Questions and Reflections

August 2019

Prayed For [Sermon Manuscript]

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 25, 2019) on Luke 13:10-17. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


So when Kate and I got married, I knew our life together would have its share of joys. Some of that joy was exactly what I expected - like the birth of our children , the various adventures we’ve been on, and what it’s like growing older together. But there was one joy that showed up at the beginning of our marriage that I didn’t expect to be as special as it was. And that’s because when we married, I regained grandparents. Growing up, I only knew one of my grandparents and he died when I was in high school. I still remember everything about him - like how he loved going to mass, got a kick out of watching the Phillies play, and how he always bought polo shirts at garage sales but only when they had other people’s names stitched on them. My grandfather would then, when he met someone new, introduce himself with the name on the shirt. I still miss him and I know I always will. But it was neat to marry into a family with a set of grandparents that let me call them Grampy and Grammy. They were wonderful, salt of the earth kind of folks, with their own personalities, quirks, and humor. They were also devout Christians and they had a habit of including the entire family into their religious rituals. That meant they gave me the same yearly devotional calendar everyone received on Christmas. But it also meant that, even before we were married, they included me in their prayer life. It’s hard to describe what it was like to know that Grammy prayed for me. But knowing that she did, I think, changed me. I knew, even on the weeks when I was too tired or sad or angry to pray, God still heard someone else say my name. I was worthy of prayer and on some days, that grace made all the difference. 

Now, during August, we participated in a prayer experiment here at church. Every Sunday, you wrote your name on a piece of green paper and dropped it in the baptismal font. You later took a card from the font and we invited you to include that person in your personal prayers. Sometimes, you knew exactly what the other person needed. Other times, all you had was their name. You might have struggled to figure out how to pray for them because saying their name didn’t feel like it was enough. Praying for others can be awkward - but, this time, when you prayed, someone else was praying for you. I wonder what that felt like. I wonder if this experiment moved you in some way. And I’d like for us to take a few moments to talk to each other about it. Even if you didn’t have a chance to participate in our prayer experiment, I want you to remember a time when you were prayed for by name. Let’s break off into groups of 3 or 4 people, and let’s talk about what it was like to pray for someone else and what it felt like to know that someone prayed for you.


Break into groups. And then, after you wrap up and see if people share - move to the gospel.


Now as we talk about our experiences of being prayed for, I find myself wondering about the prayer life of the woman in today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about who she was but that doesn’t mean we can’t use our imagination to flesh out her story. I’m sure she prayed the same prayers we do. She asked God to make her well. But as the years went on, I bet her prayers changed. She knew she wasn’t getting better so she might have asked God to teach her the right prayers to say that might fix her. Yet, when that didn’t seem to work, she hoped that God would at least grant her a few moments of relief and peace. Her prayer life, I imagine, was strong. And I bet there were others who prayed for her. 

I say that because this story takes place in a synagogue. There was an entire community that knew her. And this community took their job as being faithful - pretty seriously. We see that in the actions of the synagogue’s leader. They valued the sabbath and wanted to make sure it was available for everyone. We tend to imagine the sabbath as being a day when people don’t work; as if it’s meant to be empty. But it really isn’t. The sabbath was also a day when everyone, including slaves and farm animals, had their productivity interrupted by a God who told them to just stop. The sabbath was designed as a day to pull us out from the busyness of the week and remind us that God is present with us all. The leader in this story wanted to “preserve a positive aspect of…[so] they set up rules” to protect it. But our desire to protect what is important can sometimes cause us to miss why it’s important in the first place. The woman coming to the synagogue wasn’t doing work and she wasn’t asking for a work to help her. She needed grace. And that’s what Jesus gave her. Because “if it was permissible to untie animals and let them drink, [it certainly] should be permissible to untie a woman from her bondage.”* The Sabbath isn’t meant to be a day defined by its emptiness of work. It’s also a day, according to Jesus, designed for the giving of grace. That grace can be as dramatic as healing someone through the gifts God has given us. But it can also be as small as naming someone in your prayers. There will be times when our prayer will feel like it’s work. We will find ourselves adding a reminder on our phone to tell us it’s time to pray. We might think this need for a reminder shows that we’re not praying correctly. And we’ll be worried that our prayers are not doing any good because so little seems to change. Those moments are completely normal and they're a sign that we should pray, anyways. Because, as we heard from those around us, being prayed for actually makes a difference. And since Jesus is already part of your life, you can be like him, by giving grace to others through your ability to pray. 



