Questions and Reflections

July 2018

Reflection: John is Different

There are actions and stories in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John that are similar to each other. Jesus is constantly teaching, healing, and feeding people. We sometimes take these stories about Jesus and reduce them to one sentence. This process of condensing stories is helpful. It reminds us of what Jesus did in the past and what he does for us today. But these stories are not always exactly the same in all four gospels. And that difference matters. Today’s reading from John 6:1-21 has two stories that are also in the Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Jesus feeds thousands of people and then walks on water. If we focus only on that one sentence summary of what Jesus does, we miss the details that reveal who Jesus is. For example, in Mark’s version of the feeding of the 5000, Jesus’ disciples are the ones that feed the crowd. But John does things differently. In the gospel according to John, Jesus, not the disciples, is the one who feeds everyone. That a difference and a contradiction. It’s also not the only one. We also notice that, in John, this story takes place around Passover. But in Mark, Passover isn’t to be found. The feeding of the 5000 is an important story but each author of the gospels told the story differently. These differences and contradictions are hard to hold together. But they’re also very important. So why did John write the story in this way?

John is focused on the question: who is Jesus? And his Jesus is the One who has been with God since before the earth was made. Jesus has all the attributes of God, including knowing how the story will turn out. And since Jesus knows the story, Jesus is always in control of it. John’s version can sometimes feel as if Jesus is too divine; like he really isn’t as human as you and I. But all writing about Jesus will fall short because it’s impossible to fully express (and understand) everything there is about Jesus. He is always 100% human and 100% God at the same time. Our words will always struggle to explain this detail of Jesus’ identity. But this struggle is also a gift because it allows Jesus to be as expansive as we need him to be. There are times when we need to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be hurt, betrayed, and cry. And there are times when we need Jesus to be the One who knows the end of every human story. The different of the stories about Jesus help us discover the many different ways Jesus matters to us. His story, like all our stories, is full of nuance and what looks like contradictions. Yet the constant theme in all our stories about Jesus is who he is, and forever will be, Emmanuel – God with us, for us, and who will never stop loving us.


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Dwell: In Absurdity

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

My sermon from the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 29, 2018) on Ephesians 3:14-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


In Provincetown, Massachusetts, there’s a boat sitting inside a building. The building itself is old, a former church that once fit over 900 people in its 128 pews. A large bell tower dominates the front and the sanctuary space overshadows the rest of the town. The building has been many different things over the years. It was an art gallery, a cultural center, and a heritage museum, but it’s now the Provincetown Public Library. And on that library’s second floor is a boat. Now since Provincetown has a long history of ships and sailing, it’s not surprising to find a boat inside its library. We should expect to find lot of boats, models of the various sailing ships that once called Provincetown home. But the boat I’m talking about isn’t a little model. It wouldn't fit in a bottle and you couldn’t display it on your desk. No, the boat in the library is a half-sized model of a schooner, the Rose Dorothea, that was built in 1905. The original ship was 109 feet long, weighed 108 tons, and had 26 sailors for its crew. The ship was famous for winning the one, and only, Lipton Cup - a race organized by the inventor of the individual tea bag, Sir Thomas Lipton - in Boston harbor in 1907. The Rose Dorothea was low in the water, with a thin central mast, large sails, and a rounded bow which let it zoom through the water. The ship had a productive career, sailing all over the Atlantic until it was sunk by a German submarine in WW1. Rose’s dramatic story became a stand-in for all the fishermen and women and sailors who called Provincetown home. And in 1977, the grandson of one of the sailors who won that Lipton Cup decided to build a half-sized model of the Rose Dorothea inside the heritage museum that was in that old church. So -today, on the second floor of the Provincetown Public library, is a 66 foot long schooner with full sails and a mast poking through the top of the ceiling. It’s a boat designed to never sail. It has shelves of books around it, blocking it from ever entering the Atlantic Ocean. The boat is just sitting there, a memorial to a way of life that still matters in Provincetown, and with a funny little sign on it that says: Do Not Climb.

