Give Freely. From Pastor Marc – My Message for the Messenger, September 2018 Edition

Let’s try a little exercise. Imagine strangers visiting your home. You’ve never met them before and this is the first time they’ve ever seen you. Instead of introducing yourself to them, you invite them into your kitchen. They open up your refrigerator and cupboards. What would they find?

They might find some old takeout Chinese food you should have been thrown out two weeks ago. They might notice your love of fruity carbonated waters and the imported butter you use for baking. They might also notice you don’t always have all the food you actually need. Our kitchens reveal a lot about our lives. They show what we like to eat and what we can afford to buy. Kitchens reveal the basic items we must have and any health situations we are living through. When we have enough, we are able to focus on our families, studies, jobs, and living the life we want to live. When we struggle, worrying about where our next meal drowns out everything else.

One of our spiritual gifts as CLC is our willingness to feed others. For the past 33 years, our Genesis Garden has produced hundreds of pounds of fresh produce every year for our neighbors utilizing the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Our garden was recently highlighted at the New Jersey Synod Assembly and was shown to the Pinecrest Leadership Camp for Lutheran Youth in the Metropolitan New York Synod. It’s also become a model for other congregations in our area who are interested in giving back to the community. Beyond the garden, the food donations you drop off in the narthex (our church lobby) are combined with financial gifts from Care Committee, CLC-Women, and others to help the Center for Food Action to feed neighbors in Bergen County. We’ve also strengthen our ties with the Tri-Boro Food Pantry based in Park Ridge. Our Vacation Bible School families, as you’ll see later in this edition of the Messenger, donated several dozen bags of groceries to local families in need. By working together, we can help all families in need worry less about hunger and, instead, live their lives the way God wants them to.

September is the month when our programming year begins. Our two worship Sundays kick-off is September 16. Choirs will return for rehearsals, confirmation classes will start; a new adult education program will launch; and our life as a church will get busy. During this time, it’s easy to focus only our personal needs. But our life and faith grow when we keep our eyes looking outwards. As we start a busy September, let’s keep noticing the needs of our neighbors. Let’s keep an eye on Jesus. Let’s keep feeding all our neighbors. And let’s find new ways to serve and love because CLC is at our best when we, like Jesus, give freely and abundantly.

See you in church!

Pastor Marc

Children’s Sermon: Rules of the Game

Bring a board game!

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So I have something with me today – what is it? Looks like a game! Right! This is a game. It’s a board game that teenagers and adults can play. It’s called go through the game and show the box to the kids.

Now, when we have a game – and we want to know how to play it – we need to find something. What do we need to find? The instructions! That’s right. The instructions. And here are the instructions for this game. Go through the instructions – not describing how to play the game but different things the game gives us.

These instructions help us play the game the way the creator of the game intended. They’re a list of rules that help us enjoy the game and have fun. When we, together, follow the instructions – we all can have fun even if we don’t win.

Instructions aren’t necessarily easy. And they are sometimes hard to understand. We need to make sure we can read them, have the pieces we need, and can follow along. Some instructions are simple – others are complex. Instructions can be difficult – but they’re helpful for us to play the game the way the Creator intended.

Today, we’re going to hear in our readings from the bible that will sound like a list of instructions. And they’re not always easy to understand or follow. Yet we have to remember that because God loves us and Jesus is with us always, God gives us instructions to help all people experience God’s love. God’s instructions are away to help each other, take care of each other, be kind to each other, and more.

There might be time when we get an instruction that we might not understand. Or an instructions that feels like it doesn’t really work for us where we live. And that’s okay. God wants us to listen to these words, to read these instructions, and struggle to see if they help us to love each other. They might – or they might not. But God knows that when we gather together to figure these instructions out, when we pray and worship and share communion together, and when we bring a whole church of people together to figure this out – a church full of different people and different backgrounds and different experiences – the Holy Spirit will let us know how we can love each other the way God wants us to. Because love – the love we see as modeled and experiences and given to us through Jesus Christ – that’s our main instruction – and when we can love like that, we live the way God, the creator of everything, wants us too.

Thank you for being here! And I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/19/2018.

