Questions and Reflections

April 2017

It's Gonna Be Maaaay: Pastor Marc's Reflection for the March Newsletter (the Messenger)

I am a fan of bad puns and silly jokes. And that's why April 30th is special to me. For the last few years, I've shared the same internet meme on my social media accounts. It's a picture of Justin Timberlake during his days in NSYNC. He's smiling and singing their hit song "It's Gonna Be Me." But the caption on the picture has nothing to do with the word "me" because Justin's changes the words. He turns "me" into a long, vibrato filled version of "maaaaaayyyyyy." On April 30th, we know that "It's gonna be maaaaaayyyyyy." 

My guess is you've just let out a large groan and probably a fake laugh. Those are always the right responses to a terrible pun and a silly joke. Yet, this meme is telling the truth. It really is going to be May. May is a special time at Christ Lutheran Church because of the amazing programs and events you support with your time, donations and prayers. On May 6th hundreds of people from around New Jersey and New York (last year, we had visitors from as far away as the eastern end of Long Island) will attend our Trash & Treasure sale. Our neighbors who can't afford a new outfit for work or toys for their children will be able to find the item they need to better their lives and their families. The volunteers who spent hours sorting clothes, cleaning glassware, and making sure everyone is fed with great meals, will help our guests find what they are looking for. The thousands of dollars raised will be used by the CLC-Women's Group to fund projects at church and charities all over the world. Trash & Treasure is one way we use what God gives us to share God's love all over the world. Thank you for your donation and being part of this amazing event. 


May is also a time when we prepare our congregation to change in new ways. This year, we're confirming three young people on Pentecost (June 4). These amazing kids and their families have made an impact in our community since they first walked through the doors. The entire congregation will empower them to be full voting members of the community. They will have the power to serve on council, vote at our meetings and continue to make a difference locally and all over the world. The Holy Spirit is with us no matter how old we are. It will be amazing to watch where the Spirit takes all of us through their leadership and voices. 

For much of April, we watched as flowers bloomed, grass turned green and leaves began to sprout. With the change of seasons, we witness a new creation being born. This April, we were there for Easter and saw how Jesus changed the world. Now is the time to discover what this new creation is all about. Let's see what God is blooming in our community because it's going to be May. 

See you in church! 

Pastor Marc


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The Path of Life: Re-reading Psalm 16

In light of the Resurrection, what do we do now? This question is central to our reading from Acts today (Acts 2:14,22-36). Peter and the other disciples are in Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost), a Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the law (Torah) at Mt. Sinai. The disciples are not the only ones in the city. Jerusalem is filled with many different pilgrims and tourists speaking many different languages. During the festival, a mighty wind blew through the disciples and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. The disciples made Jesus' story known to crowds who heard that story in their own languages. 

In the church calendar, we celebrate Pentecost 7 weeks after Easter. We will hear that story on June 4. But our interpretation of today's reading depends on remembering the Pentecost event. Peter is explaining to a confused crowd what just happened. And he does this in a specific way. He dug into the Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) to understand what God is doing now. By engaging scripture, Peter suddenly read Psalm 16 in a new way. 

Peter's sermon does something new. He took seriously where he was (Jerusalem under Roman control), who he was speaking to (Jews from everywhere), and what scripture teaches (quoting Psalm 16:8-11) in light of an ongoing conversation with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ellen T. Charry writes, "Christianity is born by wrestling with ancient texts in light of startling events that require textual grounding..." (Brazos Theological Commentary - Psalms 1-50, page 76). Peter knew Jesus because he spent time with him. He was there when Jesus heal the sick and shared God's love through word and deed. He mourned Jesus' death and celebrated his resurrection. Peter's faith is molded by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Psalm 16 was, most likely, a psalm designed to show people what a "morally flourishing and satisfying life with God" can bring. But after the Resurrection, the text changed. The Psalm is now an invitation to cling to Christ. Even though the reading of the text changed, the hope within the text did not. Hope begins and ends with God so let's set the Lord always before us. 


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Do Not Be Afraid: an Easter Reflection

Our Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:1-10.

One of the most common phrases in the bible is "Do Not Be Afraid." When angels bring messages of hope and promise, they begin with this simple phrase. We imagine angels to be gigantic beings with white wings, golden crowns, and carrying swords and harps. When an angel shows up, the sight can be terrifying. But an "angel" is really someone (or something) that brings a message from God. And God's message to the two Marys is "do not be afraid."