It’s a bit absurd to build a big boat and keep it inside a building. But this boat is even more odd because it looks as if it could actually sail. I'm not a ship builder but I’ve seen plenty of museum replicas and models in my day. These models are usually small, imperfect, and very dusty. They’re designed to let our us imagine what a real life version of it would have been like. But the boat on the second floor of the Provincetown Public Library looks as if it could sail in the harbor just outside it. The master builder of the model, Captain “Flyer” Santos, was a real life ship builder. He knew what he was doing and he spent over 11 years making sure his team made the Rose Dorothea right. You would think he might have wanted to cut corners during construction because the model would never face a storm at sea. But Captain Santos didn’t because I think he had a story to tell. That ship is designed to invoke memories and feelings in us that we might not even know we have. We’re supposed to marvel at its design and beauty, while at the same time be in awe that anyone would want to sail a little wooden boat across the ocean. We might personally have never sailed or stood on an ocean going ship. But this half-scale model invokes in us a sense of wonder, uniting us with a story that is central to who we are. For many of us, these kind of ships are a part of our own story. We might have sailed across the ocean, passing through Ellis Island as new immigrants to the United States. We might be a descendant of someone who boarded an old rickety sailing ship, hoping to start a new life here in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. Or our ancestors might have been shackled or the ones doing the shackling on the many slave ships that brought so many people involuntarily into this country. Not everyone in the United States is a descendant of immigrants who came from somewhere else or who came to this country willingly. But we, together, have a collective history that is tied to these ships that sailed over the ocean and created this nation along their way. It’s absurd to build a ship inside a building but the feelings, thoughts, and wonder that ship invokes in us, all that good and all that bad; that’s what grounds and root us in our collective story.

And that’s why, I think, the author of Ephesians ended the third chapter of their letter with a prayer. Today’s second reading marks the end of the first half of the letter, the part of the letter designed to tell us why it was written. The author was writing to a small community of Christians made up of Jews and Gentiles. And the letter focused first on the Gentiles, the non-Jews, letting them know that they were a necessary part of God’s kingdom. These people who never grew up Jewish were part of God’s plan because God, through Jesus, was uniting all people into a new humanity. This unity, I think, wasn’t supposed to ignore our differences but, rather, the author wanted to focus on what it is that keeps us together. It’s Jesus, this wandering Jewish Rabbi who casted out demons, fed the hungry, and lived a life showing us what it looks like when God comes near - that’s who connects us to each other. It isn’t our nationality or ancestry or history; it isn’t our race or language or gender; it isn’t our wealth or status or even sharing the same exact beliefs - that’s not the focus of why we’re here. We’re here because Jesus called us to be here. We’re connected to each other because, in our baptism, we are connected to the One who makes us one. And we matter to God because all people, in every kind of human family, comes from God. It’s absurd that a Jewish rabbi, killed by the Romans 2000 years ago, would call Gentiles to follow him. But Jesus did that then and he does that still. He calls all of us to cling to him, to follow him, and to know that his absurd love for us will overcome the absurd ways we run from him. We might not always know what that kind of love actually looks like. And we will have questions about what it is God wants from our lives. We’re not going to have every answer to every question that we ask. But we, through Jesus, will receive every answer that we need. In Christ, we are all connected to each other. In the Father, we are rooted to the One who has made all people One. And we, through the Spirit, have been given a faith that will remind us of the many way God is transforming us even when we don’t feel that way at all. Its this faith, grace, and hope that keeps us rooted and grounded in a love that will sometimes call us to do absurd things, like building a boat inside a library, so that all people, knowing who they are and whose they are, can finally see the new future that God is bringing about.





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Remember That You Were: In Christ, Unity and Diversity

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:11-22

My sermon from the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 22, 2018) on Ephesians 2:11-22. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Did you notice a bit of weirdness in our second reading from the letter to the Ephesians? Well, it might be hard to pin down just one bit of weirdness because there’s a lot in there. The passage begins by talking about Gentiles, moves to the circumcised versus the uncircumcised, and brings up aliens and strangers. The text then get a little Halloweeny by talking about Jesus’ blood and the walls of hostility that exist between us and other people. It’s easy to get lost in these verses since the sentences are long, the grammar is poor, and it’s difficult for translators to take this ancient greek writing and interpret it into modern English. Last week, I pointed out how eleven or so verses in the first chapter of Ephesians is really just one sentence in the greek. The author, in an enthusiastic way, wanted to overwhelm those hearing the letter, making sure they knew that they were destined to be children of God. They, as they are, were necessary so that the community in Ephesus could become Christ’s church. We’ve moved a bit from last week’s reading and it’s easy to hear these verses today and get confused by all the details. So we need to take a step back, skim through the passage, and pick out the main idea. And when we do that, we see unity. Jesus, according to Ephesians, brings together different groups of people and unites them into a new community. Faith and baptism gives everyone an additional identity, so that what unites us is greater than whatever divides us. Being with Jesus means we’re part of a diverse community that cares, serves, and loves each other. That’s the focus of this confusing text. Life with Jesus isn’t supposed to be like life anywhere else. Life with Jesus is full of difference; full of possibilities; and full of unity.

