Questions and Reflections

July 2016

A Reflection on Ecclesiastes

Our First Reading is Ecclesiastes 1:1-11.

What do we know about Ecclesiastes? The book is written from the point of view of an elder, known as the Teacher. The Teacher is traditionally identified as Solomon, Israel's wisest king. The Teacher is reflecting on their life, sharing what he has learned. He spent his time striving for riches, pleasure, success, and wisdom but that only brought frustration. he longs for fulfillment. The Teacher laments that there is much in life that is hard to understand and explore and is skeptical about traditional answers. The Teacher is wondering just what the world is about.

A teacher I had in seminary explained Ecclesiastes in this way. The book assumes that life moves in a circle. As human beings, we are born, we live, and we did. Our life cycle happens only once but the cycle of human life happens over and over again. God, however, isn't trapped in our life cycle. Instead, God chooses to intersect our lives at a 90 degree angle. God meets us, abruptly disrupting our lives to show us the love and care God has. This is also one way to describe Jesus' life among us. God sent God's Son to live in our cycle of life. By doing so, God disrupted our life with God's love, care, and grace. Our cycle restricts our knowledge, making it seem that riches, pleasures, and success are how we find fulfillment and meaning. But God disrupts our expectation, showing that meaning comes through our relationship with God. Christ showed how God's love interrupts our expectations. By loving like God does, we can interrupt others' expectations.


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A reflection on Proverbs

Our First Reading is Proverbs 1:1-7.

What does a Christian life look like? In the abstract, that seems pretty simple: love God and love your neighbors as yourself. That's the Greatest Commandment as Jesus describes it. But life isn't abstract. Our lives are filled with events and people. When it comes to the nitty gritty of daily living, it's sometimes hard to live the way God wants us too. Up to this point in the bible, we've heard much about kings and queens, leaders, prophets, and priests. But what if we are not royalty? How are we to act? Well, that's what the book of proverbs is all about.

The book of Proverbs describes itself as wisdom, the knowledge gained through life experience. By examining these short sayings, a person can uncover what holy living looks like. The beginning of this journey is centered on the fear of God. But "fear" doesn't mean to be afraid. Rather, this fear is to be awestruck by just how awesome God is. Wisdom literature (like Job, the Psalms, and Proverbs) unwrap how awesome God is and how we can act towards the world God made. 

As Christians, Proverbs helps frame what we face in our daily lives. Doing what proverbs asks does not put us in a right relationship with God. Only through Christ and the Cross are we reconciled (brought into a right relationship) with God. Through this Christian lens, we look at proverbs to discover the grace and mercy we are called to share with the world. Proverbs doesn't help us save the world (only Christ can do that) but proverbs helps us to live in a world and discern what God has in mind for all of us. 


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Pastor Marc's Message for the Messenger, Summer 2016 edition

When was the last time you responded to a call to action? Not a day goes by when I do not receive an email, Facebook post or Tweet asking me to sign a petition, donate to charity or advocate for a social cause. We're surrounded by invitations to look at our world, notice injustice and do something to make a difference.

At a prayer vigil on June 22, Rabbis and Christian clergy from the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy group participated in a prayer vigil for the victims of the attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. As we gathered to plan the service, the clergy spent time in prayer and conversation trying to craft what this service should look like. We read the names of the victims and raised up prayers for the families, friends and loves ones who are mourning and suffering. It was through prayer and discernment that the clergy decided that we, together, were called to action. Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Temple Beth Or, during the service, invited all of us to take out our phones and to call our representatives in the US Senate and House. We were invited to share with them that we were at an interfaith prayer vigil, gathered as faith-filled people, and wanted to advocate for a change so that this kind of violence and hatred can end. We shared our thoughts and prayers with our representatives, knowing that faith-filled people do have a voice and no one "religious" voice covers all points of views and opinions. We left voicemails in their mailboxes with the sound of other people calling in the background. For the 45 of us gathered that night our call to action was a literal call to action, and we made it so.

So what "call to action" is the Spirit inspiring in you? As followers of Jesus, we're called to love the world not because we are kind and nice people. We're called to love the world because Jesus knew the world was worth dying for. When God calls us to make a difference, this isn't a call for other people to answer. The call God gives is a call we answer because Jesus makes a difference in our lives. So let's make a difference in the lives of others too.

See you in church! 


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A reflection on Psalm 121

Our First Reading is Psalm 121.

I'm a big fan of questions. I like asking questions, love answering questions, and I enjoy starting my sermons out with questions. Questions help frame a conversation. They guide me, letting me explore all the possibilities such a question comes up with. A question enhances my creativity. And that's what Psalm 121 does today when it begins with a question. The author asks, "Where will my help come from?" The author is posing a question and, in the next 7 verses, will explore possible answers.

The author of this psalm first looks to the hills for help. Hills might be a strange place to look for help but, when we're in need, looking upwards is a normal response. We might feel we are trapped in a valley, surrounded on all sides by what is afflicting or bothering us. We look for a way out, so we look up, towards the hills that around us. Cities, castles, and fortifications were usually built on hills, providing some protection and defense during a military attack. A hill is a safer space than a valley so that's where the author first looks.

But hills, the places where people live, build cities, and towers, is not where the author finds final strength. A hill cannot overpower or protect from the God that created it. The author turns to the ultimate creator, God, for protection. The psalm assures us that we are seen, noticed, and protected by the God who created all hills and all seas. In verses 3-8, the word "keep" is used six times. It's used in this case to mean "watch over," like a guard protecting a city a night. God isn't just protecting us, God is watching us, guiding us, through trouble and strife. And this guidance does not happen only once. God continues this process, over and over again, through this life and into the next. 


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A reflection on Psalm 98

The First Reading is Psalm 98.

What's your favorite new song? One of my personal joys is going to library book sales and digging through their old cd collections. I try to find songs and albums filled with the music I heard on the radio while I was growing up. In the process, I discover songs I never heard before by bands that fill the soundtrack of my youth. These songs are old but they are new to me. 

Psalm 98 is a hymn of praise separated into 3 stanzas. It begins with the command that all of us should sing a new song to God. But what would be a new song to God? For the author of this psalm, something amazing has happened. God delivered the people of Israel from some kind of national crisis. We don't know what happened (an enemy army could have invaded) but the people survived. The people are called to sing a song of thankfulness and praise. God saved the people and, sometimes, the most proper response is to sing.

But the psalm isn't saying that only the people of Israel are called to sing. Everyone, everywhere, is invited to tell what God has done. This isn't a song for only one kind of people in one kind of place. God's deliverance of Israel is a sign to everyone that God is present and active in the world. Saving Israel from a national calamity isn't only good news for Israel; it's good news for the world. God is a God who cares for God's people and God's world. And a world that's commanded to sing a new song is a world called to sing God's love song to the ends of the earth.


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