Questions and Reflections

May 2019

Tell Me More [Sermon Manuscript]

Jesus answered [Judas - not Iscariot], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

”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.

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

John 14:23-29

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 26, 2019) on John 14:23-29. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


If you were given the chance, would you question the Son of God?

Now, on one level, the answer to that question seems obvious. If Jesus, aka part of the Trinity, aka God, showed up in a form we could easily talk with, why wouldn’t we ask him a question? Scripture tells us that he was there in the beginning; that all things were created through him; and that he’ll be there at the end, shining bright in the everlasting city of God. Who else could tell us more about whatever we have questions about? Yet that reality of Jesus might also be what causes us to sort-of hesitate when it comes to questioning God. Because, as we just heard, Jesus is connected to everything. And since he’s connected to everything, that also means he’s connected to you and to me. Jesus can do more than merely recognize us from across a crowded room. Jesus’ relationship with us means that he already knows us, including everything that makes us who we are. Jesus not only knows the questions we want to ask; he also knows why we want to ask those questions in the first place. Any answer Jesus gives us is also going to address all those other questions lurking underneath the surface. All our insecurities, all our fears, and all those things that make us vulnerable - everything that’s part of why we wanted to ask Jesus that question in the first place - is going to be included in Jesus’ answer. Our attempt to get Jesus to tell us more about what we want to know might also, in the end, tell us more about ourselves than we’re quite ready to understand.

In today’s reading from the gospel according to John, we find ourselves listening to Jesus as he, once again, answered a question. Jesus had gathered his friends together for a meal knowing that he about to be arrested, tried, and killed. He wanted to prepare his friends for what life would be like when their experience of Jesus changed. So Jesus spent several chapters talking to his friends. Now, we might imagine, based on Jesus’ other sermons, that this preparation would involve Jesus talking at people while they, primarily, just listened. Yet that wasn’t the case here. In fact, the first parts of Jesus’ long conversation was filled with the disciples asking questions. “First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (a different Judas - not the Judas who would betray Jesus) (14:22) [asked] for clarification about what Jesus [was] telling them.” The disciples knew that there was a time to be silent and a time when they had to speak up. So after listening to Jesus talk about what life would be like once he died, rose, and ascended into heaven, Judas asked Jesus to tell him more. In the verse right before the ones we just read, Judas asked: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Judas, I think, wanted some kind of sign letting him and the rest of the community know that Jesus was still with them. If their experience of Jesus changed, how would they know that their time with him mattered? How could they learn to accept the three years they spent following Jesus throughout Galilee and Judah only to watch him die on a Cross? And how would they justify their relationship with Jesus if the only thing they were left with were memories while they sat locked in a room, afraid?

A few days ago, I found myself listening to the author Kelly Corrigan while she was being interviewed on a podcast. Kelly is the author of several books including The Middle Place, a memoir describing her and her father’s simultaneous experience of cancer - an experience she survived and he didn’t. She’s also a parent who, like many of us, has developed phrases she uses all the time to help her with her kids. The interviewer, after listening to Kelly describe her own story, asked her to talk more deeply about one of her go-to phrases: “tell me more.” It’s a phrase Kelly has used over the years to uncover those questions under the question. Like many of us, when someone comes to us upset, frustrated, or a little hurt - our instinct is to try and fix whatever problem they have. So within the first ten seconds of the conversation, we find ourselves immediately giving advice or feedback or our opinion on how they can “fix” whatever it is. Instead of waiting to hear their whole story, we jump in at the very first thing they said. We end up leaving those kinds conversations feeling proud ourselves for the advice we gave while the other person feels as if we didn’t listen to them at all. The first words in these kinds of conversations are rarely the real question that needs to be answered. When we find ourselves interjecting and immediately trying to “fix” the problem we think we heard, the phrase “tell me more” helps us listen more deeply and completely. Those three little words can create a safe space where the other person can reveal their vulnerabilities, their fears, and their insecurities. And as the rest of their story unfolds, an opportunity for more meaningful questions and connection comes to light. When we say “tell me more” and when spend time asking clarifying questions, we might even help the other person discover the solution they didn’t think they already had. Or when a situation arises where no solution is possible, the words “tell me more” can create an experience where a person feels heard, valued, and above all, loved. When we seek out the “more” of the story, when our questions are less about looking for a solution and more about forming a deeper connection, then something holy is created. We end up being more than just a good friend; we find ourselves living into our identity as followers of Jesus because the love He gives shines through the lives we live.

