Questions and Reflections

May 2016

Dependency [Sermon Manuscript]

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Luke 7:1-10

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (May 29, 2016) on Luke 7:1-10. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


For a story about Jesus, our reading from the Gospel according to Luke today has a Jesus who doesn’t really say much. Even though he’s the focus of the story, Jesus says just one line while everyone else talks around him. And this split, where the main actor does only a little while everyone else says a lot, reminded me of something I saw Thursday night. I came home from our Year with the Bible study, put one of my kids to bed, and turned on ESPN to watch a lot of talking, a lot of commentary, a lot of buzzing about some athletes who were only saying a few words. I'm of course talking about the Scripps National Spelling Bee. By the time I turned on the competition, we were already down to the top 10. Each kid would come up to the mic to spell 1 word, and it was usually a word I never heard of. Each competitor was allowed to ask a few questions to help figure out the words, like where the word came from and what it means. And while they figured out how to spell their word, two commentators, a slew of sideline reporters, and camera shots of family members in the audience would fill the screen and cover up any opportunity for silence. The kids weren't saying much but everyone around them was. 

Now it didn't take long until only 2 spellers remained. We were in the championship rounds. The spellers had 25 rounds to battle it out to see who was the best speller of 2016. The Spelling Bee opened up their secret vault of super duper hard words, the commentators speculated on what it would take for each of them to win, and I’ll admit, I was excited. I was into it because these kids were fantastic. One was 11 years old, a 5th grader who's never been to the National Spelling Bee before. The other was a sibling of one of last year’s champions. It was a classic rookie vs dynasty matchup. With lightning speed, they spelled what needed to be spelled. The 11 year old had 2 opportunities to win the whole thing, but he tripped up on his follow up words. As the rounds kept going, the commentators and crowd got more and more excited. By the time we were at round 15, everyone knew that both of these kids deserved to win. They both deserved to be champions. And it's that idea of being worthy - of who is worth having something happen to them - that question is in our gospel reading from Luke today. A Roman centurion, wealthy and powerful, a member of the army occupying Jesus’ home, has a slave who is ill. He hears stories that Jesus has the power to heal. The Centurion doesn't know Jesus, he hasn't seen him in action, and he's not part of Jesus’ team. But he reaches out for help anyways.

So how does someone reach out in Jesus time? There's no email or cell phones or text messages. The only way to connect with a person is by sending someone to find them. This centurion, an officer who commanded over 200 men, has soldiers and underlings he could send. But he knows that, when it comes to splitting the world into Jewish and Gentile, he's not in the Jewish side. The centurion has no reason to believe that Jesus, at this early point in his ministry, would even listen to a Gentile. So the centurion uses Jewish elders to find Jesus and summoned him to a Roman’s household.

Now, we hear in the text that the elders go because they’re ordered to but also out of respect to this centurion. They find Jesus, tell him the request, and say that this centurion, this outsider, this occupier, is worthy of a blessing because of the love he's shown to the Jewish nation. He funded the building of a synagogue, creating a house of worship for God even though we have no idea if the Centurion believed in God or not. We also don't know if the Centurion built this synagogue because of his faith or for another reason. In the Roman World, power was centered on men and you became powerful when more and more people depended on you. This dependency is less about being indispensable or about being generous in all that we do. It's about having so much authority, and so much control, that the life of others depends on you. The Centurion is a slave owner, with complete control over the slave. His soldiers are dependent on his leadership and his ability to command. The elders are dependent on their worship space because of what this Centurion did as part of the army in control of God’s Promised Land. So even if this centurion built the synagogue out of love, it's a love trapped in a system of dependency and control that is destructive and the opposite of what Jesus wants. 

We don't know what Jesus says to the elders but we know he goes with them. And as they near the house, the centurion sends another delegation to meet Jesus. They bring this odd message for Jesus to stay away. The request, at first, sounds humble but the grammar, especially in the Greek this text was first written in, shows that the Centurion isn't asking Jesus to stay away: he's commanding him to. The Centurion is an officer. He commands. That's what he does. And he knows enough about Jesus’ culture to know that, by entering this Roman’s house, Jesus would lose the respect of others. “Just say the word,” the centurion says, “and my slave will be healed.”

