Questions and Reflections

April 2015

Can you feel summer already?

Pastor Marc's message in the Messenger for May.

I know that it's only May (and hopefully it won't snow during these last weeks in April!) but the first weekend in May is a herald to summer. The blockbuster movies that raise over a billion dollars worldwide will launch (I'm looking at your Avengers 2); the lines at Dairy Queen are longer; baseball households will break out their gloves and head to Yankee Stadium. Even though school is still in session, water parks aren't open, and the water at the shore is freezing, summer is coming and we can't wait for it to arrive. 

On Memorial Day Weekend, we'll celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost was originally celebrated among Jesus' followers as a Jewish festival of thanksgiving, taking place 7 weeks after Passover. For us, however, Passover is celebrated as the moment when the Holy Spirit made itself known to the disciples. Scripture says that tongues of flame appeared over their heads and all the disciples started to speak different languages. As they shared Jesus' story, people from all over the world heard their own languages being spoken. The miracle of Pentecost isn't that the disciples suddenly started speaking in languages they didn't know. The miracle of Pentecost is that people from all over the world, no matter where they came from or where they grew up, were invited to hear Jesus' story in their own language and words. Jesus, who grew up speaking Aramaic and whose deeds and words were recorded in Greek, doesn't stay in that world. Instead, God opened Jesus' message to the entire world, inviting us to share Jesus' story to all. 

Summer is going to bring us to new places and bring new people to us. We're going to find ourselves in situations where we don't know the people we're talking to and where familiar places are going to seem different to us. Even in our own neighborhood, while sitting outside on the steps or the porch, something different is going to happen. We're invited, where ever we go and where ever we end up, to share Jesus' story and to make his love known. This requires more than just speaking. We need to make Jesus understandable. That happens when we meet people, learn their story, and listen to what they have to say. We learn how to share Jesus' love when we get busy learning what people need and how God has been active in their lives. This summer, we're going to feel the warmth of the sun. Let's make sure we share the warmth of the Son too.


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Run: First Communion [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

John 10:11-18

Pastor Marc's sermon on Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 26, 2015) on John 10:11-18. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So, all week, as I chewed on today’s words from the gospel according to John - I found myself being brought back to a December night when I was in seminary. I was walking home from a late night birthday celebration for a friend in Greenwich Village - and as I unlocked the back iron gate, I walked into the last open park-like space left in Chelsea. And right there, as I walked up the handful of broken brick steps into the seminary grounds, I found myself face to face with my seminary’s chapel. 

It was after midnight, cold, the air felt frozen - and, rare for New York City, nothing was moving. I crossed the open space, walked past some large iron doors, and entered into a sanctuary that looks like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel. The chapel is long and narrow, full of red bricks and dark wood. There’s only a few pews in the back facing forward, with most of the pews facing the one aisle, so when we sang, we sang at each other rather than towards the front. And I also remember it was pitch black in there - except for one light that lit up a group of statues behind the altar. I walked through a large wooden archway, the marked the spot where students and professors sat, and I also went past the large pulpit that juts out into the congregation, making anyone who stands in it feel really tall. I went right up to the right, stopping before I went up the steps to the altar, and I just stared at those statues, carved in marble, looming over the entire place. 

Now, in the middle of these statues stood Jesus. He’s tall - the tallest person in the room - fully robed, elegant, holding a shepherd staff in one hand and his head is looking down, staring at this little fluffy white sheep he’s lovingly holding. It’s an incredibly peaceful and serene image of Jesus - an image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that our reading today from John inspires. And this image - it’s a powerful one. Jesus as the Good Shepherd has been part of our Christian identity since the very beginning. The oldest preserved Christian church, from around the year 240, and which, through a oddness of history, is now currently sitting in Yale University’s Art Museum - that church has the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd painted on its walls. The Good Shepherd, the one who gathers us in, protects us, and lovingly provides for us as if we are little sheep - there’s a peace in this image of Jesus that we sometimes need. But lurking within this image is another, a much more gritty version of Jesus that the statue in my seminary doesn’t really get. 

