Questions and Reflections

August 2017

Pencil Pusher. From Pastor Marc - My Message for the Messenger, September 2017 Edition

When was the last time you used 60 #2 pencils? When was the last time you saw that many pencils in one place? Growing up, I longed to be the kid with the fancy mechanical pencil with the right kind of lead for the scantron tests. I didn't want to use those yellow pencils ever again. And now that I'm older, I rarely write. Instead, I give my fingers a workout on a keyboard, and I keep my thumbs busy on the screen of my smartphone. I didn't expect to spend a day this summer surrounded by those yellow pencils. But on the last day of Vacation Bible School the kids, volunteers and I were elbow-deep in those pencils I avoided. We were also knee-deep in glue sticks, crayons and two pocket folders. We spent the day packing 20 backpacks full of school supplies for students in need. The supplies we packed were graciously donated by the kids at VBS themselves and members of CLC. The 3 through 11 year olds that made up our VBS classes were packing backpacks for kids their age to actually use. The week the kids spent wasn't only about trying to have fun with God. It wasn't just an excuse to dress up as superheroes every day. They were there to learn how God makes them heroes, and they spent a day being the heroes God calls them to be. Being a hero isn't only for those with super strength. Sometimes a hero means finding 60 #2 pencils and giving them to a kid who needs them.

This September is the start of a busy programming year at CLC. Our 2 worship Sundays kick-off is on September 17th. Confirmation classes, Sunday School and Youth Group will start up right after. Our committees and ministry teams are gearing up for an exciting year. And our interfaith and community partnerships are hitting the ground running. We're going to spend the year finding new and exciting ways to be the body of Christ in Northern New Jersey. One of the gifts God gives us every day is the very faith that drives us to know that God's love, mercy and hope are not abstract. These attributes of God are part of who we are. As we start a busy September, let’s see the different and unexpected ways God is calling us to make a difference in our church and in our community. Because being engaged with our neighbors is how we can be like Jesus who never stopped engaging with a world who desperately needs him.

See you in church!
Pastor Marc 



Keep Reading >>

Pan Pizzaz: Peter is the Rock

Today's passage from Matthew 16:13-20 is a passage the church has fought over for centuries. For the Roman Catholic Church, this text illustrates why Peter (and his spiritual descendants - the Popes) are central to church leadership. Martin Luther disagreed, seeing Peter's confession ("You are the Messiah") as the true cornerstone of all church leadership. There is also debate over what the "keys" actually are. Is this passage an invitation for the spiritual leaders of the church to decide who gets forgiveness and who doesn't? Is this a passage letting us tell other people "I'll pray for you" as a way to be passive aggressive with other people? Can priests, pastors, and Christians actually claim who are true Christians and who are not? It's a powerful passage that has inspired debates and schisms for 2000 years. We should remember the history of interpretation because it shows how the interpretation of this passages changes depending on our cultural, historical, and political context. This passage invites us to remember why we need  the Holy Spirit to open up God's word for us because what the Holy Spirit gives us might not match, 100%, with what came before it. 

When I look at scripture, I spend time putting it into context. Where does this passage appear in the wider story? What message is the author trying to get across? And what would the original hearers actually hear? A big part of my interpretation process also involves real estate. Location matters and location plays a big role in what Jesus is saying today. 

The city of Caesarea Philippi was at the edge of northern Galilee, the tip of Israel's ancient homeland. In Jesus' day the city was new but the location wasn't. For hundreds of years a temple located at the city site was dedicated to the Greek god Pan. The temple sat next to a large spring that provided water for the Jordan River. Over time, the temple complex grew. Images of Pan and other pagan gods were carved on the rocky hill behind the spring. When the city was finally established a few years after Jesus' birth, the city became very Roman. Even it's name, Caesarea Philippi honors the Roman Emperor - Caesar. This was a city that treated the Roman Emperors as gods.The rocky hill behind the spring was soon the Mt. Rushmore of the area, including images of Pan and the Roman Emperors as a sign of what was the rock, the foundation, of the wider world. 

Today's passage takes place with Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples overshadowed by images of the Roman emperor and Greek gods. It's under the watchful eye of these rocks when Jesus calls Peter his rock. We can argue about the details of Jesus' command to him mean but we shouldn't ignore the impact such words would have made. Peter's confession is a direct refutation of the government surrounding him. Jesus tells Peter that he will be a leader of a different kind of kingdom. These words are revolutionary words. They are powerful words. And they are words that remind us that no government on earth can be seen as the end all, be all, of the kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus' followers are invited to see the world as it is, a place that struggles with sin, injustice, inequality, and power, but live as if Jesus makes the difference that we know he does. 