*Feasting on the Word, Luke, Volume 2. 


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Reflection: Consuming Fire

For the last two weeks, we've met a God of fire. Today's reading from Hebrews 12:18-29  begins by describing how Moses met on Mt. Sinai but it doesn't stay there. By the end, we've moved on to the heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus, and how "our God is a consuming fire." A God who is fire is a bit scary. Like I said last week, we are way more comfortable with a God who is love, mercy, and forgiveness. We don't usually like to say that God is fire because fire, to us, burns. Fire can be scary. Our technology has gotten so advanced; we don't usually notice the fire that's around us. But in Jesus' time, fire was always present. The night was illumined by the flames from candles and torches. Food was cooked in ovens heated by open fires. Blacksmith shops and jewelers used super- heated fire to refine metal into something more whole and pure. Fire was, and still is, dangerous. But fire, in Jesus' time, defined was a visible part of everyday life. The fire around him did more than destroy or cause harm. Instead, it gave light, warmth, and food to the community. A God who was all consuming wasn't only burning things up. God was also refining people into something new. The God would could shake mountains is the same God who has consumed you. And, in the process, God is already shaping you into who you are meant to be.

Today's passage has been used to push aside or downplay the Jewish experience. It begins with comments about Moses meeting God at Mt. Sinai and then points to our meeting Jesus in the new Jerusalem. Our instinct might be to try and compare the two experiences but I don't think we have to. I'm not sure if the author of Hebrews is trying to say that one experience is better than the other. Instead, it's possible that the author was trying to remind the people he was speaking to (who were mostly not Jewish) that they have already met God. In baptism, in worship, and in the love we share with each other, that's how we see and experience Jesus Christ. We might want or desire a moment like Moses had on Mt. Sinai but we have, through the ordinary experience of church, already met Jesus himself. It isn't only those big and over-the-top experiences of God that shape, form, and refine us. It's also the little moments, the mundane one we don't even recognize as moments, that make us who we are. You have already met Jesus and he's already become a part of your life. And since that's true, that means when people meet you, they're meeting Jesus too. That is one of the gifts and challenges of our baptism. We are, through Jesus, united with him and his entire community. But that also means that we are the primary medium through whom people meet Jesus. You are, by baptism, connected with the God that can shake heaven itself. And that connection also means that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the love, grace, and mercy you share can move mountains too.


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Is this Jesus? [Sermon Manuscript]

[Jesus said]: "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

Luke 12:49-56

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (August 18, 2019) on Luke 12:49-56. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke isn't typically one of our favorites. I haven’t met too many people who have these words written on a piece of reclaimed wood that is now hanging in their family room. It’s a bit hard for us, I think, to connect the Jesus who was born in a manger with the one we hear today. We remember that at Jesus’ birth, the angels told the shepherds to “not be afraid.” Yet here he is, pointing to fire. 1600 years ago, Ambrose, the Bishop of Milian, wrote “are we to believe that [Jesus] has commanded discord within families? ...How does [this Jesus] say, ‘My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you,” if he has come to separate [children] from [parents] and [parents] from [children]...” For a long time, the church has struggled with passages like this one. We’ve tended to ignore them, push them aside, or only use them as a tool to attack those we disagree with. But when it comes to our practice of faith, especially in our families and in our churches, we prefer a Jesus who is softer and more gentle. We want our Jesus to unite us, to overcome the divisions of our world, since we’ve seen how he invited even little children to come close to him. Yet the Jesus depicted in today’s text seems to almost relish splitting families apart. I’ll admit this isn’t the Jesus I turn to in my own devotions and prayers. And when I do see someone use these verses, they tend to weaponize them as a way to justify their own lust for power, control, and violence. It’s not hard to be comfortable with a fire-bringing Jesus when you assume you’re not the one who’s getting burned. So how do we reconcile the Jesus who brings us peace with the one who also burns? 

