Questions and Reflections

June 2016

A reflection on Psalm 63

Our first reading is Psalm 63.

By the end of the day today, according to our Year with the Bible reading schedule, we'll have read 89 of the 150 psalms. Many times we've encountered a place called Sheol. Sheol is a vision of what happens after death. Our vision of heaven and hell are not contained in a vision of Sheol. Sheol isn't a half-way part or a way point until people end up with God or not. Sheol, instead, is a wasteland where all end up. It's dark, lonely, and silent. When Sheol is described in scripture, it is without possibilities. Everyone there feels like they're waiting for something to happen. But since the people are dead, nothing will happen. Those who live in Sheol wait, and wait, and wait, for something that never comes. 

For the author of Psalm 63, that silence is the epitome of life in Sheol. Silence is a firm description of what death is all about. This psalm is a trust psalm where the author longs for God's presence. The author trusts that God is present and loves the author. The author has experienced God, felt God in their lives, and cannot stop talking about God. For this author, to be with God is to speak about God. To speak about God is to experience life and opportunity. A life with God is a life of words, sounds, and music. A life without God is a life that will only end in permanent silence. 

The author of Psalm 63 is not saying that silence is bad but they are encouraging us to share. To trust God is to trust that we matter to God and God is active in our lives. When we experience God or see God active in someone (or something) else, we're called to share that with others. We're called to share our experiences of faith. These experiences are gifts from God that can do more than just nourish our relationship with God. By sharing these experiences, we can bring God and God's love to someone who needs it. 


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We Didn't Start the Fire [Sermon Manuscript]

When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:51-62

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (June 26, 2016) on Luke 9:51-62. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So, I’d like to make a confession to all of you: I would never make it as a Broadway actor. Now I know this not only because I can’t really sing, or dance, or memorize lines. I don't think I  could make it on Broadway because I’m not sure I could handle the rejection. From the actors I know and the stories I’ve read, talent for Broadway is important, but how we handle rejection matters even more. Going into an open audition, with headshots, and resumes, and demo tapes, and all that - that seems doable. But having to do that day in, and day out, and praying that today I would I get that elusive “call-back” for another round of try-outs - that would be hard. To experience that kind of rejection over and over and over again would be soul crushing, frustrating, and exhausting - which is why I sympathize with the reaction the disciples’ had when they experienced rejection in our reading from Luke today. They entered a village of the Samaritans, serving as the advance team to prepare the village for the arrival of Jesus. But when Jesus finally came, the village refused to receive him. They rejected him. The Samaritans see Jesus focused on Jerusalem, so they don’t let him in. 

Now, their rejection of Jesus isn’t surprising. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the center of Jewish worship. Jerusalem for Jesus and the other Jews like him, is where God is; it's the place God calls home. But the Samaritans disagreed. They believe God is also located at the ancient holy site of Mount Gerzaim. Jesus’ turn towards Jerusalem is a turning away from what the Samaritans believe. So the behavior of the villagers isn’t surprising - but what the disciples want to do, is. 

James and John, after spending time and energy to prepare the village for Jesus’ arrival, get mad. They go through the stories they know and they remember something that Elijah the prophet, once did. Soldiers from the old Northern Kingdom of Israel, the area that became Samaria, tried to force Elijah to visit the king. The soldiers were from the wrong part of town, worshiped God the wrong way, and they had the gall to assume they could get a prophet of God to do what they want. So Elijah burned them up. Jesus’ disciples, trying to make sense of why the Samaritans would not receive Jesus, twist bits of this old story to give meaning behind what they are experiencing now. James and John asks Jesus to embrace their anger and do what Elijah did. 

But Jesus says no. 

Which is a really great response. This is the Jesus we like to preach and share - the Jesus who doesn’t rain fire and brimstone on those who reject him and who doesn’t encourage violence as a response to difference or disagreement. This Jesus - isn’t a Jesus that the church has always followed. In our long and bloody history, we’re too often like James and John when it comes to engaging with people who don’t believe like we do. And I’m not sure the church has repented enough when it comes to the violence we’ve inflicted and caused. Jesus tells his disciples that our job isn't to seek and destroy. We’re called, instead, to save and heal. 