Submit: a sermon on what to do with wives being subject to husbands

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:15-33

My sermon from the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2018) on Ephesians 5:15-33. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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The readings from the Bible we hear on Sunday morning are not set in stone. They can be changed. Traditionally, our community follows the Revised Common Lectionary, a 3 year cycle of readings that assigns specific texts to specific Sundays and days of the week. The lectionary is used by many different Christians denominations, including Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodist; and serves as a powerful reminder that our differences as Christians does not replace our unity as members of the body of Christ. I like the lectionary because it invites us to spend time with all 66 books of the Bible instead of only my personal favorites. But the lectionary doesn’t show us everything. And it sometimes goes out of its way to avoid the more difficult writings on Sunday mornings. I consider a text difficult if I don’t want it read out loud when my two young kids are in the room. The bible is full of these kinds of passages, especially ones used to justify the atrocities we commit against each other. Wars, genocide, slavery, and sexual assaults – it’s all in there. I prefer a bible passage telling me to do something really hard, like love my enemies. But I’m less comfortable with a passage like Psalm 137, which celebrates the brutal killing of my enemies’ children. The lectionary tries to avoid these biblical texts of terror. But there are times when, I think, the Spirit wants us to engage these uncomfortable texts. And so that’s why I chose to expand our reading from Ephesians today, making sure we heard about wives, and husbands, and “being subject to.”

Now, these verses, especially 22 through 24, can be hard to hear because the universal church has used these verses terribly. I’ve seen writers use Ephesians 5 to deny a woman’s individuality and the gifts God gave her. I’ve seen church leaders use this passage to encourage wives to stay with their abusive husbands and partners. This text, along with others, is why women weren’t allowed to become pastors or even serve on their church council – which is a position that dominates many Christian churches today. It was thought that a wife, regardless of her vocation or her calling, would never be able to lead men because she would always be led by one. So this is an odd text to hear in our context because Lutherans have ordained women as pastors for the last 45 years. The bishop of New Jersey, Tracie Bartholomew, has preached from this pulpit and presided over that altar. And in the history of Christ Lutheran Church, we’ve had one woman pastor, held at least one ordination for a woman, and have had countless women leaders, including council presidents, who have lead this church. This kind of change is still relatively recent, especially when compared to the 2000 years of history that came before it. But we now recognize that gifts for leadership are not bound to any one gender. The Holy Spirit has helped us discover the more inclusive church we are called to be. This text from Ephesians doesn’t seem fully relevant to us anymore. So we might want to ignore it. But this text is still in our bibles. We can’t pretend it’s not there. Instead, we can use the Spiritual gifts God has given us – gifts of knowledge, experience, intellect, and guidance – to engage our bible seriously and faithfully. So, with all of that, what can we do with a text asking wives to be subject to their husbands?

Well, we can first figure out what this text actually is. These verses continue the moral teachings started in Ephesians 4. Our life with Christ has something to say about how we treat each other and ourselves. Yet our connection to Jesus, while made real in our baptism, in holy communion, and in our faith, is still pretty mysterious. It’s hard to know exactly what life with Jesus looks like even in our most intimate relationships. The author of Ephesians looked around in his cultural context and noticed people living in ancient Roman households. Now, all households are different, but every society has a vision of what they think a family unit should look like. Think of the rules we hear in Ephesians as Rome’s version of the Leave it to Beaver, 1950s vision of what home life should be like in the United States. The author of Ephesians took this idealized model of the Roman household and showed how Christ matters there. But he also used the Roman household as a model and a metaphor for what our collective life with Christ might look like. This metaphor is tricky because a Roman household assumes that certain people, because of their gender and their social status, are entitled to having power over others. When these assumptions are not questioned or examined, then our model for Christian community and the Christian home ends up being very Roman. So when we see a hierarchy, with some at the top and others at the bottom, we want to be the ones who stay on top. Which is why some, I think, have clung to this text from Ephesians even though it’s rooted in a Roman cultural concept developed almost 2,000 years ago.