And Jesus does say a word - but he says nothing about healing. And that’s odd. In Matthew’s version of this story, Jesus does say a word of healing but in Luke’s, he doesn't. Jesus doesn't really respond to the Centurion’s command to heal. Instead, Jesus responds to the Centurion's faith - a faith that says that Jesus will be Jesus. The Centurion only knows his own culture, his own reality, and his place in his world. He knows the authority he’s been given and how to wield it. He lives in a system that says some folks have more value than others. He is who he is - and he trusts that Jesus can only be who Jesus is. Jesus will be Jesus - and Jesus, in one way or another, heals. 

That trust that Jesus will be Jesus, that's what faith looks like to Luke. And what Jesus does is unexpected things. He listens to a plea from an outsider and heals a slave who is at the bottom of life’s totempole. The walls we build to keep ourselves apart, to say who has value and who does not, are not the walls Jesus is interested in keeping. The ones who are worthy of healing, worthy of hope, worthy of love, and worthy of Jesus are not only the ones we believe who are worthy. Everyone is worthy because everyone needs healing. Everyone needs God’s love. Everyone, and especially those we push away for being different or who we see as outsiders, they are worth God’s love. 

So, in Thursday night’s Spelling Bee, everyone felt these two kids were worth being co-champions. As each round passed by, the reporters and commentators, kept repeating the phrase “co-champions” like some kind of mantra, and if they said it enough, it would actually happen. As each word got spelled, and as that magic last round got nearer, the crowd kept inching out of their seats and I stopped sitting on my couch. I was just too excited. I wanted them both to win. I wanted them to feel the joy, feel the excitement, feel the happiness knowing they are worth being #1. They worked so hard. They handled the pressure of the national spotlight amazingly well. They were brilliant and they deserved to be champions and treated as they champions they are. And with our Jesus, who treats an outsider like an insider, who loves a slave like they’re a Centurion, imagine what our lives, our neighborhood, our world would look like if we saw like Jesus sees, love like Jesus loves, and saw the person next to us, the stranger outside these doors, the outsider who we don’t want to be on the inside with us - and loved them as our co-champion in life, because Jesus says we both are? 


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A Reflection on Nehemiah and Worship

Our reading is Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10.

Why do we stand up so much in worship? Part of that answer is in our first reading from Nehemiah today. The books Ezra and Nehemiah (which were originally one book before they were split in two) tell the story of Jerusalem after the return from Exile. Cyrus the Great, after destroying the Babylon empire, sends the Israelites back to Jerusalem. The returnees start to rebuild the temple but local politics and infighting stop the project fron continuing. The Temple is eventually rebuilt but Jerusalem is not allowed to become the kingdom it use to be. Nearly 65 years after the first wave of exiles return to Jerusalem, Ezra and another group arrive in Jerusalem. Ezra comes to reform the community, teach the law (the Torah - the first five books of the Bible), and develop the Jewish identity. 

In our reading today, everyone - men and women - gather in Jerusalem. When Ezra opens the book of Moses (the Torah), all the people stand up. Ezra reads the book, from early in the morning through midday, while everyone stood and listened. As Ezra read, the leaders would stop to offer an interpretation of what was heard. This is similar to what we are doing today. We'll read scripture, stand up when a story of Jesus is read, and listen as I (with prayers and help from the Holy Spirit) offer an interpretation of what is heard. 

Ezra, at the end of our text, tells the people to not mourn or weep. At this point in the story, the people are weeping because they've discover how much they haven't followed God's law of love and mercy. But Ezra reminds the people that worship isn't only about focusing on what we've failed to do but is an opportunity to celebrate God. God doesn't let us travel through our life alone. Instead, God offers teachers, the Word, scripture, and even Jesus' body and blood to help us do what God is already doing in the world. Worship is more than just hearing God's stories. Worship is discovering that God is helping us to share God's love out loud.  


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Ask Pastor Marc: How is the date for Easter calculated?