Throughout Jesus’ story, we see disciples, religious leaders, gentiles, moms, dads, the sick, the poor, the wealthy, and even demons asking Jesu  questions. As scary as it might be to ask the One who knows you that one question burning on your lips, asking questions is what the faith-filled life is all about. We are called to not only ask questions in our prayers or at Sunday school. We’re also called to ask these same questions to each other as we all struggle to figure out what following Jesus is all about. The questions you ask are holy, beautiful, and exactly what they should be. And the rest of us gathered around you are called to treat your questions well and to invite you, in a spirit of love and care, to tell us more. Because when we safely share our story with one another, we discover that our real love for each other is the true sign of Christ’s presence that Judas asked Jesus for.





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Reflection: Hospitality

Today’s reading from the book of Acts 16:9-15 introduces us to a woman named Lydia. We meet her outside the city gates of Philippi, a Roman city in northern Greece. Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, the most expensive kind of cloth one could buy in the ancient world. The color purple was only for the wealthy and those with immense political power. The process needed to create purple dye was expensive, time consuming and very smelly. Those who made the dye were sometimes pushed out of polite society because the work was so harsh and tainted. Lydia was the owner of her own business which invites us to think of her in a few different ways. We can imagine her as strong, independent and wealthy - someone with status and power. Or we can imagine her as someone pushed aside who was not considered part of the Philippi community. Lydia’s name is even a little bit odd because it seems to identify the place she was from (a region in modern Turkey). Lydia could have been a former slave, an immigrant or a migrant. The text does not let us limit Lydia to only one identity. Instead, I think the author of Acts wanted us to realize that we shouldn’t expect Lydia to be where she was. Paul shouldn’t be meeting Lydia. And we should think of her as having whatever identity makes us recognize just how odd this moment was.

Paul had a dream that God was calling him to bring the gospel to Europe. He saw a man asking him for the good news. But what he found instead was a group of women. These women, after experiencing the gift of faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit, then do something unexpected: they offered hospitality. When we talk about sharing our faith, we point out how we need to offer hospitality to others. At CLC, we model this hospitality by printing our entire worship service in a bulletin, saying hello to everyone visiting for the first time, inviting everyone to the Lord’s table, and making sure our faith isn’t lived out only within these eight walls. Part of our calling as followers of Jesus is to offer hospitality to everyone. But another aspect of that calling is that God wants us to accept hospitality too. When you accept hospitality, you create a moment when you can strengthen a relationship. And once that relationship is strengthened, you will find yourself doing what you never thought possible: you will share Jesus through words and deeds.


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Color This: Pastor Marc's Messenger Article for June 2019

On May 18th, Pastor Marc, M.Z. and C. H. sat at the Christ Lutheran Church tent at Woodcliff Lake’s 2nd Annual Pear Blossom Festival. Located on the causeway in the middle of town, CLC invited passersby to do more than learn about the church. Instead, we invited them to color. Using large posters depicting different verses from the Psalms, kids and adults of all ages added color to these visual representations of God’s Word. Christ Lutheran Church has been a part of the community for 60 years, and we invited people in the community to help create art that will decorate our chapel space. At one point, Pastor Marc found himself coloring with two pre-teen girls and their moms. Around the table were two Roman Catholics, two Hindus, and a Lutheran pastor coloring with colored pencils. We talked about faith (i.e., what’s Lutheran?), our commitment to being faith-filled people and our desire to make a difference in the wider community. Coloring can be a very meditative and relaxing experience. It invites us to stop, be patient and reflect on who (and whose) we are. When we color together, we learn about each other. And when we learn about each other, we discover that the Holy Spirit is already present, deepening our faith and our commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As we celebrate this month by welcoming two new voting members via Confirmation (M.T. and J.C.), we invite them to make a commitment to pause, reflect and discern their commitment to the One who is always committed to them. Let’s give thanks for following a Jesus who knows us so well and who helps color in our lines through grace, love, service and hope.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc


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By This: Expectations vs Experience

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 13:31-35

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 19, 2019) on John 13:31-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So I don’t really know a lot about geese and most of my experience with them has been pretty superficial. I usually engage them at a distance, watching as they flying overhead in the shape of a giant V or by stepping gingerly over and around the little...digested gifts they leave on sidewalks and on soccer fields. If close contact between me and them can’t be avoided, I know I need to be careful. A goose who sees me coming near, always assumes I’m either a threat that needs to be honked at or that I work in a bakery and my pockets are full of bread. Geese, like all of God’s creatures, are beautiful in their own way. But I’m not always thrilled to see them waddling around here at church. So far, the church has seen hordes of new geese making a seasonal stop on our property since we’re right next to the reservoir. Every one of these large groups of gooses has done all the things geese usually do. They ate. They honked. And they digested. Geese are always just themselves and feels as if they’re everywhere.