So when we listen to this text and see the cultural hierarchy imported into it, we discover the flaw within it. Every model for living that we take from our cultural context and merge into our life with Christ will always be an imperfect metaphor because we are imperfect. We are sinners. And as we try to flesh out what the mystery of living with Christ looks like, the models we use will never be as perfect as we want to be. We will latch onto models and metaphors that give power to some while denying it to others. And people, especially men in the church, have too often used that power for harm. The church continues to struggle with this text because, in my opinion, we haven’t paid enough attention to what it actually is. We haven’t always recognized how the Roman household was imported into it. And, at the same time, we didn’t noticed what Christ is doing in that household. Since wives are named first, we focused on making them subject to their husbands. But we didn’t see that the “obligation of the husband to love is treated more extensively than the obligation of the wife to be subject.” We didn’t notice how “the radical thrust of the gospel is putting pressure on those who have authority and power.” (Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, 1997). We spent so much time trying to assert our power over others, that we forgot what Jesus actually does with his authority and power. We’re not here to try to hold onto our power or keep it only for ourselves. Rather, as people baptized into Christ, we are heirs to Jesus’ mission and his ministry. We have, because of Christ’s self-sacrifice and love, been given a deep and ever present relationship with the creator of everything. So our life together, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and even in our marriages – our life together isn’t about what power and authority we think we’re entitled to. Instead, our life together is about how we get to like Christ to one another.

As human beings living in a very human world, we will always create new idealized models of how we think life should be led in communities and in families. But none of these models will match fully the Christian life we’re called to lead. Some of the models will work for a time but, eventually, they will be replaced by something else. Yet regardless of the model we find ourselves living in, our life in Christ commits us to changing those models so that we can empower and give new life to those around us. We get to help all people, including our spouses, and the most vulnerable, live the lives God is calling them to live. The model that demanded a wife be subject to her husband is fading into a new reality where we together help all women lead the body of Christ. The idealized models we use to imagine our communities, our homes, and our churches will change. The old ways will turn into something new. But because we are faithful, loved, and fed by Christ at his table, there is one model for Christian living that will never fade away. All of us, regardless of our gender and our marriage-status, are called to seek out what we can give up so that everyone around us can love, live, and thrive.

Amen.

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Reflection: Eternal in John

Last Monday, we hosted an interfaith event called “Welcoming the Stranger.” The event focused on faith and immigration, letting scripture interact with the personal stories of immigrants. After a piece of scripture was read, a reflection was offered by someone who went through the immigration process (including those who were undocumented) or who work with people currently in detention centers. Videos from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service were used to show how Lutherans from several different denominations have responded over the years to the surge of unaccompanied minors and families who have sought asylum in the US. None of the clergy in attendance preached. Instead, we invited the words of scripture and the words of personal stories to swirl in the air around us. It wasn’t an event designed to provide answers. Rather, it was an event inviting us to, in every experience, ask faith filled questions.

One of the common themes in the stories we heard was food. Throughout the immigrants’ journey, from its start to their time in detention centers, the food was always poor and there was never enough of it. We know how the lack of food impacts our body and mind. We lose energy, have difficulties processing what other people are saying, and struggle with simple day-to-day tasks. The lack of food increases our stress levels as we worry about where our next meal is coming from. Hunger takes a physical, mental and spiritual toll on us, impacting every area of our life.

As we listen to Jesus’ words today in John 6:51-58, it’s easy to latch onto the word “eternal” and think “forever.” For us, eternal is a measurement defined by duration. Eternal life is about trying to live forever. There’s a truth to that but there’s another aspect to eternal we sometimes forget. The eternal life Jesus offered wasn’t just about living a long time. Rather, a life with Jesus is filled with value and worth. This kind of life isn’t without struggle. Even those of us who share in Holy Communion will, eventually, die. Yet this life with Jesus is one where our purpose, identity and joy is made real and secure in a savior who is never far from us. We don’t always know what life will bring. We don’t always know when, through no fault of our own, we might need to take a journey that leaves us hungry, scared, and full of doubt. But when we cling to Jesus, trusting that he is with us, we can face our troubles knowing that the struggles we face are not the limit of who we are. We belong to Christ; we are eternally valued; we are loved; and we are, even right now, living our eternal life.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/19/2018.