From our June 2016 Newsletter

Did you notice that we celebrated Easter a month before our Jewish friends and neighbors celebrated passover? Several people asked me why that is since so much of the story around Easter (The Lord's Supper, Good Friday, Easter Sunday) take place during the passover celebration. After doing some research, here's what I found:

In 325 AD (or CE), Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire brought together bishops and church leaders to meet and talk about their differences. One of the issues this First Council of Nicaea debated was the date of Easter. Prior to this council, different churches in different places celebrated Easter on different dates. Many celebrated Easter after Passover and relied on the local Jewish communities to calculate when Passover would take place. But some felt that this calculation wasn't correct. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar (a little more than 354 days long), some calculation and adjustments were needed to help it fit a solar year (1 trip around the sun). This means that calculating Passover was tricky and that the date moves around. Sometimes this caused Passover to take place before the spring equinox (around March 21) and Easter would not fall on a Sunday. This didn't work for other Christians. After debate, the council resolved to calculate Easter on their own and not rely on the Jewish calendar. Not everyone agreed to this (we have sermons from the late 300s attacking the practice) and the actual calculation for Easter wasn't agreed on. It would take several more centuries for this to be sorted out. The church decided that March 21 will be its starting point. The formula is that Easter will be the first Sunday after the Full Moon following March 21 unless that Full Moon falls on a Sunday (in which case Easter would be the following Sunday). 

So why do churches in the West (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist) usually celebrate Easter on different dates than Eastern churches (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox)? It's because of the calendar we use. In 46 BC (or BCE), Julius Caesar implemented a new calendar system called the Julian calendar. Each year has 365 days with an extra day added to the calendar every 4 years (leap years). In a Julian calendar, the average year is 365.25 days long. However, scientists know that it takes less than 365.25 days for the earth to travel around the sun (365.24 days). This isn't much but, after centuries, the calendar starts to move away from where the Earth is in its rotation around the Sun. Eventually, the Spring Equinox wasn't in March anymore! So, in 1582, a new calendar was introduced (Gregorian). That's the calendar we're used to and matches how most governments keep dates. But the Eastern churches still use a Julian calendar to calculate their religious festivals. Currently, there's about a 13 day difference between the Gregorian calendar and the Julian. Eastern and Western churches do, sometimes, celebrate Easter on the same day but due to different calendars, Easter is celebrated at different times. 


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A Crowd [on Trinity Sunday] [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus said:] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

John 16:12-15

Pastor Marc's sermon on Trinity Sunday (May 22, 2016) on John 16:12-15. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So one of the joys living in Northern New Jersey offers, is that driving here is always an adventure. Yesterday, I was on Linwood Avenue, heading to Valley Hospital for a visit. Traffic was light, the sky was gray, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  Ahead of me, about 40 feet away, was a large flatbed truck, colored black and red, with a small forklift attached to the back. The truck looked nearly empty, with only a few pallets of 50 lb bags of sand left on it. So nothing strange was happening, and my mind started to drift towards my upcoming visit. But, suddenly, the truck in front of me jolted. It shook. And, for half a second, it swerved into oncoming traffic. The driver quickly got the truck back into the right lane. But in that correction, something happened to the cargo. Several large bags of sand flew off the truck, barely missing the cars that were coming towards us. White puffs of dust and sand filled the air as the bags burst as they hit the ground. I silently thanked God that no one was hurt and everyone dodged what came down. But the truck didn’t realize what happened. He kept driving. And as he drove, bags kept falling. Every fifty feet or so, another bag would hit the pavement. After a bit, the driver finally realized he was losing cargo. He pulled over, put on his hazards, and stepped out of his truck with a giant roll of saran wrap to secure the load. The crisis averted, I passed him by, and went on my way. 