Yet this year, the giant invasion of geese has been a little different because no large group has decided to make CLC part of their extended stay in the neighborhood. Instead, they come for a quick bite before flying or waddling down to the reservoir. The geese flying through Northern New Jersey this year has made CLC a minor pit stop on their journey - except for two. Over the last few weeks, every time I pulled into the church parking lot, I stumbled onto the same two gooses. They were there, walking along Pascack Road, hanging out by Joe’s shed, chatting with our groundhogs by the picnic tables and bbq, and even paying their respects to all who rest in our memorial garden. Instead of a bazillion grease calling CLC home - we, at this moment, have only two. Now, they’re still geese. They’re still eating, honking, and doing their best to digest whatever they can. Nothing they’re doing, on the surface, feels weird. Except our expectations are undone because the bazillion geese we promised ourselves would be here is now reduced to two. Their presence here feels as if we’re watching something new. The fact they chose to eat, hang out, and help each other makes what we were witnessing feel special. I have no idea if these geese are mates, siblings, or just good friends who met each other during one of their routine flying trips. All I know is that they are here being who they are - and I find myself experiencing them in a new way.

Today’s reading from the gospel according to John are four verses from a story we heard a little more than five weeks ago on Maundy Thursday. In John’s version of the last supper, Jesus gathered his friends together in a room to eat, talk, and do all the things we expect at a great dinner party. I imagine there was plenty of food, comfortable seating, and that the room was filled with conversation looking forward to the upcoming festival of Passover and wondering what Jesus might do next. Jesus’ friends, I think, had no problem dreaming up what they thought Jesus’ next actions should be. Yet their dreaming about the future usually caused them to miss seeing what Jesus was already doing in the here and now. In the gospel according to John, Jesus is the only one who knew what the next part of his story would be. So while his friends talked, drank, and ate, Jesus stood up and hung a dish towel from his belt. He then chose to take on the role reserved for a slave, washing the dirty and dusty feet of all who ate. Jesus, their teacher, went to each of the disciples, his students, and washed their feet. Peter, realizing what Jesus was doing, tried to stop him from embracing the role reserved for a servant or a slave. Yet Jesus still knelt - and he, the Savior of the World, washed their feet. The disciples’ expectations for Jesus were running head-first into their actual experience of Jesus. Yet Jesus was always just himself. And the disciples found themselves experiencing Jesus in a new way - and discovering, once again, what God means when it comes to love.

The word love, as we see in verse 34, is preceded by the word “new.” Which forces us to ask what’s actually new with what Jesus said? On one level, the commandment Jesus gave here was not really new at all. Those same words appear in the book of Leviticus and the call to love is one that’s found throughout all of Scripture. The commandment Jesus gave was something the disciples already knew as something they were called to do. So that command to love wasn’t new. But maybe the experience of that love and how we see it - is what makes Jesus’ words brand new.

Because the commandment to love is not defined by what we think love is. Rather, the love Jesus points to is the love God gives. In the words of Rev. David Lose, “[Jesus says this] just hours before [he] will be handed over, tried, beaten, and crucified…all for us. Not as payment against some wicked debt God holds against us. Not to make a just and angry God satisfied or happy. Not because this was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath and make it possible for God to forgive us. Rather, Jesus goes to the cross to show us just how much God loves us. Jesus has been extending God’s forgiveness and love throughout the Gospel.. ‘And having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (13:1).”

Like seeing two gooses instead of fifty, sometimes the only way we can see the new thing God is doing in our lives is by letting go of our expectations for God. When we, overtly or subconsciously, make our experiences of God the limit of what’s possible with God, we miss all the signs of love, mercy, and forgiveness God gifts us each and every day. Your encounter with God is not the limit to what is possible with God for yourself and for those around you. Rather, Jesus is in the business of “...reminding us ... how much he loves us… so… that we might be empowered to love others, extending God’s love through word and deed, and in this way love others as Jesus ... loved us.” These reminders might appear to us in a form that will match our expectations. But they can also be so subtle, so unique, and so odd - that we find ourselves surprised to know that such love, for us, is truly possible. Jesus’ love for you is already present in your life. And it’s up to all of us to help one another discover what that love can actually do.






