For the last year, I’ve been working with colleagues to revamp and upgrade the amazing work done at the Tri-Boro Food Pantry (formerly known as the Pascack Food Center). For decades, this food pantry (housed at Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge) has served people in our community who are in need. Recently, we’ve seen more people using the pantry’s services. Even in an area as wealthy as ours, food insecurity still exists. People in Northern New Jersey are suffering the effects of poverty. And this food pantry continues to grow to meet the needs of all who are looking for milk, eggs and other food for themselves and their families.
Each week, many of the pantry’s new volunteers are busy organizing and sorting food donations as they come in. October, November and December are the busy times for food drives. As we give thanks for our blessings, we feel compelled to help others. Cub scouts, schools and fire departments are busy collecting food and delivering hundreds of items to the pantry. This generosity is amazing and saves lives. We can’t be thankful enough for all who feed people during this time of year.
In the middle of this generosity, however, we need to remember that hunger never takes a vacation. Food insecurity can strike people and families at any time. New people who have never used a pantry before will be visiting the Tri-Boro Food Pantry for the first time in the spring and summer when an unexpected job loss, medical expense or change in lifestyle makes their next meal uncertain. As a church, we do more than feed people during the season of thanksgiving; we feed people all year long. The snack packs we packed to feed elementary school kids, the Genesis garden growing vegetables in the summer, the hunger appeal during Lent, and the dedicated box in the narthex that collects food all year long is just a sample of how we take care of people no matter what time of year it is. At this time, I am thankful for you because of all you contribute and do to fight hunger all year long. I am thankful that the love Jesus showers on you is expressed through your dedication in making a difference in our neighbor. I pray that your November is full of thankfulness, generosity and unbridled grace.
See you in church!
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
My sermon from the 22st Sunday After Pentecost (October 16, 2016) on Luke 18:1-8.
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The Gospel Reading is Luke 18:1-8.
Jesus’ parable (a parable is a short story with a religious or moral point) from Luke is not focused on the unjust judge. Instead, the story is about a widow. Widows appear throughout scripture, interacting with prophets, kings, and Jesus. Widows are women who are alone because their husbands have died. These women were in a dangerous situation. It was assumed that women should not have access to money, jobs, or a family inheritance. Rather, women were an extension of their husbands and fathers with no financial independence. A woman’s financial security depended on their husband. Even though scripture has many examples of women who inherit property and who are wealthy, this was the exception rather than the rule. When a woman’s husband died, her financial security vanished. Poverty and hunger loomed. These women would do all they could to take care of themselves and their family but their lack of resources is a major problem. When a widow is mentioned in scripture, she represents the poor and the hungry. She represents those without power. She is one of the many who are suffering today and will be suffering tomorrow. Being a widow in scripture is a very dangerous thing.
As we listen to this gospel reading today and reflect on this parable throughout the week, we should notice what the widow asks for. She doesn’t ask for money or a job or security. What she asks for is justice. So what is justice? In this reading, justice lis the opposite of who the judge is. The judge does not fear God and he does not respect other people. In fact, his response to the widow is to grant her justice because he doesn’t like to be bothered! For this judge, his needs matter more than the needs of others. For this judge, his point of view matters more than God’s. Justice is fearing God and respecting the other. Justice is something that God desires and demands. Justice is something God promises to all. When we hear the word justice, what does it look like? How is this justice experienced? What is justice for someone without power or security? What is justice for someone with power and who knows where their next meal is coming from? These are just some of the questions this parable invites us to ask and prayerfully seek answer for. Justice, in scripture, isn’t an abstract ideal. For Jesus, and for us, justice is real.
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 10/16/2016.
The Gospel Reading is Luke 17:11-19.
Today’s reading from Luke is also read on Thanksgiving Day. We might believe believe that thankfulness is the primary focus of this text but there’s more we need to notice. To understand the power of this story, we need to know Samaria and leprosy.
When the Gospels mention Samaria, they’re describing a region north of Jerusalem that was once a separate kingdom. When King Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel split into 2 sections. The Southern Kingdom (called Judah) was centered around Jerusalem while the Northern Kingdom (which kept the name Israel) created a new capital called Samaria. Both kingdoms co-existed for almost 200 years and both communities worshiped and believed in God. But both communities believed God was telling them to worship in different places. Judah claimed (and the prophets and other religious leaders supported this) that God wanted to be worshipped in the Jerusalem. Samaria, however, built new temples in places where God’s presence was felt in different ways. This caused major friction and disagreement between the two communities. Overtime, both communities grew to dislike each other. By Jesus’ day, they despised each other and would discriminated each other whenever they could. Jesus, as a Jew, was supposed to avoid Samaritans at all costs.
Leprosy is a disease that’s mentioned in the bible often. We don’t know exactly what kind of disease people in Jesus’ time called leprosy but it was probably a skin disease that left people visibly sick and contagious. When someone developed leprosy, they were seen as unclean and were no longer full members of the community. They became outsiders.
So where is Jesus in today’s text? He’s on the border. He’s walking with Samaria on one side and Judah on the other. He’s busy visiting villages where lepers live on the outskirts, away from everyone else. Jesus is conducting ministry between the ‘regular’ folks and the people who the ‘regular’ folks want nothing to do with. And, at the end of the story, it’s not the ‘regular’ folks who notice who Jesus is. The one who finally notices that God is present is the person who, as a Samaritan and as someone with leprosy, is despised and rejected by everyone around them.