Later, after my visit at the hospital was over, I drove back over the same road. The truck was long gone and most of the bags of sand that hit the road were gone too. But some remained. And the sand, the sand was still there, every fifty feet or so. It looked so symetrical, so intentional, that it reminded me of an industrial version of Hansel and Gretel, were this truck dropping bags of sand to find its way back home. And each bag, as it landed on the ground, made a mark that couldn’t easily be forgotten. That mark, that impact - is what Jesus is getting at in these four verses from John. Jesus is sharing these words during his final discourse - his final sermon before his arrest, trial, and death. He’s preparing his disciples for what’s next, for what life will be like once the Cross comes. These disciples had literally walked with Jesus. They ate meals with him, shared hardships, and made memories together. When Jesus called these disciples by name to follow him - Jesus wasn't seeking a short term commitment. He, and his followers, are together for the long haul. So Jesus begins today's text with a promise. He promises that, no matter what comes next, Jesus has more to say. Their experience of God isn’t over just because Jesus no longer walks, talks, and eats with them like he used to. Their experience of God isn’t finished even though their story is going to change. Jesus promises to keep speaking and that he will be heard. And as his disciples live their lives - wherever they go, and through whatever happens next - Jesus’ voice in their story will not be silent. God is still speaking. God is still caring. And, above all, God is, through the Spirit of truth, still guiding. God looks at God’s people, sees their story, walks with them as they experience their lives - and in their joys and sorrows, and even when their worlds turn upside down - God is still doing what God does - and that’s love. 

Now, I’m not sure the disciples, while listening to Jesus, if knew exactly what he was saying. By this point in the text, we’re already two chapters into his four chapter sermon. Jesus said a lot - and he’s still got more to say. I imagine, if I was there, it’s at this point where I probably would have started zoning out. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’d still be there - but my eyes would do that thing where they start glazing over. My ears would hear the words but my brain wouldn’t really be listening. I bet my mind would wander, thinking about what I needed to do next or what kind of recipes were used for the meal we just had, or maybe I’d end up just kinda being blank - with no real thought in my head. But the beauty of Jesus’ promise is that his promise doesn’t depend on understanding. Jesus isn’t giving us a pop quiz here, wondering if we’ve listened to every sermon, or memorized every bible story. Jesus is, instead, pointing to our reality. He’s saying that he understands that most of us still have some life left to live. Our journey continues. Jesus isn’t asking for understanding - he’s asking for faith. He’s pointing to trust. His word, when spoken, makes a difference whether we understand it or not. We might feel like each step we take is something we do on our own but Jesus promise’s that’s it not. Even when we don’t realize it, even when we fight against it, even when we doubt, God’s promise is that we’re not going through this life on our own. 

Now, one of the joys of my job as a pastor is that there are days like today where we get to see what a faith journey can look like. We, as a community, are witnesses to a Jesus who is still speaking. We get to see that this word of promise is a word that breaks into new places, into new worlds, and into new lives - with a promise of hope, of peace, and love. And even though our lives can, and do, act like there might be a flatbed truck dumping sand in front of us as we travel down the road, creating obstacles we didn’t plan for, and throwing up clouds of dust that make it impossible to see the way ahead, our road isn’t a lonely road. We might not see what comes next - but God sees us, right as we are. And God knows the way through. Jesus doesn’t promise that these obstacles, these hardships, these bags of sand will no longer head our way once we believe or are baptized. We still have a life to live. But Jesus does promise that through everything, God is there, speaking, and guiding. Jesus promises that we are worthy to be loved. And he declares that we are. 

Today, at the 9 am service, an adult, R. was baptized. Now, one of the joys of my job, is walking with people in their faith - and watching as God does what God does. Through my many conversations with R., I heard his story. I saw his life. I  witnessed the parts of his life where obstacles, and dust, and bags of sand were thrown at him. But, through all these things, God was there. God still spoke. And like Hansel and Gretel, each bag of sand thrown his way, became a moment when Jesus spoke to him, leading him home. Today didn’t mark the end of R.’s journey. It marked a new beginning. A new beginning we all share because Jesus still has many things to say to each of us. We all have a faith-filled life to live. We all have love we can give. We all have a hope we’re called to proclaim. Because we are part of the body of Christ. We live in the world God made. The Spirit of truth that led R. to the water is the same Spirit that leads all of us to discover just what word God is speaking. And this word isn’t a word only meant for you or me. It’s a word that, through us, is meant for all the world to see. 