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Reflection: You Are Who You Eat With

What was the last thing God revealed to you that you struggled with?

In today’s reading from the book of Acts 11:1-18, Peter recalled a moment in his life when he did not understand what God was telling him. Peter, after he saw God at work in people who were not Jewish, began to include them in his ministry. He entered into their homes to teach, baptize, and eat with them. At the time, the early church was debating about what to do with non-Jews (or Jews who were also Greek) who believed in Jesus. These new converts to the faith did not share Jesus’ faith tradition or follow all of his cultural practices. They did not keep kosher (i.e. follow food laws) or participate in the every rite that defined the Jewish community as Jewish. As more and more Gentiles began to follow Jesus, the church wasn’t sure how to (or if they even should) include them. At first, they established new ministries (aka deacons) to oversee the faith life of Jewish people with a Greek ethnic background. But then came the moment when the Holy Spirit told the church to include all who follow the Jesus. While at a meeting with the church community in Jerusalem, Peter’s practice of eating with non-Jews was questioned. He responded by sharing with the other apostles what the Spirit had showed him.

What struck me about Peter’s vision how honest he was about how long it took him to understand what God was doing. The Spirit gave Peter a vision of a divine banquet where ritually uncleaned animals were being served. Peter, who kept kosher, knew be couldn’t eat these animals. But a voice kept inviting Peter to eat. Peter, at first, said no but the voice was persistent. After being prodded by the Spirit three times, Peter finally understood what God was telling him. God was already at work with those who were not keeping kosher and the Spirit was already making them followers of Christ. Peter’s job was to help the church become more inclusive by including those God had already made God’s own.

If we’re honest, we know it sometimes takes two, three, or a dozen messages from God before we finally understand what God is telling us. When we look back at our life, we find moments when God was at work and we did not know it. That does not mean we were failures. Rather we, like Peter, needed time to embrace what God was already doing. In Paul’s version of today’s story, even Peter occasionally reverted to not being as inclusive as God wanted him to be. One of our responsibilities as Christians is to admit when we do not understand what God is doing. We are called to share every part of our story. Because when finally we see what God is already up to, we can then meet Jesus where he already is.


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Reflection: Tell Us

Today's reading from the gospel according to John (John 10:22-30) takes place during the holiday known as Hanukkah. The Festival of Dedication (aka Hanukkah) is about the rededication of the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Leaders from the Seleucid Empire placed idols and other statues of gods in the Temple. After rising up against their rule, the idols were removed and the Temple was rededicated to God. This festival became a holiday that Jesus also celebrated.

Today’s story starts during one of Jesus’ many visits to Jerusalem. As was his custom, he went to the Temple. While there, the religious authorities came to him with a question: who are you? They aren’t interested in a theological debate. What they want is clarity. I imagine they hoped Jesus would say something like "I am the Son of God" or "I am God" or "I am the Lord." Such a response would get Jesus into trouble (how would we respond to anyone claiming to be God?) and clear up the almost cryptic language Jesus seemed to us. And I think we get that. We, like them, seek clarity. When we say, Jesus is Lord, we want that phrase to be so clear that all questions and concerns other have are removed. We want any doubts we have to finally vanish. The search for clarity is a search for certainty. And we want that certainty to remove all the doubts and fears we might have.

But Jesus doesn't speak plainly. Instead, he seems to talk around the issue. In the words of Dr. Karoline Lewis, "[The religious authorities] are not able to believe because they are not Jesus' sheep. They are not sheep because they do not listen to Jesus. They do not listen to Jesus, so therefore they are not Jesus' sheep. While this may appear to be yet another example of Jesus orbiting around the issue, it is meant to reiterate that to be a disciple means to be in a relationship with Jesus." The kind of certainty they seek isn't what Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t want you to know who he is; he wants you to experience how knowing him makes a difference in your life. What Jesus wants is relationship. A relationship with Jesus has space for all our questions, doubts, and fears. A relationship with Jesus can hold joy and worry. A relationship with Jesus lets us know that, no matter what, Jesus will never let us go. Jesus' identity, while important, is less important than who he is for us. And that clarity means that, no matter what, God will always be faithful and that we will always have Jesus.