But what does that healing look like? Well, not raining fire from above on people and communities we don’t like or agree with is probably a start. We also need to work hard so our feelings of rejection don’t cause us to reject others too. But there’s more to following Jesus than just being kind. After Jesus rebuked James and John, their journey towards Jerusalem causes them to run into 3 unnamed people who want to follow Jesus. And Jesus...well...what he says is harsher than what’s come before. One person makes a promise that they will follow Jesus but Jesus makes clear that this journey is not a comfortable one. The journey to Jerusalem doesn’t include the comforts, security, and protection of home. Another follower comes but first wants to bury their father. Jesus tells him that the journey to Jerusalem trumps family loyalty and responsibility. Finally a third comes willing to follow Jesus, but before he goes, he wants to tell his family goodbye. Jesus, again, says “no.” None of these three followers say anything unreasonable. None of them say anything wrong. But Jesus’ rebuke to each of them is harsh. His sayings are strong and they sting because, in the words of Mother Mitties DeChaplain, Jesus “simply refuses to blunt the sharply pointed reality that to share in the work of Jesus is to share in his sacrifice.” Jesus’ face is set to Jerusalem. Jesus knows where he’s going. He knows that following him isn’t about being comfortable. The journey to Jerusalem involves a cross. 

When it comes to rejection - Jesus’ words seem to be rejecting those who can’t fully commit to him. And For those of us already on the inside, who already feel comfortable in our faith, Jesus’ words appear like a pat on the back. We’re already following Jesus - so that must mean we’ve got something others don’t. In the text today, Jesus seems to be holding some kind of audition for those who want to be on his side. But even in this audition-like atmosphere, where these three followers offer their best monologue on why they should star in Jesus’ play, not one of them actually leaves. Their words are rejected - but the text doesn’t say that these followers were cast away from his side. Jesus doesn’t say these harsh words, trying to reject some who wish to follow him. Instead, he’s sharing what being a follower of Jesus looks like. Being a disciple isn’t easy. Being a disciple is more than just being kind. Following Jesus involves a dying - a dying of all our impulses and sin that make us see the world differently than God sees it. The differences we have with each other, the boundaries we define to decide who is in, who is out, and who should be rejected, is not part of God’s agenda, nor does it have a place in God’s kingdom. What God values is what Jesus is about to do and it involves a lot of “self-sacrifice, self-giving, [and] self-forgetfulness.” Being a follower of Jesus means we will be uncomfortable and we will end up in places and with people who we don’t understand and who don’t understand us. But the call to love is bigger than our call to reject because being a disciple involves a cross - a cross that we take up daily because Jesus took up his cross for all. 



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A Reflection on the Psalms

The first reading today is from Psalm 10:1-4,9-18.

When you see and experience God, what are the words that come to mind? I'll admit that even a professional religious person, my experiences of God cannot be fully described. There are times I experience such grace, love, or heart break where words are just not enough. But God-moments are not limited to only experiences that take our breath away. There are times when our spirit cries out in words of joy and lament. In those moments, we don't usually know what to say. We can sometimes worry about what we can actually say to God. We're usually comfortable having God speak to us but what words can we use to speak to God? 

Faith is more than just a belief; faith is also a language. The book of Psalms helps us to speak faith-language. These 150 short (and not-so-short) poems and songs all serve different purposes. Some are prayers asking for God's help while other's celebrate God's creation. Some were used when the King of Israel was crowned and others were the hymns and songs sung in worship. The psalms are meant to be spoken, sung, and heard. They are faith-filled words that cover the full range of human experience and emotion. Fear and joy, sadness and love are all covered in the book of Psalms. There is nothing we can bring to God that God hasn't already heard and the book of Psalms helps us bring our pain and joy to God in whatever words are comfortable to us.