Be Excellent to Each Other: finding a fuller picture of Jesus

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

My sermon from the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2018) on Ephesians 4:25-5:2. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Over the last few months, my brother has been figuring out our family tree. We know a bunch about my mom’s family and some about my dad’s mom’s family. But when it comes to my dad’s dad, my grandfather, we knew practically nothing. Every few years, we searched various genealogical websites, trying to find something about him and his family. Nothing ever came up until this year. We found this: a copy of my grandfather’s registration card for the military during World War 2. Now that’s a pretty neat and helpful thing to find. It’s got his age, a birthdate, a birthplace – Silver City, New Mexico, and my grandfather’s job: he was a farm laborer. The card also recorded the name of someone who knew where my grandfather was at all times. And that person, Sylvester, is my great-grandfather. This image was our first tangible encounter with our great grandfather – and we both wanted to find out more. My brother spent days looking at census records, newspaper clippings, and whatever else he could find. But it was a struggle because my great-grandfather’s last name kept changing. Even on this draft card, you can see how the printed last name of my grandfather doesn’t exactly match his signature at the bottom. And my great-grandfather’s last name is missing a letter. This problem only gets worse when we look at this image from the 1930 United States’ census. I discovered that my great-grandfather spent time in California and that census takers deleted the first 2 letters of his last name. Sylvester’s first name, in the census at least, retained its Mexican spelling and it showed that he, and many of his children, were born in Mexico. They moved to this country at some point but I didn’t know when or where until we found this: an index card recording their border crossing. On February 7, 1917, my great grandfather, my great grandmother, and their kids crossed the border at Columbus, New Mexico. I don’t know why they entered the United States. But they are, on the card, listed as refugees. In 1917, a Mexican Civil War was tearing up Northern Mexico. So it’s not hard to imagine my great-grandfather and his family wanting to escape the bloodshed and violence all around them. They, as family, sought asylum and safety in the United States.

Now, if you look closely at the border crossing card, you’ll see that my great-grandfather’s last name is, once again, spelled differently. And that’s annoying. Yet these constant changes in spelling provide an opportunity for us to engage with these documents in a different way. My encounter with my great-grandfather is bounded by these written words. To uncover the fullness of his story, I need to recognize how the changes in spelling matched his life as an immigrant, and a Mexican, in the United States. To really understand who he was, I needed to see all his words, including their English and Mexican spellings.

This exercise of looking at how we encounter someone and expanding what that might mean, is a helpful exercise for our faith. For many of us, our encounters with Jesus are bounded by words. These words are the ones we hear on Sunday morning and the ones we read and feel when we open our bibles and our daily devotionals. We know that Jesus is the Word but our words can sometimes limit what we think Jesus might be like. Instead of seeing Jesus as this expansive, inclusive, and amazing event, we let our words box Jesus in. And I’m saying “our words” because we need to be mindful that when we encounter Jesus in scripture, we’re encountering him in our language which wasn’t originally his. Jesus didn’t speak 21st century English or Spanish. He didn’t know our figures of speech, our idioms, or what emojis we like to end our text messages with. Instead, he spoke Aramaic. And he probably knew Ancient Hebrew and maybe Ancient Greek. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, made sure that his words were written down and shared through that Ancient Greek dialect that we no longer speak. Our encounters with Jesus’ story happen through a holy, and Spirit guided, translation. But that translation is built on an interpretation of what Ancient Greek and modern day English means. Sometimes, to fully see Jesus and what our life with him might look like, we need to read his story in a different translation or see his story interpreted in a language not our own. We might even need to step into that Ancient Greek text itself. This exercise isn’t always necessary but it’s sometimes helpful. And it makes a difference today – with this text from Ephesians, where we see the author telling us to be kind.

Now being kind is more than just being nice. Being kind requires us to empathize, care, and serve each other with love and respect. Being kind takes work, sacrifice, and is sometimes a struggle. So there’s something good, life giving, and loving about being kind. But when we look at this text in English, is there much here that is Christ specific? The actions and behaviors that Ephesians describes as good are pretty standard, regardless of our religious beliefs. Not lying to each other, working through our conflicts, and not stealing from each other is good advice for any community, religious or not. Much of these ethical teachings in Ephesians can be reduced to the golden rule: where we treat each other the way we want to be treated. It’s not entirely clear how these kinds of actions, when they include Jesus, make a more unique and holy difference in our lives and in our world.