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discipleship with a capital D: Tabitha Was [Sermon Manuscript]

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Acts 9:36-43

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2019) on Acts 9:36-43. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Can you imagine what would your life would be like if you only had one shirt?


It’s difficult, I think, to imagine life without all our clothes. Just a few days ago, our big Trash and Treasure rummage sale made sure that space outside the church office was filled with clothing racks packed tightly with every kind of clothing. You could have purchased shorts, jeans, dresses, jerseys, leggings, evening dresses, suits, motorcycle jackets, hats, bags, ties, scarves, winter coats, and so much more. Half the church contained all the items you would need to look professional while at work and to keep yourself comfortable while binge watching your favorite tv show. What held all of us back from buying everything we wanted had less to do with the amount of clothing available to us and more to do with our budget, sizes, and personal style. We live in a moment of history and in a cultural context when we can personally own a lot of clothing. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for most of human history, people didn’t own much clothing at all. Because until the invention of factories, all clothing was really expensive. Everything needed to make our favorite shirt or favorite hat had to be grown, harvested, and created by hand. There weren’t any online businesses where you could upload an image for your church vacation bible school and have it printed on a thousand shirts. Everything was made one at a time and most items were made at home. As a person, you were financially well off if you had more than a couple of shirts. And you were super fancy if your day look and your night look wasn’t always exactly the same. In the ancient world, there were laws that dealt severe punishments if you were caught stealing someone’s shirt or outfit. Because most people had only one of anything and you could tell a lot about where a person stood in society based on what they wore every day. In a world where every piece of clothing was expensive, the gift of clothing was priceless. And in our reading today from the book of Acts, we meet Tabitha who was known by clothes she freely gave.

We don’t know much about Tabitha. And in fact, this is the only place she appears in all of scripture. At some point in her life, she devoted herself to Jesus but we have no idea when that happened. She might have seen him when he started his ministry in Nazareth or when he spoke in the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s even possible that Tabitha first met Jesus through his friends as they shared their faith with her. We don’t know why Tabitha followed Jesus. All we know is that she did. And she was more than just someone who believed in what Jesus had to say. She, as we read in verse 36, was a disciple.

Now that word disciple might not jump out to you as much it should. Because, throughout scripture, everyone who followed Jesus was lumped into the group known as the disciples. A disciple was typically thought of as a student. They would, through prayer, worship, and scripture reading, study under their teacher Jesus. But a disciple was more than just someone who tried to get information out of Jesus. They were trying to live a life that took seriously everything that made him, Him. Jesus lived as if God’s kingdom was truly near and so disciples were invited to live that way too. A disciple, through the help of the Holy Spirit, walked where Jesus walked; prayed where Jesus prayed; and lived a life that believed God truly loves the world. A disciple takes seriously Jesus’ promise that eternal life starts now.

Tabitha, then, was a disciple and she devoted herself to love. When she died, the community gathered around her to make sure she was buried well. They washed her, laid her in a room upstairs, and surrounded her with their presence. In grief, they sent word to Peter. And when he arrived, he saw that Tabitha wasn’t alone. The community, especially widows, stood around her. Widows were more than women whose husband had died. They were people who, because of patriarchy and systems of oppression, had no usual way to earn money to keep themselves and their family fed. They were vulnerable to abuse, poverty, and homelessness. And they were there, mourning Tabitha. But they were also doing something a little different that we don’t usually hear in the Bible. These widows made sure Peter saw everything Tabitha had made. They showed him the tunics she sewed. They showed him their clothing. They made sure he saw every expensive gift she personally made for each of them. Peter stood there, bearing witness to the life of a disciple rooted in an abundant and consistent generosity. Tabitha, because of her faith, made sure that the vulnerable had the clothing they needed to thrive. She did the hard work to make sure those who society chose to ignore or push aside received the gift of dignity, care, and love that can come from a new piece of clothing. For Tabitha, the widows were not going to be defined by what they lacked. Instead, she gave them a taste of what God’s kingdom was all about. Tabitha didn’t horde, stockpile, or keep for herself the gifts and resources God gave her. Instead, she lived her life as a disciple - and she made sure that others might know that God loved them too.