Today's reading is Psalm 10. This is a Psalm centered on human suffering. In the face of evil, the psalmist wonders where God is. After last Sunday's recent terror attack in Orlando where men and women were targeted for being LGBT, that is a question we can ask too. The psalmist knows that God sees what happens and they plead for God to break the power of the wicked and evil. Their prayer is our prayer. We seek justice, love, and peace so that "mere mortals may strike terror no more." 


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Demons [Sermon Manuscript]

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 19, 2016) on Luke 8:26-39. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So as I sat down to write this morning’s manuscript, the word “tombs” is the one that jumped out at me. It’s a word that is just a little too fresh for me today. Yesterday, this community of faith stood among the tombs and graves of Westwood Cemetery to bury Christopher, one of our own. As I walked through that graveyard, my eyes scanned the manicured lawn, stared at the beautifully carved tombstones, and noticed that many of these graves are still visited. There is something very pristine and clean about many modern graveyards. We expect them to look like a cross between a golf course and secluded public park. We want to know that this place - this sacred geography - is actually cared for and maintained. So as I passed by and read the surnames on the tombstones - noticing the germans, the italians, the brits, and the occasional korean and chinese - my mind couldn’t help but think about another 49 graves being filled this weekend. Last Sunday morning, as we worshipped together in this piece of sacred geography, the news of the hate-filled terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was making itself known. By the time I started 9 am worship, we heard rumors that there could be a dozen people dead. By the time I was in the middle of my sermon at the 10:30 service, that number was near 50 with another 53 wounded. The vast majority of them were young, lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender, and, like me, latinos, latinas, and people of color. They were there to experience Latin night - to hear Bachata, Reggaeton, Salsa - all the music that makes my hips sway and my feet move even if I’ve never heard the song before. The latin@ pulse is something we’re just born with - and, last Sunday morning, 49 pulses were cut short because of who they were, who they loved, and by the demons that fed one man’s evil. So today there are 49 new graves in clean and pristine graveyards with Mexican, Puerto-Rican, and Dominican surnames on the tombs. 

But the manicured and well cared for look that we know and expect is not where Jesus finds himself in today’s gospel reading. Jesus has crossed the sea of Galilee, heading to the other side where Gentiles lived, to a place founded by Alexander the Great. Instead of synagogues, in the center of the city are giant temples dedicated to Greek and Roman gods. The fields outside aren’t filled with sheep; they’re filled with pigs. Jesus is out of his Jewish-comfort zone, in the land of the others, and making waves in a place he shouldn’t. He’s going to meet and miggle with the wrong kind of people. And it’s when he steps off the boat - setting his foot on the shore - he runs into this man from the tombs. 

Now, what kind of tombs does this man live in? I don’t believe we’re suppose to think he lives in the intentionally well-cared graveyards of today. What comes to mind is a graveyard that dark, dank, and downright spooky. His tombs belong in some B-rated horror movie. And this man does too. He comes to Jesus dirty, unkempt, and totally naked. I imagine his skin is covered in dirt and grime and broken chains as bracelets are around his wrists. He lives where the dead live, he’s surrounded by pigs,many he's tormented by unclean spirits. He’s completely unclean. This man that Jesus encounters isn’t just physically repulsive, according to Jesus’ own tradition, he’s spiritually repulsive too. Once Jesus steps off the boat - and sees this man - he knows all of that. He knows exactly who this man is and what Jesus is suppose to do. But before a word is said, before a conversation has started, and even before the man sees Jesus - Jesus orders those unclean spirits out. 

Now, the man tries to get out of this. He tells Jesus to leave him alone. He doesn’t ask for healing. Instead, he asks to remain with his demons - to be alone - to be kept away from the community. The demons we see in scripture are not just evil beings. They’re more than B-movie terrors. They spend their time breaking the relationships between God and people. They want to keep their victims isolated and alone. And the only way to do that is to infect more than just individuals. These demons infect entire communities too. They make it so that the person who is different is sent to live chained and bound in the tombs. Jesus is doing more in this story than healing one man and destroying an almost comical amount of bacon. Jesus is changing the sacred geography of the land of the Gerasenes. The man who lived among the dead is told to go into the city of the living and tell God’s story. He’s heading home to a place full of different gods, different idols, and people so distracted by their busy-ness,they can't even notice what God is doing. Jesus took a place of sacred difference, of tombs and cities, of relationships and isolation, and Jesus created a new space for healing and connection. The land of the Gerasenes - the land of the Gentiles and the unclean - is given a new destiny and purpose. The manicured place of living is mixed with the dark and dank of the tombs. And that...scares everyone. 