So if we keep that in our back pocket and read through this passage again, the details are still strange but maybe not as weird as they were before. The author is speaking to the people in the Ephesian community who followed Jesus but who didn’t grow up Jewish. As non-Jews, they’re called Gentiles. And it’s odd for Gentiles to believe in a messiah who was (and is) Jewish. But Jesus’ ministry always crossed cultural, religious, and national borders. The people who heard about him, who met him in marketplaces, at water wells, and on mountaintops were Samaritans, syrophoenicians, Israelites, Galileans, men, women, children, the sick, the healthy, the faithful, the non-believer, the Jewish person, and the Gentile. Jesus crossed the borders we built to keep ourselves apart. And it wasn’t long before his followers did the same. Paul, in his travels, preached in synagogues but he also went to the marketplaces. And I think his faith communities grew the most when he invited Gentiles to put aside their worship of many gods and instead discover the Jesus that lived, and died, and lives again for them. This kind of border crossing is never easy. And there were debates over how to bridge the Gentile and Jewish difference. Arguments arose over what kind of behaviors, what kind of actions, and even what kind of eating habits determined whether someone was part of the right group or not. The author of Ephesians is looking at the Gentiles inside that faith community and affirming that they are beloved children of God. In Christ, the walls, borders, and barriers separating the members of God’s publicly declared holy family comes down. And in the rush to make this point clear, the enthusiastic author of Ephesians emphasized this unity by saying something really weird. They wrote that Jesus “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of two…”

Now, that’s weird because if we know our Bible, we know that Jesus isn’t really described elsewhere as the One who abolished the Jewish law: the commandments, the ordinances, the rules, and the way of life that connects God’s original covenanted people to God. Jesus, in his own words, described himself as fulfilling the law and Paul, in the letter to the Romans, promised that he will keep following the law while he follows Jesus Christ. So how can the author of Ephesians make this claim? How can they write as if Jesus himself wanted to abolish the Jewishness of his own identity?

When we take “fulfillment” and merge it with “abolished,” then the unity described in today's passage isn’t really unity. Because abolishing assumes that one identity and one way of life will replace all others. And that’s dangerous because we tend to take the additional identity we gain in Christ and assume that turns all our identities, our language, faith, culture, race, and background and converts it into an identity package that is more pure, holy, and Godly than all others. The true followers of Jesus, then, are required to look, act, and speak in exactly one way. And if someone can’t match that holy package, then they’re on the outside with no hope of ever being part of whatever’s right. This package we create always becomes an idol that ends up replacing Christ. And it’s this kind of idol that has led to programs, violence, and genocide directed towards the Jewish people, and others, for centuries. This same idol still shows up whenever someone complains that a dominant culture is being diluted and replaced by something that seems sub-human and different. When Jesus is described as someone who removed his own Jewish identity, then this passage from Ephesians stops being about unity and instead becomes a tool for disunity, violence, and suffering.