Now, when verses like this show up, my first step is to admit everything that I’m feeling. I name my discomfort, accept my hesitation, and put my Bible aside as I go find something in my kitchen to eat as a distraction from my general distaste. Once I’ve eaten one or a dozen cookies, I then get back to work. I highlight the verses I don’t like and I try to put them back into context. Because one of the most dangerous things we can do is pull a verse or two out of the Bible and wave it around, removed from all the other words God connected them to. Yet chapter 12 in Luke is tricky. Luke, it seems, took many different sayings of Jesus and sort of haphazardly placed them one after another. We don’t really have the full story of why Jesus said what he did. All we do know is that at some point during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, he spoke these words. So when the immediate context, the words around these problematic verses, does not help - that’s when I take a step back and see how these verses fit into the entire story Luke was telling. And to do that, we need to journey back to the beginning of Luke’s version of Jesus’ life and ministry. We need to return to the shores of the Jordan River - when John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord - and go back even further, to those moments before Jesus was even born. 

Now, in the beginning, Luke showed how Zechariah - John the Baptist’s father; Mary, Jesus’ mother; and John the Baptist himself - told us who Jesus was meant to be. Jesus is the one who will scatter the proud, bring the powerful down from their thrones, and fill the hungry with good things. He will shed a light on those hidden in shadow, overturn every oppressor, and transform our self-centered lives and communities into something new. Jesus will, according to John the Baptist, baptize us with water and fire - a fire meant to refine us as if we’re a piece of metal in a blacksmith shop that’s being transformed into Jesus’ own image. Jesus, through us, will make sure that the poor receive good news; that all captives are released; and that all who are oppressed by our greed and our fears will finally be freed. The fire Jesus brings is a fire Jesus gives to us - to the baptized - so that we, through Jesus, can shift our priorities away from ourselves and instead towards God. The Jesus we know and love promised to bring us peace and hope. Yet the peace Jesus brings is not a peace that always plays nicely with the world because good news for the poor is not necessarily good news for the rest of us. Jesus’ words in today’s text doesn’t contradict the more gentle Jesus we prefer. Rather, his words reveal just how serious it is for Jesus to be in our world. The peace, love, forgiveness, and justice Jesus brings means that our priorities, our goals, and what we think is right - sometimes needs to be transformed into what is actually God’s will. Jesus knows that this kind of transformation isn’t always easy. But it is essential - because Jesus’ presence in your life is meant to do something. His grace, his words, and his love refines you into who God knows you can be. Yet that fire can, and does, sometimes hurt - because its fuel is the truth about ourselves and our world that we don’t always want to see. 

When we come across a Jesus we don’t like, we should resist every attempt to make him more comfortable. We shouldn’t ignore him, downplay him, or use him to attack other people.  Because when we ignore the uncomfortable Jesus, we push aside the responsibilities Jesus gave us for our lives. When we were baptized, we were baptized not only with water - but with His fire. That fire was meant to refine us, to transform us, so that we can see the world more fully. Jesus’ fire lets us be honest about the ways we divide ourselves from each other, the ways we fail to love and serve one another, and how we often act as if there’s never just we horde everything for ourselves. We tend to act as if the words spoken at the beginning of Luke’s version of Jesus’ story - about a topsy turvey world where power over is replaced by power with; where freedom from is replaced by freedom for; and one where a love that is passive is, instead, made active - we act as if those words of fire were extinguished by the more gentle Jesus we prefer. Yet that true fire - the fire that reveals the world as it truly is and the one that transforms it into what God knows it can be - that fire Jesus brought is, through the Cross, already kindled and it still, through your baptism, burns within each of you. The love and care we give to each other does form relationships that can bridge over what divides us. Yet those bridges will create their own divisions because the world still struggles to accept God’s priorities of love, grace, and mercy as its own. But even though divisions still exist in our world, that doesn’t mean we are called to somehow stop being who God made us to be. We are a community filled with people rooted in love, grounded in forgiveness, filled with mercy, and one that is called to offer grace before it gives anything else. Because the fire Jesus spoke about is already burning. And we are called to be refined by its flame so that God’s priorities, rather than our own, always rules. 