So it’s at this point when reading the Ancient Greek text becomes helpful. As you can see on the screen, this text from Ephesians in Greek is interesting. And I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t read it. But, with a little help, I was able to place red boxes around two important words in this text. The first box surrounds the word for kind. The second box is for Christ himself. The words in those two boxes look similar. And they are because the words translated as kind and Christ are closely related. When the Ancient church heard this passage in Greek, they smiled because they recognized the wordplay being done through the words kind and Christ. They would, through this more expansive engagement with the text, understand that they were being asked to do more than just be kind. They were, at the same time, being asked to be a Christ to everyone they knew.

Part of being a Christ to each other is going to look like we’re being kind. But there are times when being a Christ to each other means we’re going to need to change our point of view, our expectations, and maybe even our way of life. Being a Christ means we have to be with Christ, spending time with his story, with his words, with his world, and with his people, regardless of where they come from or what they believe. What makes our actions as Christians different from everyone else, is that our service and love for each other is wrapped up in a savior who lived and died so that all people might discover God’s love for them. When we see our faith as an expansive act of love, we uncover a core part of our own story. And that story is not limited by our experiences, our thoughts, what’s happened to us, or even what we found on ancestry.com. Our story is Christ’s story because we are Christ’s people and so we love ourselves, each other, and all people as Christ loves us.

Amen.

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Reflection: Living Bread

I usually don’t like my bread when it’s alive. I have a bad habit of buying a baguette and leaving it on my kitchen counter for too long. I always plan to eat it quickly but that plan rarely comes through. After a few days, the baguette evolves and comes alive. Mold forms, usually in a place I can’t see at first. When I finally pick it up, I see the mold and toss the bread into the garbage. I swear I’ll eat the bread sooner next time. We’ll see if I ever listen to my own advice.

In today’s reading from the Gospel according to John 6:41-51, Jesus is “the bread from heaven” and “the living bread” at the same time. As Lutheran Christians who share communion every week, the words “bread from heaven” are understandable. Every Sunday, we gather in Jesus’ name and wait to be served at His table. He comes to us through words, songs, bread and drink. We eat his body, and we are physically (and spiritually) fed by him. We will never be able to fully understand the mystery that is holy communion, but we know that when we eat Jesus, we are connecting with a savior who gives everything to us. His life, death and resurrection showed that God will go through anything so that God can love and serve us. God has (and will) feed us spiritually and physically. But have you ever held the piece of bread at communion and think it’s alive?

By calling himself the living bread, Jesus reminds us that he is with us right now. Jesus isn’t only important to us in our past or in our future. He is with us in this moment. There is no moment in our lives when Jesus doesn’t care about us. And there is no point in time where he isn’t with us. He invites us to live a life responding to his presence, mercy and love. God has, and will, give everything to God’s people and God’s world. The question is whether we will do the same?

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 12th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/12/2018.

Children’s Sermon: Manna

Bring the Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” and a Cat in the Hat hat if you can

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So today I want to talk about an ancient Hebrew word we’ll hear today in our story about Jesus and to do that, I brought this: show Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

We’re not going to be able to read the entire book today so if you’ve never read it, I invite you to bug your parents to take you to the library so you can get your own copy and read it. It’s a book by Dr. Seuss who wrote all sorts of books, including The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss was an artist and a writer and he loved making up words. Let’s look at a few made up words in this book.

Go through and find some of the made up words for creatures, etc. Share them and invite the kids to imagine what those words are.

When we read books, especially Dr. Seuss, we get to use our imagination. We get to paint pictures in our heads of amazing things that we’ve never seen before or maybe that don’t exist. We get to dream up…anything. And we get to look at this brand new thing we dreamed up, maybe draw it, and share it with our family and friends – and get them to look at it and ask “what is it?”

Today, in our story about Jesus and in our very first scripture reading, we’re going to hear about God feeding God’s people through something called manna. Manna is an ancient Hebrew word – so why don’t we learn it? Can you say manna with me? Manna! Very good. The story goes that God’s people, the Israelites, after they escaped slavery in Egypt were wandering around a desert for 40 years. And there’s not a lot of food that grows in the desert. They start to get hungry and they do what we all do when we’re hungry – they start to complain. God listens to their complaining and says “okay. I’m going to give you bread – bread of my own making. All you have to do is, in the morning, go away from your camp into the fields, and you’ll see bread…everywhere.”