Jesus’ words today come in the middle of a conversation that he is having with a group of Pharisees. A conflict’s broken out because Jesus ran into a man begging in the street who was born blind. Jesus’s disciples asked him why this man was born blind - and Jesus, ignoring their assumptions that the person was blind because he was bad or because his parents did the wrong things or because God was getting back at them for some reason - Jesus, instead, spits into some dirt, makes some mud - and heals the blind man. That person can now see. And this causes a problem. The religious authorities don’t really understand what’s going on, people are confused, and they see this miracle healing as something other than what it is. They cast the man out - sending him far away from his community, his family, and friends. So Jesus, hearing that this happened, stops everything and goes out to find him. And Jesus does. He comforts this formerly blind man and brings him into Jesus’ family. Jesus’ words today don’t appear in just some poetic part of scripture. He’s not on some mountain top, preaching to those gathered around him. He’s standing there, in the middle of a conflict, after doing exactly what he says he does. Jesus isn’t just talking about being the Good Shepherd - he’s actually doing it. And he’s not grabbing onto a fluffy white sheep, lovingly caressing it, in a moment that’s so serene it could appear on a Hallmark card. Jesus, instead, is in the middle of a tussle - and he’s not letting go. He’s getting his hands dirty, literally and figuratively, claiming this person as his own. Others rejected him. Others feared him. Others couldn’t see that God loved him just as much as God loves everyone else. But Jesus did. Jesus gets messy - he gets involved - and he’s not afraid to muscle his way into our lives to claim us as his own even when we’re too afraid or distracted to see otherwise. 

Earlier this week, the First Communion students and I gathered in a room and we made bread together. In fact, we made the gluten-free bread we’re going to share together [at 10:30] [in a few minutes.] Now, I never tried this recipe before - and I’ve actually never tried to make bread in a room other than a kitchen before - so I made sure, before we began, that I was overly prepared. I had all the supplies, I got extra, and I had more bowls and spatules than I could possibly ever need. I felt ready. And the kids - they were too. K., P., E., S., E., C., and A. - [they] [you] were fantastic. They measured, they poured, they even cleaned up when something was knocked over. And they did even better when all my preparation started to go wrong. We had to fix what we were doing after I asked them to mix the wrong items together. And then we kind of ran out of the right kind of flour. And then the stand mixer didn’t start and the backup hand mixer couldn’t really handle the job - it actually started to smoke. But this didn’t phase [them] [you] at all. I asked [them] [you] to grab a bit of the dough and to kneed it - to get [their] [your] hands dirty or helped those who did. And [they] [you] totally did it. [They] [you] got hands on. And even though we were no longer following the recipe, and we were running way past where my lesson plan was suppose to take us, [they] [you] just dug [their] [your] hands in, and got it done. And that’s perfect because that’s what Jesus the Good Shepherd and what Holy Communion is all about. 

The Lord’s Supper isn’t only a little meal to feed us. It’s also a reminder that Jesus is in the business of gripping onto us and not letting go. There are days when we feel like fluffy sheep - and days when our wool is muddy, discolored, and just plain stinks. There are days when everything is going according to plan, when the world looks bright and we can’t imagine anything getting in our way. And there are days when having a hand mixer we’re holding catch on fire would be no where near the most difficult part of the day. And through all of this - through the good, the bad, and even the indifferent - Jesus is there. Jesus is there because Jesus gets his hands dirty. He’s busy reaching out to us, getting his hands into the dough of our soul, not worried about what it looks like or if the recipe is working according to plan. He’s there, with us, holding us, helping us to become the people God is calling us to be. And that’s not easy. It’s also not fast or quick. We’re not going to wake up tomorrow and end up living the perfect life. We’re never not going to make a mistake; we’re going to miss seeing our neighbor in need or loving others as much as God loves us. But Jesus isn’t in the business of letting us remain there. That’s, I think, why we have his table and why Jesus continues to invite us to take a little part of himself into our lives - over and over again - because Jesus is with us for the long haul. And whether we’re joining his table today for the first time like E., K., P., S., and E., or whether we’ve been away from the table for quite awhile - the Good Shepherd’s invitation still stands. The table is about to be set. The bread is about to be broken. So come and see Jesus getting involved and messy in our lives - and lets discover just how God is calling us to risk getting our hands dirty too, how God is calling us to get involved in the needs and the hopes and the dreams of those around us. And lets see how God is calling us to live out that love here and wherever God takes us. 



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A Reflection on Acts 4:5-12

Our first reading today is from Acts 4:5-12.

"By... what name did you do this?" 

At first glance, this question towards Peter sounds a little odd. Peter is being investigated for what he did in the Temple (and what we heard last week). Peter healed a man who could not walk and that caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Peter is arrested and the religious authorities are interrogating him. They want to know what power Peter has or, if he doesn't have that power to cause miracles, who does? The authorities want  Peter to name names. 