Being a disciple is not only about being a student; instead, it’s a title and a way of life. And if we knew ancient Greek, the language the book of Acts was first written in, Tabitha’s status as a disciple would have truly jumped out at us. In Ancient greek, language is gendered which means some words are considered male, some female, and others can shift from a male or female form. The word disciple is, throughout the bible, typically always male because any group of people that had at least one male in it, would force that word to always be male. It didn’t matter if a group was 99 women and 1 guy; the word disciple would be, in that case, gendered male. Yet in verse 36, we find ourselves confronted by the only time the Bible uses the feminine version of the word to disciple to describe who Tabitha was. She wasn’t just someone who believed in Jesus; she was a disciple. Which means she was just like Peter; just like Mary Magdalene; she was just like Paul. She lived her life as if Jesus mattered and she knew that Jesus’ generosity of love, grace, and mercy, needed to be reflected in the generosity she gave too. She followed Jesus and that made her love others like Jesus did too. Tabitha wasn’t afraid to do the hard, expensive, and most generous thing possible because she trusted that, no matter what, she belonged to Jesus and Jesus belonged to her. She gives all of us, regardless of our gender, a model of what living the faith looks like. Because all of us, through our baptism and through our faith, were given the same title she shared. We are, right now, disciples of Jesus. So can we imagine how our lives would be different if we, like Tabitha, lived as if being disciple was the only thing we had?





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I Will: Saul and the Promises of God

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Acts 9:1-20

Pastor Marc's sermon on Third Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019) on Acts 9:1-20. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So I’m going to begin today with a bit of a pop quiz and I’d like you to shout out the answers to my questions. How many books are in what we call the New Testament? 27. How many of those books are considered to be epistles - i.e. letters? 21. Of those letters, how many were attributed to a guy named Paul? 13. And what was Paul’s original name? Saul. If you counted up all the words in the New Testament, roughly â…“ of them are attributed to a guy who began his career trying to stop people from following Jesus. In the book of Acts, we first meet Saul, aka Paul, briefly in chapter eight. He’s there, in the background, when a crowd killed Stephen, an early follower of Jesus who wouldn’t stop sharing his faith with those around him. Saul then became more active, trying to stop the people who followed the Way, who followed Jesus, from practicing their faith. In the words of Amy Oden, Saul saw Jesus’ followers “as [people] within his own faith [tradition that needed] rescue from their error.” Saul loved God and he wanted to stamp out anything that, in his view, dishonored God. Saul began going house to house, throwing into prison anyone he found practicing the Way. Jesus’ friends responded to this and other acts of violence by fleeing from their homes, becoming refugees searching for safety. Saul chose to follow them, leaving the land of ancient Israel behind as he headed towards Syria and Damascus. He carried with him letters giving him the authority to not only interrogate the religious beliefs of the people he met. But he could also arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem. As he neared the city, a bright light suddenly surrounded him. Saul fell to the ground, met Jesus, and found himself to be blind. For three days, he neither ate nor drank. He was a vulnerable visitor in a city that wasn’t his home and the letters of authority he held in his hands were ones he could no longer read. His mission was now in jeopardy. His status as a defender of the faith was almost gone. He was in the exact opposition position than where he was at the very start of today’s text. And it’s then when we meet Ananias, a follower of Jesus who Saul, just a few days before, would have arrested and taken to Jerusalem.

Which is why, I think, Ananias response to Jesus is a pretty good one. After falling asleep, Jesus sent Ananias a vision, telling him to visit Saul. Now, Saul’s reputation had preceded him. Ananias not only knew what Saul had done but he was also aware of Saul’s mission in the city of Damascus. Even though Saul couldn’t necessarily read the letters of authority he carried, the people around him could. It’s safe to assume that Judas, the owner of the house Saul was saying in, knew who Saul was and what kind of authority he had. If Ananias’ visited Saul, it would be as if he was walking into a trap. Any attempt to heal Saul through the laying on of hands would require Ananias to say the name of Jesus out loud. Saul, at that point, would only need to say a word to have Ananias arrested. Ananias knew the kind of trouble a visit to Saul would bring. So, in an act of deep faithfulness, he laid out all his concerns to the Lord. Ananias tried to negotiate with the Lord but Jesus wouldn’t back down. His command to Ananias remained the same. Ananias’ visit to Saul who be part of a mission to spread Jesus to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews. But Jesus also chose to not let Ananias’ anxiety get the best of him. Jesus kept talking. And as depending on which words we chose to emphasize in verse 16, we can change what Jesus’ call to Ananias actually means.