So it’s at this point, when we have a verse from scripture that is contradicted by other verses, that we have to make some choices. We can ignore this verse and act like it’s not really there. But it is there so we have to engage it. We can try to explain the problem away by claiming that this verse isn’t contradicted by other verses but that’s not helpful either. The Bible is full of verses that we will struggle with and God wants those verses to be there. We can choose to acknowledge that this problematic verse exists but, at the same time, let other verses, including Jesus’ own words, be the ones we choose to follow. We can also try to put this verse into context, noticing that the author is focused on Gentiles, on non-Jews, and we can give the author a pass for their over exuberant attempt at comforting the anxiety that existed in their community. Or we can do a combination of all of those thing while still clinging to the main idea: that in Christ, we are one but that doesn’t mean that our differences aren’t real. Diversity is hard. And being a community where difference exists is difficult because it’s easy to focus only on what divides us. We can spend all our energy alienating those who don’t look like us, who don’t speak like us, who don’t dress like us, and who don’t think like us. It’s easy to focus on where we are different because it’s harder to remember what unites us, what gathers us, and what brings us together. And the One who does that is Jesus Christ. We who once were far off and also who were near, we have been united by the blood of Christ. Through his calling, through the gift of faith, and through the joy of baptism - we are here to love and serve and care for each other because all of us, whether Christian since birth or brand new to the faith; all of us are needed to make Christ’s church the church God wants it to be. Differences will always be a part of this faith community. But as long as we cling to Jesus, we will be built into a community that is always loving, always faithful, and always new.





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REFLECTION: Imperfect But Whole

There's a gap in our reading from the gospel according to Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 today that is unfortunate but understandable. The lectionary, the 3 year cycle of readings we hear on Sunday mornings, skips Mark's version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus' walking on water. The lectionary does this, I think, for two reasons. One, we hear a version of these stories in Matthew and Luke so the lectionary doesn't feel like we need to repeat it. Two, starting next week, we'll hear John's version of these two stories. The lectionary made a choice to keep some versions of Jesus' stories in our worship and to move others to the side. But these kinds of choices are artificial. We made them. The author of Mark and the Holy Spirit wanted these stories to be together. When we see Jesus' compassion because the crowd “was like sheep without a shepherd," we need to know that Jesus is going to do more than teach. He's also going to feed, confront their fears, and heal everyone. Jesus (and his disciples)make people whole.

This Wholeness, however, does not mean being comfortable. Last week's reading showed us what the apostles were doing and teaching. They traveled into villages, casted out demons, and told everyone to repent. They invited everyone (poor, rich, and powerful) to reorient their lives towards God. This reorientation is more than a change of beliefs. This reorientation is a change in priorities. And this is scary. It scared the people who heard it. It also scared King Herod. The words reminded him of what John the Baptist told him and he imagined Jesus to be John the Baptist back from the dead. The reorientation of our life will break down our prior assumptions, priorities, and way of life. It pushes us away from what we think makes us whole and instead compels us towards the Jesus who makes a whole.

This wholeness isn't riches or wealth or being so healthy that people assume we do CrossFit everyday. The wholeness Jesus offers is the wholeness the apostles model. They do not always understand what God is up to. They make mistakes. And they have their doubts, concerns, and fears. Yet they do what Jesus did: teach, feed, and heal by connecting people to each other and to their God. Jesus knows he will never get perfect disciples. But he knows that his imperfect disciples can always love.


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High Expectations. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, Summer 2018 Edition

I recently experienced something rare: I attended a wedding and I didn’t officiate. Over the last few years, my wedding excursions included rehearsal dinners, writing sermons and pre-martial counseling sessions. This time, however, my only expectation involved tearing up the dance floor. As I sat there in the pews, waiting for the ceremony to start, I realized that

every wedding comes with different types of expectations. Sometimes we are intimately involved with the planning and decision-making. Other times, we’re a member of the bridal party, watching our good friend say “I do.” Occasionally we’re asked to just join in the celebration. Whether we realize it or not, weddings

are filled with expectations. There are the expectations we bring to the big day, like knowing the ceremony will start late and that the lines for bacon-wrapped appetizers will be incredibly long. But weddings also expect us to act, pray and celebrate in specific ways too. A maid-of-honor is expected to give a toast, and the flower boys and girls are expected to throw their flowers in the right spots. A wedding includes more than just the expectations of the wedding couple and their families. Weddings have expectations for all of us.

In a similar way, churches have expectations too. But to notice them, we need to remember that a church is more than a building. A church is the assembly: the people gathered in Christ’s name. When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Romans, he wrote to people. These small groups of disciples met in private homes since no official church buildings existed. The church was (and is!) the people who are brought together by the Spirit to follow Jesus. This following requires faith. It requires grace. And, it also requires changing out expectations because we’re more than a group of people who hang out together. When we come together, Jesus promises to show up with us. This promise isn’t pretend or abstract. Jesus’ promise to each of us, and to the

church, is very real. As people bounded to each other by our baptism and our faith, we are expected to be more than just mere acquaintances. Jesus expects us to be His church, together.