We all have names and our names have power. God's name in the Old Testament is written as YHWH ("I AM").  It's not a true personal name but is instead a stand-in for how to address God. The authors of the OT assumed their was a personal name for God but, over the years, it was viewed as too holy and powerful to write down. Only chosen individuals, like Moses or the prophets, had access to God's personal name and with that name came the power to cause miracles and to do amazing things. I forget where I heard this next tidbit but an early attempt to discredit Jesus and the early church was the claim that Jesus wasn't that special, he just tricked his way into learning God's personal name. Nowadays, we might not think names have supernatural powers like but we know names carry power. Knowing a name implies a relationship and an ability to call on them when we're in need (or want something). "Networking," "who you know," and "family money" are all phrases we use today to signify the power that names carry. Relationships (and the opportunity to form those relationships) help advance our careers, get us out of trouble, and have access to experiences and resources that other people don't. Everyone has a name and everyone's name has a system of power that comes with it. So when the religious authorities ask Peter for a name, they're asking for information about who he has access too. And Peter does the only thing he can: he talks about Jesus. 

Peter's words are powerful because they focus on Jesus as the source of all that he can do. Jesus, who the authorities rejected and sent to be killed, is still active in the world, loving those who are rejected, and bringing light into dark places. The world currently around Peter is hostile. They attacked Jesus and are against what Jesus brings. Peter stands against that hostility, naming his reality: that all the good they do and the love they share comes not because he's a good, moral, or amazing person. The love he shares comes from Jesus Christ. We do what we do because we're disciples of Jesus. That's the source of who we are and what we do. It's also a challenge - inviting us to do what Jesus did and that's love everyone that comes into our path.


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A reflection on Acts 3:12-19

Today's first reading is from Acts 3:12-19

Today's first reading is a step back in our journey through Acts this Easter season. Last week, we were in chapter 4. Right now, we're in chapter 3. The disciples are in Jerusalem when Peter and John go to pray in the Temple. While there, Peter sees a man who has never walked and heals him in the name of Jesus. The man leaps and jumps praising God, and clinging to Peter and John in thanksgiving for healing. People are surprised, confused, and wondering what just happened. So Peter responds with our reading today. 

One of the core elements in today's reading is what it means to be part of God's family. Peter's words emphasize two things: how God continues to expand who is in Jesus' group and who isn't. Now, this can get very dicey and appear to be very black and white. Peter could use this opportunity to reject those who are gathered in the Temple. Even though they share the same identity as Jews, the people at the temple responded to Jesus differently. The disciples proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah while the rest do not. That's the boundary between who is part of Jesus' group and who isn't. Peter could look at those gathered around and reject them. He could say that they rejected Jesus and, in a sense, killed him along with the Roman authorities. Peter could wash his hands of them, condemn them, and say that they have no hope in ever being part of God's true family. 

But Peter doesn't. Instead, he invites them in because being part of God's in-group is open to all. 

We'll always struggle with who is "in," and who is "out." But God continues to push us to open the group by inviting people into a relationship with Jesus and with us. There's a risk when we do that. The people who might accept our invitation might not be like us. They might do things differently, enjoy different activities, or speak different languages. They might not even look like us. The ones we invite might change the group and make it different from what it was before. And that's scary. But that's God's call. God's love invites relationship and communion with everyone. God's love invites us to grow and change. Peter invited those around him into Jesus' family, knowingly inviting them to join the Body of Christ and making it shine with the love of God that encompasses all.


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You Are: Jesus as Ghost [Sermon Manuscript]

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

Luke 24:36-48

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2015) on Luke 24:36-48. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So what’s an appropriate reaction to the resurrection? 

Now - I’m not talking about a response to the resurrection. There’s something about the word response that feels a little too...intentional - a little too thoughtout. A reaction, however, is much more...unplanned. It kinda just happens. So if we’re looking for a reaction to the resurrection - rather than just a response - what kind of reaction is okay? 

Now, today we’re in our third gospel in three weeks. On Easter Sunday, we heard from Mark. Last week, Case brilliantly brought procrastinating Thomas to life for us and that was from the Gospel According to John. And we’ve just heard from Luke and this text needs a little setup. It comes after one of my favorite stories in scripture. Two disciples, after Jesus was killed and his tomb was found empty, left Jerusalem, and they’re heading to a town called Emmaus. A man, who they don’t know, meets them on the road and they walk for awhile together. This stranger asks why the disciples seem so sad. So they tell him about Jesus - about what just happened and what people are saying. And then stranger - well - he talks back. He tells them about Jesus - he opens the scriptures to them - and after many hours together, the two disciples are impressed so they invite this stranger to share a meal with them. So after they find a spot to sit, lite a little fire, and start to eat - one of the disciples passes the stranger a piece of bread to share. He takes it - breaks it - and the disciples suddenly recognize who's sitting there with them. But before they could do anything about it - Jesus - like a ghost, vanishes. So these two, excited about who they just saw, run back to Jerusalem - they go looking for the other disciples and they find them all, gathered together, telling a story we never hear that Jesus had just appeared to Peter. 

