Questions and Reflections

August 2016

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

As I write this, our Genesis Garden team is trying to catch a groundhog. In the garden, by the shed, is a humane trap, with apples and broccoli for bait. Each morning, the trap is checked and the food replenished. The team is committed to capturing this groundhog who dug into our garden from the other side of the building. But this groundhog is proving elusive. It must have learned something by watching the other 3 we caught this season. 

Our Genesis Garden and our volunteers do amazing work. They use the gifts we are given (our land and time) to provide fresh vegetables to the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Too many people in Northern New Jersey struggle with food insecurity so we use what we have to make a difference in the lives of people we might never meet. This is Godly work - work that even those of us without green thumbs (i.e. me) can participate in. Planting, weeding, watering, and picking; together, we can do so much to love the world. 

But sometimes our plans and expectations run into reality. We can lock up our gardens, mend our fences, build our walls tight, but a groundhog will still find a way in. It's frustrating and disappointing to see our best intentions fall short even when we did nothing wrong. We might feel, after 3 groundhogs, to just give up. But we don't because Christ doesn't give up on us. 

We're starting up a new programming year. Our choirs, Sunday School, education programs, and more are all restarting. Our lives are going to get busy with sports, schools, holidays, jobs, and family events. We're going to run into the groundhogs of our lives or be someone's groundhog too. But we don't stop turning to God, listening to the Spirit, and holding close to Jesus. In Christ, groundhogs are not the final word for our lives; love is. So let's keep loving, feeding, and caring for ourselves and the world, no matter how many groundhogs come. 

See you in church!


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Lamentations

Our First Reading is Lamentations 1:1-5.

What does mourning sound like? That's not an easy question to answer. Each time a person experiences loss, we respond to that loss in a unique way. Some of us shed tears while others focus on their jobs or hobbies. Some of us spend much of our days in sadness while others will be surprised when moments of sadness show up suddenly an unexpectedly. We each mourn in our own way and that's okay. The book of Lamentations is a book of mourning centered on the fall of Jerusalem. 

This book is a collection of 5 poems, each 22 lines long. The writer (traditionally identified as Jeremiah) believes that God used the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. The writers knows that God can work "good and bad." But the writer is surprised at one aspect of God: God's silence. When God's Temple, God's Home, was under siege, why was God silent? The writer of Lamentations cries out for the pain to stop and for their suffering to end. The poem ends without an answer on whether God will do that or not.

"To us, lament often sounds like despair, the opposite of faith" (Lutheran Study Bible, 2009) but cries are not the opposite of faith. Crying out to God is a prayer. The very act itself trusts that we will be heard. And we will be heard because it is in the places where we would least expect God (in suffering, pain, catastrophe, and in the cross) where God is clearly present. "Lamentations shows us that in the most difficult of times and places, God is present and hears our desperate cries for help." 


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Jeremiah 32

The First Reading is Jeremiah 32:1-2,6-15.

Jerusalem is under siege. The armies of Babylon have surrounded the city. The prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned by the King of Judah because Jeremiah keeps saying “Jerusalem is going to fall.” The king questions Jeremiah, and he responds with the story in our reading today. Jeremiah’s cousin needs to sell a piece of property. He comes to Jeremiah with an offer. Jeremiah, as a member of this extended family, has the opportunity to buy the land first. If he buys it, the land stays within the family. Jeremiah buys the property, and he goes into detail on how he legally makes the sale happen. The deeds are stored in a jar so that it will last a long time. In the middle of a war, with Babylon storming the gates, Jeremiah buys a piece of land. The Kingdom of Judah and all its laws about property rights are about to fall, yet Jeremiah buys a piece of land. Judah’s way of life is over and, yet, Jeremiah buys a piece of land. The future looks bleak but Jeremiah doesn’t let fear rule him. He knows the kingdom will fall but he trusts God’s promises more.

Jeremiah is not a beloved prophet. The kings of Judah do not like this man of God who says that the Kingdom is going to fall. But every promise of destruction is met by the promise of God’s future. Babylon might destroy God’s temple but they cannot destroy God’s promises to God’s people. The inhabitants will be sent into wile but God’s relationship with them will not end. God will go into Exile with the people. God will be with them, no matter what. And, as the wheels of time move and the world changes and grows, God will rework God’s people to bring them into a future where injustice, pain and tears are no more. And that’s why Jeremiah buys a piece of land. He’s doubling down on God’s promise even if he doesn’t see the promise fulfilled in his lifetime. 


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Jeremiah

The first reading is Jeremiah 1:4-10.

There are very few "kind" passages from the book of Jeremiah which is full of the words attributed to that prophet. He was only a "boy" when God called him to be a prophet, around the year 626 BCE (BC). This was a very chaotic time for the kingdom of Judah. War was everywhere. Political powers such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon battled for supremacy, installing puppet kings in Judah and throughout the area. By the year 605, Babylon defeated Egypt and Assyria in battle. Babylon was left as the supreme military and political authority in the Near East. In 597 BC, the first exile of leaders from Jerusalem took place. That was followed by a much larger exile 10 years later after Jerusalem rebelled against Babylonian authority. Jeremiah died the following year.