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A Reflection on Cyrus: a messiah

The First Reading is Ezra 1:1-10.

In the language of the Old Testament, the hebrew word for messiah means "anointed." This is a word we've heard and seen before. When oil is poured over a king in Ancient Israel, they become "the anointed one." When the altar and special holy vessels used in the Temple are consecrated, they are "anointed." Even non-Israelites can be described as a messiah (an anointed one). The only reference to a non-Israelite being named as a messiah or "anointed," is in Isaiah 45:1. God speaks to God's anointed one: Cyrus. And why does God do this? To bring the people of Israel out of exile and back to Jerusalem. 

Our first reading today is Cyrus' decree to his people to send the exiles from Jerusalem back home. After Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586, the Persians destroyed Babylon. Cyrus spent his time undoing what the Babylonians did. He allowed different religious and ethnic groups to return to their homelands and worship as they chose, as long as they didn't rebel against their Persian overlords. But in regards to the Israelites, Cyrus does not act out on his own. God stirs up Cyrus, telling him to send the Israelites home to rebuild the city and the temple. Through God's dynamic word and Spirit, the Israelites are sent home by a Persian king. 

As the church, we are also filled with anointed ones. In our baptism, not only are we united with God's promise through the water, we're also anointed with oil. Through oil and prayer, the cross is marked on our forever. We are given the mark of Christ, carrying Christ with us forever. Martin Luther famously said that the Christian life is being a Christ for our neighbors. Through God's Word and Spirit, we're stirred to make a difference in the world. Like Cyrus, many of us are not Jewish. But, like him, God's spirit is still stirring in us to love and care for our neighbors.


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The Bench in my Backyard: Pastor Marc's Messenger Article for June 2016

In my back yard, on six some weatherworn tiles, is an old bench. I have no idea how long this bench has been outside. The iron is rusted, the wood distressed and weird moss-like spirals are forming on it. When we moved into our home, the bench sat beneath a small maple tree. We took down the tree but left the bench where it is, out in the middle of the yard. Someone walking by would be surprised to see that lonely bench. It looks like it doesn't belong there. To understand that bench we need to know about that former tree.

June is a time of change at CLC. On June 19th our summer worship schedule begins with one worship at 9:30 am. Our choirs, singers, Sunday School and youth groups take a break during the warm summer months. At the end of June we'll worship in our Opsal room instead of the sanctuary as we welcome our four-legged friends (and more!) into the church for a blessing. A new person joining us at the end of June wouldn't realize that worshipping at 9:30 am in our fellowship hall isn't what we usually do. We have a much bigger story to share, and we just need to let others know it.

No matter where these summer months take you, I hope you'll bring a little of Christ Lutheran's story with you. Share with your new friends in your new adventures a little about this church in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. Share how you're part of this community of faith that supports the Center for Food Action in Englewood with our own community garden and has a rummage sale that is unparalleled in size and in spirit with money supporting capital improvements at the church and also impacting people all over the world. Talk about why your faith matters to you. Share your story. I also invite you to listen to other stories too. If you visit a new church on Sunday, bring back the bulletin and their newsletter. Share it with the pastor and the council. We're always looking for new and innovative ways to tell our story, and we value seeing what other communities are doing. The more we share with each other about being the church, the more we discover just how much the story of Jesus changes the world.

See ya in church!

Pastor Marc


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We Are [Sermon Manuscript]

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

John 14:8-17, 25-27

Pastor Marc's sermon on Pentecost (May 15, 2016) on John 14:8-17, 25-27. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


When Jesus speaks, what does he sound like? That’s the question that popped in my head when I read Jesus’ response to Philip today. This scene takes place in the middle of John’s version of the Last Supper. Jesus just washed the disciples feet, shared that he will be betrayed, and told his friends that he won’t be here much longer. And that warning finally gets through to the disciples. Now, these men and women gave up everything to follow Jesus. They left their homes, their families, and their careers. They thought Jesus would start a new era with a revolution by making Jerusalem great again and tossing the occupying Roman army into the sea. But Jesus’ words during this last supper point to something different. The future, suddenly, looks a lot less certain. I imagine something inside Philip - just broke. He immediately recalled everything Jesus said about dying - all the words that pointed to the Cross - and Philip’s mind raced. His heart beat faster. Without a sense of what’s going to happen next, Philip is anxious. So he turns to Jesus and asks for a sign from God - for something that’ll show that everything he believes is going to happen and that, in the end, everything is going to be okay. 