Keep Reading >>

Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Event: Prayer Rally for Love & Solidarity

Pastor Marc joined clergy from throughout the Upper Pascack Valley for a Prayer Rally for Love and Solidarity. More than 100 people from at least 8 congregations (Christian and Jewish) attended the event at Veteran's Park in Park Ridge. Pastor Marc offered a reading and a reflection during the event.

A Reading from Micah 6:6-8.

With what should I approach the Lord

       and bow down before God on high?

Should I come before [God] with entirely burned offerings,

       with year-old calves?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

       with many torrents of oil?

Should I give my oldest child for my crime;

       the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?

[God] has told you, human one, what is good and

       what the Lord requires from you:         

to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

Was anyone else outside this afternoon watching the solar eclipse? Did anyone else forget to put on sunscreen before they climbed on the roof of their church to watch the moon move in front of the sun? I know I’m going to be a tad sunburnt tomorrow but I'm glad I was able to participate in a celestial event where people from all over this nation posted jokes and memes about it online, ate moonpies and other lunaresque treats, and we all looked a tad dorky wearing those paper sun filters over our eyes. And even though the glasses made us look silly, we needed them. Without them, the UV rays and light from the sun would literally burn our eyes. In the days leading up to today’s event, news articles and tweets and Facebook posts said the same thing over and over again. Don't look directly at the sun. Don't take a #selfie with the eclipse in the background because that won't stop the UV rays from reflecting off your phone and harming your eyes. We needed to get the right kind of NASA recommend polarized shades. And if any of this is news to you right now, just keep the information in your back pocket as preparation for the next eclipse in our neighborhood in 2024. These warnings about observing the eclipse shows us how intense the sun actually is. We needed to do a lot to prepare ourselves to engage and observe and witness such an event. Solar eclipses happen without any input or help from us. They are a product of the dance the moon and earth and sun do together. We witnessed today something that is part of our world and our universe right now. We know eclipses happen - but we have the choice in how to engage with them.

This evening, as we gather together as neighbors and friends, as we unite to say yes to peace and love and unity - and as we say no to hate, anti-semitism, racism, homophobia, nazism - and to anything and anyone that tries to split us apart, I am personally grateful for each and everyone of you. I am grateful for the intensity, the power, and the love and hope each of you brings here tonight. I am grateful for the shared witness my colleagues and friends from the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Group show by being here in body, mind, and prayer. And I'm eternally grateful for the same Spirit that compels each of us to be here right now. This Spirit, I believe, is embedded in God’s good creation. It’s a Spirit that’s moved over the waters, breathed life into our souls, and is even now, moving among us. It’s the same Spirit that moved the prophet Micah to speak out against those who oppressed the people and it’s same Spirit, I believe, that brought us here together tonight. This Spirit wants us here so that we can speak, with one voice, loudly proclaiming that  the rallies, movements, and groups supporting Nazism, Confederate ideology, white supremacy and terror are not who we are and this isn’t who God wants us to be. The evil lurking in the hearts of those who use cars, trucks, and vehicles to cause death, violence, and destruction is not something God endorses, supports, or believes. Those who drive into crowds, march through college campuses with lit torches, and who shout words that deny the very human diversity that God intended are not living in God’s Spirit. They are trying to make fear and violence the cornerstone of our human community and they hope we will just accept it, as if this kind of evil is part of the universe that we choose not to engage with.

Yet the Spirit that lived in Micah is a Spirit that refuses to let fear win. It’s a Spirit that compels us to engage with this evil forcefully, honestly, and with an intensity that cannot be blocked. As a Lutheran, I am mindful of how communities bearing the Lutheran name worked against the Spirit of God and were part of some of the worst violence in living memory. As an American, I am mindful of the different ways own communities push our neighbors to the margins. I am mindful of the ways Christians throughout history have twisted the true and expansive vision God has for our human community. Yet I also know this Spirit that lived in Micah refuses to give up on us. I know that this Spirit, when she recorded the words “love your neighbors as yourselves, ” truly meant it. I know that this Spirit is active right now, empowering us to uncover the ways we fail to match the unlimited love God has for each of us. And I know that this Spirit helps us do more than just gather together. The Spirit inspires us, strengthens us, and compels us to know what justice is and to seek it; to know what love looks like and to go do it; and to walk faithfully and humbly with the God who will never stop showing us what God’s vision of the world truly looks like. May our love for our neighbors burn with an intensity matched only by the sun. And may the moments we share this evening, moments reflected in anti-hate rallies in Charlottesville, Boston, New Orleans and in vigils and rallies locally and nationwide, reflect that Spirit of hope, love, and unity that God wants everyone to share.