When Jesus set sail across the Sea of Galilee - he was on a journey of shouldn’ts. He shouldn’t have gone, he shouldn’t have stepped onto the shore, and he shouldn’t have interacted with that unclean man in the tombs. That kind of sacred geography is centered in shouldn’ts. But Jesus isn’t about shouldn’ts. When he shows up, the sacred geography of every place changes. The places we claim to be cities of life and the places we claim to be cities of death - that difference is undone. All places are opportunities for life. All places are sacred to God. The inside/outsider narrative we setup is replaced with a narrative of God’s desire for love and healing; for God’s narrative of new life found in new and unexpected relationships. I don’t know what the full response to the attack in Orlando should be . My heart is still too broken - too full of grief at the loss of my Latin@ sisters and brothers. But I do know that Jesus has changed the sacred geography of all places. Even a place where terrible things happen can be a place where life comes. Every shore, every field, every mountain, every country, and every city is called to be a place of healing. Jesus has already done the hard work of going where he shouldn’t - going to the land of the others, eating and drinking with sinners, forgiving the sins of the unforgivable, and walking to die on the Cross. Through Jesus, healing has already begun. We already know what Jesus has done. The question for us, though, is just how much healing are we going to try to bring too?



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Which Were Many [Sermon Manuscript]

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 7:36-8:3

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (June 12, 2016) on Luke 7:36-8:3. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So who’s excited about the Tonys? Is anyone going to skip tonight’s new episode of Game Thrones so they can see if Daveed Diggs will win a Tony for his work as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Broadway’s Hamilton? Now, I didn’t grow up watching the Tonys but I did marry into a Tony's-watching family which means Superbowl Sunday and Tony's Sunday are about neck and neck in importance in my house. We’ll probably even let our kids stay up late so that they can watch this annual event, where stars from stage and screen celebrate theater. For many who can’t attend a musical on Broadway, this award show is the closest they’ll get to experiencing the Great White Way. And this year, the big buzz is whether Hamilton will sweep all the categories they’re nominated in. But it’ll be tough because the voters - producers, critics, and others- have a lot of amazing talent to consider. So as I prepare myself for this year’s show, I’ve been seeing what the critics have to say. I especially looked for their prediction list, where they say who should win a Tony and who they think will actually win at tonight’s show. And I like to focus on the critics because critics do what I can’t do. They see all the shows, they meet with the actors and playwrights, and they spend their time and energy reading and studying the history and the craft of the theater and the arts. At their best, critics share with us on the outside, what the experience is like inside. They help us to be part of this large and vibrant cultural event. We might not be able to see Broadway’s Hamilton - but, through the reviews of Ben Brantley, Michael Dale, and Linda Winer, we can see a little of what this cultural event is all about. Matt Windman, theater critic for AM New York, and, in full disclosure, a friend of mine, recently wrote a new book called The Critics Say…, where he interviewed 57 theater critics about the craft of being a critic. Jeremy Gerard, theater critic for, said something I found very interesting when he was asked why critics exist. He said “Critics offer a skeleton key into thinking about a subject. They help us to see things with open eyes, open hearts, and open minds.” Critics help us see - and in today’s reading from the gospel of Luke, Jesus the critic comes into being. 

The story begins with an invitation to a dinner party. Jesus, in the gospel of Luke, is always eating and drinking and today is no different. A Pharisee opened his home and Jesus took his place at the table. Somehow, word about this party got out and a woman decides to crash it. We, on the outside, have no idea what her name is. She, like so many faithful women in scripture, go unnamed. But this woman knows that Jesus will be at this party and that’s important because she knows Jesus. In a story that isn't recorded in scripture but one that is hinted at in Jesus’ dialogue later in this story, we know that Jesus and this woman ran into each other before. Verse 47 and the words “have been” and “hence” are the key. Something happened in the past. They shared an experience together. And, it was then, when Jesus first forgave her. 