So that’s what the Israelites do. They wake up, go out into the fields, and they see something they’ve never seen before. It doesn’t look like bread…but it’s everywhere. And they don’t have a name for it. So they think, and think, and think and decide to call what they see – Manna – which literally means “what is it?” And that’s what God feeds them – with this amazing substance that we call bread but is so strange and different and wonderful, we have no real word to describe it. Rather, it’s something that God gives us, that feeds us, and all we can say call it is “what is it” – because we have no words to really describe it.

In all our lives, there will be moments when God will show up to us in a way that we didn’t expect. It might be in a vision – where we see something amazing – or it might be in the way someone takes care of us. God might show up to us when a friend is kind to us or when a stranger just seems to say and do the exact thing we need to be safe and loved. God shows up in amazing ways – in ways we can’t alway understand – and in ways we can’t always explain. But when God does show up, we are fed – we feel full, feel love, feel like we matter. And God does that for us through Jesus Christ every single day.

So when that love shows up – when you feel God in your life – you might not know what to call it – but there’s an ancient word we can use when we encounter the indescribable love of God – and that’s manna.

Thank you for being here! And I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/5/2018.

Now What? Our Spiritual Gifts are life-giving mysteries

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:1-16

My sermon from the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2018) on Ephesians 4:1-16. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So if you are a fan of the Internet, your social media feeds might have been devoted to goats over the last few days. A goat on the internet can mean many different things. It can be an acronym, referring to someone who is a g o a t – the greatest of all time. But it can also refer to that hairy little animal with horns that eats practically everything. On Friday morning, a breaking news report shook Boise, Idaho because over 100 goats were wandering in a residential area. At first, no one knew how they got there. They just showed up, wandering from yard to yard. Now, if your yard is mostly crabgrass like mine is, a bunch of goats coming over to have lunch isn’t really that scary. But if you have a yard you actually care for, a herd of goats showing up at your front door is downright terrifying. Those goats were on a mission and they were going to eat every plant in sight.

Now, if you followed the story, you know how the goats got there and what happened next. Everything, eventually, worked out and the goats went back to where they came from. It’s a fun little news story with a happy ending but instead of focusing on how the story ended, I want to spend time with how the story began. And it started with a tweet. Joe Parris, a reporter for a tv station in Boise, received a tip about these goats, so he went out and found them, taking 4 pictures of the goats with his phone. He immediately sent word to the wider internet that by writing this: “#Breaking – About 100 goats are on the loose right now in a Boise neighborhood. They are going house to house eating everything in sight. Nobody has a clue where they came from…updates to follow.” Goats on the loose is a really great sentence we don’t hear often. And this short news tweet had everything in it to keep us interested. But what drew me into this story wasn’t only the goats. Rather, what enticed me was how no one knew how they got there. It was a mystery! And the very best kind of mystery there is. If imagine ourselves as one of the homeowners on that street, seeing one goat in our front yard would be unexpected. But seeing over 100 goats would totally blow our mind. We would wonder where they came from but that question would have to wait because the mysterious herd of goats would be making our flower and vegetable beds disappear in a very non-mysterious way. We wouldn’t get to dwell on where this mystery came from. Instead, we have to live with it, and engage it, right away. And that’s what makes mysteries powerful. A mystery is an experience we can’t, in that moment, fully explain but it is something we have to live through. We run into these kinds of mysteries all the time and they’re usually very small. We might get a phone call late at night from an unlisted number and wonder who called us. But when that person leaves a voicemail, that little mystery is solved. Yet there are other mysteries that we are asked to hold onto; mysteries we can’t fully explain. And that’s important because it’s those mysteries that teach us who God is calling us to be.