If anyone  had a good reason to be afraid, it was the early disciples of Jesus. They witnessed Jesus' betrayal, arrest, and execution. They saw their friends deny their relationship with Jesus and run away in fear. They felt vulnerable, exposed, and completely confused because Jesus' death wasn't what they expected. They expected Jesus to "win" by removing the Roman Empire from Jerusalem. They expected King David's kingdom to be politically and military re-established. The followers of Jesus didn't expect Rome to "win" instead. 

But the Marys didn't expect an angel to be in the tomb either when they came to finish the burial rituals for their teacher and friend. The message for the women was simple and profound. Their expectations were being rewritten by a God who rewrote the experience of life and death. Life is no longer defined by the limited time we have on earth. Life, instead, begins and ends in a God who cannot be overcome by violence, pain, or sin. Life is about a love that breaks the bounds we try to give it. 

A love that is boundless is an amazing gift. It's also a gift that scares us. The invitation to love like Jesus is an invitation to change our relationships with the people around us. We're invited to serve people we do not know. We're invited to share meals with people who do not look, talk, or believe like us. We're invited to break the limits we place on our realities. We're invited to bring new life to our world by participating in what God is already doing: transforming the world so no one is ever afraid again. 


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The Cross: A Good Friday Reflection

The Second Reading is Hebrews 10:16-25.

One of my favorite features about this church building are the crosses. Before we enter the sanctuary, a large cross hangs over the doorway. Above the altar space, another large cross looms silently but still speaking volume. And then, from a distance, we can see the large roof slope upwards, forming a crown with a cross on top. These crosses do more than provide a nice place for birds to sit. Each cross proclaims this is where Christians are. 

But in the words of Sharon Ringe, professor emerita of Wesley Seminary, "With its exalted status as the focal point of our faith, the cross has lost its power to scandalize." In the years after Jesus' death and resurrection, crosses did not show where Christians were. Crosses were located at the edge of cities marking the palaces where people died. Crosses were used to execute slaves or those accused of committing treason against the Roman Empire. Crosses were symbols of pain and suffering. Each cross proclaimed this is where the Empire won. 

Our reading from Hebrews is an attempt by the early faith community to "articulate the religious meaning of the cross in imagery and language powerful enough to transform the immediate horror it represented." The cross is never plain. The cross always points to those who used it. The Roman Empire saw Jesus as a threat during the yearly Passover celebration. Pontius Pilate used the cross to eliminate the problem violently and completely. Good Friday remembers this violence and the world that uses violence to punish others. 

But Good Friday also remembers what happened next. The cross was the Roman Empire's ultimate symbol of pain and death. Yet in the least likely place anyone would reasonably looked, God showed up to save the world. Jesus did not run away from death. Rather, Jesus confronted it. Jesus saw the violence, pain, and love of power inherent in the world. And he lived, taught, and died showing there is a different way to be. The cross is a symbol of horror that became a symbol of life because God does not let death triumphant over hope and love.   


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Red: Blood in Exodus

Our first reading is Exodus 12:1-14.

It was my first year in college. I was picking up some lunch while on campus. I don't remember why the glass Snapple bottle slipped from my fingers but I do know what happened next. I caught the bottle but I was too late. The bottle shattered on the ground while my hand was around it. A deep gash tore through one of my fingers. A trip to the university health center was in order. 

At the health center, I was prepped for stitches. The nurse asked me if it would be okay for a student volunteer to watch the procedure. The student was thinking about a medical career. I said, "Sure. The more the merrier." The physician assistant invited the student (and me) to watch the simple procedure. The finger still bled but I was fascinated. I tried to get the best position possible to see my finger put back together. The pre-med student looked at the still bleeding finger. She then ran out of the room. The sight of all that blood was making her nauseous. 

In our reading from Exodus tonight, blood is central to the text. The ancient world did not have the medical knowledge we do. How the body functioned was a mystery to them (and is still a mystery today). But the ancient world did know the importance of blood. Blood flows. Blood is pumped through the body. Blood makes life happen. 