Can you imagine what that must have been like? The group of them, who just saw their teacher - their friend - killed are now starting to see Jesus all over the place. They probably couldn’t stop talking about what they saw. I imagine the words just came out, spilling on top of each other, because they were so excited. And as they were talking - as they were sharing their stories - Jesus pops in - and says hello. 

And It’s like the disciples just forgot what they were just telling each other. 

Jesus shows up - and they think they’re seeing a ghost. Now, Peter and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus should know better. They just saw this guy. They have first hand experience of what the resurrection actually looks like. But when Jesus walks into the room - all they want to do is call The Ghostbusters. 

This isn’t the reaction they’re suppose to have. But they do. So maybe we should tell ourselves that if we have this reaction - that’s okay too. 

Because - when we take a second to strip away everything we bring to today’s text - all the Easter Sundays we’ve attended, all the Confirmation classes we took, the bible studies, the Sunday School lessons - the resurrection, at it’s core,  is - really, really, weird. It’s so weird, that even after meeting Jesus in the flesh - even after breaking bread with him, seeing the holes in his hands and feet where the nails held him to the cross - Jesus still feels the need to eat a snack in front of his friends to prove that he’s actually not a ghost. We can hear the story over and over again - we can experience our own forms of resurrection over and over again - and still - sometimes, Jesus is going to need to eat a little snack, answer a little prayer, show up to us in an extremely unexpected way before we get it - just for a little bit. It’s as if we need to live - to spend time with these stories and with this Jesus - before we get even close to experiencing just what this resurrection might mean for us. 

Yesterday, I was at Koinonia, the Lutheran Camp in New York, for it’s annual meeting. The meeting is attended every year by congregations throughout the metro New York area who are, effectively, owners of the camp. It’s run as a corporation and we, Christ Lutheran Church, are shareholders. And, so like a corporate shareholder, I was there to ask questions, to vote on the budget, and listen to what’s going to happen at the camp next. Now, the camp has struggled for a number of years. Finances are poor. The buildings are in need of repair. There’s been a shift in leadership multiple times in only a few years and there’s a sense this the place - has lost it’s identity. Camp Koinonia has lost its way - and it’s trying to find out exactly what God is calling them to be. 

Now the brand new camp director, Gary, gave his report and admitted to all of this. He knows the camp is losing money and that attendance is down. He knows that folks aren’t attracted to the place like they use to be and that congregations have stopped supporting the place like they use to. But he said something that gave me a lot of hope for the place. He admitted that it’s going to take time for Koinonia to find exactly what God is calling them to be. His brand new staff is going to need time - time to experiment, to try new things, to restore old traditions and develop new ones. They’re going to do a bunch of different things - and end up with a bunch of failures along the way. But it’s that willingness to try - to experiment - to prayerfully discern just what God is telling them to be - all that time, all those failures, and all that success - that’s what it takes to live through a resurrection. 

The resurrection isn’t something that’s suppose to be accepted or rejected and then we move on. The resurrection is something that we live into - something that we struggle with, over and over again. We might not get it - and that’s okay. We might question it - and that’s okay. We might, like the disciples, experience joy - but doubt and wonder about it all at the same time creeps in. And that’s okay. The gift of this piece of scripture is that our reactions - they don’t define Jesus’ relationship with us. He doesn’t walk out of the room when the disciples think he’s a ghost. When Peter and the two from the road to Emmaus don’t recognize him, he doesn’t throw in the towel and find new, better, ones. No, Jesus sticks with them. He sticks with those who are scared. He sticks with those who think he’s just a ghost. And Jesus even sticks with those who knew him, then faded away, and are now back with him again. Jesus sticks with his imperfect disciples and he sticks with us - not because we’ll always get it - or because our reactions to his story and his presence in our lives will always be right. No, Jesus sticks with us because that’s just what Jesus does. And we’re invited to give ourselves the time to stick with Jesus - to live into his resurrection - and let our doubts and struggles, our wonder and our joy, - let these be our honest reactions to just who Jesus is. Because Jesus isn’t calling only the perfectly faithful to be his disciples. He’s calling us. And that means we’re here to bring all of who we are to the table - letting our imperfect faith show and shine - because Jesus is, in the end, all about letting our imperfect faith do a very unexpected thing: showing the world that even the imperfect can be, and share, God’s love everywhere. 