This expectation manifests in different ways. You’re expected to meet with your fellow disciples of Jesus on Sunday morning if you are well and able. If Sunday morning doesn’t work for you, then the entire community must do the work to create a new gathering at a different time and place. You’re also expected to keep the community in your prayers, especially the people we name on out loud on

Sunday morning. You might not know what they need prayers for but don’t worry: God knows. You’re expected, as a member of Christ’s church, to financially support the community in a very intentional way. And finally, you’re expected to make a difference in our neighborhood and in our world through our collective ministry or in another meaningful way. These expectations can be challenging but they exist so that our faith can be more than something that lingers in the back of our minds. Faith’s expectations for us are how others will see what Jesus has done for us. In other words, Jesus’ expectations are how we love – and this is the kind of love that will transform us into something brand new.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc


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Gifted: You Are Part of God's Promise

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

My sermon from the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 15, 2018) on Ephesians 1:3-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Have you ever tried to get your mouth to stop talking? Like, say you’re at a job interview or on a first date with someone you actually like. You’re doing your best to make a good first impression – so you make eye contact, answer their questions, and make sure you act as if you’re happy to be there. But sometimes we forget to turn on that part of our brain that gives other people a chance to speak. We talk…and talk….and talk. Our inner monologue, that little voice inside our head, tells us to stop talking but we just can’t. The words spill out, like a flood. If we’re lucky, the person we’re talking to understands our enthusiasm and they give us another chance to make a new first impression. But usually the person we’re talking to walks away with a look on their face that destroys all hope for any future conversation. One of the first things we learn when talking to other people is that we need to pause and create a space where others can speak. We need to stop talking. Because it’s in the small periods of silence when we discover how to listen to each other. When we stop filling our corner of the world with our own words, we hear, for the first time, thoughts, ideas, and stories from others that we never noticed before. It’s in the pauses and in the silence where we create opportunities to learn about, and connect with, each other.

Which is why these eleven or so verses from the opening chapter of our second reading, the letter to the Ephesians, is so weird. Because if you look at our english translation of this text, we see plenty of commas, periods, and other punctuation marks that slow the words down. There is no flood because the verses have pauses and silences inserted into them. But the ancient greek text behind our english translation has….none of that. These verses are one long and unbroken sentence. So imagine, for a moment, reading this text differently. Start like we did with “Blessed be the God and Father…” but when you get to the end of verse 4, right where it says “blameless before him in love,” don’t stop to take a breath. Don’t pause. Instead, head straight into, “He destined us will…” and then keep going. When we get to “he lavished on us;” continue “with all wisdom and insight.” These verses do not pause. They don’t take a break. They keep going, faster and faster until, by verse 11, we’re stumbling over the words. Our inner monologue wants us to stop, it needs us to slow down, but when verse 13 shows up, we can no longer keep straight who is in him, who is you, who believed, and who has been marked and who hasn’t. Instead, at the end of verse 14, everyone collapses into a heap, exhausted, worn out, and confused. Together we take deep breaths, trying to get our bearings, and wondering what it was that we just read and heard. Any of the spaces and boundaries between us – like our beliefs, our gender, our age, and our social and economic class – has been temporarily replaced by a flood of words that started with a blessing and ended with God’s praise. We are, whether we realize it or not, united by a run-on sentence that fills the space between us and forms us into a new community through our eternal connection to Jesus Christ.