Keep Reading >>

The Persistent Canaanite Woman

It's strange for Matthew to call the woman in our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28) a Canaanite. By the time of Jesus, the Canaanite culture was long gone. The land of Canaan included parts of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. When the people of Israel fled Egypt, they came into a territory dominated by Canaanite kingdoms. Gradually as the Philistines took over the coast and the kingdom of Israel dominated the interior, the Canaanite culture shrunk. By the time of the Exile, when the people of Jerusalem were taken to live in Babylon, Canaan no longer existed. Wars, invasions, demographic changes, and migrations mixed the Canaanite communities wither others. By Jesus' time, after years of Greek and Roman rule, Canaanites didn't exist. But we know, based on modern science, that the Canaanites never left. Recent DNA studies show how modern people living in Lebanon and the surrounding areas still have DNA matching skeletons buried 3500 years ago. By calling this woman a Canaanite, Matthew is making a statement. This woman is related biologically to Jesus and his disciples. But she is defined as someone who is completely different. She is a woman set apart, an outsider living in the old Philistine territories of Sidon and Tyre. She's unworthy of Jesus' time. And yet, she's a mother who persists because her daughter is in trouble. 

Jesus is a bit of a jerk in this passage. The Canaanite woman believes Jesus is who everyone says he is. She knows he has cured others and she wants her daughter to be cured too. Jesus hears her shouts but chooses not to answer. Even the disciples are annoyed by her persistent shouting. Since her words are failing, she takes the drastic step to get in Jesus' way. She physically uses her body to disrupt his path. And once she's stopped Jesus, she asks for help. Jesus responded harshly but she will not give up. She knows who Jesus is and will not let Jesus ignore her. Her faith is her persistence. She won't let Jesus be anything but Jesus. Her persistence is also a description of who her God is. Her God cares. Her God heals. Her God will not let her family go and will keep God's promises. She refuses to let Jesus be anything but Jesus. And if she can be persistent with Jesus, we can be too. 


Keep Reading >>

One More Thing

Today's reading from Matthew 14:22-33 takes place immediately after last week's reading. A crowd numbering over 5000 people came to Jesus. Jesus spends the whole day with them and then, in the evening, tells his disciples to feed the entire crowd. Imagine being a disciple in that moment. They were around a giant crowd, all day. Jesus probably moved through the crowd, coming to people who were sick and hurting. If the day was bright, warm, and dusty, I imagine the disciples would be exhausted by the end of the day. They're tired and want to rest. But even after a full and busy day, Jesus makes them work. Once the leftovers are picked up, the disciples were worn out. And then one more thing comes up. 

Jesus dismisses the crowd and his disciples. Jesus retreats to pray while the disciples board a boat on the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus prays, a storm develops. The disciples spend all night keeping their ship afloat. The disciples are already tired but the wind and waves do not let up. By the early morning hours, they must have been barely keeping themselves together. They look to the shore, now far away, and see Jesus coming towards them. The disciples freak out and Peter makes Jesus prove who he is. Jesus responds by giving Peter one more thing to do. 

Life has a habit of giving us one more thing when we are already over our heads. A mourning family experiences another loss. A health crisis gets another unexpected diagnosis. The busyness of everyday life has one more problem thrown into the pot. As the winds and waters of life overwhelm us, one more thing will come. And when it does, Jesus is there. 

We can act like the only time we meet Jesus is when we pick a time to meet him. Setting time aside to worship, pray, and study is very important. We are called to make faith a priority and that means giving our time to God. But when life overwhelms us and our time is occupied, that doesn't mean Jesus isn't with us. Jesus is there when we feel as if we're drowning. Jesus is coming towards us even when we are being punished by the wind. And Jesus will grab our hand because there's nothing in this life that can keep Jesus away from us. 


Keep Reading >>

Who Brings Good News: Righteousness and Charlottesville.