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A reflection on Acts 4:32-35

Today's First Reading is Acts 4:32-35.

This text from Acts is rather striking, isn't it?

What we're seeing is a vision of the Jesus community after Pentecost. The community is preaching in the temple, gathering in regular meetings, and some of the early disciples are being arrested for their beliefs. The community hasn't even been called Christian yet (see Acts 11) and Stephen won't be killed until Acts 7. So at the start of this post-Easter community, we find this text from Acts 4. Ownership of property and things, like land, houses, and I assume bowls and cups, no longer exists. Items are sold or shared. The apostles dictate where the money goes and who receives any. This model works because everyone is on the same page. The community can practice a radical form of generosity because they are so united. Our habit of using things to separate us from one another no longer exists. 

But the community in Acts isn't a blueprint that we're called to follow. This kind of community doesn't last (read Acts 5 to see why).  So instead of selling our houses and giving the money to Pastor Marc to handle, let's ask just what is going on here. We're invited to see what's happened to cause this community to act this way and that's the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is causing the community to swirl around each other, to care and love each other in ways it didn't before. The barriers that we build to create a hierarchy of importance (such as how much money we make, how big our house is, how many vacations we go on) is broken. The community embodies the love that Jesus preached and practiced. People are cared for, division are broken, and love is the only rule. 

The community of Acts 4, however, isn't perfect. These short verses are focused on those already inside the community. There is nothing about giving to the poor, sharing with non-Christians, or having meals with the unwanted. They are turned inwards when so much of Jesus' ministry was directed towards the people "out there." All communities are called to embody Jesus, to proclaim in our actions and identity the love that God shares with the world. Radical generosity is a part of that. Loving the stranger is a part of that too. Turning away from ourselves and looking at those around us, asking what they need and how Spirit is moving in their lives, matters too. The first communities after Easter struggled with this. We struggle too. But this call from God, to be a community that embodies everything that Jesus is about, continues. That's our mission and our job.


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Go Tell! [Sermon Manuscript]

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Mark 16:1-8

Pastor Marc's sermon on Easter Sunday (April 5, 2015) on Mark 16:1-8. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Did you ever have a favorite tv show that ended a little too soon? 

Now, as one of those people who tends to fall on the geeky, sci-fi, fantasy side of things, there are a slew of series that I got into that ended way too soon. Space: Above and Beyond, Firefly, and Stargate Universe - some didn’t even last into their second season. And when you’re telling a story that involves new cultures, aliens, distant planets, and all sorts of ridiculous technology that makes really awesome explosions - a handful of episodes just doesn’t cut it. It’s been fun watching what the author George R.R. Martin is doing with his Song of Ice and Fire series that the tv show Game of Thrones is based on. There’s still at least two more books that need to come out - and the tv series is already getting close to the end of the material that the author has published. There’s a slim chance that the author might die before the series is finished - so he’s even told the creators of the tv show the end of the story just in case he doesn’t make it. When we get invested in characters, their histories, and their worlds - we need more than just one binge watching session of Netflix to feel satisfied. We need a conclusion - a way to wrap the story up that makes total sense and leaves us in awe. We need a conclusion where we don’t need to ask “what if” kinds of questions. We need an ending that, when we tell our friends and family why we loved this show so much - they hear how the show ended and they just get it. They might not be as geeky as us but they’ll still get why we’re excited about it and why we devoted the hours and hours watching the show like we did. 

And our Gospel reading today, from the Gospel According to Mark, doesn’t really give us that. It reads like the end of a tv series that we really got into - and ended way too quickly. 

Now, these 8 verses in the sixteenth chapter of Mark are it. Many scholars believe that this is how the original version of Mark ended. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb at the break of day - to finish the burial rites for Jesus, their beloved teacher and friend. And, along the way, they’re a little preoccupied with a detail about how Jesus was buried. So I imagine, as they walked through the crisp spring air, with the sound of songbirds flipping about, and the early morning merchants and laborers stirring, these three devout women spent their time talking about a rock blocking the doorway. And, when they got to tomb, they were surprised - shocked really - to see that stone already rolled back. All their talk during the journey was unnecessary. Instead, something brand new was happening. 

So as they peaked their head through the door - slowly, hesitantly, not really knowing what they were going to see - they spot someone they didn’t expect: a young man in a white robe, just sitting there. The young man tells them to not be afraid - that Jesus is raised, Jesus is not here - and this young man tells them to go, tell the other disciples what’s happened and where Jesus is going. And these three women - run. They flee. They freak out - and they say nothing, to anyone, “for they were afraid.”