Which is, I think, the reason why the letter to the Ephesians starts this way. The author, at this point, isn’t interested in creating new periods of silence, new spaces, where we can connect and deepen our relationship with God. Because when we stop talking, when we create a period of silence that someone else fills up, that’s something we did. It’s an act of connection that we choose to create. But the author wants to begin this letter by first pointing out how God is connected to us in all of our moments, including those moments we didn’t choose, and those moments where we, at first, didn’t notice that God was with us. These kinds of moments are varied and sometimes, in hindsight, easy to name. When we look back and reflect on specific moments in our lives, we can see how Jesus was there when we were sad or afraid. It’s after the fact when we recognize how Jesus carried us through those parts of our lives when we couldn’t feel God’s love for us. When we look back at the brokenness that we lived through – or the brokenness that we’ve learned to live with – that’s usually the moment when we can see how Jesus made a difference in our lives. But Jesus doesn’t only show up when we’re having a hard time. And he isn’t only visible after terrible things have happened. No, Jesus is here – right now. And not only is Jesus here but your connection to God is something that didn’t started at your baptism or your confirmation or when you finally stopped running from God and said, in a prayer, that you believe. Your connection to God, your relationship with Jesus Christ, was something God promised to you before the world was made. The space that you are living in, the space that we occupy and fill with our words, thoughts, emotions, and experiences – all of that, is connected and filled up, by God. There are no moments of our lives where God isn’t present. There are no periods of time when grace upon grace isn’t being given to us. All of us, as we are, are beloved children of God. And this relationship doesn’t depend on what we look like or what exactly we believe. It doesn’t depend on our age, how much money we have, what grades we got in school, or even who we love. The spaces we create to keep us separated from each other are spaces that, in Christ, God fills up. Each of us, as we are, are essential and precious to God. We are more than our bank account, more than our last health screening, more than what other people say about us, and even more than our citizenship or our nationality. You are, grace upon grace, part of God’s family. You are a part of Jesus Christ. And you are always necessary. You are necessary for this church. You are necessary for what God is doing in the world. And you are connected to a worldwide communion of believers that is rooted in love. This love doesn’t stop even in those moments when we are embarrassing ourselves with the flood of words coming out of our own mouths. And this love hasn’t stopped when the only words we can speak are, “God, why me?” In our deep desire to connect to God, to notice God, to understand what it is God wants from us – we first have to recognize that God is with us in every moment of our lives – and that we have been, and always will be, loved.



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Reflection: A Platter

Today's reading from the gospel according to Mark 6:14-29 is rare because Jesus isn't in it. He doesn't heal. He doesn't teach. Jesus says nothing. But Jesus is the center of the story because King Herod is disturbed by what Jesus' disciples are saying. In last week's text, we saw Jesus send his disciples away. They were told to preach, teach, and heal. They took nothing with them - no bread, no bag, and no money. Instead, all they had were the words and power Jesus gave them. The text says they went out and "proclaimed that all should repent" (Mark 6:12). King Herod heard what Jesus' disciples were doing. And King Herod was scared.

The story of John the Baptist's beheading is a little gruesome. Herod is impulsive, calculating, and trapped in a system where he isn't as politically powerful as he wanted to be. He is the king of Galilee but he's not on top. Rome is still in charge. But that doesn't mean that Herod didn't have opportunities to gain more power. So in an attempt to strengthen his political position, Herod married his brother's wife. John the Baptist heard about this political move and he won't have it. John tells Herod that his marriage is unjust. This makes Herod (and his wife) upset. So John the Baptist is sent to prison and, eventually, killed. The text implies that Herod is regularly manipulated by Herodias, his wife. But we shouldn't act as if this gets Herod off the hook for his actions. Herod made the choice marry Herodias and he is the one who made the decision to kill John the Baptist. Herod is an active participant in John's beheading (he even says "John, whom I beheaded..."). Herod, like the others around him, will do everything he can to fulfill his impulsive behavior, including his desire for more power. He is participating in a system that is violent, aggressive, and harmful. And it's this system that John, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples speak out against.

One of the reasons why they speak out against this system because of what this hunger for power does to the people. We see the outcome not only in what happened to John the Baptist. We also see the evil this can cause in the words Herodias' daughter uses. After King Herod is seduced by Herodias' daughter, he makes an impulsive (and destructive) promise. The daughter takes this promise to her mother. Her mom wants the head of John the Baptist so that's what her daughter asked for. But instead of only asking for the head, the daughter asked for it to be served on a platter. This system of power devours the people who stand up to it and corrupts the people who are living within it. The banquet of the rich and powerful requires the taking of a life. But next week we'll discover what Jesus' banquet of love, grace, and Godly power does instead.


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Reflection: The Third Heaven

I have no idea what Paul is talking about when he mentions the Third Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-10). Our modern conceptions of heaven do not usually imagine a hierarchy in heaven. But this leveling is a new idea. There are texts in the Bible that imagines heaven as a layered cake where each layer brings us closer to God. Paul, in today's letter to the Corinthians, is playing a game. He's boasting about himself. He does this first by name dropping that he knows someone who ascended to the third heaven. Paul doesn't give us any details but that's because the third heaven isn't the point. Paul is boasting because his opponents are boasting as well.