So when this woman comes into the room, interrupting the dinner party with her presence, people see her. People watch her. They watch as she, in an extremely intimate and over the top way, washes Jesus’ feet and welcomes him to the Pharisees’ table. Now, I’m pretty everyone saw this. And we can almost hear everyone’s jaw drop as they watch what this woman did. She, a sinner, is showing honor and love - to a religious teacher. Simon speaks up - giving voice to what everyone else is already thinking. This woman is a sinner. She's not perfect. The text doesn't tell us what makes her a sinner but she's got a reputation. People know who she is. When she walks into a room, her history and her baggage come with her. In the eyes of the other guests, she shouldn’t be doing what she does. According to the guests, if Jesus was truly someone who could see the world as it is, who could see the world like God sees it, Jesus wouldn’t be letting this woman wash and anoint his feet. If Jesus was who he says he is, this woman would be kept away. This woman doesn’t belong there - and, in the eyes of everyone around her - the dinner party guests and even us, 2000 years later, watching as the action unfold - what she does shows just who Jesus is. 

But like every good critic, Jesus has done his homework. He knows a story we don't. Jesus sees this woman and knows her. He knows her failing and her strengths. He knows her pain and her joys. He knows her - and he loves her - not because she’s perfect but because love is just Jesus’ game. He's that skeleton key that unlocks for everyone what it is that God sees. Jesus’ is a critic but not because he’s critical.  A critic doesn't just criticize. A critic’s job is to know the full story - and make all of us see that full story for ourselves. At the start of the story, the dinner party guests thought they could see this woman. We thought we could see her too. But, in the end, Jesus shows that our sight isn't God’s sight. Our love isn't the limit to God’s love either. Jesus forces us to re-evaluate this woman, re-evaluate the story we heard, and re-evaluate the love that she shows. Jesus the critic is a critic of sinners. And Jesus loves us anyways. 

So, in a few moments, we’re going to be having our own little dinner party. There's going to be bread. There's going to be wine and grape juice. And there's going to be us too. But today is special for us as this community of faith because Ashley Christiansen will, very shortly, commune with us for the first time. Now, Ashley isn't a stranger to God’s table. Since before she was born, God knew her and loved her, and Jesus’ table was always her table too. Even when we don’t partake, we are still blessed and prayed for here. At this table, at this rail, this bread, cup, and blessing is more than just nourishment for the journey ahead. It's a promise that we are truly seen. It’s a promise that we are truly known and that this body and blood isn't just for everyone else. Our worthiness for this gift, for this award from God, isn’t something granted to us by our peers. There's no accounting firm counting votes from producers and critics and church members to say that this gift from Jesus is something we somehow earned. The gift of being seen by God isn't something that happens to us once we take the right classes or earn the right grades or past the right tests. No, Jesus just sees us. Jesus just knows us. And Jesus, taking in all of who we are, loves us anyways. It's through that love that our minds are opened. It's through God’s grace that our hearts are opened too. The stories we know and the gossip we share isn't the limit to God’s possibilities. What we see isn’t the limit to what God sees.  And it’s through the gift of faith, the gift of prayer, through the gift of blessing, and the gift of bread and drink - that we’re given the tools to look at each other and to look at our world through Jesus’ eyes and, like Jesus, just see.



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A Reflection on the end of Job

The first reading today is from Job 38:1-7,12-13; 40:1-5.

Last Sunday, we saw the beginning of Job. Today, we're seeing it's end. The story began with God and Satan, the Accuser, playing a game. They want to see if there anyway that Job, an upright person who is faithful to God, would curse God. God empowers Satan to take away his family, his wealth, and his health. He's left with his wife and three friends who come to comfort him. In a dialogue that lasts the bulk of the book, Job's friends try to convince him to repent. They believe that his punishment is caused by something he did. If Job returns to God, God will turn his life around. But Job, knowing that he did nothing wrong, instead argues his innocence and a desire to take God to court. Job's words are directed to his friends and to God. Job dwells on suffering, pain, and what kind of world we live in. It's at the end of the book when God finally responds. 