And this is the where Jesus’ tone matters. When he responds and says “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” Do we imagine Jesus sounding patient, kind, and speaking in a whisper? Or do we hear Jesus sounding totally exasperated, like when we our kids or loved one open a fridge full of food and say “There's nothing to eat.” Like..seriously...Philip, where have you been? That’s the tone - that’s the Jesus - I hear in our gospel reading today. Philip has been there since nearly the beginning. They’ve taken trips together, slept under the stars together, and shared meals all over Israel and beyond. Philip has seen the miracles, seen Jesus do what Jesus does, Philip’s literally seen the signs - and even that’s not enough to extinguish his anxiety and his worry about the future. When Philip walked with Jesus, he carried an expectation of who Jesus is and what’s going to happen next. But if Jesus isn’t going to start a revolution - and with his betrayal and death on the horizon - Philip, in many ways, is undone. His expectations are broken. He pleads to Jesus for another sign - another miracle - to put Philip’s broken expectations back together. Philip is emotional with Jesus - and Jesus is emotional right back. He tells Philip to remember. Remember what he’s seen, who he belongs to, what Jesus has taught. And then, Jesus says, “know what you can control.” Philip can’t control what the future will bring - but there is something that he can do now. He can remember. He can believe. He can love. And Philip can trust that Jesus will be with him, no matter what. 

The problem with the future is that we just don’t know it. Our expectations of what’s going to happen next isn’t the guarantee we wish it was. Life is full of too many variables and our anxiety about tomorrow is just...always there. I remember, as a kid in school, spending long nights staring at the ceiling, too anxious to go to sleep, because I wasn’t sure what questions would be on tomorrow’s test or if that special someone I wanted to ask to the prom would say yes. I couldn’t decide what my teachers would ask and I couldn’t decide if my future date was available or if they even liked me. But I could do something about me.I could make sure I studied and covered all the material assigned - and I could do the hard work to be that kind and caring person that even I would like. 

So by admitting what we can’t control about tomorrow and focusing on where we’ve come and what we can do now: that’s Jesus’ answer to Philip. Remember - hope - and love: that’s Jesus’ message. But Jesus doesn’t leave things there. He doesn’t tell Philip that this process of looking at the future and looking at today - will be something he has to do on his own. Jesus promises an ally - an advocate, a divine presence that Jesus will give his disciples and who will to put in keep God’s promises always in front of them. And that’s the Spirit. That presence is God’s commitment to us, saying we’re not going through this thing called life on our own. That's what we’re celebrating today. We might not know what’s going to happen but we do know that in our past, in our presence, and in our future, yesterday, we’ve got God and God’s got us. Faith and love, caring for others and for ourselves, is not something God leaves us to do on our own. Because sometimes we need a flaming tongue of fire to ignite our call to love. Sometimes we need to have others around us who suddenly can speak our language. And sometimes the only sign we get is a memory, a promise, that we were baptized, we were kissed by the water and kissed by God, and that’s all we need to share Christ’s light in the world. Philip walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, and saw all that Jesus can do. And even Philip needed the Spirit. The Spirit’s holy gift is that we are God’s and God isn't leaving us on our own. That's God’s promise. That’s what God’s peace looks like. And that’s the confidence we need to live as the people of God. When we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the Spirit grabs us to remember our roots, remember where we come from, and remember that God will go to any length - even to death on a cross - for us and for the world. And it’s with this gift, with this Spirit, we can hear Jesus’ words, listen to his voice, and do what he asks: and that’s, in everything, just love. 



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A reflection on being a scandalous people

Our first reading is 2 Chronicles 6:12,14-21.