We don't know much about Paul's opponents. Pau was one of several different missionaries traveling throughout the Roman Empire. These missionaries all had different thoughts (and experiences) about what this Jesus thing was all about. As these missionaries wandered around the Roman Empire, they would form new faith communities. When a different missionary entered these faith communities later on, big disagreements would start. We don't know what Paul's opponents were like since we only have his descriptions to fall back on (and he is not an unbiased observer). Paul described his opponents as boastful, braggarts, who only wanted to see influence and gain power. They bragged about what they knew, who they knew, and why the Corinthians should follow them. Paul is never one to back down from a challenge so he plays their game as well. But instead of boasting about his strengths, he boasts about his weakness.

Now when was the last time you boasted about what you can't do? We usually don't describe that as boasting. Instead, even our humble brags are about pointing out how awesome we are. Paul, however, feels compelled to talk about his weakness. Weakness is defined as something we can't do. But weakness can also mean something else. As Professor David Fredrickson writes, "To be strong means to be self-contained and self-identical, even as the world is falling apart around you. [Weakness - in the ancient Greek], on the other hand, means coming undone. It frequently referred to sickness and disease, but it also points, in a more general sense, to what we know about but can’t quite define: “human weakness,” which might be thought of as the failure of resolve or the lack of fortitude in the face of despair."

Paul is boasting about coming undone. Paul is saying that he has been given a power that isn't about having strength over the people around you. Real power and real strength, as Jesus defines it, is about loving others to the point where we personally come undone. We rarely want to become undone and there is a danger when the relationships we are in causes us to fall apart in unhealthy ways. Yet, when we are in a healthy relationship with each other and with Jesus, we are drawn closer to the one that brings us a full, connected, and generous life. When we boast about Jesus, we're pointing out how he is giving us a new identity: one that celebrates us, loves us, and unites us with the world and every bit of heaven.


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Reflection: Your Abundance

As you read this, I'm exhausted. Today marks the official end of the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. Coleen, Brendan, and I have been at the Gathering since Wednesday. On Thursday, we spent the day in the Youth Gathering's Interactive Center which is an entire convention center converted into a ministry theme park. We participated in water challenges, physically seeing how far people in the world need to walk to get fresh water. We donated blood and could, if we waited long enough in line, to build a home with Habitat for Humanity. We created faith-based art, played games, ran through an obstacle course, and much more. On Friday, we spent the day with everyone from New Jersey in a fun worship based event. Yesterday was our service learning day. As I write this, I have no idea what our service project will be (we'll discover it that morning) but I know we'll give back to the local community. I know at this moment that I am feeling drained, exhausted, and limited. Yet the Gathering reminds all of us that our God is abundant.

In today's letter from 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Paul is talking to the community in Corinth about money. Paul is collecting funds from the community in Corinth to deliver to the church in Jerusalem. He's encouraging the Corinthians to finish their pledge and send their money to Jerusalem. This request by Paul is pretty amazing because the church Corinth probably had no deep connections to the church in Jerusalem. Both cities were very different. Jerusalem was old, with Judaism at the heart of what it stood for. Corinth was newer, recently colonized by former Roman solders. The church in Corinth was gentile and most were new to the faith. According to tradition, the church in Jerusalem was older, Jewish, and had James as their leader. On the surface, there was no need for the community in Corinth to support the church in Jerusalem.

Yet Paul invites us to look at giving in a very Jesus kind of way. When we give, we're not only saying something about our self; we're also making a very specific claim about God. Our God is a God of abundance. God's creating of the world and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were acts rooted in God's abundance. When we give, we are not giving out of our limitations (our limited income, time, or talents). Rather, when we give, we are giving out of our abundance. There are plenty of ways our budgets, time, and gifts feel very limited. We are over scheduled human beings, with limited perspectives, and bills that need to be paid. But our faith is rooted in a Jesus whose abundance brought him to the Cross and saved the world. This abundance is why you are part of Jesus' holy family. This abundance is why Jesus loves you. We have a God who is abundant and we are invited to be just as abundant too.


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