God never answers Job's questions. Instead, God points to creation. God asks Job if Job was at the beginning when the universe was made and if Job can create like God can. God takes Job on a whirlwind trip through all of creation - from the stars to the sea monsters that lurk in the deep. Job sees God's "bigness" and can only affirm his smallness. God challenges Job to take on God's attributes and defeat the wicked. Job, knowing he's only human, cannot accept the challenge. 

In the end, Job admits that an assumption he carried isn't true. His goal to bring God to court was built on the assumption that human beings are the center of God's creation. God affirms, however, that humans are a part of God's reality. The summation of everything is bigger than just the human experience. Humans might not be the center of the universe but they, along with the rest of creation, do receive God's love and care. Suffering is a part of what humans experience but God isn't absent and God doesn't desire our suffering. Instead, God is present with us through it because God loves us. And God doesn't run away from our suffering but walks through it, even to the cross. 


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A Reflection on Job, Satan, and Suffering

Our first reading is Job 1:1, 2:1-10.

Who is Satan? In Job, Satan isn’t who we think they are. In the Hebrew text that our English translation comes from, Satan isn’t a proper name. Satan is a title (“the Satan.”) A better translation would be “Accuser” or “Adversary.” In Job, Satan is like a prosecuting attorney. God gives this divine being, this angel, the job to investigate wrongdoing and bring it to God’s attention. In Job 1:7, God asks this accuser what they have been doing. The Accuser has been traveling the earth, seeking out things to bring to God. God points Job out to the Accuser. The Accuser claims that Job, if all that he has is taken away from him, will eventually curse God to God’s face (1:11). The parameters of the game are set and the Accuser is given the power to make Job’s life miserable.

Why does God let this game take place? This is one of the harder questions from the book of Job and is a question the book doesn’t answer. To me, the book of Job isn’t a historical book. Instead, it’s a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. The Lutheran Study Bible shares that Job is tackling questions about the suffering of innocents, where God is in our suffering, and what kind of world we live in.

The vast majority of the book of Job is a dialogue between Job and three friends. His three friends come to console their friend in his suffering but also to tell him why he is suffering. Job’s friends do not know about the game between God and Satan. Instead, they assume that Job did something to deserve what happened to him. But he didn’t. Suffering came to Job. The dialogue they share is the conversation we all share when senseless suffering happens to us or our family members. We sometimes know why we or others suffer. But there are times when something sudden, like an illness, disease, or tragic accident, just happens. Like Job, we wonder, “why?” And, in the end, we’re left with a mystery that even the book of Job doesn’t fully explain.


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Sat Up [Sermon Manuscript]

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:11-17

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 5, 2016) on Luke 7:11-17. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Matthew Skinner, a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary, likes to teach today’s reading from Luke by asking his students to visualize the scene. So, today, I’d like us to do the same. Take a moment to see Jesus. His hair, his eyes, his dusty and well worn sandals. And then, once we have Jesus, lets picture his entourage. Last week, we listened as Jesus, in the city of Capernaum, healed a Roman soldier’s slave. He’s just left that city and is heading to a small village called Nain. His disciples are with him - and so is a large crowd. As they move, people all around can hear the noise they’re making. They’re shouting, talking, and wondering just who Jesus is. This crowd knows that Jesus is important but they don’t know exactly who he is. They don’t know what he’s going to do. Some know him as a religious teacher. Others think he’s putting together an army to push the occupying Romans back into the sea.  As the crowd talks and walks, women and men, children and the elderly, are anything but quiet. Jesus’ crowd isn’t a crowd that can be hidden. 