On one level, I think we are drawn to the second half of verse 16, where Jesus said that Saul must suffer because of  Jesus’ name. As we saw, the author of Acts wanted us to see how Saul caused so many others to suffer because they dared to utter the name of Jesus. If they had to suffer than it only seems fair that Saul, a person who caused suffering, should also suffer as well. When we put our emphasis on the second half of verse 16, we end up making God into some kind of balance act. If a follower of Jesus ends up suffering, than the one who caused that suffering should experience some kind of suffering too. This idea of balance, while not protecting us from being hurt, at least makes us feel a bit more comfortable because we know, in the end, that a cosmic balance of suffering will even out. We tend to not spend too much time thinking about this balancing act when we, ourselves, cause others to suffer. Rather, when we are hurt or are in pain or even when we just don’t get our way, we want, at a minimum, for our feelings and our experiences to be balanced out on those who hurt us. A Saul who caused suffering ends up becoming that Saul who suffers.

Yet, that’s not the only part of verse 16 that we can emphasize. We can, instead, go to that verse’s very first word: I. Jesus makes a very specific claim about what God will do in this moment. God will not ignore what Saul had done nor will God fail to listen to the concerns Ananias has. God will be faithful to everyone in this moment - including those who follow Jesus, those who don’t, and everyone else who’s in-between. God promises to be involved in the nitty gritty details of our everyday lives which means God knows our fears, our struggles, and our sufferings. God promises to be with us, no matter what, and that, in the end, will carry us through. It’s not our responsibility, when it comes to God, to decide who has and who hasn’t suffered enough. Our call isn’t to enhance or increase the suffering in the world but, instead, to heal it. So Ananias, after hearing what God promises, responded by doing the only thing he could do: he went and visited Saul. And after laying his hands on him, he stayed with him - feeding his body, his soul, and his faith while connecting him to a wider community so that Saul would know he wasn’t alone.

The call of the baptized, the call of those who have encountered Jesus, and the call of those who have even a tiny bit of faith is to always let God be God while, at the same time, inviting us to live into the promises God has made. Through the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own not because we know how to perfectly emphasize every sentence in the Bible. No, we belong to God because the body of Christ, the church, and this community of faith couldn’t be what it’s supposed to be without you. Your past is not a summation of your future and your sufferings are not the limit to what God has in mind for you. You belong with Jesus, not because you are perfect or because you’ve never tried to negotiate with God. You belong because, through baptism and faith, God has made a promise to never give up on you.





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Reflection: A Moment of Recognition

Have you ever been heckled by Jesus? That's an odd question because we usually see heckling as something negative. When someone interrupts our speaking as a way to troll, attack, or harass us, that kind of heckling is unwanted, unnecessary, and unChristian. But there is a different kind of heckling that, even unintentionally, ends up distracting us. I bet many of us have had situations where our train of thought was derailed by another person. If you've spent any time around young children, you know what it is like to have your serious thought interrupted by someone noticing the color of your shoes or wondering what unicorns eat. This kind of heckling might feel like a disrespectful interruption. But, in some cases, it really isn't. Rather, it's a reminder that the person we're communicating with isn't only here to receive the words we say. Rather, we are in a relationship that requires our give and take.

When Jesus talked to the disciples (John 21:1-19) while they were in the boat, they had no idea who he was. The disciples, after meeting Jesus in the locked room, had returned to everyday life. They sail onto the Sea of Tiberius (aka Sea of Galilee) in a small 15 foot boat and fish all night long. The work was exhausting, dirty, and everyone got wet. It was normal to work naked or only in your skivvies. After a busy night, the dawn comes and they have nothing. They see a man cooking breakfast on the seashore and the man called out to them, wondering what they caught. The disciples, I assume, were probably feeling a little defeated. They knew they worked hard and had nothing to show for it. Without any fish, they might not have food for breakfast or anything to sell in the marketplace. They might have been dwelling in the defeat of a worthless night. Jesus' question could be considered a kind of heckle, a reminder of their failure. They could have reacted badly to Jesus' question. They could have rejected his invitation for them to try again. But, for some reason, they don't. They toss their nets into the sea one more time and, this time, everything changed.

When the disciples finally arrived on shore, they noticed Jesus cooking breakfast. On a charcoal fire was bread and fish. Jesus had no need for any of the fish the disciples had caught. Instead, Jesus already had everything they needed. When our train of thought is interrupted by a heckle we didn't expect, we are invited to pay attention. The word we receive might be exactly what we need to hear to get out of our own head and notice the relationship of love, grace, and abundance that is already around us.


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