In such a violent and vicious time, it would be surprising to find may words of comfort from God's prophet. However, even in the first chapter, the ground for hope is laid. God comes to a little boy, appointing him as a prophet for Jerusalem and all the nations of the world. We tend to romanticize our view of children, viewing them as special, precious, and innocent. And they are. But in Jeremiah's time, childhood wasn't romanticized. Children had few legal rights, many died before the age of five, and they worked in the field as soon as they were able. Children were powerless and it's a child that God calls to bring God's word to kings. God promises to give Jeremiah the words he needs. Jeremiah will preach a word to all those in power and authority, showing them their shortcomings and bringing God's call for justice. God's word will pull injustice down and, in the same instant, plant the seeds for reconciliation, love, and hope. 

By the end of Jeremiah's life, his messages of doom were matched by his messages of hope. He would never live to see the restoration of Jerusalem but he would proclaim that God does not give up on God's people. God will come to all of us, in many different ways, to form us into the people God wants us to be. God's desire is for the end of fear, injustice, and hopelessness. That what's God begins in us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And what God begins in us, we are called to do in all that we say and do. 


Keep Reading >>

A reflection on Isaiah 42

The First Reading for August 7 is Isaiah 42:1-9.

Our Year with the Bible has brought us to Isaiah, the longest of Scripture's prophetic works. About 1/3 of the Bible is associated with prophets: men and women who speak God's word to kings and queens. The prophets imagine the world as God would have it be and remind political leaders their responsibility to practice justice and peace. Many scholars believe that Isaiah contains the words of several different prophets, spanning the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC (BCE) through the Exile (587-583) and after. The first 39 chapters are centered around the collapse of the Northern kingdom and the threat to Jerusalem caused by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-55 are told by a people who is in Babylon, exiled from Jerusalem. The people watched Babylon destroy their city and God's Temple. They are far from home and do not know if they'll ever return home. They are stuck, weak and powerless, wondering where God is. 

What's striking about these words from Isaiah 42 is that they are delivered to a people who are in exile. The Israelites are oppressed yet they are  called God's servant. They cannot go home yet God calls them to bring forth justice. The people's faith and culture have suffered a deep blow when Jerusalem fell yet God promises them God's spirit. The people hearing these words for the first time would have identified themselves as the servant. As God's chosen people, God is their king and they are God's servant. These verses affirm their relationship to God even though they saw God's Temple fall. Even in Babylon, God is with God's people and God's people have a job to do. 

So what is that job? God is calling people to reorder "social life and social power so that the weak (widow and orphans) may live a life of dignity, security, and well-being." (Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66, Westminister 1998, 42). The people of Israel are vulnerable. Babylon has power over them, breaking weak reeds and dimming candle wicks because that's how power over others works. But God is taking God's broken people and telling them to "reorder social relations for the sake of the vulnerable." The community is no longer purposeless and isolated. They are called to be a servant for justice in the world.

As Christians, we see Jesus in Isaiah 42:1-4. When the disciples of John the Baptist asks Jesus who he is, Jesus points to the blind gaining sight, the sick being cured, and the prisoners being sent free (see Luke 4 where Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 but it is similar to Isaiah 42). Christ's mission to reconcile the world through love, sacrifice, and mercy rather than brute force or war, is our call too. The servant isn't reduced to one person or one identity. All of God's people are called to be God's servant even if they feel powerless, weak, and find themselves far from home. 


Keep Reading >>

A Reflection on Song of Songs

The First Reading for July 31 is Song of Songs.

Today's first reading is from Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon) which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a love song filled with vivid imagery, physical language and "amorous" content. The two main characters are obviously in love with other, each longing to see and physically connect with each other. It's a biblical book that catches what love can feel like. This is a book that captures our emotions and experiences. To read the Song of Songs is to see love, longing, and relationships expressed in poetry. So why is this book in the Bible?

The Song of Songs is a book that rarely mentions God. It is not a text that si concerned with the amazing feats of power or that describes what proper worship of God might look like. There are no stories about what God's justice looks like or how we are to take care of each other. There is no narrative, plot, or even characters with names. Song of Songs is a book that stands almost on its own, distantly related to the books around it. But that's okay. Not every piece of scripture is designed to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like the Psalms, Song of Songs captures human emotions. As human beings, we feel. There are times when we are angry, sad, or incredibly happy. And there are also times when we might be in love. Love is an experience, emotion, and a reality that is hard to put into words. There is no one definition in the dictionary that can describe the fullness of what love is. Love needs poetry to unpack what it looks like, feels like, and what it can represent. And that's what Song of Songs does. It shows love.

We often about God being love and I often preach about our need to love. Song of Songs unwraps a little of what can look and feel like. But love isn't limited to just our emotions or our physical longing. Love is a way of being that challenges us and changes how we view the world. The love we see in Song of Songs is the same love that brought Jesus into the world. The desire for connection and relationship is the same love that drove Jesus to preach, teach, and walk to the cross. The love God used to save the world is the same love we are called to share with our spouses, friends, and even strangers. Love isn't just a noun; love is a verb and the Song of Songs shows just how active love is. 


Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>