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Reflection: A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Today's reading from the book of Hebrews 11:29-12:2 continues what we heard last week. The author of this letter was trying to encourage the faith of a struggling church community. When the church was new, the members within it had shown great love for each other. But now, as the church grew older, some members of the community were struggling with their faith and others had stopped attending. The confidence of the community was drifting, and they were trying to figure out what to do next.

The writer, after spending last week retelling the story of Abraham and Sarah, turned to share other stories from the Bible. We hear of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelite people out of enslavement in Egypt. We relived the moment when the city of Jericho was captured. We meet Rahab who violated the law of her city to protect some Israelite spies. Her faithfulness to God was remembered and her name included in Jesus' genealogy. The writer continued, name dropping people the community knew. They pointed to Biblical stories but also stories from their local context. We're not sure who the author was referring to when they mentioned people who were stoned, killed and harmed for their faith. But we can, I think, assume the community knew who they were. The writer mixed the Biblical story and the community's story to remind everyone that they were part of something so much bigger than themselves.

When you look at the story of your own faith, I am going to invite you to remember every part of it. You shouldn't be ashamed of any doubts you've had or questions. You should admit those times you stepped away from church and those times when you came back. Being faithful isn't always easy, and we can struggle to see God in the midst of everything we're going through. Yet you are also part of a story that is bigger than yourself. Your faith is intertwined with a faith story that began thousands of years ago. The God who never gave up on the Israelite people is the same God who will never give up on you. Your faith story matters. Your faith story makes a difference. And you might be surprised to know that your faith isn't only for yourself. Rather, your faith also inspires others to love God. Your faith, right now, is helping others see Jesus a little more clearly because you are also part of the great cloud of witnesses.


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Reflection: Faith and Unseen

I'm going to begin my reflection with the words from Mary Foskett, Professor of Religious Studies at Wake Forest:

One of the most humbling and uplifting congregational milestones one can experience is the celebration of a church’s anniversary...

Because of the human tendency to see the events and challenges of our time as being particularly difficult or momentous, it is easy to overlook what generations before us had to face and overcome. Occasions like church anniversaries provide us opportunities to look back and learn from those witnesses to the Gospel who preceded us. Truth be told, every community experiences a season of discouragement or listlessness at one time or another. In such a season, calling upon the memories of those who have gone before us can be a powerful source of encouragement and inspiration.

The opening verse in our first reading today is one you might know well. We often define faith as belief in thing we can't see and when I was younger, I took that literally. I felt I was asked to believe in something that was more of a myth than a reality. It wasn't until I started going to church as a young adult that I discovered I needed to change my definition of faith. Faith is more than asserting that some belief is true. Faith is always rooted in trust. Trust forms within a relationship and that relationship takes work and practice. God decided that our faith should be rooted in the promise that God is with us through the long-haul. God doesn't make a commitment for a moment; God chooses to be with us, forever. The opening verse in this reading isn't defining faith as only a belief. Rather, it's a promise that faith forms as we live our life. And that living takes time.

A tool we can use to discover the faith God has given us is the practice of self- reflection. We're invited to remember where we were, what we were doing, and what truly happened. We're called to finally recognize when we met Jesus. And we're asked to name those moments when Jesus felt far away. Even if we're ashamed to admit all those times when Jesus was far from our thoughts, that's okay Self-reflection is never easy and will bring up experiences that we need to process. But when we look back, we do more than grow nostalgic for a romanticized version of our past. We end up reaffirming the hope we've already been given in our baptism and in our faith. No matter what is happening in your life right now, you are bound to the promises of God. That promise has already been made real in the lives of your family, friends, and in those who came before us. You are part of something bigger than yourself - and that promise will be what carries you through.


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Being Ready is Exhausting: What Jesus Talks about the most [sermon manuscript]

[Jesus said:] 'Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

'Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

'But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.'

Luke 12:32-40

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (August 11, 2019) on Luke 12:32-40. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


What did Jesus talk about the most during his three year long ministry from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem? Now, we know Jesus talked about a lot of things. The four gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - are filled with his quotes, conversations, and teachings. Some of those conversations are found in only one of those books while others can be found in up to 3 of them. Scholars have argued that before the four gospels were written, a document was passed around that was just a long list of things Jesus said. Because Jesus was a talker - and what he talked about was varied and vast. So as you reflect on every piece of Jesus’ story that you remember and on every biblical book that you’ve read, what do you think Jesus spent the most time talking about? 