But as they near the village - Jesus’ entourage hears a different kind of noise. There, in the distance, is another crowd, a very different kind of parade. The joy and the wonder in Jesus’ crowd is matched and almost canceled out by the sadness, the heartbreak, and the crying lead by professional mourners, who are giving voice to the grief the village feels. As the two crowds get close - they both stop. They didn’t expect to run into each other. The crowd with Jesus and the crowd with this funeral - bot grow quiet. Everything - even the air - is still, waiting for someone to make the first move. And it’s then when Jesus sees her. 

So what does this mother look like? She’s off to bury her only child who, according to custom, died less than a day before. No parent should ever have to bury their child but that’s what she’s experiencing. That’s what she’s feeling. And as a widow, she doesn’t even have a partner she can grieve with. She’s isolated, feeling alone, even though she’s surrounded by a crowd. And as her heartbreaks, she’s worried about what comes next. In her culture, men own the property and, it’s through men, that money is earned and shared. Without a husband and without a son, her financial security is undone. Her sadness, her fear, and her anxiety block out everything else around her. When Jesus and his crowd comes, she doesn’t even look up. She doesn’t even see him. But she doesn’t need to see Jesus because Jesus sees her. 

Today’s story is the first time in the gospel according to Luke where Jesus heals someone before he’s asked. Last week, the Roman Centurion sent two delegations to ask, and then command, Jesus to heal a slave who is ill. The Centurion believes that Jesus will be Jesus - and it’s that faith - that trust - that Jesus mentions and points out. But there’s nothing like that here. No one asks Jesus to heal the son. No one asks Jesus to take care of the widow. No one says anything - but Jesus’ compassion makes the first move.

Now, in a little bit, [at the 10:30 am service], we’re going to join with Anderson Moss and his family as he receives Holy Communion for the first time. And it's this kind of celebration that is one of my favorite parts of the job because, today, Anderson is going to see Jesus. Now, I know it sounds a little strange, from the outside at least, to say that in this little bread and drink, Anderson will see the Son of God. But he’ll will see because, like the mother among the people of Nain, Jesus sees us first. In his compassion and in his wisdom, Jesus made a promise to his disciples and to us that, in this meal, he is here. We might not feel his presence or even think about our faith all week long, but it’s in this crowd - on this day - where Jesus promises’ to be. In this bread and drink, we are cherished. In this celebration, we are nourished. And in this communion, we are loved. 

One of the activities I had our first communion students do is visualize and draw what a big feast would look like. So we unrolled a large piece of mural paper, got out our markers, and started to draw. We needed, obviously, a big table with plenty of room for plates and food and chairs. And as the kids and I kept drawing, making sure that every part of the paper was filled, the chairs around the table kept changing. Some were large and tall. Others were thin and small. Some chairs were in bright colors, others had foot rests, some were high chairs for babies, and even a few were squishy like bean bag chairs. After the chairs were drawn, Anderson decided to fill each chair with a person. And like all the chairs, each person was different. Some were large and tall. Others were young and small. No two people looked the same and every different kind of person was around that table. And it’s that kind of person - that different person - that’s who Jesus sees. They might not be the person we notice at first. They might be sad or scared or vulnerable in some way. They might not even look like they belong at this feast - but that’s who Jesus wants us to see. To visualize the story is to see not just what Jesus did - but to see how Jesus wants us to see. To see like Jesus is to see just how big God’s table is and witness the people Jesus’ compassion touches and loves. God’s love isn't restricted to just one kind of person or one kind of experience. It isn't just for the secure, the comfortable, and those who we assume will be on Jesus’ side. Jesus sees the vulnerable widow. He sees a future that looks bleak. He's moved to advocate for her, to do more than just wipe away the tears she’s shedding today. Jesus sees her - so that we can see those in our world who are like her. The table Jesus lovingly sets for us, a table where we bring all of who we are with our own unique and awesome chair - is a table that’s bigger than just for us. The vulnerable, the fearful, and those without security, they have a place at Jesus’ table too. When we share in the feast, when we see the bread, when we see Jesus - we are seeing Jesus’ vision for our lives. And this vision is to see Jesus’ compassion, see his love, and know that, in Jesus, we are called to see and love like God does. 



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