Below is Pastor Marc's manuscript for his sermon on Romans 10:5-15. You can also listen to it by clicking here


Righteousness is a funny word. It’s not a ha-ha funny kind of word but one of those words usually reserved for fantasy novels or cross-stitched and hung on dining room walls. It's also a word scattered all over the Bible and one….that even I, as a trained religious professional, don't always know what to do with. I know that righteousness has something to do with God. And righteousness should be something that I want. But when I take this word that Paul uses at the start of our reading from Romans today, and try to get to the center of what it means, I'm left with something in soft focus. Now, it's not really fair to jump into Paul’s letter right at this point and with only these few verses to look at. Paul is actually in the middle of an argument that he started in chapter 9 and will conclude in chapter 11. We're basically jumping into the middle of Paul’s train of thought and that makes this passage tricky. If we’ve studied Paul before, know the book of Romans well, and understand the different logic tricks Greeks and Romans used to make their point, then jumping into the middle of Paul’s argument isn't as frightening as it could be. But if we haven't done that kind of work, what then? What do we do with righteousness? We might decide to avoid Romans all together. Or worse, we might assume that a superficial reading focusing only on a few verses in this letter is all that we need. But I think there's another option. We can come to this text knowing there are things we don't know. We can enter today's reading knowing we bring our own definitions, assumptions, and understandings to the text. We don't have to understand righteousness right away. Not getting it is...ok. God wants us to bring ourselves as we are, fully into these texts because these texts are bringing God fully into us. 

On Friday night, as I went to bed, I did what I always do: I grabbed my phone and opened up my social media feeds to get one more look at the world before I called it a day. And in between the cat pictures, animated gifs, and articles telling me what kind of avocados I should put on my toast, I saw pictures that terrified me. In the middle of the night, on a darken college campus in Virginia, a crowd of a few hundred, mostly young men, were bringing more than just themselves to Charlottesville. They also brought lit torches. They first assembled at the edge of the campus of the University of Virginia. Most carried tiki torches that lit up their white faces in a yellow and orange spotlight. No one tried to hide who they were because they weren't scared of being found out. They were there to make others afraid. As they marched through the campus, they chanted slogans like “Blood and Soil” and “You will not replace us.” They matched their white supremacist slogans with nazi salutes and violence, encircling the 20 or so college kids on campus who protested them. And once the march started to break up, they headed towards a local church where over 700 clergy and faith leaders were hosting a prayer service for justice and peace. After that service ended, they couldn't leave for several moments because the white supremacists forced them to stay inside. The Friday night terror march was just a precursor to the big event scheduled for the next day. These torch bearing people wanted a fight and they were planning to bring it. 

Now, when it comes to events like this, I….take it personally. I read and watch, becoming absorbed as the event plays itself out. I pay attention because, as a Mexican-American, I can’t look away. When a neo-nazi screams “end immigration,” I know they're not inviting my brown skin self to stay. I've lost count of the number of times I've been told to go back to my own country even though New Mexico and Arizona and Colorado were comfortable places for my ancestors hundreds of years ago. When a white man waving a Confederate battle flag shouts, “you will not replace us,” I've read enough “think pieces masquerading as serious thought” to know he's advocating for a world where my mixed family, where my 2 kids, don't exist. I can't pretend that this is only a problem in other places because I’ve seen Confederate flags flying just across the reservoir from here. And the church itself, can't ignore this stuff either. In a photograph taken yesterday, a black police officer was standing guard, protecting the Constitutional right for these neo-nazis and members of the KKK and armed militiamen to say their hate filled words. And in that same picture, a white supremacist is holding a sign calling the Jewish people the children of Satan with using verses from the gospel according to John to defend that kind of hate and evil. [Note: After I preached this sermon, I discovered this photograph was taken in July but I believe the message is the same.] As a Christian, a pastor, a person of color, and as a father, I don't have the option to ignore when Charlottevilles happen because that kind of ideology feeds a hate and evil that is part of my life everyday. 