Now, if you said the kingdom of God, then congratulations - you’re correct. The thing Jesus talked about more than anything else during his three year long ministry was about what happens when the kingdom of God comes near. The kingdom of God wasn’t, according to Jesus, something that matches what we imagine a kingdom to be - like a nation or a country with a capital city, borders, political leaders, and the like. Since God holds the entire universe in God’s own hands - if the kingdom of God was just a place, then we’d already know we’re a part of it. Yet God’s kingdom is, according to Jesus, something more: God’s kingdom is really a way of life. It shows up in the relationships and interactions we have with each other. And it’s when the very systems and structures that support our life are reconfigured and re-ordered, so that, in the words of Rev. Matthew Skinner, our whole new reality “[reflects] God’s intentions [for] human flourishing.” God’s kingdom was personified and given flesh in the person of Jesus - who showed us what happens when God’s kingdom comes near: the poor are raised up, the sick are healed, the unwelcomed are included, the hungry are fed, and the brokenness of life is resurrected into something new. God’s kingdom, for Jesus, was always something that was lived out which is why it's sometimes, so hard to see. God’s kingdom shows up every day - through the big and small interactions we have with one another. 

So now that we know what Jesus talked about the most during his ministry, can you imagine what was number 2 on his list? I’d like to believe that what Jesus talked about after the kingdom of God was some kind of how-to guide so that we could integrate his words into our everyday life. We know that showing love, mercy, and forgiveness can sometimes be really hard - which is why Jesus, several times, reaffirmed our call to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. God’s kingdom is reflected in how we treat, care, and value those we know and those we don’t. So I want the number two thing that Jesus talked about the most to be something that I can use. And the annoying thing is that Jesus gave us exactly that. What Jesus talked about the most after the kingdom of God was about our money and our wealth. 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke, in its first two lines, gives us the number 1 and number 2 thing that Jesus talked about the most. Jesus re-affirmed that God wanted God’s kingdom to “take root in the real, lived experiences” of those who followed Him. When we love, serve, and honor the dignity of others like Jesus did, we gain a sense of purpose and joy in our lives. This purpose is rooted in a generosity that begins first in God but is translated through our work and our hands. God’s kingdom, according to Jesus, is built on generosity which why, I think, Jesus spent so much time talking about one of the primary ways we show generosity - through the choices we make when it comes to our money. This is, according to Jesus, part of his how-to guide when it comes to God’s kingdom. After reaffirming that God’s promise of the kingdom is given to those wrapped up in the body of Christ, Jesus told them to “sell your possessions and give alms.” That isn’t the most easy command to follow so we might latch onto the fact that Jesus didn’t say that we should sell all our possessions, giving us an out when we look at all the things we possibly own. But when we spend our time trying to make Jesus’ words easier for us, we miss noticing what he has to say about being generous. The command to sell our possessions and give alms is intimately connected to Jesus’ statement in verse 34. How we spend our money ends up shaping “our [will] and [our] ways of thinking.” If we spend our money only on ourselves, we end up falling into a cycle where we, and no-one else, becomes the focus of it all. Yet when we give to those in need, we can train our mind and our heart to see our neighbors and our world in a new way. When we give, we experience more than just a warm feeling that we’ve done something good. We actually, without realizing it, end up meeting God. Because, as articulated in another gospel, what we do to the least of these - to the poor, to the marginalized, and to those who are truly oppressed - we do Jesus himself. The act of giving is one of the tools we can use to help ourselves see that God is already all around us. 

Yet God’s generosity doesn’t end with money. The almsgiving Jesus had in mind was more than just donating our excess funds to those in need. Generosity, according to Jesus, should be at the core of everything we do and be reflected in all our relationships and interactions. There are other things we can be generous about. There are sacrifices we can make - other kinds of possessions and advantages we can sell - so that all people, friends and strangers, can flourish. This kingdom of God way of life admits and names the inequities and indifference in our world and chooses not to accept that as the status quo. We choose to be generous because God’s kingdom is different from our own. The choices we make when it comes to our money shapes and forms who we are. Yet we already have a different model and experience of life that should do that shaping, instead. We have, through our baptism, our faith, and through the body and blood of Jesus we share each and every week, the promise and the reality that God’s kingdom has already come near. Jesus’s generosity towards us is what shapes, informs, and redefines everything that we do. So We are invited to embrace that generosity - to integrate that part of God’s kingdom into every interaction of our lives - so that our will, our soul, our minds, and even our hearts discover a new treasure where love, mercy, and grace always shines.