And life is what the blood on the door is all about. Each family gathered together to take the life of a lamb (its blood) and make a sign on their door. The angel, checking each household, would see the sign of life and passover their house. The life of the lamb does more than keep the family safe. The life of the lamb also invites the family to experience the entire Exodus story. A story where God's people are moved from slavery into freedom; from suffering into abundant life. God doesn't want God's people to just survive. God wants God's people to thrive. 

The story of Maundy Thursday is what a thriving life looks like. A life that thrives is a life that gives. A life that thrives is a life that serves even those who betray it. A life that thrives is a life that sees Jesus, serves everyone, and always loves. 


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Our first reading is Matthew 21:1-11.

Broken branches. Dirty cloaks. A road covered with whatever is at hand. Today is Palm & Passion Sunday. We are beginning our journey through the center of the church year. We will spend this week re-experiencing Jesus' final journey into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is flooded with visitors and tourists. The festival of Passover is about to begin. We can imagine every home, hotel, motel, and campground is bursting at the seams with guests. People can barely move through marketplaces jammed with merchants selling souvenirs, knick-knacks, food and more. Jerusalem is full. 

And then Jesus comes. A crowd celebrated his arrival by putting cloaks and branches on the ground. By covering the road, dust and dirt stay on the roadway. Jesus' donkey stays clean. The crowd treats Jesus like a king returning home from a victorious military campaign. He should have gold banners, soldiers carrying swords and shields, and prisoners of war and booty to show off. The entire city should be in their Sunday best to welcome him home. But, instead, we have a crowd full of tourists, the poor, and the sick. The crowd gathered at the last minute so they cut down palm branches from trees in the city. The crowd of almost inconsequential people meets a king who comes with "an army" of only a handful of disciples. 

According to Matthew, the crowd that welcomes Jesus was large. But there's a larger crowd that did not know who Jesus was. It's probable that, at the same time Jesus is entering the city, another procession is entering Jerusalem from the other side. With so many people in the city, the Roman Empire needed to make an appearance. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate arrived in the city at the head of his legion. His soldiers would keep an eye on the crowds during Passover and serve as a reminder that Rome is in charge. Rome's procession would have banners with gold eagles on top. Every soldier would have their swords and spears ready to use. Pilate's procession would inspire awe and fear, reminding Jerusalem that the mightiest empire in the world is in control. 

Jesus and Rome are on a collision course. The might of the world is about to meet the might of God. Even 2000 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, we still place our trust in our ability to force others to do our will. We still celebrate power. Our power is about to encounter God. And, for a moment, we're going to think we've won.


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Rattling Bones

Ezekiel is having a moment today. In our first reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14), "the hand of the Lord" sets him down in the middle of a valley. Ezekiel is having a vision which might be happening only in his mind. For him, this could be a very vivid dream. But I like to make this story real. I see God physically grabbing Ezekiel by the hair and carrying him into this valley full of dried bones. When he lands, I imagine his feet touching the bones. The bones rustle, clang, and clatter as he kicks them around. His religious concern about being unclean is overwhelmed by the sheer number of bones he sees. The visual overload he is experiencing would stop him from even processing what is going on. In that moment, he wouldn't know what to say. His brain would just shut down. He could do nothing but look and see. And, in the process, he would be as still and dry as the bones around him. 

God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Prophesy is more than a prediction of the future. Prophecy is a life-giving word for right now. The words Ezekiel shares are words of promise. As he speaks, life takes hold, even among old bones. The bones start to move. The bones start to rattle. And if I was there with Ezekiel, I would be terrified. It's sometimes easier to stay among dry bones than to see those bones rattled. It's sometimes easier to stay with the status quo or keep things the way they are than to see the chaos and unpredictability that rattling can bring about. As the bones rattle, fear grows. But the rattling of bones is not the end of the story. Change happens. The bones turn into something new. As the vision evolves, God's own breath comes into view. 

When Ezekiel experienced this vision, he was living through  the destruction of Jerusalem. Waves and waves of people were being deported from the city. The Babylonians would burn God's Temple to the ground. The dry bones Ezekiel sees are not only metaphorical. They point to a community feeling hopeless because their sense of who they are is coming undone. Their world felt like it was coming to an end. But God promises God's presence even when conflict, loss, and fear are all we feel. God's Word makes a difference. And the final chapter of the story God is writing is a story that includes hope, life, love, and us. 


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