Scandal. Do you watch it? This television show is a hit among some of my family and friends. I've see it a few times and, every week, the scandal on the show increases. The show tires to up the ante on what came before. The impossible, the unbelievable, and the shocking just keeps happening. The show is downright exciting. 

Did you know that scandals are also at the center of God's story? One way to sum up the two parts of God's story that we proclaim is to see what's scandalous in the Old Testament and what's scandalous in the New. The Apostle Paul and the Gospels point to the cross as  the scandal of the New Testament. The fact that God's Son died just doesn't make sense. Why would that happen? How can God die? Why would God live a human life? Why would we kill Jesus? These are the questions of the New Testament. The story is so familiar to us that we struggle to see how scandalous Jesus Christ is. But when we take a step back, look at what Scripture shows and tells us, the Cross is a scandal because, from our perspective, it doesn't seem possible. 

In the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures as I sometimes call them), the scandal isn't what people do. The scandal is that the God of the universe, the God that created everything, decided that the Israelites will be God's people. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, with no power, or armies, or wealth. They had nothing yet God chose them to be God's people. The Israelites never develop an empire, they never matched Rome or Alexander the Great or even the United States in wealth, power, and authority. But the Israelites are God's people and God chooses to live with them. 

So how can we respond to this scandal? In our first reading today, Solomon is dedicating the Temple as God's house. His prayer can only point to the scandal and admit that God's choice is beyond understanding. God's promise to be with who God chooses doesn't depend on what the people do. It only depends on God's promise. And that's who we are - a people who depend on God's promise. We live through a God who lives with us and who died for us. We are, in someways, a scandalous people


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Who Hears [Sermon Manuscript]

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Revelation 22:10-14,16-22

Pastor Marc's sermon on Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 8, 2016) on Revelation 22:10-14,16-22. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


How to you end a book about the end? That’s the question I like to imagine John of Patmos struggling with as he was writing the last paragraph of what we call the book of Revelation. In my head, I see him sitting in a poorly lit room, with his manuscript on his lap, and smoke from candles making soot marks on the ceiling. He flips through what he's written. He re-reads his visions of heaven and he recreates in his mind the vivid and colorful images his words paint for us. He sees the four horsemen, sees God’s holy city descending from heaven, and watches as God’s story of faith, love, and hopes collide with the faith, hope, and fear that the Roman Empire taught and proclaimed. Through Jesus, John knows that God is doing an almost ridiculous thing. Instead of scratching everything and starting over, God is taking what's already here in this world and making all things new. The broken, the doubting, and even those who do not know God are being transformed. The call from John to the people who hear his words is simple: don't forget that Jesus is with you through all things. And this relationship isn't just life-affirming, it’s life changing. John, in the 21 chapters before this, shared so much. But how to end it? Maybe, as he waits for the Spirit to inspire him, he watches as the candlelight flickers, casting shadows on the walls. And as these shadows move and dance, he sees images of the people he’s writing these words to. He sees the 7 churches, the homes they use as sanctuaries, the men and women who lead worship, and the young and old who gather there on Sunday mornings, in the predawn hours, to experience Jesus. And so, as the images of people dance before him, John takes a breath, puts his pen to paper, and the words just come.

Now, this past Friday and Saturday, was the New Jersey Synod’s annual meeting. Our denomination’s regional body met - so the Lutheran churches in NJ, sent their pastors and some of their members to meet for a day and a half to talk about what it's like being the church in New Jersey. I was there, as well as Joanne Milano and David Crouse. But I did more than just share the joys and struggles we experience here at Christ Lutheran. I also co-lead a workshop over lunch on Friday that was all about church communication. Over 3 dozen folks gathered in a small conference room to talk about social media, facebook, websites, newspapers, and more. And it was great because, in the entire hour and a half, the conversation didn’t stop. People talked. They asked questions. And, after the workshop ended and I returned to the wider churchwide session, there was one question someone asked that wouldn’t stop gnawing at me. I….couldn’t stop thinking about it. We were asked if the New Jersey synod had any tips or tricks on how to use church communication tools to target, and market to, a specific audience. Churches do have a point of view, a message to share, and different parts of our story appeal to different kinds of people. Someone who loves thinking, talking, and mulling over God while in conversation with ancient theologians and modern day scholars might not respond to a message which highlights that our denomination is second only to the Roman Catholics when it comes to providing social services like nursing homes, food programs, and more. Our story needs to speak to different kinds of people and we need to know the people we’re speaking too. And that's what targeting is about: knowing our audience and knowing our own story, too. 