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 10/09/2016.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
My sermon from the 21st Sunday After Pentecost (October 9, 2016) on Luke 17:11-19.
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The Gospel Reading is Luke 17:5-10.
Last week, I invited us to “see” the people we do not normally see. Who we see and who is being seen are major themes in the gospel of Luke. Each time we read a text from Luke and Acts, we need to ask ourselves if sight is involved. We do this by quickly identify the major characters, their names, and what visual images are being used. We try to notice if anything is happening in the daytime (light) or is taking place at night (dark). On this first glance, we might not understand what this text is about but if we look for what’s seen and what isn’t, we can unpack what this text might mean for us.
So let’s take today’s text from Luke and ask these questions. If we remember last week’s commentary, Jesus is still traveling to Jerusalem. He’s teaching on-the-go and there are no large crowds following him today. As they talk, the apostles ask for their faith to increase. For them (and us), faith is not abstract. It has weight, value, depth, and height. If the apostles had enough faith, if they trusted in God enough, they might receive a blessing of some kind. What the apostles want is more.
This is where, I think, “seeing” plays a role. The apostles have a vision, an idea, of what their faith should look like. They’ve quantified their faith, created a measurement for it, and that’s what they are looking at. They “see” an expectation for their faith and how they are not meeting it. The apostles see failure so Jesus points their eyes to something else: what they actually have. We want to measure faith but we can’t. Instead, faith is something God gives us and even a little faith can do amazing things. We don’t need more faith to love like God loves us. We have Jesus and that’s more than enough.
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 10/02/2016.
The Gospel Reading is Luke 16:19-31.
Starting this week, this space will be used to unpack parts of the reading of the gospel. Pastor Marc hopes this will help us return to this story during the week, discovering how God is speaking to us in our day-to-day lives, and letting us explore this story with our family and friends.
When it comes to the individual books in the Bible, there are different ways to outline each one. Here’s the outline I use for Luke: Luke is part 1 of a 2 part work (the other half is Acts) and can be split into 4 major sections. The Beginning (1:1-2:52); Teaching (mostly around Galilee): 3:1-9:50; Last Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:28); Dying, Rising, and Return to the Temple: 19:29-24.53. Today’s reading takes place in part 3 of Luke – the Journey to Jerusalem. Jesus has taught, preached, healed, and ate his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Today’s story takes place during a journey from where Jesus grew up to the place where he will die. That movement from Life to Death to Life again is an important backdrop to this story.
Notice who is named and who isn’t. Lazarus is poor, ill, and hungry. He doesn’t have the strength to scare away dogs who bug him. He sits at the gate of a rich man’s house, waiting for food and mercy. That mercy doesn’t come. Lazarus and this rich man eventually die. The text doesn’t mention heaven or hell but our imagination brings those images into the text. Lazarus is with the angels and Abraham, the father of the Israelites. The rich man is in a place of flame. The rich man sees Lazarus and asks Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. The rich man doesn’t ask to be taken away from where he is. He asks for Lazarus to bring him something and teach his brothers to follow a different way. Abraham refuses the rich man’s request. The expected order of the world (the poor serve the rich) is upended in God’s kingdom. Mercy and care are God’s ways and have been that way since the beginning.
This text is convicting. It reminds us of the ways we are rich and the ways we expect others to serve us. But it’s also hope-filled. Abraham reminds the rich man that God’s kingdom isn’t a total surprise. The message of justice and love is old, rooted into who God is. Abraham tells the rich man to remember who he is. He is a child of God and made in God’s image. Before he knew God, God knew him. Lazarus is God’s child and know by God too. As God knew them, so does God know us. And we are called to live like God: showing mercy and love to all we meet.
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 9/25/2016.
[Jesus said:] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
My sermon from the 19th Sunday After Pentecost (September 25, 2016) on Luke 16:19-31.
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For the last month I’ve noticed a sign on my way to church. It’s a white piece of poster board stapled to a utility pole. Each day the hastily handwritten note on the poster board gets a little more faded but the text is still readable. As I zoom by, I can see an address, the words “garage sale” and a date that simply says “today + tomorrow.” The sign announces a perpetual garage sale that is happening right now and will be coming again tomorrow.
I haven’t taken a drive to see what’s actually happening at that address. I would be surprised if an actual sale is still going on. That sign is pointing to something that no longer exists. Barbie hunters from miles around descended on that spot, not long ago, looking for deals, toys, and things for their home. Hope-filled hosts entered that sale praying they would raise enough to fund that new experiment or vacation they always wanted to go on. In a brief moment of time, people poured into this one spot, talking, laughing and forming relationships with each other as they haggled over the price of a wall mounted dancing fish. The sale might be over but the promise and hope announced by the fading post board sign lives on forever.
This month we will do what we always do: we’ll live into God’s promise of a hope-filled future. We’ll gather on October 16 to do our part so no child, no matter what happens in their home, will have the food they need to learn. We’ll celebrate 9 youths who will affirm their faith and live into their calling as leaders in the body of Christ. And we’ll teach, sign and profess our faith in new and life giving ways because the church is never a static thing. The church, like God’s love, works best as a verb. And like that sign announcing a promise that is here now and coming soon, we’ll keep sharing Jesus because he’s the hope the world needs.
See you in church!