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Reflection: What do you see?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

When I look in my mirror, I know I am too quick at noticing the bits of myself that I don't like and I imagine parts of myself to be better than they truly are. If I've had a rough day, I find myself looking into the mirror re-enacting all the things that didn't go well that day. But if the day was good, I look in the mirror and find myself thinking I'm the next Tony Stark or Marc Anthony. A mirror always offers us a reflection of who we are but the interpretation of that image is left up to us. That interpretation can, however, be hijacked by things outside of our control. When we suffer through a mental health issue or are overwhelmed with words and images that destroyed our ability to know what a healthy self-image can be, that's when God's gifts of therapy, mental health professionals, and proper medication can help us interpret the image in the mirror in a better way. Yet even when we are mentally healthy, it's difficult to see our true selves in any mirror. We should be able to notice everything that makes us who we are: our beauty, our imperfections, and even how we've changed. But that isn't always easy because when we look in a mirror, there's always a lot to see. 

Today's reading from Colossians 3:1-11 reminds us, however, that there's another image hidden in that mirror with us. When we are looking at ourselves, we're also looking at Jesus Christ. In our baptism and in our faith, we are bound up in Christ. That means you are no longer only you; you are also a part of the body of Christ. In the words of Colossians, our life with Christ is as if we were clothed with him. We can imagine looking into a mirror and seeing ourself. But when we blinked, we suddenly saw Jesus. Every time we blinked, the image would change from you to Jesus to you again. Even though you are still exactly who you are, you are also more than you can imagine. You are wrapped up with Christ which means your life is something different. Your life is brand new. 

Now our life doesn't always feel new. In fact, life can feel boring, mundane, frustrating, or hard. We could, if we are in a healthy mental space, easily end up focusing only on that part of our reality. But when we do that, we miss a part of who we are. We fail to see how we are Christ's and Christ is ours - forever. And since that is true, we are invited to see ourselves differently. We are called to blink. We are called to see the Christ with-in us and around us. And since we are called to remember that we are clothed with him which means we can become that brand new person God knows we can be. 


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Big Barns: The trouble with "I Did It." [Sermon Manuscript]

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:13-21

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (August 4, 2019) on Luke 12:13-21. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Imagine, for a moment, being at home. You’re sitting by the window, watching a thunderstorm head your way. Before too long, the clouds have darken the sky around you and the wind rushes through the trees. I’m going to assume that most of us, at some point, have watched a storm come near. But in our little scenario for today, I’d like you to imagine watching that storm in a different way. For those of us who are not little kids, imagine sitting by that window when you were 3 years old. I want you to think 3 year old thoughts and view the world in a 3 year old kind of way. I want you to sit by the window, stare and wonder. And while you do that, I want you to believe that the storm is more incredible than anything your parents could imagine. 

Earlier this week on Twitter, I came across something shared by thousands of people. A mom was watching her little kid watch a storm outside their front window. The kid was lost in their own thoughts and was busy talking to herself. She said, to no one in particular, ““quiet...quiet. Kaboom comin.” And then, right after she said that, a huge crack of thunder filled the air. It was the kind of sound, I imagine, that would make us jump and maybe run away from the window. But not that little girl. Instead, in a whisper her mom could barely hear, she said to herself, “I did it.” The storm wasn’t something that happened to her. Rather, she believed she made the thunder happen. 