But there’s about a third of God’s story that this question misses. By focusing on who we’re trying to reach or on the story they need to hear, we bypass the message teller. We hope that the right message, or the right story, or the right words or images to share, will do all the work for us. If we just advertise in the right spot, and make sure these ads show up in the right space like during the Super Bowl or we never someone logs into Facebook, everything will just fall into place. Faith will spread. Our pews will fill and the world will be changed. But, in this scenario, the message, in the end, won't involve us at all. And that’s what got me about the question we were asked. The question wasn't how we, personally, could share Jesus. The question was assuming that the message, somehow, isn't meant to come through us. But the medium is the message and it's hard to admit that God has has called us - to be God’s message tellers. We, who don’t always know what to say, who might not even know what our own faith story is, we’re the ones called to tell and share what God is doing in our lives. And sometimes this story - this message - is obvious. When we feel God active in our lives, that's easy to share. But sometimes, the most honest thing we can do is admit to others when we don’t sense God - and share that our faith, is sometimes hard. We’re the ones who, in our baptism, are given the job to tell our story and God’s story too. The message without the message teller doesn’t share all of who God is and what God does. God is making all things new but that needs to be pointed out and shared with our family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. We’re called to point out when we see that new thing, when we see that transformation, even when the one who is new happens to be us. 

When the ink of the last paragraph of Revelation finally dried, what John wrote was simply: come. Come and see what God is doing in the world. Come and see what God is doing in my life. Come and see how God loves - and God won’t let our brokenness be the final word for us or for the world. Come and see. Come and notice. Come and share. Because as God’s story bubbles up in our lives - as acts of service, acts of love, and acts of faith suddenly show up and make themselves felt - when we hear God say ‘come’ - we don’t hoard that message for ourselves. We don’t hide it from everyone else. We who hear, we who experience, we who see and know God, we go into our world, to our friends, to our families, and to even strangers - and, like John of Patmos, like the 7 churches he wrote too, we who are imperfect - who are broken - and who mess up - we point to Jesus and say to all: ‘come.’ 



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A Reflection on the the Ark in Jerusalem & the Book of Chronicles

Our first reading is 1 Chronicles 16:23-34.

The book of Chronicles is a bit of a time-warp for us. In our Year with the Bible reading, last we showed us the destruction of Jerusalem. The very next book in our bible is 1 Chronicles which begins with Adam's genealogy. In someways, we're starting over. Scholars argue that 1 and 2 Chronicles was written after much of the Hebrew Bible (otherwise known as the Old Testament) was put together. The book rely on the Torah (the first five books of the bible), 1st and 2nd Samuel, and 1st and 2nd Kings to tell its story. But the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles included other sources and information that wasn't included in the prior books (and sometimes contradicts it). Why does scripture include different books that sometimes tell competing or different stories? One reason that makes sense to me is that Scripture isn't afraid of a wider story. Scripture includes all the stories and traditions because, without them, God's story would not be as big as it truly is. Our desire for one authentic, historical, and "correct" storyline isn't scripture gives us. Instead, scripture wants to tell all of God's story which is bigger than we can imagine.

Today's poem takes place when David brings the Ark into Jerusalem. It's a composite piece, pulling together several different psalms to praise God. Think of it as a mixtape to God, with Psalm 96 and Psalm 106 being used together to describe who God is. And this is what praise is: telling who God is. When we gather together to worship God, we're not gathering because God needs our praise or God needs to be flattered. We gather to tell God's story, to share what God has done, and how God is with us. Praise is proclaiming and sharing that God is good and howe we can live in God's goodness. When the ark enters Jerusalem, David's words of praise are about living in God's goodness because "his steadfast love endures forever" and that love is for me, you, and the entire world. 


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