A Reflection on the Psalms

The first reading today is from Psalm 10:1-4,9-18.

When you see and experience God, what are the words that come to mind? I’ll admit that even a professional religious person, my experiences of God cannot be fully described. There are times I experience such grace, love, or heart break where words are just not enough. But God-moments are not limited to only experiences that take our breath away. There are times when our spirit cries out in words of joy and lament. In those moments, we don’t usually know what to say. We can sometimes worry about what we can actually say to God. We’re usually comfortable having God speak to us but what words can we use to speak to God?

Faith is more than just a belief; faith is also a language. The book of Psalms helps us to speak faith-language. These 150 short (and not-so-short) poems and songs all serve different purposes. Some are prayers asking for God’s help while other’s celebrate God’s creation. Some were used when the King of Israel was crowned and others were the hymns and songs sung in worship. The psalms are meant to be spoken, sung, and heard. They are faith-filled words that cover the full range of human experience and emotion. Fear and joy, sadness and love are all covered in the book of Psalms. There is nothing we can bring to God that God hasn’t already heard and the book of Psalms helps us bring our pain and joy to God in whatever words are comfortable to us.

Today’s reading is Psalm 10. This is a Psalm centered on human suffering. In the face of evil, the psalmist wonders where God is. After last Sunday’s recent terror attack in Orlando where men and women were targeted for being LGBT, that is a question we can ask too. The psalmist knows that God sees what happens and they plead for God to break the power of the wicked and evil. Their prayer is our prayer. We seek justice, love, and peace so that “mere mortals may strike terror no more.”

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 6/19/2016.

Demons – a sermon on Jesus, tombs, and life after the violence at Pulse, Orlando.

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

My sermon from the 5th Sunday After Pentecost (June 19, 2016) on Luke 8:26-39.

Play

A funeral sermon for C.

[Jesus said] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

My sermon to honor the memory of C. (June 18, 2016) on John 14:1-6.

Play

A Reflection on the End of Job

The first reading today is from Job 38:1-7,12-13; 40:1-5.

Last Sunday, we saw the beginning of Job. Today, we’re seeing it’s end. The story began with God and Satan, the Accuser, playing a game. They want to see if there anyway that Job, an upright person who is faithful to God, would curse God. God empowers Satan to take away his family, his wealth, and his health. He’s left with his wife and three friends who come to comfort him. In a dialogue that lasts the bulk of the book, Job’s friends try to convince him to repent. They believe that his punishment is caused by something he did. If Job returns to God, God will turn his life around. But Job, knowing that he did nothing wrong, instead argues his innocence and a desire to take God to court. Job’s words are directed to his friends and to God. Job dwells on suffering, pain, and what kind of world we live in. It’s at the end of the book when God finally responds. 

God never answers Job’s questions. Instead, God points to creation. God asks Job if Job was at the beginning when the universe was made and if Job can create like God can. God takes Job on a whirlwind trip through all of creation – from the stars to the sea monsters that lurk in the deep. Job sees God’s “bigness” and can only affirm his smallness. God challenges Job to take on God’s attributes and defeat the wicked. Job, knowing he’s only human, cannot accept the challenge. 

In the end, Job admits that an assumption he carried isn’t true. His goal to bring God to court was built on the assumption that human beings are the center of God’s creation. God affirms, however, that humans are a part of God’s reality. The summation of everything is bigger than just the human experience. Humans might not be the center of the universe but they, along with the rest of creation, do receive God’s love and care. Suffering is a part of what humans experience but God isn’t absent and God doesn’t desire our suffering. Instead, God is present with us through it because God loves us. And God doesn’t run away from our suffering but walks through it, even to the cross. 

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 6/12/2016.

Which Were Many: A sermon on Jesus the Critic.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 7:36-8:3

My sermon from the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (June 12, 2016) on Luke 7:36-8:3. We celebrated a First Communion at the 10:30 am worship.

Play

A Reflection on Job, Satan, and Suffering

Our first reading is Job 1:1, 2:1-10.

Who is Satan? In Job, Satan isn’t who we think they are. In the Hebrew text that our English translation comes from, Satan isn’t a proper name. Satan is a title (“the Satan.”) A better translation would be “Accuser” or “Adversary.” In Job, Satan is like a prosecuting attorney. God gives this divine being, this angel, the job to investigate wrongdoing and bring it to God’s attention. In Job 1:7, God asks this accuser what they have been doing. The Accuser has been traveling the earth, seeking out things to bring to God. God points Job out to the Accuser. The Accuser claims that Job, if all that he has is taken away from him, will eventually curse God to God’s face (1:11). The parameters of the game are set and the Accuser is given the power to make Job’s life miserable.

Why does God let this game take place? This is one of the harder questions from the book of Job and is a question the book doesn’t answer. To me, the book of Job isn’t a historical book. Instead, it’s a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. The Lutheran Study Bible shares that Job is tackling questions about the suffering of innocents, where God is in our suffering, and what kind of world we live in.

The vast majority of the book of Job is a dialogue between Job and three friends. His three friends come to console their friend in his suffering but also to tell him why he is suffering. Job’s friends do not know about the game between God and Satan. Instead, they assume that Job did something to deserve what happened to him. But he didn’t. Suffering came to Job. The dialogue they share is the conversation we all share when senseless suffering happens to us or our family members. We sometimes know why we or others suffer. But there are times when something sudden, like an illness, disease, or tragic accident, just happens. Like Job, we wonder, “why?” And, in the end, we’re left with a mystery that even the book of Job doesn’t fully explain.

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 6/05/2016.

Sat Up: A sermon on Jesus, seeing, and someone’s first communion.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:11-17

My sermon from the 3rd Sunday After Pentecost (June 5, 2016) on Luke 7:11-17. We celebrated a First Communion at the 10:30 am worship.

Play

Introduction to the (new) Church Directory

What’s church?

Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I tend to get visual. I close my eyes, think on the words, and let my mind wander. When I hear the word church, I see buildings with white steeples, crosses on the top, and with bells in the tower. I see a bright red door, long wooden pews, and stained glass windows telling stories about Jesus. The more I think about church, the more the buildings change. My mind visit the buildings I’ve seen, from the neo-gothic stone giants that dot urban spaces to the first church we know, a house church from 233, currently on display at Yale University’s Art Museum. Sacred spaces, set apart to be places where God is encountered, have been a part of Christian identity since Jesus’ ministry.

But buildings are not the limit to what a church is. Churches exist to house communities. They serve as focus points where God’s people gather. Our church more than the building on the corner of Pascack and Church Road. Our church is what you’re holding in your hand. Our church is people, called to walk together as Christ’s people in Northern New Jersey. Like scripture says (Colossians 1:18), we are here as part of Christ’s body in the world. We are connected to each other through the God who calls us to be together. If you find yourself living just down the road from the church or on the other side of the world, through the Spirit, we are always together. We are friends and members, called to love each other and the world.

I invite you to use this directory as a way to connect with each other. And as the information changes and grows, use this directory as a living document. Cross things out, add information, and keep space open for the new names and addresses that we’ll hand out as new people join our community. This is Christ Lutheran Church. This is Christ’s church. We are doing God’s work with our hands.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Marc

We’re reprinting an updated church directory. The last one was printed in 2012. I wrote this to be an introduction to the directory itself.