That’s how Mark’s gospel ends.

Now, if we go home and open our bibles - we’ll see other endings added on. One is just a sentence while the other is an additional 11 verses. These endings were added years after Mark was written because this abrupt ending makes us uncomfortable. How can silence be the final word? How can the story of Jesus - the story of God coming into our world - showing us what love looks like - how can we be afraid of that? How can we tell Jesus’ story if we don’t have a neat little conclusion to share? The other gospels give us resurrection stories. The other gospels show us that these women at the tomb - the first to proclaim Jesus dead and raised - they actually told someone. And we know they did because - well - look around - would we be here if they didn’t? 
And maybe that’s Mark’s point. 

Take a moment and look around at everyone here. We’re here for a reason. We’re here because Christ Lutheran is our church and we’re here every Sunday. We’re here because it’s Easter and going to church on Easter is just something that we do. We’re here because a friend or a family member invited us - because our parents dragged us - or because something happened this week - and we just need to be around spiritual people today. The reasons why we’re here are legion - and our reasons for being here are all incredibly real, incredibly valid, incredibly valued, and I am glad you’re here. We’re bigger today because of your presence. We’re better today because of who you are. We’re better followers of Jesus because of your story and we couldn’t be who we are - without you.

And maybe - that’s Mark’s point. If we take the story and wrap it in a nice little bow, put on that nice conclusion that makes us feel satisfied, we miss what the young man sitting in the tomb is saying. “He has been raised; he is not here.” Jesus isn’t where the women expect. He isn’t waiting for the women to finish burying him. He isn’t dead. Jesus’s always been beyond their and our expectations - from the very start, when he began preaching that the kingdom of God - where God’s inclusive and overwhelming love defines who we are, what we are, and just how we live and love each other - Jesus has always been beyond where we expect him to be. Jesus isn’t dead. Jesus isn’t where he’s suppose to be. Jesus is resurrected - he’s brand new - he’s more than alive. We can’t wrap his story up in a neat little bow because we don’t get to say how this story ends. We don’t get to say how God acts and how God doesn’t. 

Because what matters to Mark isn’t the conclusion to story; what’s important are people - those who are living in God’s conclusion - those who are living in the world that God made, that Jesus died in, and the world that the Holy Spirit continues to breathe new life into. All of us here, right now, are part of God’s conclusion. Everyone outside these walls - are part of God’s final story. We, like those early disciples and those first Christian women - whether we believe or not, whether we understand or not - we are part of Jesus’ story. 

Go, tell - that’s what the young man in the tomb tells these women. Go and tell our story - how God has mattered in our lives - or how we’ve never felt Jesus near us. Go and tell our struggles, our fears, our terrors, share what amazes us and what scares us. Go and tell, the problems that the world faces - from racism, terrorism, income inequality, violence, sickness, and fear. Go and tell, our honest story about how far we are from loving like we should and how hate sometimes looks like it’s won. And then Go and tell that Jesus is not in the tomb. He’s not hiding behind a rock. He’s not waiting for us to find him where we expect him. No, Jesus is out there - in the terrors - in the fears - in the times of our lives that amaze and frighten us. God’s story continues - and Jesus is with it, through thick and thin, showing us that God’s kingdom - God’s love - and God’s presence matters more than how we’d like the story to end. Jesus - who was crucified - Jesus who was killed - Jesus who was defeated - has been raised. The ending we gave him couldn’t hold him. We’re now living in God’s ending where this creation and this human race isn’t just worth dying for - it’s worth being resurrected for, too. 

So Go, tell, that “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” 
All: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  


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Easter Sunday: Christ is Risen!

What do you think about the resurrection? 

It's easy to get lost in what the church says about the resurrection. We have the story recorded in four different ways in the four gospels. Paul's letters and the later epistles written in his name are centered on what it means to live on this side of Easter. We hear how the empty tomb matters, how there's an angel sitting on a bench, and there's a neat pile of linens stacked to the side. And we see the disciples, women and men, standing there and wondering what happens next. 

But, beyond that story, how does the resurrection matter to you? 

