Mr Rogers, owned his mistake. And I think he did that because it was the second part of John 3:16 that mattered to him. It was the first. What made all the difference was that when he came out of the dark, he saw that Jesus was already there. And when Nicodemus finally saw Jesus, he was scolded or condemned or belittled by him. Instead, Jesus listened. He answered the questions Nicodemus asked. And he let Nicodemus be exactly who he is. Jesus didn’t force anything on Nicodemus and he didn’t ask for Nicodemus to make a choice right then and there. Instead, Jesus showed that God isn’t focused only on the moment that it might take for us to declare a choice we made. Our God, instead, is a God for every one of our moments, including when it feels like all we can do is make mistakes. The Jesus who met Nicodemus in the middle of the night is the same Jesus who meets us, right now, as we are. And that Jesus is here to carry us into a future where we don’t have to hide the truth of who we are; a future where we can admit the mistakes we’ve made and we can live into the consequences honestly and faithfully; and this same Jesus promises to give us a new life where we will, through his love, grow and become the person who God wants made us to be.





Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>