Now, I’ve watched way too many movies and read way too many comic books to say that this little girl was wrong. She could be the next Thor, the god of thunder, who is now realizing the full extent of her powers. Yet, what really struck me about that tweet was how I reacted to it in many different ways. I wanted to high five that little girl for having an incredible amount of confidence in herself. And I also felt a little bit like a sap because what she said was pretty adorable. When I first saw that tweet, I literally laughed out loud because I found it funny. But I was also a bit jealous because I know nothing I’ve said will be enjoyed by the same amount of people who saw that mom’s tweet. Yet there was something else there, in our reactions to that tweet, that was left mostly unsaid. What made this tweet funny to us was the assumption that the little girl was being absurd because she didn’t know the limits to her own reality. Those of us who are older and, in theory - wiser, could come up with a dozen reasons to explain why her understanding of her situation was wrong. We have no problem rewriting her experience so that her sense of “I did it” ends up not being true. We’re pretty good at showing other people how their understanding of their reality is wrong. But do we, when were caught up in our own “I did it” moments, have the  gumption, integrity, and ability to analyze ourselves in the very same way? 

Because, as we see in our reading from the gospel according to Luke today, our “I’s” matter. Jesus was approached by someone in the crowd who was going through a family squabble. We don’t know all the details about their story but it’s possible a younger sibling wanted a piece of their family’s inheritance. They had, for cultural or family reasons, possibly received nothing and they wanted Jesus’ to intervene. Their request for an intervention was exactly that: a request that didn’t ask Jesus for his thoughts or his advice. Yet Jesus gave them his opinion anyways by inviting them to listen to a parable. And for the last two thousand years, the church has affectionately named the parable Jesus told: the rich fool. 

Now the key to interpreting this parable is to pay attention to the I’s, that pronoun and letter, in the passage. After the rich farmer noticed his land producing more crops than he could ever use, he asked himself, “What should I do?” That’s a good question - one we should ask when abundance comes our way. Yet notice that question wasn’t directed to anyone but himself. And instead of just talking to himself, he answered himself as well. Not once did he seek out anyone else’s advice or think about anyone but himself. Which shows us the false reality that he lived in. Because there’s no way he could have planted, tended, and harvested such a large amount of food by himself. Other people were needed to make that harvest happen and yet all the rich farmer could say was, “I did it.” We also know, based on our own experience at the garden here at church: you can research, plan, and do everything correctly - but we still can’t make those plants grow. The land produces what it produces - and we don’t have as much control as we wish we did. The rich man could have named this reality, could have said thank you to the workers who made his harvest happen; and he could have thanked God for providing the rain, the sun, and the seed to make the land produce as much as it did. But he didn’t. Instead, he looked out his window at the abundant harvest he didn’t cause to fully happen on its own, and he said to himself, “I did it.” 

We’re pretty good at claiming credit, at saying “I did it” when it suits us. And we’re also quick to deny that kind of credit when something interferes with the story we prefer to tell about ourselves. We often celebrate, high five each other, and act as if we were the players on our favorite sports teams when they win a national championship. We easily make their victory into a version of our own. But we also distance ourselves from those moments in our country or in our collective life together that we claim are not part of who we are. We separate ourselves from the fact that things like mass shootings happen in our country every day - from garlic festivals in California to Walmarts in El Paso and, as I woke up this morning, to bars in Dayton, Ohio. We choose to act as if we are not truly part of this reality that we’re already in. Our “I did its,” when stated without reflection or even gratitude, is an attempt by us to imagine we live in a world different from the one we’re truly in. Yet Jesus chose to stay in the real one - in the place where God’s reality confronts and reveals the truth about our own. God names our hurts, our failures, our brokenness, and the ways we let the focus on ourselves, our love of the “I’s,” blind us from seeing the truth and the people who are around us. God names our world as it truly is - yet God also chooses to not let us stay there. Instead, Jesus is already present here, revealing to us what God’s reality, God’s kingdom, can actually be. When we follow Jesus, when we feed others like he did, heal communities like he did, stand up against violence and hate like he did, and when welcome all people like he did - we end up seeing, in a flash, what God’s kingdom is all about. Now, none of that work is easy. It takes guts and courage to reflect on our “I did it” moments with nuance, humility, and gratefulness. It’ll also take hard truths for each of us to own every one of our communal “I did it” realities - including those things we wish weren’t true. Yet we don’t go about this work on our own. Because, in our baptism and in our faith, we have Jesus. And when we cling to him, hold onto him, and work to align our lives away from ourselves and instead towards God and our neighbor*, our world and our community will end up being rocked by a different kind of thunder: one filled with hope, mercy, and a love that will carry us through every storm. 


*Elisabeth Johnson, Working


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