We have spent these last few weeks taking time during worship to explore our spiritual gifts. And we’ve done that because of this passage from our second reading today. This is the moment in Ephesians when the focus of the letter changes. Before this, the author talked about everything that God had done and how God, through Jesus, had included Gentiles into a new humanity God was bringing about. This new humanity isn’t here yet so God created a community of faith, a church, that could be a inclusive, welcoming, and loving community for us all. God gives the church a sense of unity by connecting us to each other through the gift of faith and the gift of baptism. But this unity doesn’t ask us to forget who we are. We all have our own histories, backgrounds, experiences, and identities. We are all different. And that’s great because God wants the church to include all the diversity present in God’s world. Living with this kind of diversity isn’t always easy. So the letter to the Ephesians moves away from talking about what God has done and invites us to consider how our lives can respond to God done. And one way we do this is by discovering the gifts God has given to each of us.

These gifts, our talents and abilities, are not always easy to see. And, in fact, they can be quite mysterious. A gift we use in our everyday life might not be the gift God wants us to use in the church. We might be an amazing public speaker, able to articulate a clear point of view that impresses our coworkers and our boss. Yet in the church, God might want us to hold back, to not speak out as much as we do, and instead nurture a prayer life that prays for everyone in our bulletin and in our prayer chain. Or this mystery could be the exact opposite. We might be shy when we’re out in public and at school. We might be unassuming and quiet when we’re part of a large crowd. Yet in this place, surrounded by people who recognize us as a necessary part of what God is doing in the world, the spiritual gift of preaching might be exactly what God wants us to do. We can’t assume that the gifts we use in the world are the same gifts God calls us to use inside the church. Because the spiritual gifts God gives to each of us are designed for one thing: and that’s to help all of us grow into the kind of people God wants us to be. That happens when we, as a community, know each other and know ourselves. The gifts we bring into the church are needed so that the people sitting next to us can become the Christians they’re meant to be. And their gifts other people have are necessary for us so that we can fully follow Jesus Christ. These mysterious gifts from God are not designed to remain a mystery to those around us. We need to tell each other our stories and share the gifts God has given us. We need to listen to each other so that we can discover who we are and how other people’s gifts can change our lives. And we need to recognize the gifts we see in others before they see it in themselves. Our spiritual gifts, right now, might be mystery. Or we might think that we don’t have any gifts to share at all. But if 100 goats can show up mysteriously in Boise, Idaho, then we can take a chance and live more deeply into the mysteries of faith, love, hope, and mercy that God gives to us each and everyday. It’s in those mysteries where we discover who God is and why Jesus makes a difference in our lives. And it’s through those mysteries where we learn how we can make a difference in Christ’s Church and throughout all of God’s world.

Amen.

Play

Reflection: Re-frame

What was the last thing Jesus did for you?

An interesting part of today’s reading from John 6:24-35 is Jesus’ willingness to engage that question. These verses follow what we heard last week. Jesus fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The crowd tried to make Jesus their king so he fled into the mountains. While there, his disciples decided to get in a boat, leaving Jesus on the seashore. Jesus, though, refused to stay behind. He walked on water, meeting his disciples where they were. They cross the sea and the crowd is not thrilled that Jesus left them. They assemble a small fleet, sail after him, and find Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They asked Jesus when he arrived. And Jesus refused to answer the question. Instead, he wondered why they were there in the first place.

I think it’s easy to listen to Jesus’ rebuke of the crowd and automatically assume we’re not a part of it. As followers of Jesus, we gather at His church every Sunday because we believe. The communion we share is a physical connection to our God. When we participate in holy communion at this church, we are automatically feeding on the bread of eternal life. Just by being here, we feel as if we are in the right crowd.

But if we examine the motivations in this text seriously, we discover that we are not different from the crowd at all. The crowd came to Jesus because Jesus did something amazing. They felt God in their life and they wanted more. They were fed real food and since we need to eat every day, it would be silly for them to not find Jesus’s. Yet Jesus took their motivations and re-framed it. He knows they are looking at him, wanting to be fed again. So Jesus reminds them they’ve already been fed. They asked for a sign to prove what Jesus could do. But it’s not about what God will do. Rather, faith is fed by what God has already done.

Imagine if we reframed how we viewed the world. Instead of looking for what God can give us next, what if we looked back at what God has already done? If we noticed all the different ways God feeds us, if we took time to count our blessings, then our present and our tomorrow might be less about what Jesus can do and more about how we can be like Jesus to the crowd around us.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 11th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/5/2018.