When Saturday morning came to Charlottesville, the clergy gathered again for a sunrise service. Like the night before, I was following it through social media and more. I saw as men and women, Jews and Christians and Muslims, bishops, pastors, priests, and deacons, including bishops from our own denomination and colleagues I went to school with, marched. They headed to where the rally was taking place and they brought with them their collars and stoles, kippas, hijabs, and that' That's all they brought. They stood between the white supremacists and the counter protesters. When the white supremacists finally arrived, they came ready for a fight. They wore body armor and helmets. They brought shields and clubs. Some were armed, wearing army fatigues and carrying AR-15 rifles. They were hoping for violence. They were hoping for confrontation. They wanted to incite terror. So they banged on their shields, shouted slurs against Jews, African-Americans, and gays. They made as much noise as they could...and the assembled clergy, without a weapon in sight, just...sang. They met the evil in front of them with the love of God in the song - this little light of mine. In the face of this one-sided hate, bigotry, and violence, these God-fearing interfaith men and women, met this evil by singing about the light God gives them. And this light lets them stand in the face of hate and sing, sing, sing. 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, isn't asking them to bring their rhetoric or intelligence or understanding to the problem of righteousness. Instead, he's too busy telling them to stop trying to bring God down and instead see how God is already here. When we take this passage and make it some kind of test, where Jewish law and faith in Jesus are put against each other, we cheapen what we already have in God. We pretend that there's some kind of work, some kind of thing we need to make ourselves believe, to get God on our side. But if we instead remember that the “you” in this passage isn't general, that Paul is really talking only to a community of Gentiles, then this passage is less about what the community needs to do to get on God’s good side and, instead, is about God being with them right now. God, through their baptism, has made adopted them as beloved children. They are now newly chosen, bound together in an inclusive story that includes a Jewish savior who, on the Cross, opened his arms to all. Paul’s thought process is focused on these Gentiles, on these Romans, alone. And because they know God, because they are baptized by God, and because Jesus died for them, they now get to bless others like God blessed them. They now get to share God’s story with their family and friends. They now get to pray and worship and sing every Sunday morning. They get to be like Jesus to all who are in need. They get to do all these things not because they are righteous but because God is. And God’s righteousness means that God keeps God’s promises - these promises of love, hope, fidelity, and mercy to all of God’s children. It's God’s righteousness that let's us be God’s people. It's God’s righteousness that let's us know that love will never be overcome by hate. And it's because of the hold God has on each us, that we get to stand tall in the face of evil, confront racism and white supremacy in all it's forms, and undo it's hold on us and our communities because we bring a different kind of torch, we have a divine kind of light, a light that Jesus gave to us, and we’re called to let it shine, today, tomorrow, and forever.



Keep Reading >>


I don't know if I would ever say the word "but" to Jesus. 

In our reading from Matthew 14:13-21 today, Jesus is in a deserted place. He left the highways and byways after learning that John the Baptist was beheaded during a feast by King Herod. Instead of responding to this violence inflicted on his cousin, Jesus retreats. Jesus, however, isn't left alone for long. Word spread that he is in the area so people go out to meet him. Jesus finds an immense crowd looking for him. When he sees them looking for him, he stops retreating. He enters the crowd and heals the ones who are sick. Jesus is compassionate and full of love. As the day turns into evening, people start to get hungry. Instead of waiting for the crowd to become hangry (hungry + angry), the disciples asked Jesus to send everyone home. The disciples saw Jesus heal the sick but their imagination does not see Jesus dealing with their hunger. So the disciples, thinking about the crowds, invite them to take care of themselves. 

Jesus, however, will have none of that. Instead, he invites the disciples to be as compassionate as he is and take care of the crowd. This is when the disciples use the word "but." They claim they have nothing but five loaves and two fish. Five loaves and two fish are not nothing. The disciples do not think they have enough food to share. They are focused on feeding just themselves. They are blessed to have food but they lack the imagination to share it. Jesus then takes what they have and feeds everyone. 

One of the unspoken ideas Jesus continually struggles against is the idea that there is only "so much" in the world. There is only so much love, so much kindness, so much food, so much housing, so many rights, so many opportunities, and so many other kinds of blessings in the world. Opportunities and material things are viewed as limited. Once we are receiving this blessing, we struggle to extend it to someone else. We are afraid that if we give it away, we will somehow lose that blessing for ourselves. 

But Jesus invites us to see this blessings as opportunities to share the limitless love that God has. The text doesn't claim that Jesus somehow multiplied the loaves and the fishes. Instead, he blesses what the disciples have and the disciples are empowered to feed everyone. The meal the crowd has is shared by everyone. The disciples, Jesus, and even the women and children eat their fill. Jesus is showing all of us that following him means taking what we have and sharing it abundantly. 


Keep Reading >>

Older Posts >>