Easter is a beautiful day. Flowers cover the altar here at church and the music will be amazing. And once the worship is done, Easter, for many of us, doesn't end. There's brunch and family dinners, visits to the mall in New York or a trip to Manhattan to experience NYC in Spring. We hit the road to see friends and family while decked out in our best suits, beautiful pink ties, and while wearing our most fun socks. And who can forget the opening and sharing of Easter baskets, the hunting of Easter eggs, and the bitting the ears off chocolate bunnies. The world around seems to be all about Easter as well. Easter sales, bunnies standing outside fire houses, hams that we need to pickup from Shoprite, and TV specials featuring Jesus premiering later tonight. Easter is an event that goes on, for everyone, all day. 

But Easter is more than just today. Easter is for every day and night of our lives. 

Today, like we do everyday, we shout from the rooftops that Jesus lives. But he's more than just a member of the Walking Dead. This Jesus is something brand new; living a promise that death isn't the end. Death isn't the opposite to life; instead, a new, different kind of life, is. And this new life matters now. Easter means our lives today are different than they were before. We're living in a post-Easter world where our lives, the specifics of our lives, are not defined by its end. Christ is risen. Christ is living. We are in the post-resurrection future. More is coming - and that matters to me and to you. 


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Good Friday: John and the Jews

I'm always uncomfortable when I hear in the gospel according to John, the phrase "the Jews." 

It's a phrase John uses a lot when compared to other gospels(over 60 times compared to only 6 in Mark). Living 2000 years after Jesus' ministry, this phrase might not sound too strange to us. But as the scholar Raymond Brown writes in reference to Jewish parents of a blind man in Jerusalem who are "described as being 'afraid of the Jews' (9:22) is just as awkward as having an American living in Washington, DC, described as being afraid of 'the Americas' - only a non-American speaks thus of 'the Americans.'" John isn't being descriptive in his use of the term; he's being hostile.  Scholars believe that the author of John was part of a community that had been expelled, or split, from Jews worshipping in synagogues. John's community probably couldn't understand why those in the synagogues did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and those in the synagogues couldn't understand how these people did. They split apart and, like all breakups, mutual hostility and anger broke out. John community was so angry that Jesus' story started to be reduced. The diversity of Judaism as witnessed in Mark, Matthew, and Luke (i.e. the Sadducees and the Pharisees) disappeared in John. They are all just "the Jews" and John does not like them very much. 

So what should we do with this aspect of John? Do we removed the references or replace them with something softer, like "religious authorities?" Such a tactic, I believe, fuels the problem. The reality is that John says some hateful things and he's been used to fuel Anti-Semitism for centuries. We shouldn't mask the hateful things that Scripture sometimes says.

And I believe that's what helps make Scripture powerful for us. Scripture isn't just God's word; scripture is also the human story. We are sinners. We feel hate. We exclude others, act out in anger, and discriminate over religion, race, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. We're very good at not loving our neighbors or ourselves. And John's gospel captures that. We see in John our inability to follow the commandments as Jesus taught us. John is showing us a community who are full of followers of Jesus but who still, like us, are caught up in sin. John's community, like ours, still needs God's love and grace to be transformed into the disciples God calls us to be.

John's antagonism and hateful sayings are things that we, as disciples of Christ, stand against. Our love for our neighbors and for God's creation calls us to do nothing less. John's community, as a community in our world, still struggled with darkness. We still struggle with darkness too. But Jesus promises to keep coming to us, bringing light into our dark places, and showing us how to love.


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Fruit By the Foot - Maundy Thursday Edition [Sermon 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.

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, 31b-35

Pastor Marc's sermon on Maundy Thursday (April 2, 2015) on John 13:1-17, 31b-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Did you notice that Jesus is out of order tonight? 

In our gospel, Jesus is having dinner with his disciples. It’s the night before Passover and, unlike Mark, Matthew, and Luke, what we hear tonight is John’s version of the Last Supper. There’s no gathering in an upper room; no Passover meal to share; and no words about what is his body and what isn’t. Instead, we have what starts as a normal, regular, meal. And then - in the middle - Jesus gets up, and does a very strange thing. He finds a basin; fills it with water; wraps a towel around his waist - and then goes back to the table where, I imagine, he catches his disciples with a confused stare on their faces. So, while the disciples are in mid-chew, Jesus does an incredible thing - he bends down and washes their feet. 

Now Peter, in the text, is the only one of the disciples who speaks but I’m sure he’s saying what all the other disciples were thinking. Peter questions just what Jesus is doing and he gets...agitated. I hear shock and fear and confusion in his voice. Peter actually tries to get Jesus to change what he’s doing. He begs - asking Jesus to wash his hands and head too. Peter wants this experience to be more like a bath - or maybe a ritual cleaning - than just plain, ol’ foot washing. He can’t stand the idea of Jesus bending down and washing his feet. And this is more than Peter not wanting anyone near his feet. Peter sees what Jesus is doing - and knows that Jesus is taking on a role that Jesus shouldn’t. Jesus is becoming a footwasher - and, in Peter’s world, that means Jesus is becoming a slave. 

Now, it’s hard for us to imagine, fully, just exactly what Peter saw. We tend to not have someone designated to wash our feet when we come in the door. But, in Jesus’ day, slavery was very real and this was a job for them. Without indoor plumbing and no Bath and Body Works to pick up a body scrub from, feet were probably not that clean. Shoes - most likely sandals - were covered in dust from outside, dirty from just being out in the world, and most of the Middle East, culturally, wanted to keep all of that outside. Now, I grew up in a household where shoes were taken off before we walked onto the carpet - so this is an even more intense version of that. Proper protocol in fancy houses required guests to have their feet cleaned. They would remove their shoes and a slave would come over and wash the dirt and grime off their feet. Only then, would the guests come on inside, to be fed and entertained. The dirt and dust from the outside world stayed away from the dining rooms, instead finding a home on the hands of the slave.  

So when Peter sees Jesus bend down, Peter is seeing Jesus becoming something that Jesus isn’t. Peter has been with Jesus, saw him turn water into wine, cure the sick, teach and proclaim with God’s own authority - Peter saw Jesus as anything but a slave. Jesus is a teacher, a master, the Son of God, who should be served, listened to, and believed. This Jesus isn’t a slave who washes people’s feet. 

But there’s more here than just watching Jesus take on a role that Jesus, in Peter’s eyes, shouldn’t. There’s also the matter of who Peter is here too. If Jesus is bending down to wash Peter’s feet - then what does this say about who Peter is following? Peter, who calls Jesus the Messiah, has been called to follow a warrior - a king - the one who will restore the political and spiritual kingdom of God. Peter hasn’t been called to follow a slave. So Jesus’ action doesn’t just challenge Peter’s view of Jesus - it also challenges Peter’s view of himself. He’s a follower of the Messiah - and now - in this simple act of bending down to wash feet - Peter’s own identity is confronted. His own sense of self is challenged. And, suddenly, he’s left bare - completely vulnerable - as Jesus bends down to wash his feet. 

And that vulnerability, I think, is made real to us because there’s just something about feet - about our feet - that make us vulnerable too. 
In a moment, I’m going to invite everyone here to come on up and have their feet washed. And, honestly, I really have no idea how many will come up because there’s just something about feet. Feet are, really, amazing. They’ve got all these bones, toes, muscles, and ligaments - and they’re designed to hold us up - to let us walk on two legs, run, and jump. When feet work, they’re awesome. And when they don’t, life gets really hard. Even a small cut or a tiny blister can make everything else we do feel impossible. Feet, for many of us, are foundational to who we are - and I think that’s what makes feet so vulnerable for us too. Our feet are ours - they’re central to who we are in so many ways - and letting someone bend down to wash them….there’s a vulnerability here that’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and strange. Foot washing is just weird - and it’s so weird - that Peter’s reaction in our reading tonight is our reaction too. Peter’s lack of comfort is our lack of comfort. Peter’s vulnerability and our vulnerability is one and the same. Peter isn’t just being Peter in this passage. Peter, tonight, is all of us.

And Jesus shares with Peter, and shares with us, that this is what love looks like. Love requires vulnerability. Love requires service. Love requires the inversion of who we think is on top and who we think is on bottom. Love is very uncomfortable - very unnerving - very weird. It requires us to go outside our comfort zones and see others as God sees them - and love requires us to reoriented our own sense of who we are. Love requires us to get off our high horse sometimes and stoop down and do the uncomfortable thing of throwing ourselves at the feet of our friends, family, and strangers. 

We’re not gathered here tonight to re-enact Jesus’ last moments before his arrest. We’re here to remember and encounter - to bare witness to a Jesus who knew that Good Friday was about to come. The wheels were in motion. Judas’ plan was set. The religious and political authorities had Jesus in their sights - and Jesus, at that moment, filled a basin with water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples feet. Even with the end in sight, Jesus didn’t stop loving. And that’s what I believe tonight is all about. Let the water wash over our feet. Listen to it splash in the bottom of the tub. And let’s remember that we are loved and we are called to do what Jesus did - and never stop loving. That’s our job. That’s our commandment. That’s what Jesus, right before he was betrayed, tells us to keep doing. Never stop loving because Jesus is with us; Jesus loves us; and there’s no darkness in this world that Jesus won’t walk with us through. 



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